Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:24

Matthew 6:24
“No one 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.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

The two masters

Every resort which features snow skiing tells its customers not to ski off the carefully prepared ski runs. But not everyone listens. Michael Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, did not listen and met his death when his head struck a tree at Aspen. Less than a week later, singer Sonny Bono failed to heed the warning and died in a collision with a tree at Heavenly Ski Resort in Nevada.

Don’t be too quick to consider them foolish. Jesus says that no one can serve both God and money. Are you trying to do so in spite of the warning?

Sometimes English translations try a little too hard to make biblical language contemporary. Matthew 6:24a is better translated: “No one is able to be a slave to two owners” (my translation). Since a slave owes all his service, attention and allegiance to his owner, it is nonsense to think of a slave having a second owner.

Jesus explains what such a ridiculous situation would lead to: “He will hate the one and love the other” (6:24b). Craig Blomberg says, “Love and hate in Semitic thought are often roughly equivalent to choose and not choose.”[1] Alternatively, Jesus says, the slave “will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (6:24c). The latter clause might be translated, “he will be devoted to the one and disregard the other” (my translation of 6:24c).

In other words, a slave owned by two masters will make a choice and make one master happy while disregarding the interests of the other master. Even an uneducated slave knows they cannot please two different owners. Jesus’ audience understood this principle thoroughly; it was common sense and common knowledge.

After setting the stage, Jesus lays out the crushing conclusion: “You cannot be slaves of God and of money” (6:24c, Holman Christian Standard Bible). Notice that Jesus does not say that you may not serve both, as if it were a matter of permission. No, he says you cannot, making it a matter of ability. It simply cannot be done!

The word Jesus used for money is relatively rare — the Aramaic word mammon. So, the King James Bible says, “Ye cannot serve both God and mammon.” The word mammon refers to both money and possessions. They each present a danger to the soul. Later in this Gospel, Jesus will say, “I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt. 19:23). In a country such as ours whose whole economic system is set up for the acquisition of wealth by individuals, that is not good news.

Blomberg points out that the greatest danger to Western Christianity does not come from Islam, humanism or Marxism “but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our affluent culture.”[2]

The one-master life

If your life is all about making the one big score, then God is not your master. If you believe the person with the most toys wins, then God is not your master.

One of the cruel things about chasing possessions is that you can never get enough to satisfy. That is one reason Jesus turned down the devil’s offer of all the kingdoms of this world. Imitating Jesus by choosing God rather than possessions will make the difference between heaven and hell.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 124.

[2] Blomberg, Matthew, 124.

 

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!