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Serving Two Masters

“No one has the power to serve two Lords; for either the one he will hate and the other he will love or he will hold firmly to one and hold the other in contempt. You are not able to serve God and Mammon.”

(Matthew 6:24)

Recently I read an article that cited a statement that Thomas Sowell made in The Washington Times. Sowell said that “journalists cannot serve two masters: the complete truth and a political agenda.” The criticism that he was making is that journalism seems to have departed from the task reporting the news in as unbiased way as possible and moved to telling you what you should think about events considered newsworthy. Thus, we have the development of both liberal and conservative news reporting. Sowell’s point is that truth is sacrificed on the altar of a political agenda.

As I was reflecting on this, I realized how often we fall into this trap. As teachers in school, we have been called to educate young minds a particular subject but at the same time, standardized testing, athletics, extra-curricular events, etc… compete with our class time. We need to balance what we do with the whole of the program, but at the same time, teaching is compromised in the process. Pastors also fall into this trap. We have been called to preach and proclaim the Truth, teaching believers to obey all that Christ taught. At the same time, if one does so in such a way that drives everyone out of the church, then you no longer have a platform for speaking Truth into people’s lives. That does not mean that Truth is to be compromised, but it is important how one presents the Truth. Sadly, too many pastors have chosen another route to go, seeking to build their congregation by entertaining people rather than speaking what is True. In addition, in many places, the government severely restricts what can be said from the pulpit and even in America, certain restrictions are in place if a church wishes to maintain its tax-exempt status. So, when these restrictions would cause one to compromise or otherwise ignore the Truth, what does one do? Who does one serve? My hopes is that it is God’s Truth and not the government, but all too often, it is the other way around.

In our personal lives, we fall prey to this as well. When we are around other people that might get offended if we speak about our faith, what do we do? In our place of employment, is your speech and behavior consistent with the Bible even if your boss asks you to cut corners? Do you fear the criticism of man or of God? The Greek word Mammon is usually associated with money in our modern culture, but it can also refer to worldly things on every level. So, do we pursue the truth or do we pursue someone’s agenda? There are certainly lots of agendas in the church to choose from, but notice Jesus’ warning, if we pursue the agenda of men over God’s Truth, we will end up loving the agenda and despising God. Man cannot serve both God and Mammon.

Cannot Serve Two Lords (Luke 16:13)

“No household servant is able to serve two lords: for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will cling to the one and look with contempt on the other.  You are not able to serve God and mammon.”

(Luke 16:13)


There is an interesting transition in the language that Jesus uses in this verse.  The verb that is employed in this verse in terms of serving is douleu/w (douleuo), which refers to one’s service as a slave to another.  It is the verb from which we get douvloß (doulos), meaning bond-servant, the term that Paul so regularly uses to speak of himself in terms of his service to Christ.  You might expect, then, that the word for servant used at the beginning of this verse would be douvloß (doulos) as well.  Yet, it is the word that Jesus uses is oijke/thß (oiketes), which is the word that is used for a household servant—a word that can just as easily (though less commonly) be used to refer to someone who is a member of the household.  Essentially, the point that is being made here is to describe not just a common slave, but a slave with privileges as part of the household. 

What an important picture this is in terms of helping us to understand the connection that Jesus is making as he rebukes the Pharisees.  The Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law were given the obligation of God to steward the word of God and the things of God’s righteousness before the people.  In addition, though all were not priests, they all shared a role in keeping the ceremonial law of God pure and undefiled—a law that found its ultimate fulfillment (at least for the day) in the temple sacrifices that the priests made.  Thus, these groups of people—the groups that by this time have been actively seeking to arrest Jesus and have begun discussing his death—were more than just servants of God in the eyes of the people, but they were servants within God’s household—much like the household steward that this parable is about.

It is interesting as well, to look forward to the two teachings that Jesus gives immediately after this parable.  In the context of this section of Luke, Jesus has been giving a series of parables, then breaks for two specific teachings, and then goes back to a parable.  As Jesus is addressing the failure of the Pharisees to steward God’s truth, it seems to make sense to interpret these two teachings in the same context.  The first teaching is about how the Pharisees are more interested in justifying themselves legally before men—using the Law of God to make themselves look good in the eyes of the people instead of using the Law of God to point people toward God’s grace.  The second of these teachings is that of adultery, something that God often accuses the people of when their hearts stray from him toward the idols of this world.  In other words, because the Pharisees have been faithless stewards, seeking to glorify themselves in the eyes of men, they have become guilty of spiritual adultery before God—something for which they will be dealt with quite harshly.

One final note about this parable: the mention was made earlier about this steward of unrighteousness being a reflection of the older brother from the previous parable.  Many through history have pointed out that the rebuke of the older brother within the parable of the Prodigal Son was aimed at the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, and teachers of the Law.  These men stayed home and resented the return and reinstatement of their lost brother.  In the parable of the steward, we are confronted once again with one who is more interested in the letter of the law than to see debtors reinstated in the eyes of the master.  The difference is that in the parable of the steward, the steward repents and offers forgiveness to the debtors forgiveness of their debt to reinstate them in the master’s eyes.

Oh, beloved, how we are to desire forgiveness and the reconciliation that comes through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Yes, reconciliation is important in human terms, but what is most important is in eternal matters.  What are you doing in your family and in your church to use the wealth—the mammon of unrighteousness—that God has given you, to win others to Christ?  How are you stewarding the word of God—that which is of true value—to glorify God amongst the nations?  We have a tendency to think of our wealth as “ours” and to do with what we please and not as something that God has given us to steward.  All too often we use the Word of God to make people feel inferior to us and not to point them toward redemption in Christ.  Too often we are guilty of praying diligently for the salvation of those we love and whose company we enjoy and not being so diligent in praying for those who have offended us.  Oh, loved ones, let us not be like the Pharisees, but be like the steward who repented.  God has given us a task to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all the world—and that task begins at home.

We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,

Who the path of sorrow has trod,

That all of the world’s great peoples

Might come to the truth of God,

Might come to the truth of God.

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,

And the dawning to noonday bright;

And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,

The kingdom of love and light.

-Henry Earnest Nichol