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You Cannot Serve Three Masters



This is just a fairly simple observation that I have made, which I do not think contradicts the Bible teaching about us not being able to serve two masters.  I think that what I have observed may give us a clue as to how we can be gradually deceived into serving the wrong master, as well as helping us to see the dynamics involved in a decision to serve the right master.  Here is how it goes:
Most of us are drawn between three things:  God, our family and friends, and money.  Jesus taught us that we cannot serve both God and money at the same time, that we are going to despise (or cheat on) one or the other.  However, I have noticed that there is this middle ground (our relationship to other people), which is neither good nor evil in itself.  It is here that we often become overwhelmed when contemplating a move in either direction between the two masters that Jesus spoke of.


Let's start with those moving away from serving God and toward serving Mammon.  My experience with people who have been confronted with the teachings of Jesus about money (and that includes those of us who are trying to serve Jesus now) is that, when we start backsliding, we rarely acknowledge to others (and probably rarely acknowledge it to ourselves either) that we have decided to turn from serving God to serving money.  Those of us who have learned that people will give donations for literature, or that food can be found through bin raiding can go through the same motions, but with a subtle change in motivations.  

Once it has been accepted that distributing literature is just a way of making money, then it is easier to use other strategies for the same purpose: material provisions.  Even after taking on full time employment, such people will still be espousing some fine moral codes, including their love for their families and others.


What they are doing is turning toward this middle neutral ground, i.e. family and friends, to rationalise each step away from God and toward Mammon.  They need not mention God at all, but if they can convince themselves that they are only thinking of the good people who might be hurt by an extreme desire to obey God, then they can almost see themselves as heroes, standing up for the oppressed parents, neglected children, spurned associates, who have all been "hurt" as a result of a fanatical emphasis on obedience to the teachings of Jesus.  

In their eyes, this is not a rebellion against God, but just against those who are too extreme in trying to obey God.  It is only after a considerable period of time that it becomes apparent that they have, in fact, turned against everything that they once claimed to believe, based on the teachings of Jesus.


With regard to that third master (family and friends), we have those shocking words coming from the mouth of Jesus himself, where he says that anyone who comes to him and does not "hate" his family, is not worthy to be one of his disciples.  Both sides agree that Jesus was not talking about literally hating these people (since that would be clearly contrary to everything else that Jesus taught about love).  But the differences are along the lines of one side thinking that Jesus is pointing out what a serious threat our emotional ties can have to our spiritual growth, while the other side thinks that the anti-family teaching was a total mistake, never intended by Jesus at all.  (Note that when I talk about the third object of our love and devotion from the Christian perspective, I say things like "others" rather than just "family".  I have done this because I think that, too, is a part of what Jesus was trying to get us to see when he spoke out against the use of family titles and family ties.)


What are some of the main reasons that people give to defend working for money?  Most of us know that we should not be saying anything so extreme as that we work for money because money will buy us happiness.  But we do say that we are working to "support our family" or to "help the poor".  See how our family and other people come into this?  Sometimes there are even arguments about us not wanting to make others feel that they are being judged for their own service for money.  People say that it is arrogant and unloving to suggest, either by our words, or by our thoughts, that everyone who is working for money is wrong.  Taking a militant stand against working for money is seen as unloving, whereas working for money is seen as being a necessary step in expressing love.


The most consistent, though unsubstantiated, claim against the Jesus Christians was always that parents were being treated unkindly.  However, even in the most extreme case, where a Jesus Christian was almost killed in a murderous assault, the core of the complaint was that a 17 year old boy called his father by his first name, instead of calling him Dad.  This is a powerful illustration of how blind people can become to what is really unloving (an attempt to kick someone to death) when they see someone taking even the simplest of Jesus' commands ("Call no man on earth 'Father'.") seriously.


Now let's look at what happens when someone is moving in the other direction, i.e. from serving Mammon to serving God.  In the world (and even in the churches) people have come to think of it as being quite reasonable and respectable to serve two of the three masters that I referred to above, i.e. money and family/friends.  The remaining master (i.e. God) can get lip-service, but little more.  There just isn't enough time for all three.  But if you try to serve God, you will still see the importance of serving others, but it will be coming from quite a different direction.  Jesus' greatest command comes in two parts, i.e. loving God with all our hearts, and loving our neighbour as we love ourselves.  We who try to obey Jesus are also serving two masters (by this understanding), but our service to others is clearly understood to be coming as a result of our service to God, and so it is not a threat.


Instead of other people becoming justifications for our service to Mammon, they become the objects of our service to God.  The old way looks so benign and respectable, and yet the end result is that there isn't enough left for more than token donations of time, money, or praise to God, before one rushes back to the other two masters.


In both cases, the extra master which I have interjected into this equation (other people) is really not the place to start when sorting out which is the primary motivation.  Friends and family become the practical objects on which we followers of Jesus demonstrate our love for God, or they become the respectable justification for the world's love for money.  So, while Jesus made it clear that family and friends needed to be secondary, he still just narrowed it down to the two forces which are really competing for our devotion. i.e. God or Mammon.  Service to one will bring eternal rewards, lasting joy, and genuine peace, while service to the other will ultimately bring people unstuck.


I hope that these few comments will make it easier for people to see the hurdles that must be cleared when moving from service to Mammon to service to God, and the stages of deception that occur when moving in the opposite direction.


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