One and Only
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
I think people normally interpret this as saying “God has to be the most important thing in your life. If you ever find yourself having to choose between watching sport or going to church, or reading a novel vs. your daily Bible reading, then God must come first. Not that you can’t watch sport or read novels or whatever else you may enjoy doing, but you mustn’t let those things infringe on God’s time.”
I don’t think that’s what this verse is saying. It’s saying you have to choose one master to serve: God, or money, or indeed anything else; you can’t pursue God and anything else at the same time. God doesn’t just have to come first, ahead of everything else; He must be our one and only goal in life.
Considering we Christians claim that Christ is the most important thing in the world to us, to the point where we sing that his “love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”, we spend a surprisingly large amount of the time and money God’s given us in this life faffing around with all sorts of other things… sport, music, films, books, going on holiday, decorating our houses and gardens…
In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul says “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” When we eat or drink, or watch football, or rugby, or cricket, or listen to music, or watch a film, or read a book, or go on holiday, or do anything, are we doing those things to the glory of God? Are we serving God, or some other master? Do we try to serve God at certain times during the week, but do our own thing with the rest of our time? If all those things we spend our time and money on don’t help us to serve God, at some point we’ll find there’s a conflict and we have to choose between serving God or serving something else, and at that point we realise we’ve been trying to serve two masters. We’ll have to devote ourselves to one and despise the other. Sometimes we might feel like we’d prefer to obey God anyway, but other times we might resent God asking us to give something up in order to serve Him. So in v13 Jesus is telling his disciples not to try serving two masters. Make your decision: will you serve God, or will you serve something else?
Of course, none of the things I’ve mentioned is necessarily sinful. 1 Timothy 4:4 says “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving”. So I guess the question is do we receive all these things with thanksgiving?
We’re in the habit of giving thanks before a meal; perhaps we should get into the habit of giving thanks before we do anything else as well. What do you think? Before the match starts? As we open the newspaper? When we turn the TV or computer on? Could we thank God for all those things? I reckon if we tried this, one of two things would happen, either we’d gain a greater appreciation of just how much God has blessed us by giving us these things so we can glorify Him in our enjoyment of them, or in some cases (perhaps rather a lot of cases) it would make us think about whether there’s something better we could be doing with our time, some way we could invest our time more wisely. If we can’t thank God for whatever we’re about to do, why are we doing it?
Glory or Dung?
In Phil 3:8 Paul says “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
Now I said the parable of the unjust steward was about investing in treasure in heaven. In case anyone wasn’t sure up to this point, this is the treasure we’re aiming at: “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ”, to “gain Christ and be found in him.” And Paul thinks that anything that doesn’t gain him more of Christ is a loss, or you might say a bad investment, not good use of his time or money. When we settle down to watch TV or browse the internet or when we go shopping or whatever, I won’t repeat a whole list of examples again… whatever it is, does it gain us more of Christ? If not, what does it gain us? We can’t serve God and earthly wealth or earthly pleasure. We have to choose one.
It bothers me when people talk about “legitimate pleasures”; what are they? I think you could fit all pleasures into one of two categories. The first category would be “pleasures that gain us more of Christ”, and the other category would be “pleasures that don’t gain us more of Christ”. I think it would be fair to call the first category “glorious pleasures”; to call these Christ-gaining pleasures only “legitimate” pleasures would be kind of insulting to Christ. But Paul would say that any pleasure that falls into the other category, any pleasure that doesn’t gain us more of Christ, is rubbish, or if you’re using the AV, dung. (Another translation calls it sewer trash.) There are no “legitimate pleasures”, either you seek pleasure in Christ, or you seek it in earthly dung. You can’t serve two masters; you can only serve one or the other. So as we go through our daily lives, let’s not ask “is it ok for me to do this? is this a legitimate pleasure for a Christian?” instead, let’s ask ourselves “is this a glorious pleasure, or is it dung?”
As Augustine put it “He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.” If we don’t love God with ALL our heart, soul, mind and strength, we don’t love him enough, but the point is not to try to scare us into trying to love God more otherwise he’ll punish us, it’s more like “C’mon, invest wisely or you’re gonna miss out on these true riches!”
And to relate back to what I said from verse 9 about using what God has given us with the aim that we will make friends that will end up in heaven too, this is not just a question of whether it would be better for me to read a Christian book rather than a secular one, or listen to Christian music rather than secular music, I think we should ask ourselves “is whatever I’m about to do going to help me bring other people closer to God?”
Let’s not mess about, trying to invest the minimum amount we can get away with in the kingdom of God while also trying to enjoy a nice comfortable life here on Earth, let’s invest everything God’s given us in laying up treasure in heaven that will never fail.