Service to One Master

September 2, 2001 / No. 3061

Dear Radio Friends,

Tomorrow our nation commemorates Labor Day. We do well, then, to turn to an aspect of God’s Word concerning work.

The Scriptures make very plain to us that work is a calling. That means that it is not simply a necessary evil. And it means even more than that it is the means whereby God Himself is pleased to supply us with our earthly needs. That work is a calling means that it is a place that God has assigned to us in His kingdom, in which place we are to serve Him.

The Bible has very much to say about work. The book of Proverbs, for instance, not only exposes and condemns the sins of idleness and sloth, but extols the virtues of diligence and faithfulness. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, for the first years of His earthly life as an adult man, worked as a carpenter and had rough hands. The apostle Paul makes plain that he engaged himself in the activity of tent-making. And we have the Scriptures which say to us in II Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

Running through all of the biblical teaching on labor and work is a warning, a warning that is spoken often and in various ways, a warning against covetousness, that is, against being caught up with earthly things and seeking those things for themselves, setting our hearts upon the earthly and living for the earthly. Not only is covetousness in Scripture a lust for earthly things, but covetousness is the mistaken notion that things can give us happiness. How soon we begin to trust in things and find our delight in them.

Our Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly warned us of this. John 6:27, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” Luke 21:34, 35, “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting (the word “surfeiting” in the King James refers to the sick feeling that one gets when he has overindulged in earthly food), and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.” Jesus said that a preoccupation with the earthly and a coveting of the earthly will result in a person’s being caught unaware on the day of His return.

Still more. Luke 12:15, “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” So also, in Matthew 6:24, these familiar words of the Lord which also will serve now as our meditation today: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Why are you working? What are your goals? Whom are you serving – God or mammon?

Let us pay attention to the context, first of all, in Matthew 6. Throughout that chapter the Lord has been speaking to us of the difference between the true and the false. He has been separating the precious from the vile. In the beginning verses of the chapter He speaks of two worshipers: one who is true, the other who is false; one who is genuine, and the other who is a hypocrite. He speaks to us of two treasures: of an earthly and a heavenly treasure. He speaks in the chapter of two wisdoms: a heavenly wisdom and an evil wisdom. Now He speaks to us of two masters: God or mammon (earthly things). Always, in the Lord’s teaching, it is one or the other – never both. The Lord’s teaching is antithetical. That means that we must love the truth and we must take our stand against the false.

Specifically, in verses 19-21, He says to us, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The Lord exposes the folly of laying up, of hording, earthly treasures. He says to us that they are corruptible: moth and rust ruins them. He says to us that they are vanishing: thieves break through and steal. Then He says to us, “Not only must your goal be to lay up eternal treasures, but right now you must work for the service of God and not in the service of mammon.”

Now our Lord, here, is speaking of two masters, so to speak, for whom a person can work: God or mammon. You must obey one. You must serve one. You cannot serve both at the same time. Which one do you serve?

There is, first of all God. God is the creator of the heavens and the earth in six 24-hour days. He is the almighty God. And He is the redeemer from sin in His Son , Jesus Christ. He is the eternal, the almighty, the only living God – the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – these three in one who upholds the entire world in His hand and governs all things by His eternal will. God is eternal. That is, He has no beginning, He was never created. The Scriptures speak to us of God. He is the independent One who owes His life to no other source outside of Himself. Listen to Psalm 50:10ff. “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof.” He is a sovereign God. That means that He rules over all things according to His own purpose, which He purposed eternally to glorify Himself in Christ. See Psalm 147:3, “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.” Perhaps the closest definition of Him as the living God was given by Moses in Deuteronomy 32:39 and 40. Listen carefully to these words. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.” He is the living God!

Still more. The Scriptures are plain to us that the only living God revealed in the Bible, Jehovah, is the God who has redeemed in Jesus Christ His Son. He is the One who has willed to reveal His glory in the cross of Jesus Christ. And this great God, the living God, the only God, must be served and obeyed. Jeremiah 10:6, 7, “Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? For to thee doth it appertain: forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.”

The first master, then, is the living God. The second that Jesus refers to is a false one: Mammon. Mammon refers to riches, to material things of value or the good things of the earth, things which, in themselves, are not evil. The Bible teaches us that there is not evil per se in things (I Tim. 4:4, 5), “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” The evil is this: When those things become the center, the goal of a person’s life. When a person begins to look for them, as we said, for happiness and for protection, for satisfaction and contentment, when he thinks that his self worth is dependent upon the things that he has. Jesus warns here how readily we can begin to serve mammon, to make a god out of the earthly things. There is, in our evil nature, the sin of greed, of a lust for money, power, riches, homes, goods, possessions. And this lust, the Scriptures say, is idolatry. Covetousness (Col. 3:5) is idolatry.

Our society and our own sinful flesh are simply covered over with lust – lust for entertainment, lust for good times, lust for pleasures, lust for clothes, lust for food, lust for cars, houses, honor, reputation among men. And for others it is not just tangible things but pleasures, rule, honor, power – something or someone for which a person is living.

Many think that they are their own masters. They say, “Well, I serve neither God nor mammon.” But that is false. That is simply proud arrogancy and self-deception. It is not true. Everyone serves something. And if you serve yourself, then you serve a fool and an idol. Listen to Romans 6:16. We read, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Everyone serves one of the two: God or mammon. Inescapably that is true. One of the two everyone serves. The Lord says that you cannot serve both.

