What the Bible says about
Serving Two Masters
(From Forerunner Commentary)
There is an over-arching subject that Jesus never directly mentions in the context of Matthew 6:19-21, but He was undoubtedly concerned about it. No one ever had a clearer understanding of human realities than Jesus. This subject concerns two levels of diversion from what is proper within achieving a desire, the first being minor compared to the second.
First, then, is that, humanly, we can become so deeply involved in achieving an especially desired goal that we become inattentive to virtually everything else, including God. Some refer to it as “losing oneself in the moment.” We can be thankful that these kinds of diversions generally do not last long. We usually “catch” ourselves within them and redirect our efforts accordingly. How many serious accidents have been caused by this type of distraction is beyond knowing.
The second concern is far more damaging to our calling: We allow our human nature to re-enslave us to this world. This return to carnality happens when we fail to discipline ourselves daily. We fail to maintain our focus on the absolute fact that what really matters in our lives are glorifying God and attaining spiritual value in our character. We must put everything else in second, third, or fourth place in order of importance. No one can do this for us; we must do it ourselves.
Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” His counsel, valuable within its context, applies in spades to our calling. The context does not delve into the fact that not all things a person desires and works for are of equal value. Herein lies another reality that we must resolve because heavenly treasure and earthly treasure are not equally important, especially after God calls us.
The proper balance of the time and effort we give to seeking treasure must be an important companion to determining our priorities in what treasures we seek. Once God calls a person is called, a new effort with far greater, more important goals has entered his life. The called-out individual must never allow himself to forget that the Creator God personally and specifically called him; he is not among the elect by accident or stroke of luck.
We must add to this astounding truth what Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 to those God calls: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This burning dedication to the same goals that God has called us to must accompany the called-out person's efforts to be a profitable servant. Without this characteristic, we can be quite busy accomplishing, but unless we are also deeply committed to what God is focused on for us to achieve, we will merely burn time without achieving much of value in terms of God's spiritual purpose.
God wants us to give our time and life purposefully over to attaining His Kingdom. Merely being busy and productive are not the only issues. Being focused on what God assigns works hand in glove with what one's treasure is. Matthew 6:24, just a few verses later, gives us a significant reason why: “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
The reason may escape the reasoning of many, but Jesus clearly warns that giving our lives over to the achievement of the things of this world is blatant idolatry for a Christian! Do we truly want to place ourselves in the position of hating God—or even loving Him less than something else? The things of this world are those things God has not assigned to the Christian life.
Unlike those in the world, few called-out ones fall into such calamity, but some do and find themselves re-enslaved to the world by it. Such a person will be so preoccupied with gathering his worldly treasure that his skewed focus will confuse his values. His achievement in that area of life will obscure the goal God has established for our spiritual existence. The human heart will follow the carnal influence rather than the godly one. We must make diligent efforts to avoid this trap because the world acts like a magnet, always trying to recapture what has been pulled from it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)
Most people who are familiar with the Bible are aware of this statement made by Jesus during His Sermon on the Mount. This teaching on the inadvisability of trying to serve two masters comes at the end of a line of comparisons between two major elements of life. Earlier, He had spoken about two different kinds of treasure, the earthly kind and the heavenly kind. Then He mentioned the good eye and the bad eye, or perhaps it would be clearer to call them the focused ("single," KJV) eye and the confused eye, which illustrate a person's outlook on his life. Obviously, Jesus is trying to help us see the dichotomy between God's way and the way of this world, man's way, or Satan's way, however we may wish to look at it.
In this verse, He moves on to the human will, telling us that it is impossible to give full allegiance to more than one entity, whether it be a family member, a boss, a cause, or even football teams! As He says, one of them will always be slighted in some way. One's true loyalty will soon be revealed when circumstances conspire to force a choice between them. At the fish-or-cut-bait moment, we will choose to give our time and attention to the one that we really love, and the other we will "hate" by comparison.
As a native of the Steel City, I am a Pittsburgh Steeler fan and always have been. Yet, I have lived in Charlotte since 1992 and have been a fan of the Panthers since the team's first NFL game in 1995. I know a great deal about both clubs, watch most of their games, and avidly follow their player acquisitions and moves. It is good that the Steelers are an AFC team, while the Panthers are an NFC team, so they rarely play each other. But what happens when they do? There is no question: I root for the Steelers. My choice shows that I "love" the Steelers and "hate" the Panthers; I am "loyal" to the black and gold and "despise" the black, Panther blue, silver, and white. In such a situation, I cannot cheer for both.
