“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.” (Matthew 6:24 KJV)
The gospel of Matthew chapters 5 through 7 contains Jesus’s longest recorded sermon, known as the Sermon on the Mount. Among many teachings, Jesus confronts his disciples with something that perhaps they never thought could be so dangerous: the way they deal with money and material possessions.
Let’s take a deeper look at that verse.
#1 The Two Masters
In Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus talked about how His disciples should deal with worldly riches. He began by saying that we should “not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” but instead, we should “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20 KJV). Then He explains, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 KJV).
Following His train of thought, in verse 24, He affirms that no one can serve two masters. Everybody can only be fully committed to one of them. Then comes the puzzling affirmation: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24 KJV).
The KJV translation retains the original word “mammon” in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13. “Mammon” is a Semitic word for money or earthly possessions. Other Bible versions translate the meaning behind that ancient word as “money” (ESV and NIV) or “wealth” (NASB).
Even though the word “mammon” is originally not meant to refer to an actual idol or a demon, it is presented as an object of worship in Jesus’s Sermon. “Mammon” is personified in these texts, the same way that “wisdom” is personified in Proverbs (for example, see Proverbs 8:1-9:6). Jesus was telling us that greed can be as powerful as an idol in capturing a person’s devotion.
#2 God or Money?
Money is not a bad thing in itself. We can do a lot of good with it. We need money to provide for our families’ needs. Note that the apostle Paul said that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 KJV). The problem is not money. It is the “love of money.”
As with any good thing, if we love and pursue that thing more than God, it becomes an idol in our hearts. That’s why Jesus warned us about it: we cannot love God and love money the same way, with the same dedication. We will end up loving one to the detriment of the other.
Jesus was not comparing God to money when He referred to the two masters. Instead, He was warning us about the power that our desires have to draw us away from God. That includes the desire for money.
Note that Jesus’s warning is not only applicable to rich people. For example, a person may be financially poor because they have no money or possessions, but their desire to leave poverty behind and be rich may consume them to the point that it becomes the most important thing in their life.
Poor or rich, a person who genuinely loves God above everything else needs to have a healthy relationship with money and earthly possessions. That’s what Jesus is teaching us about in that Sermon.
#3 We Must Trust in God
So how should a true disciple of Jesus deal with money? Jesus answered that question for us. He continued His Sermon telling His disciples to “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25 KJV).
He goes on to explain how God takes care of every creature in His creation, especially us. Then, He concludes with a clear instruction: “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). What things is He talking about? He is talking about the material things, including those we cannot live without, like food, water, and clothes.
Jesus is talking about priorities. He said that the Father knows what we need. So, instead of focusing our energy on getting those things, we should seek His kingdom and His righteousness. That is, we should focus on living a life in which God reigns over us, and we should follow His will as is taught to us in the Bible.
But don’t get Jesus wrong. Of course, we must work to the best of our abilities to earn money to provide for our families (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). But we must know that this is not the most important thing in our lives. And, if we lose our job, we must not be desperate. We didn’t lose our identity as children of God. He is still taking care of us. He is the One who will provide for our needs. Loving Him and serving Him – those are our priorities.
Jesus compared the love of money to the worship of an idol. If a person’s priority is to get rich or accumulate possessions, it will consume their lives. The desire for money will keep them away from the Lord. So, as children of God, our priority must be to seek His kingdom, deepen our relationship with Him, and do His will. We must trust that He will take care of everything else.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.