Understand, it is not left up to us, now, to choose the master – whether we are going to live our life in obedience to God or whether we are going to seek the earthly things. The Lord is not throwing it up in the air and saying, “Pick.” No! The Scriptures are plain. And the Son of God who stands in the honor of the Father also makes it very plain. We do not have the right to worship any old god that comes along or any old way that we choose. We must serve the Most High! Jesus said to the devil: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.” No one is free to decide for himself.

There is only one way to serve the living and the true God. That is through Jesus Christ His Son.

Whom do you serve?

The word “service” comes from a word meaning “slave.” Paul used the word to refer to himself as the slave, the servant, of Jesus Christ. The word refers to a bond-slave, a person who was the property purchased by the master. This slave had no will of his own. He lived only to serve the will and the interest of his master – body and soul, all that he had. Paul says, “I am the slave of Jesus Christ.” This is great joy, this is life, this is liberty. So he could say in II Corinthians 10:4 and 5 that he would cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. As Paul was the slave of Christ, everything in his life was pressed to the obedience of his master.

The masters – God and mammon – demand service. Mammon demands service. Men and women are driven by it. They are under the yoke of this master. And the Lord says that the service that is rendered is always characterized by two things: love and faithfulness. The Lord says, “You will either love the one and hate the other, or cleave to the one and despise the other.” These masters demand the heart, the affection, the joy, the love. And these masters demand faithfulness – that you cling to it. That is true of the false god, mammon. Mammon wants you to love it, to embrace it, foolishly to think that it can do you good. The earthly things want you to cleave to them, not let them go, and they want to convince you that they are yours.

It is only by grace that God is our Master through Jesus Christ. Salvation in the Scriptures is presented in terms of a purchase. We are purchased to be the slaves of Christ. We are made to be the property of our Master, Jesus Christ, who works in us that we might love Him with a true and holy love, a love of eternal joy, and He works in us faithfulness, that we might cleave to Him.

Mammon wants you to love it, to embrace it,
foolishly to think that it can do you good.
When God is our Master, by grace, then we believe that all things are His, all things that we have: our talents, our possessions, our time – all things, for body and soul. It means that we desire to press all of these things, without exception, into His will. In all things, and at all times, we seek to be pleasing to Him, wherever that may be – school, work, home, play. This is the way the apostle Paul put it in Acts 20:24: “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” The apostle did not consider his life, possessions, talents, and time in terms of himself, but in terms of a trust given to him in order that he might finish his course, in order that he might press all things into the service of his Lord. His calling was the ministry, so he desired to press everything into the ministry of the gospel. To serve God, then, means that we love Him, by a wonder of His grace, and we cleave to Him.

Which one is your master? Mammon, or God? You cannot serve both. No man can serve two masters.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day thought they could. They thought they could serve God and also take the earthly. But it is not so, because God demands the heart. And to give the heart to anything else is to deny God. No, it is more. It is to hate God. To serve mammon is to hate God. That is what it is. If you serve mammon, then you cannot serve God. Perhaps outwardly, for a while, the appearances of serving God can be kept up. But more and more it becomes plain that a person’s god is his belly, that he minds earthly things. And the way of serving mammon is destruction, eternal destruction.

According to his sinful nature, the child of God also struggles against the service of mammon. And sometimes, foolishly, we try to serve both. So the Lord is talking to us very bluntly. We live in a day of unprecedented natural and material prosperity. There are so many material things that we have and so many that we could do without. The Scriptures have warned us: When riches increase, set not your heart upon them. We need to be warned that we must serve one master.

When riches increase, set not your heart upon them.
I say, so often we try to serve two. We try to serve God with the leftovers. We try to appease ourselves and give ourselves comfort by thinking, “Well, some of it I’ll use for the service of God.” There was a farmer, a dairy farmer, who had an exceptional cow. She gave birth to twin calves, heifers, Holsteins, good blood-line. He said to his wife, “Since there are twins, we will give one to the Lord. We raise them and sell them and the proceeds of the one will be exclusively to the Lord.” She said to her husband: “Which one?” He said, “Well, it’s not important to say. It doesn’t make any difference.” After two or three months he came in to his wife one morning after doing his chores and said, “One of the twin calves died.” “Which one?” she said. “The Lord’s cow died.” You see, by nature, the Lord’s cow always dies. First for ourselves! First for the house. First for the car. First for the clothes. First for the shelter. And then, to the Lord, if it is there.

No man can serve two masters. This is not the service of God! Jesus says you cannot do that. It is either one or the other! Where is you heart?

We confess before God today that so often our heart is covetous. It is so ingrained in us to say, “It’s mine and I’ve got a right to it. I have it coming!” It is not yours. You have no right to it. It is the Lord’s and you are a steward.

So often we are afraid that the Lord will not give us what we want and that the way of obedience to Him, by seeking first the kingdom of God, is going to leave us destitute, poor, and deprive us. So foolish are we. Let us get it straight! The citizens of the kingdom of heaven now in their hearts seek the heavenly and the eternal. All things, all things, are to be used as a faithful steward of the heavenly Father. We pray, from our heart, that we do not begin to look upon the earthly things as ours, that we do not begin to look upon earthly work as a way of self-advancement. But we look upon all things in terms of faithfulness to God, seeking first the kingdom of God. We examine our souls. We must keep our focus upon the kingdom. And we must trust in God to supply.

With a heart set upon God we are delivered from all the worry and all the fear that goes with the service of mammon. Oh, such worry, oh, such fear, the god mammon evokes. But the God of gods, the King of kings – the blessing of serving Him is peace, joy, righteousness, eternal life.

Whom do you serve? Why do you go to work in the morning? What are you after? Why do you do it day after day after day? Why are you doing it? Can you give an answer? What is in your heart? Are you serving God or mammon, which one?

Father in heaven, bring Thy Word to our souls. Amen.