In the last phrase, Jesus makes it clear that the choice often comes down to God on the one hand and "Mammon"—a word that denotes wealth and possessions—on the other. True, His audience, mostly Jews, had and still have a reputation for pursuing wealth overmuch, but His true audience is everyone. We all want more things, and we sometimes go to extreme measures to get them. When faced with the decision of following God or following the money, too many pick the latter, and in doing so, reveal our true loyalties.
He desires His disciples, therefore, to take note: The true Christian puts God first in everything. If a promotion at work means that a Christian will have to work on the Sabbath or blur some of his principles, he needs to choose God and turn down the promotion. If he can avoid a heavy tax assessment if he fudges the numbers a little on his 1040, he should choose God and submit an honest return. If he finds a wallet filled with cash, he must choose God and return it to its owner. In every case in which we must decide between obedience to God and gaining for the self, God must be our constant choice.
While this may seem somewhat onerous, this kind of total devotion and commitment is what God demands. Jesus is also the one who said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62), and “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Even in the verse under discussion, Jesus speaks of “serving . . . masters," which is an allusion to slavery. But we can gladly choose to serve God, the most gracious and beneficent of masters.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The cares of this world can make the growing, the producing of spiritual fruit, almost impossible. So, what will we lack if we fail to follow Jesus' advice? Love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), and if we attempt to straddle the fence, we will be unfruitful.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian and the World (Part Eight)
According to tradition, when a young Hebrew man and woman were to be betrothed, the groom poured wine into his cup and invited the woman to drink of it. It was up to her. If she drank from it, she was considered betrothed to him. If she did not, no marriage would take place. Paul tells the church in II Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. ForI have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." When the bride drank of the cup, she drank of the marriage covenant or contract, accepting it.
Understanding this symbolism, it is no wonder that Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 26:28, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." As we drink of His cup, we accept His invitation to be betrothed to Him and to be forgiven of our sins so we can be like He is—sinless, spotless, and without fault in His presence at the Marriage Supper.
Yet it means far more! Remember that "drinking the cup" meant to accept whatever that cup represented. When the mother of James and John approaches Jesus with her request to have her sons sit on each side of Jesus when He came into His Kingdom, Jesus replies with a question:
But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask. Are you [James and John] able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." (Matthew 20:22)
They do not take the cue from Jesus that they may have to drink more than they care to swallow! They answer affirmatively before they realize what Christ's cup contained. Jesus continues in verse 23:
So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on my right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father."
What happened to them? James the son of Zebedee was the first apostle martyred, early on by Herod (Acts 12:2). Though John was the longest-lived of the twelve, apparently living nearly 100 years, he certainly suffered greatly at the hands of persecutors. Not only did he spend many years in exile on the Isle of Patmos, one tradition says he miraculously survived being boiled in oil! Beyond this, he had to watch the church disintegrate through apostasy and persecution.
Part of what Jesus' cup entails is suffering. When we drink of His cup, we are saying we are willing to suffer with Him and experience with Him whatever He ordains for us. We symbolically pledge that we are willing to walk down the same path He walked, with similar consequences.
We do not just drink the wine at Passover—we drink "of the cup" of Passover, meaning we are proclaiming our willingness to share in similar trials as Jesus did. We proclaim we are willing to endure whatever He has appointed for us as our lot.
We are also identifying ourselves with Him exclusively: We are cupbearers to the King of kings and to Him only. Psalm 16:5 says, "O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; you maintain my lot." The Eternal is our cup! Do we grasp the meaning of this? We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). We cannot simultaneously identify with Christ and Satan. Our lives, our actions, our words, our thoughts, continuously announce which is our father, God in heaven or Satan. Drinking of Jesus' cup means to live His way of life and renounce Satan's ways.
Are You Drinking of the Master's Cup?
For the word "careful" (KJV) in verse 40, the margin reads "distracted," which is also how the NKJV translates it. In the Greek, it is the same word translated as "anxious" in Matthew 6. Anxiety distracts.
Consider doing a job under distracting conditions, when several things are competing for attention at the same time. Jesus says that no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). What will happen when a person's mind has two or more issues simultaneously vying for attention? Eventually, the person will dismiss one of them in order to pay attention to the one he chooses to give his attention to. That is the principle here. It is that simple.
If two matters work on the mind, they cannot be given equal time. The mind will shift gears so that one gets the priority over the other. We need to see this principle in relation to the Kingdom of God. By making the Kingdom of God our treasure and having a clear understanding that this principle is at work, Jesus wants us, by faith, to choose to set our will to make God's Kingdom our first priority. It is something that we must make the choice to do.
