“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV).
We are all devoted to something or someone, and submit ourselves to our master’s power over us. Even “masters” have a master (Matt. 8:9; Col. 4:1). Here, Jesus calls our attention to the master we choose to serve. And make no mistake; We choose one master over the other. Divided loyalties are not realistic; We cannot serve two masters. Jesus poses a contrast between serving God or mammon (from Aramaic, “riches, wealth”). Jesus just taught us to lay up treasures in heaven. Now, He identifies our master by whom or what we serve. Does gaining wealth drive your passions, enthusiasm, and values? Your master is mammon when material prosperity is the primary mover of your decisions. Conversely, does pleasing God (doing His will) have top priority in how you work, play, and live? We ought to honestly assess which master we choose. Jesus will go on to say we must “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” instead of being consumed with the cares of this age that distract and destroy faith (Matt. 6:33-34; Mark 4:19). We cannot bow before the altar of material riches without despising God (who blesses us with life itself and the provisions that sustain our lives). To “live by faith in the Son of God,” we must crucify ourselves and be utterly loyal to Him (Gal. 2:20). God must be our master. Choose to serve God today and every day.
23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23–24, NKJV)
This stern warning against pride in personal wisdom, power, and wealth is set against the backdrop of God’s wisdom, power, and richness. Paul wrote, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Human insight is nothing before the Almighty’s wisdom. Only the boastful would make such a foolish claim. Concerning human power, “Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). Pride moves people to think they are stronger than God. Riches are temporary, and “perish through misfortune” (Eccl. 5:14). Pride in material abundance can lead to neglecting eternal riches (Lk. 12:15-21). By contrast, we can “understand and know” the Lord (Jer. 9:24). We understand He is sovereign (Lord), and accomplishes what is gracious, just, and righteous in the earth. Humility glories in God’s accomplishments, not ours. By doing so, God assures us of His favor (delight).
18 Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. 19 As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18–20, NKJV)
The human lot in life is labor. Solomon sees work as a blessing from God, not a burdensome punishment. “It is good and fitting” to work and to enjoy the fruit of one’s labor (v. 18). Solomon sees the increased fruit of labor (“riches and wealth”) as a heritage in which a person can rejoice (v. 19). God designed work to keep us busy as we produce the wherewithal to provide for ourselves and others (v. 20; Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:8). But beware. The temptation to love money is strong – Loving money leads to ruin (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Do not turn labor’s increase into the covetous endeavor and purpose of your life. Wealth does not define your life’s value and purpose (Lk. 12:15). To make that mistake (and to leave God’s will out of your life) is tragically foolish (Lk. 12:16-21). Keep a contented outlook on labor and its reward. Work diligently. Trust God (not riches), be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:6-8, 17-19).
16 A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked. 17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. (Psalm 37:16–17, NKJV)
We use the wrong measuring stick when we measure success by material prosperity. The “prosperity gospel” promotes riches as if they measure God’s presence and approval. More than one religious movement tells us the strength of their bottom line shows God’s approval of their teachings and practices. This is a purely material assessment of spiritual things – a completely futile and false standard of what God accepts (1 Cor. 1:26-31). The poverty and itinerant life of God’s Son, Jesus, disproves such human wisdom (Lk. 9:57-58; 8:3). True, righteous men and women can be wealthy. With God, Jesus said, it is possible for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom (Matt. 19:23-26). The trouble is, riches become a great temptation to leave God out of the picture, and not to become “poor” for the sake of the kingdom (Matt. 19:20-22, 27-30). The riches of the wicked will not save them. God has not promised to make you wealthy. His word says to measure success according to righteousness. May we learn to be content with “a little” from a glad and grateful heart, instead of running after prosperity at the expense of righteousness. Godliness with contentment is great gain, but the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
16 And this also is a severe evil— Just exactly as he came, so shall he go. And what profit has he who has labored for the wind? 17 All his days he also eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and sickness and anger. (Ecclesiastes 5:16–17, NKJV)
Laboring for the wind. That is what Solomon said a person does who hoards wealth. He should know; he was extremely wealthy (Ecclesiastes 2:8). He observed that riches never satisfy the soul, yet they certainly increase problems (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12). Solomon observed how misfortune takes away the miser’s storehouse (5:13-14). Like Solomon, you will not take one bit of your earthly wealth with you when you die (5:15). Why then should you make the abundance of earthly riches your motive and aim in life? It is truly tragic to watch the money-driven person trying to catch the wind, deceived in the hope that by tearing down his barns and building bigger ones, his soul’s longing for contentment will be satisfied (Lk. 12:18-21). Genuine contentment comes from being “rich toward God,” regardless of the amount of money and things one possesses (Luke 12:21-23, 31; Hebrews 13:5). Be rich toward God. That perspective enables you to lay up treasure in heaven (Matthew. 6:19-21). “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage” (Proverbs 11:28).
18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18–19, NKJV)
When thorns and thistles take over a field, the crop will not be productive. Weeds choke out the good plants, robbing them of nutrients, rain and sunshine, until eventually they die. Christ used this to describe the heart that is so crowded with internal influences that no room is made for the word of God to grow and bear its fruit in one’s life. We must make room in our hearts for the word of God, otherwise, our overcrowded hearts will choke out God’s word from our lives. Jesus identified 1) The cares of this world, 2) The deceitfulness of riches, and 3) the desire for other things as the culprits we must weed out of our hearts. Life is brief and uncertain, so live for heaven (Col. 3:1-4). Riches are deceptive, and will never satisfy our yearnings of eternity (Eccl. 3:11; 5:12). Desiring other things instead of seeking first God’s rule and reign in our lives will always choke out the word of God from our lives (Matt. 6:33). Pull out the weeds from your heart, lest you wither and die spiritually.
4 Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease! 5 Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:4–5, NKJV)
Wealth is not the panacea many believe it to be. Riches are perishable; they come and go. For example, billionaire Donald Trump has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times since 1991. Solomon (himself vastly wealthy) advises not to work yourself to death trying to be rich because earthly wealth is temporary. The wise person understands money can be used for good or evil, just as one’s attitude toward it can either be thankful and generous, or covetous and miserly. Content with food and clothing, and thankful for much more than that, lay up treasures in heaven. The imperishable riches of eternal life are laid up there for the faithful (1 Pet. 1:4-5).