One Master

crown hands

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and money.”

Most Christians would have no trouble getting the answer to this question right: “Which do you think you should serve, God or money?” We understand God’s claim on the title “Master.” We are his creation. Not one of us invented ourselves. We were his idea. He thought of us, planned us, and assembled us. He came up with a complex, powerful, gifted creature capable of managing planet earth and relating to him as children.

Even in our fallen and broken state we are wonders of his creative mind. No fair observer, Christian or not, should fail to see that we are not the happy accident of random natural forces working without direction. I’ve seen what a random mess looks like. I have made a few myself. They don’t become living beings able to spout poetry, compete in the Olympics, or work complicated algebraic formulas. We are God’s workmanship.

But Jesus warns us that there is a rival for our hearts. We should not underestimate its power. He calls it here, “Money.” More literally, he gives it the Greek name “Mammon.” Some commentators claim that this was originally the name of a Syrian god of riches. One of the church fathers believed that it was the name of a particular demon. This much is clear: there is an anti-Christian spiritual power lurking behind this part of the material world we make so much use of every day.

Mammon includes money, but it is more than the cash we carry. It is the lure of the material world that promises so much happiness. It includes the things that excite our senses: food, music, entertainment. It includes the things that bring us comfort: luxuries, sleep, and ease. It involves the activities that get our competitive juices flowing, provide a sense of accomplishment, and bring us praise and honor: our jobs, our sports, our pastimes. You can’t avoid having and using these things in your life. They aren’t evil in themselves. But they become Mammon when you make them master of your life.

Christian writer Mark Buchanan calls Mammon the “pig god.” Serving in its cult always involves a catch. It promises far more than it ever gives. “It has a well-practiced habit of depriving us of taking deep and lasting pleasure in his gifts: he brings with his gifts the sour aftertaste of ingratitude (it’s not enough), or fear (it won’t last), or insatiableness (I want more)….It trains us, not to value things too much, but to value them too little. It teaches us not to cherish and enjoy anything (Christianity Today, September 6, 1999).

Is it saying too much to say that Mammon has become the unofficial god of the United States, the unofficial religion behind the “American Dream”? Is our national cathedral really located on Wall Street in New York City? Could we fault a foreigner for wondering whether the phrase “In God We Trust” on our currency is really a reference to the cash and coins themselves? Don’t underestimate the power of this other option, who doesn’t want so much to serve us as to be our master.

But God has made a greater claim on the title. We are fallen creatures, rebels against his love. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from desiring us as his own. He dug deeply into his pockets to purchase us for himself. What he pulled out to pay wasn’t cash, gold, or other baubles. What he pulled out were great drops of blood belonging to his one and only Son, the life and breath of heaven’s Prince and earth’s Maker sacrificed in place of ours.

God scoured every moment of human history from the dawn of time until the last word on the last page of its story. He gathered every sinful act along the way without exception, and the relentless river of rebellion flowing from human hearts. He loaded the great burden on the shoulders of his Son, who carried it to the cross, and died under its crushing load. In doing so he banished it from our records forever. God claimed us as his children, and declared us his holy people. He has provided a place for us at his side, a share of his glory, a home in his heaven.

How can we believe this is true and not come to confess, “Jesus is my Lord”? Only one Master can rule our hearts. The one with the rightful claim is clear.

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