Matthew 6:24-34: You Can’t Serve God and Money

Person and Money (610x351)When Jesus says, “You can’t serve God and money,” He’s not accusing you of devoting your life to amassing wealth. For if you serve money, that means money is the most important part of your life. You’ll do whatever you need to do to get it, to get more of it. That describes almost no one.

So, that’s not your problem. Even more, you’re here today, in Church. You may have come to Sunday School because you realize that you can never learn too much of God’s Word. You’re here, right now, to receive Jesus as He comes to You in Word and Sacrament for life and salvation. So, part of you wants to serve God. Rejoice! That’s faith working in your life.

What then is the problem? It’s this: Only part of you wants to serve God. You want to do what Jesus says that you cannot do: You cannot serve God and money. Now, Jesus doesn’t command you not to serve both. He is simply stating reality. You don’t have the ability or power to serve two masters (note the indicative in the Greek).

God is good, and money in itself is not evil. You can do much to help others with the money that you have. It’s “the love of money [that’s] a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). So, we can even say, when correctly understood, that money can be something good. It’s simply another tool in the toolkit to use in a faithful way.

Here’s where we get into trouble. We want to place our trust in both God and money. That’s like wanting your cake but also eating it, too. If you do one, you don’t have the other. And Jesus says that we don’t have the power or ability to do both: “You cannot serve God and money.” As a fallen being, you don’t have that power.

Do you remember the rich, young man who asked Jesus, “Rabbi, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). That man saw himself as being in God’s good standing based on what he did. That’s why he asked Jesus that question. If you want to be righteous according to the Law, then Jesus always gives you a Law answer, one He knows you can’t do.

And so Jesus told the rich, young man, “If you want everything to be complete [between you and God], go, sell your belongings and give to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). “When the young man heard this, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions” (Matthew 19:22). He didn’t have the power within him to serve both God and money.

Think of Zacchaeus. He was that “wee, little man” you may have sung about as a child. He had amassed much wealth by taking more than his rightful commission when he collected taxes. But after Jesus visited him, and he had received the gift of faith, he gave away half of what he owned (Luke 19:8). “You cannot serve God and money.”

But the real problem is not the money. It’s if money has become your master—even in part! As one whom the Spirit has gifted with faith, it’s not about how much money you’re willing to give away. That’s because faith sees all that we have as a coming from God. He’s graced us with abilities and talents. He’s put us in this place and time. And so faith says, “Everything that I have is from God. It’s not mine.”

It’s the sinful, works-righteous part of us that wants to strike a deal with God. “God, I’ll give you 10 percent, but let me keep the rest!” We think that’s generous.   After all, that was the Old-Covenant tithe, so God’s people back then could have a full-time priesthood to serve at the Temple and offer sacrifices. But how is that thinking different from being a Pharisee, regardless of what amount you may give back to God?

“You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus only gives you two alternatives. Here’s the first: You take all that you have and see it as coming from the hand of God. You manage all that you have in that way—money, time, goods, and health—being content with what God has given you. You’re the steward, not the owner. Here’s the second way: You see all that you have and consider it as your own; you’re the owner.

Now, we’d like to have it both ways. But we can’t. Jesus doesn’t give us that choice. He says we’re too weak to serve those two masters: “You cannot serve God and money.” When we serve money, it’s easy to ignore God when life is going well.

We can be like the rich fool, whom Jesus spoke about in a parable. He who tore down his barns to build bigger ones. He then retired, trusting that he had secured his future—not based on faith, as a steward of what God had given—but in unbelief. He wasn’t prepared for the judgment when God then demanded his soul (Luke 12:13-21).

If that describes you, repent! Turn from your sin of seeing what you have with you as the owner, instead of the steward. As the old hymn goes, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home” (LSB 748). When one is trusting in Christ, He lives that way.

But what if you’re like me. What if you’re still working, not retired, still having to bring in income to pay the bills, so you don’t become homeless? When you serve money when you need it to live, it causes you to worry. When do we have enough to feel safe? When does it satisfy? What will you do if the economy crashes?

When we worry, we’re telling God, “I don’t trust You to handle my problem. It’s serious, and I’m not sure that You’ll help me.” Our worry proclaims, “God, You’re unpredictable. After all, You cause the sun to rise on the both the evil and the good, and You send rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous [Matthew 5:45]. I’m not sure if You’ll work through the bad stuff in my life for my eternal good [Romans 8:28].”

So, what does Jesus say to this?   He says, “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” How can Jesus say that? He tells us next. “Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Yes! The stuff of this fallen world is not the end all and be all of life.

But notice that Jesus says, “Don’t worry.” He doesn’t say, “Don’t do.” Our sinful nature is good at taking the truths of God and twisting them beyond recognition. After all, worry can be an enormous motivator in our lives. We don’t like to worry. So, we do what we must do to send it far from us, to make it become a distant stranger.

And when we don’t worry, we stop doing. The wolf is no longer at the door. We then live that way and stop doing all the stuff that it caused us to do. Why should I do this or that if the fire of worry is no longer burning me up?

That’s our sinful nature. It careens from lack of trust and then does something to make up for that. And then when part of us trusts God, our sinful nature will tell us to sit on our butt and do nothing. But Jesus says, “Don’t worry”; He doesn’t say, “Do nothing.”

What’s the difference? It’s the joy of faith motivating you. Oh, God will take care of me? Good! Let me then use what God has given me as He would want me to do. After all, it’s not my stuff, but His. “Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Yes!

So, in the joy of knowing that, we live out the faith. We don’t worry, for it changes nothing. “Who among you can add a single hour to your life by worrying?” Look at the birds! They don’t worry. But every morning they do what God has given them to do. They gather food for the day. That describes the Christian life.

We do what we do in Christian freedom, not worrying, but knowing, trusting, that God will take care of us. Like the birds of the air, we do what God has given us to do—in joy and Christian freedom, as a faithful steward, not an idolatrous owner.

And what about the flowers of the field? Every spring, they burst forth in life; every autumn, they wither and die. But look at them—they’re more beautiful than someone dressed in the finest clothing. If that is how God takes care of a tiny, little flower, won’t He also take care of you?

And He does. You’re here with food in your belly from breakfast. Maybe, you worried about breakfast, or not. But either way, your stomach is filled. And Jesus will feed you even more. He will feed you of Himself in His Supper, cleansing you from all sin.

So, don’t worry about what you will wear. For Jesus has worn your flesh and taken it into death. And you will wear His flesh in the resurrection on the Last Day. That’s why you will not die but live. You know how it all will end! So, why worry!

Jesus says, “Above all, seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” So, where does God’s kingdom break into this world? When Jesus walked the earth, it was where He happened to be. That was where heaven and earth came together.

But where does God’s kingdom break into this world today? Where do heaven and earth meet and intersect today, for you? Let me ask it in this way? Where do you receive Jesus? He comes to you specifically in His Supper, in His body and blood, in what He calls “the New Covenant.” That’s where the kingdom of God comes to you. That’s also where you receive the righteousness of Christ.

And so Christ’s righteousness is yours. His kingdom is yours. That’s not because you deserve it, but because He gives it to you. So, why worry? For when you have Christ, You have all that God wants to give you. He is your Maker, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. He is your life, strength, and hope. In Him, you live life in all its fullness, for in Christ, all of God’s promises are “Yes”! (2 Corinthians 1:20).  Amen.