In Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, “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.” He spoke these words as part of His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7), in which He had said it was foolish to store up treasures on earth where “moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19–20); rather, He urged us to store up treasure in heaven where it will last forever. The obstacle that prevents us from wise investment is the heart. Wherever our treasure is, there will our hearts be (Matthew 6:21). We follow what has captivated our hearts, and Jesus made it clear that we cannot serve two masters.
A master is anything that enslaves us (Romans 6:16). Alcohol, lust, and money are all masters of some people. In Jesus’ warning that we cannot serve two masters, He specifies money (or “mammon” or “wealth” in other translations) as a master in opposition to God.
Jesus’ call to follow Him is a call to abandon all other masters. He called Matthew from the tax collector’s booth (Matthew 9:9). Matthew obeyed and walked away from extravagant wealth and dirty deals. Jesus called Peter, James, and John from the fishing docks (Mark 1:16–18). To obey Jesus’ call meant that they had to leave behind everything they knew, everything they’d worked for. Jesus called Paul, a successful Pharisee, with the words, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). Those words will never make it into a mass-market ad campaign for Christianity—but maybe they should, because that’s what it means to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). We must forsake everything else, no matter the cost (Matthew 10:34–39).
The Lord describes Himself as a “jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). This means He guards what is rightfully His. He is righteously jealous for our affections because we were created to know and love Him (Colossians 1:16). He is not jealous for His own sake; He needs nothing (Psalm 50:9–10). He is jealous for us because we need Him (Mark 12:30; Matthew 22:37). When we serve another master such as money, we rob ourselves of all we were created to be, and we rob God of His rightful adoration.
Jesus’ claim to us is exclusive. He bought us with His own blood and delivered us from our former master, sin (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; Romans 6:17). He doesn’t share His throne with anyone. During Jesus’ time on earth, some people followed Him for a ways, but their devotion was superficial (Luke 9:57–62). They wanted something Jesus offered, but they weren’t committed (Mark 10:17–22). Other things were more important. They wanted to serve two masters.
We cannot serve two masters because, as Jesus pointed out, we end up hating one and loving the other. It’s only natural. Opposing masters demand different things and lead down different paths. The Lord is headed in one direction, and our flesh and the world are headed in the other. A choice must be made. When we follow Christ, we must die to everything else, or we won’t make it. We will be like some of the seeds in Jesus’ parable (Luke 8:5–15)—only a portion of those seeds actually bore fruit. Some sprouted at first but then withered and died. They were not deeply rooted in good soil.
If we attempt to serve two masters, we will have divided loyalties, and, when the difficulties of discipleship clash with the lure of fleshly pleasure, the magnetic pull of wealth and worldly success will draw us away from Christ (see 2 Timothy 4:10). The call to godliness goes against our sinful nature. Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we remain devoted to one Master (John 6:44).