Serving One Master

Matthew 6:19-24

April 20, 2008 | Brian Bill

According to a survey of over 4,000 people, Americans are more cynical than ever before.  One book says that we are “discontent and disillusioned.”  We don’t trust politicians or the economy and many are suspicious of the church as well.  I realize that our topic this morning may create additional cynicism for some of you.  One of the raps against churches is that they’re always asking for money. 

That reminds me of the mother who was hysterical because little Jimmy had swallowed a quarter.  She turned to her husband and screamed for him to call a doctor.  So he picked up the phone, but instead of calling the doctor, he decided to call his pastor.  The wife was upset and said, “We don’t need the pastor; we need some medical help!”  To which the husband replied, “Hey, our pastor can get money out of anyone!”

According to the most recent Barna survey (4/14/08), among born-again adults, 9% contributed one-tenth or more of their income.  I was really impressed, though frankly not surprised, by the results from the REVEAL survey that was taken by 222 people from this church this past November.  47% report that they give 10% or more of their income to God’s work.

Since I know what I’m up against when tackling this topic, I hope to persuade you that it’s important to hear what the Bible has to say.  You see, according to Jesus, how we manage our money and our minutes are spiritual issues.  In the Gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus speaks of money over 100 times!  Biblical stewardship is giving back to God that which is His in the first place and then managing our minutes and our money for His glory.  When we do give a tithe or our time, we’re giving to God what He already owns.  

In our brief series called “Growing in Grace,” we’ve been learning that if want to grow; we must take the next step.  Two weeks ago we established that spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic.  We can dream about where we want to be but until we decide to get there and implement the needed disciplines, we’re not going to grow as a disciple.  

Something happened this week that made me think of discipline.  When I was at the gym during my lunch hour on Thursday I met someone new (in an effort to live missionally, I’m trying to meet someone new every single day).  I asked this older gentleman if it was his first time working out and he told me it was his second day.  I encouraged him to keep going and to be disciplined.  He then asked me if it was my first day.  I told him that I actually worked out nearly every day.  He turned to me and sincerely asked a very disarming question: “Has it helped?”  Obviously he couldn’t tell.  

How we invest our money and our minutes reveals who our Master is

Friend, whether you are brand new at the discipline thing or you’ve been at it for awhile, it does help, even if others don’t notice.  Last week we locked into the daily discipline of time in God’s Word: It is impossible to grow in your relationship with God without growing in your relationship with God’s Word.  I want to propose today that if we’re serious about growing we must come to grips with the fact that we’re made to worship – and if we don’t worship God with everything we have, we’ll worship other things.  Specifically, we could state it this way: How we invest our money and our minutes reveals who our Master is.

Let’s use the white board to put some things in perspective.  I’ll write down your responses to this question: “What do people give their money and minutes to?”  Now, let’s erase that which is temporal and leave on the board that which is eternal.  What do we have left?  What lasts forever?  

  • The Word of God
  • People

I think there’s a third thing that lasts forever – what we do with what we have.  How we invest our money and our minutes reveals who our Master is.

Money magazine has declared that money is now the #1 obsession of Americans.  Newsweek reports that we have achieved a new plane of consciousness called “transcendental acquisition.”  I saw a headline on CNBC this week after the stock market had a great day and the commentators were giddy about it.  This is what it said, “Money does buy happiness.”  By the way, did you know that the average credit cardholder has over $9,200 in credit-card debt?  Several years ago this number was around $8,000.  The New York Times reported two weeks ago that the rate is growing faster than it has in years.    

Jesus realizes that most people struggle with managing money and minutes — that’s why He devoted much of His teaching to these critical areas of life.  He dealt with money matters because money matters.  That reminds me of the old Jack Benny skit.  An armed robber approaches Benny and demands, “Your money or your life!”  Benny hesitates and says nothing.  Finally, the robber says, “Well, what will it be?”  To which Benny replies, “Don’t rush me, I’m thinking about it!”   

Sermon on the Amount

While Jesus taught on many different topics, his most famous message is called the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7.  He covered many of the subjects of life: how to treat others, how to forgive, how to handle lust, how to deal with worry, the importance of keeping your word, and the difference between true and false prayer.

Eventually he came to the subject of money.  That really shouldn’t surprise us because money is a big part of what life is all about.  We work for money, we live for money, we think about money, we wish we had more, and worry that we don’t have enough.  Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 6:19-24.  

Let’s stand and read this together: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.” 

If we want to grow we must remember that how we use our minutes and our money determines who our Master is.  This passage gives us practical ways we can grow in this area.

1. Invest in what lasts forever. 

Verse 19 is a negative command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”  Verse 20 is the positive: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”  

The first word that leaps out at us is the word “treasures.”  Jesus did not say, “money” because while everyone does not have a lot of cash, we all have things that we treasure.   Our treasure may be our time, a home, a car, a computer, our clothes, or even a position that we hold or seek after.  While Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to have treasures, He is telling us that our focus should be on laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth. 

The first life-skill that Jesus wants us to develop is to stop living just for today.  This command is in the present tense.  It literally means to “stop storing up” and is the picture of someone stacking coins to show off what they have.  We’re to stop doing something that by nature we’ve been doing for most of our lives.  Jesus knows that our natural, inborn desire is to accumulate things.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t have material possessions, or own property, or save for the future.  The key lies in the little phrase, “for yourselves.”  Jesus is forbidding the selfish, self-centered accumulating of goods as the major end of life.  

