Why Can We Not Serve Both God and Money?
“‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’” (Matthew 6:24).
The Old Testament in the Bible offers many principles about earning and handling money in a righteous way. And in the Gospels, Jesus built on those past lessons by exploring the idea that how we deal with money actually reveals the state of our hearts.
The Lord didn’t tell His listeners not to pursue gaining wealth. But He did give them a caution not to make that a higher priority in life than obeying and serving God. In the same chapter, He pointed out a truth about human nature - “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What Does Matthew 6:24 Mean?
So many earthly things can pull us away from God. This verse is a call for Christians to make a conscious choice of not only what they will serve, but how they will live each day.
Even in Jesus’ time, materialism had a hold on some people, like the religious elite and certain tax collectors. They made great efforts to keep their positions of power, partly to protect their wealth. But Jesus knew that anyone could become a slave to a “wanting more” type of mindset, and that he or she could be destroyed by it. So, He publicly reminded believers that their time and energy must be directed toward the things of God.
Christ was also talking about the larger issue of idolatry, of putting anything before God in our lives. A hunger for money can replace the desire for our Heavenly Father and decrease our faith. He hinted at this idea is in His Parable about the four soils:
“‘Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful’” (Mark 4:18).
What Else Is Happening in Matthew 6?
Matthew 6:24 is part of what is called The Sermon on the Mount - a series of teachings by Jesus, perhaps given over a period of days. Along with His disciples, an enormous crowd had gathered to hear Him. Some were merely curious to see the new Rabbi, and others were deeply passionate about following God. But Jesus used this moment to counsel every person there about living rightly.
The Sermon actually begins in chapter 5 and continues through the end of chapter 7. Each of the teachings address what Godly social behavior looks like. But, in a deeper way, they also speak to what a person’s inner character must be.
The start of chapter 6 demonstrates how to approach giving to the needy, as well as prayer and fasting. Jesus stressed the importance of being humble while doing good works, as opposed to the religious elite’s very public displays of goodness.
“‘But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret’” (Matthew 6:3-4).
“‘But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father … And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans…’” (Matthew 6:6a, 7a).
“‘But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father…’” (Matthew 6:17-18a).
Later, after speaking on the subject of money, Jesus encouraged letting go of worry, and to trust that God already knows what we need and is more than able to provide it.
Does Following God Mean We Can't Be Rich or Wise with Our Money?
Money is an object, an important tool for getting what we need and want. And some people in the Bible and in today’s world are certainly blessed with more than others. Scripture makes a point of reminding us, though, that whatever money we do have comes from only one source.
“But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today” (Deuteronomy 8:18).
We must avoid seeking to get, hold and use money only to fulfill our own desires. God’s Word urges us to use it to bless others as well.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Jesus called His followers to use wealth for good, not selfish, ends. Two of His Parables show the stark difference in the choices two men make in regards to their money.
1. The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Jesus told the tale of a man who was attacked by robbers on his way to Jericho. Then He described how both a priest and a Levite walk past, leaving the man lying beaten on the street. But someone steps in, using his own money to help this poor man.
“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper” (Luke 10:33-35).
2. The Parable of the Rich Fool
To warn His listeners about the ruin that greed causes, Jesus shared the story of a man who experienced an abundant harvest. This man, not sure what to do with his surplus grain, decided to build a bigger barn to store all he had. He planned to live a life of leisure from then on. But he received a frightful message.
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:20-21).
How Can We Begin to Break Free from the Master of Money?
To change an unhealthy mindset or behavior pattern, becoming self-aware is always an important first step. So, doing even a simple inventory to understand our motives better is time well spent. And taking moments to meditate on related Bible verses will provide us with guidance and encouragement.
Here are some questions to consider.
What do you spend your time thinking about?
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Are you more thankful for God’s presence or for His presents?
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
Do you trust God to provide for your needs, and even some of your wants?
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Who could be an accountability partner for you in this area?
“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’” (Luke 12:15).
Making the decision to seek God first is not only wise, but results in a more peaceful and joyful life. For He is a gracious and loving master. And the blessings He will bring to us far outweigh anything money could buy.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Fediushkina Elena
Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby!