I remember when I was a child watching some sitcom in the 70’s I remember an episode where the main character was trying to hide the fact that they were working an after hours job from the boss of their day job. They would come in to work with bags under their eyes fighting sleep the whole day and the hilarity would ensue from their mistakes resulting from sleep deprivation. I always found it funny that a boss would tell his employees they couldn’t work more than one job. Of course, we have no such issues today in our society. In fact, I would dare say we all probably know someone who works more than one job out of preference or necessity. At one point, I worked 3 jobs while going to college to finish my accounting degree. It wasn’t fun and I’m glad I don’t have to do that now but through sheer force of iron will I was able to do it. However, we need to see as Matthew records here that Jesus teaches an unswerving devotion to God and to His glory.
First of all, we should consider the context of what Jesus says here in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells us that we should invest in the kingdom of God rather than focusing on acquiring wealth simply to acquire wealth (vs 19-21). Jesus tells us that we should serve God with a pure motive instead of trying to focus on God and the things of this world (vs 22-23). He then progresses logically to a question that I’m sure someone has or will ask—why not serve God and try to acquire stuff? I mean, Solomon had a lot of stuff, didn’t he? What’s so wrong with wanting to own and enjoy things and serve the Lord.
First of all, because Jesus says it is an impossible task. He says at the beginning of the verse that “No one can serve two masters”. At the end of the verse, He says “You cannot serve God and wealth”. The fact is, the two masters He refers to are so different that to serve them would be to try to turn right AND left at the same time. To serve God involves a dying to self and a total submission to the will of God. Chasing after the things of this world, in contrast, demands that you be on the lookout for how you can better yourself and in some cases a willingness to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Brothers and sisters, this is not just a case of a sitcom character working til the wee hours of the morning and arrives at their day job looking haggard. “No one” includes everyone. When Jesus says “You cannot” He means the plural “you” not just His audience. I can’t do it. You can’t do it. No one can do it.
There is a good reason no one can do it. You see you and me, dear reader, think of this verse as describing two different jobs. Like the sitcom character, we imagine that if we could get enough caffeine in our system, we could hold down these two jobs of serving God and money for a while at least—even if we were tired. But you see, the task is impossible for someone who seeks to serve God because of the incredible responsibility that service entails. The word “serve” translates a Greek word that is related to the word for “slave” (doulos). We’re not employees who are attempting to eek out a bit of extra spending money because our day job doesn’t pay enough. We are not servants. We are slaves. That means we are property or as I’ve heard people refer to them “Shovels that can walk and talk”. A person can work two different jobs but a slave only has one master. The slave is that master’s property to do with as they please. The slave does not get a choice and, obviously, would not be able to choose to serve two masters. Therefore, from a practical standpoint it’s pretty easy to imagine the problems dual ownership would create.
In fact, I submit to you for a slave to even try to serve two masters would produce inescapable conflict. As Jesus goes on to say, one master is going to get a poor effort or the short end of the stick from this slave. Jesus says the slave will “hate” and “despise” one master. They will be antagonistic in word and deed toward this one master. They will also “think down” on them (“despise”-kataphroneo  means literally to think down or think lowly of). The slave will “love” (agape—not a love of emotion but a love of choice, a sacrificial love that always seeks the best of the object of the love regardless of personal cost) and “be devoted” to the other master. The slave will demonstrate his devotion to the one master in excellent service and loyalty and neglect the other master. After all, he’s only one slave. There is no way he could totally devote 100% of his time, energy, and resources to the one master and have anything left over to give to any other master.
Friends, if you and I are going to serve Jesus Christ as Lord, He must be just that—Lord. We must realize we are His slaves and as such we must make a total commitment to Him and His purposes.