So Jesus says to Martha , "You are distracted [troubled, worried, anxious] about many things." There is nothing wrong with serving, but Jesus is showing that service has to give way to worship. Even if we understand that worship is a form of submissive service, it is ratcheted up several notches higher because it is service given directly to God. This is a gentle rebuke by Jesus urging Martha to leave her housework for the time and concentrate on the more urgent responsibility, because Christ would be living among them only a little while longer. Under this situation, Mary had made the right choice. She had a clearer understanding of the circumstance and made the better choice of the use of her time.
His words do not mean that Mary was any better than Martha, but in this case Martha had made the wrong choice. God thought this was important enough to inspire Luke to put it into His Word so that we could understand this principle. Jesus is not saying that one should do no housework, but rather, that Martha's failure to follow the higher priority was doing damage to her character. There is a time to set aside the service of others in order to serve God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian and the World (Part Eight)
The fear needed is not a servile, cringing, and enslaving terror, but a mixture of love, admiration, and respect for what He is. He is a Father who pities His children; a Ruler who looks on the one who is poor and of a contrite heart; a Physician who heals the body, cleanses the spirit, mercifully forgives, and gives sound counsel so that His children can work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
When the fear of God enters a man's evil heart, godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom can begin to grow. Why? Because in making better choices, the person begins to break his enslavement to his own evil heart, from which comes all the defiling corruption that leads to death, as Jesus shows in Matthew 15:18-20:
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
By nature, man is focused on his sense of self-importance, so pride dominates his attitudes and therefore his choices. The corrective is something that will humble, and it begins with him being able to compare himself appropriately with the greatness of God. Man will live either to serve himself or to seek to serve and please God. It will be one or the other because no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
When Moses goes before Pharaoh in Exodus 5:2, he says, "Let my people go." What is Pharaoh's defiant response? "Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go." That was his problem, and it remains a major hurdle for us too. We must come to know the Lord. From this, a simple truth arises: Not knowing God promotes irreverence of God, as Pharaoh clearly shows. Thus, not knowing God promotes disobedience. Knowing God, on the other hand, promotes the fear of God and humility before Him and thus obedience.
Knowing God in His sovereignty works to remove every ground for man to rely on himself and boast. Salvation is of the Lord; it is by His grace through faith. Man wants to think that he is contributing greatly to his redemption and salvation, but John tells us we are born, not of the will of the flesh, but of God (John 1:13). If we understand God's sovereignty, it leads us to praise Him for the glory of what He is: He is our salvation! In addition, we desire salvation for the very purpose of humbling ourselves before Him that we might glorify Him. This means that we can wisely turn only one way: We must choose to submit to His will.
The exercise, the actual use, of humility in daily life is a choice. Each time we submit to God's instruction, we are humbling ourselves before Him. Once we know what God's will is, we must still deal with choosing to use humility by submitting to it. Is that not what God says in Deuteronomy 30:19, that we must choose life rather than death? "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live." Fully accepting God's sovereignty provides us the proper comparisons so that we can wisely make right choices.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits
We do not need to have the fears we sometimes associate with James 1:6-8. We can take comfort in the knowledge that mind-wandering and normal doubts and fears, while they are undesirable and should be rooted out, are not really what James has in mind. He is warning against double-mindedness. Double-mindedness requires knowing God's law and making a premeditated effort to subvert it and then justify the behavior.
Double-mindedness did not apparently apply to Uzzah, who broke God's law in ignorance or foolishness (II Samuel 6:6-7). However, it does apply to Saul, whom God ordered to destroy the Amalekites totally, but only accomplished 80% of his objectives (I Samuel 15). When confronted with his compromise, Saul makes a whole series of excuses. Excuses and alibis are the defense mechanisms used by double-minded people. If we put sin out of our lives as soon as we find it, or as soon as it is pointed out to us, we do not have to worry about making and remembering excuses or alibis.
Double-mindedness occurs when we harbor a sin and still appear to live God's way. Tares, during their formative (immature) period, look just like wheat, yet mature wheat and tares do not look the same (Matthew 13:30). Over time, the tare is exposed because it does not mature like the wheat. So a double-minded "Christian" will become obvious by his lack of fruit and worldly, hypocritical attitude and behavior. Interestingly, God leaves the tares among the wheat ultimately to benefit the wheat.
A double-minded person cannot have God's Holy Spirit within him (Romans 8:5, 8-9; Galatians 5:16-17). Jesus says we cannot serve two masters because our allegiance will really be to one or the other (Matthew 6:24). One cannot be a double agent with the world and a member of God's church (II Corinthians 6:17-18; I John 2:15-17).
God demands that we choose one way or the other—but not straddle the fence. We cannot have it both ways. Unless in the battle between the spirit and the flesh we throw down the gauntlet in favor of our spiritual selves, we run the risk of being torn to pieces psychologically and emotionally.
Recall Psalm 119:113: "I hate the double-minded, but I love Your law." Notice that the antidote to double-mindedness is yielding to God's law. Wholeness and singleness of purpose are the result of keeping God's law through the power of Christ working in us. As our Lord reminds us in His Sermon on the Mount, "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good [single, KJV; focused, directed], your whole body will be full of light" (Matthew 6:22).
David F. Maas
Spiritual Double Agents
A series of scriptures will highlight the world's danger to us. The apostle James writes: "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). This epistle is written to a Christian congregation. Even as the Old Testament shows Israel to be a spiritual adulteress to God through the people's disobedience following the making of the Old Covenant, so are Christians—as part of the bride of Christ, having made the New Covenant—spiritual adulterers when they unfaithfully disobey.
James is not saying these people are lost. He is warning them that they are heading in that direction because they were backsliding, having already been unfaithful. The unstated, yet clear cause of their being drawn back is the world, as if it were the seductive temptress of Proverbs 7.
James' counsel is that we cannot straddle the fence between God and the world. He is expounding the "no man can serve two masters" principle. These two relationships—God and the world—frame a black-and-white issue; this war has no neutral zone. A person cannot pursue his self-centered, worldly ambitions and still remain loyal to God.
The apostle uses the word philos, indicating something dear, which the New King James Version translates as "friend." He is stressing an affectionate, emotional attachment. Interestingly, The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips (1959) renders the warning as, "You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realizing that to be the world's lover means becoming the enemy of God!" Seen this way, James describes them as silly, immature children, thoughtlessly gambling away their futures in the Kingdom of God.
I John 2:15 adds a refinement to James' warning: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The Greek word translated as "love" is agapao, which suggests a reasoned, determined love. Thus, John's counsel stresses willfulness rather than mere affectionate attachment. In comparison, one could even describe philos as an unbidden "puppy love," but agapao—never.
John is saying that we should not have intimate fellowship combined with loyal devotion to the world. Our relationship to it must be a more distant, hands-off one. We certainly must live and do business within it, but we have to fight to keep it from becoming the focus of our way of life. The spiritual reality is that, as we might say today, "The world stands ready to eat us alive." It chews Christians up and spits them out. If permitted, it can trash spiritual realities that may once have been cherished hopes and dreams.
Galatians 6:14 provides another guiding principle to hold dear: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." This is an example of Paul's spiritual outlook and maturity regarding his relationship with the world. As far as any relationship between him and the world is concerned, the world is dead and crucified, and so is he to it. It is vivid imagery. How much willful devotion can a person have in a relationship going nowhere because both parties are "dead" to each other?
John 15:18-23 adds more about why the world is dangerous to a Christian:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, "A servant is not greater than his master." If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.
This is the fruit of the carnal mind's persistently disobedient attitude shown in Romans 8:7. The whole worldly system is anti-God. Even though the Christian world patronizes Him, in reality, it hates Jesus Christ, and therefore it hates those who truly follow Him. There is a simple reason why this continual reality exists.
Paul had renounced the whole worldly system. It no longer had any appeal to him; he was, in effect, dead in relation to it. However, the world's pressure never ends, which Paul notes in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world." The Greek more correctly reads, "Stop allowing yourself to be fashioned to the pattern of this age," or as the J.B. Phillips translation puts it, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold."
This is the danger we face when we allow the world to become too important. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The world subtly but inexorably manipulates us into conformity with its thinking, its value systems, and therefore its attitudes and conduct. If we are alert and truly guarding against an invasion of worldly attitudes and practices, we will soon be able to notice when others relapse into following the course of the world.
The persistent influence of the world is a reality because Satan, the ruler of this world, is its driving force. The world is Satan's medium, through which he broadcasts his propaganda and disinformation. By confusing people about what to believe, he intends to manipulate humanity. Satan's pitch to mankind is aimed directly at exciting human nature's self-indulgent cravings.
Due to this Satanic effort, even though we are converted, we are apt to become misinformed, lackadaisical, disinterested, and discouraged. We must be aware of it and absolutely resist it. The apostles' advice about avoiding intimacy with the world is a form of the proverb, "Evil company corrupts good habits" (I Corinthians 15:33). Friendship with the world corrupts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
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