Two things happen to the things we own.  First, they decay. In ancient times, wealth was measured in part by clothing.  Garments represented a considerable investment.  The best clothes were made of wool, some with gold thread woven in them.  No matter how beautiful the clothing, moths would often attack and chew right through the garments.  Coupled with the attack of the killer moths, rust would corrode and consume things of value.  Second, our possessions can disappear.  Valuables were often buried out in the field or hidden in a brick wall.  Back then, thieves would literally break into the walls and dig up the yard as they searched for valuables.

If you try to store your wealth, moths will mangle it, or rust will rot it.  If you try to hide it for yourself, thieves can steal it.  Jesus is saying that earthly wealth is very insecure.  It either decays over time, or it disappears altogether.  Some of you have experienced that with the stock market.  Another headline on CNBC that came right after the one I mentioned earlier was this: “Is your money safe?”  The answer is that it’s safe only if it’s invested in that which is eternal.   Job 27:16, 20 provides a vivid description of this process: “Though he heaps up silver like dust and clothes like piles of clay…he lays down wealthy, but will do so no more; when he opens his eyes, all is gone.”  The principle is this: Hold tightly what is eternal; hold lightly what is temporal.

I’m reminded of what a person asked at a funeral when he was looking at the casket of a very wealthy man: “I wonder how much he left?”  To which the wise friend replied, “All of it.”  Proverbs 23:5: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”  James 5:1-3 is quite convicting because almost everyone in America could be considered “rich” as compared to most other countries in the world: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded.  Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” 

Earthly treasures are fleeting and futile but heavenly treasures are secure.  1 Peter 1:4: “And into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you.”  Treasures that we send on ahead are mothproof, rustproof, and burglarproof.  Verse 20“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  I heard that this phrase appears on a tombstone somewhere: “What I spent, I lost.  What I saved, I left.  What I gave, I have.”

That leads to a question: How do we make deposits on earth that yield dividends in heaven?  Let me answer that in just one sentence: You store up treasures in heaven by investing your money and your minutes in that which lasts for eternity.  Friends, everything else will decay or disappear.  Cars, boats, homes, clothes, jobs, salaries, vacations, books, and buildings will all pass away.  They wear out, rust out, blow up, or fall apart.  Nothing that is material lasts forever.  That’s the way God set it up.  1 John 2:17: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  I love what Jim Eliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Since only the Word of God and people last forever, we need to develop a long-term view.  When we give of our financial resources to people in need, we are making a difference.  The ultimate investment you can make is to give financially to help communicate the Word of God to people.  That’s why I’m so glad we support so many missionaries and look forward to what we’re going to do individually and as a church to come alongside all those serving as missionaries this summer (see bulletin for details).

How we use our minutes and our money determines who our Master is.  Therefore, invest in what lasts forever.

2. Look at what you’re longing for. 

Verse 21 prods us with this question: “Where are you investing your time and your treasures?”  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Did you catch the change of tense from plural to singular?  In the previous verse we read the word “yourselves” twice and now we see that we must personally decide for ourselves: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

To put it plainly, Jesus is saying that your heart follows your money and your minutes.  That’s not the way most of us think.  We tend to think our money follows our heart — if our heart is right, we will spend our money wisely.  That’s not the way it works because your heart always follows your treasure and your time.  

Whatever you invest your time and treasure in will become very important to you.  And the issue is not what we have; but our attitude toward what we have.  Too many of us spend all that we have on the things of this world and then we wonder why we have trouble concentrating on the Word.  Our problem is that we’ve invested everything down here and hardly anything up there!  How we spend our treasures and how we spend our time has kept our heart tied to the earth.  I like what someone has said: “If your treasure is in earth, you are going from it; if it is in heaven, you are going to it.”  Luke 12:15: “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

When I got out of high school I bought a brand new motorcycle.  It was a blue Honda Hawk.  It was gorgeous.  Since I had spent my hard earned money on this bike, I took very good care of it.  I would wash and wax it once a week.  I even used my toothbrush to clean the hard-to-get places (this was kind of hard on my teeth after awhile!).  I bought a tarp and covered it so it wouldn’t get wet when it rained.  

I owned this bike for two years.  It was during my second year of college, that I began to investigate Christianity and eventually committed my life to Christ.  After I had been a Christian for a couple months, I realized that I wasn’t as focused on God as I wanted to be.  Then it dawned on me.  I was putting so many minutes and so much money into my motorcycle that it was starting to negatively affect my faith.  Instead of me owning my bike; my bike was starting to own me.  I eventually sold it because of its tenacious tug on my heart and was able to use this money to take a summer class in a Bible school.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you have to sell a motorcycle or a car to be a fully committed follower of Christ.  What I am saying is this: Your heart will always follow your money.  Your life is leashed to what you long for.  Possessions can end up possessing us.  How we use our minutes and our money determines who our Master is.  Therefore, invest in what lasts forever and look at what you’re longing for.  That leads to a final exhortation.

3. Be devoted to one Lord. 

In verse 24, Jesus says: “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”  To “serve” means that we’ve made a decision and engaged our wills.  The word Jesus uses here for money is the word, “Mammon,” which is a proper noun, or a name.  Jesus viewed Money as a rival for preeminence.  Attachment to money leads to a detachment from God.  It fights for supremacy in our lives and it has many of the characteristics of deity.  It promises security, freedom and power.  

The word “devote” means to hold oneself face-to-face with something or someone.  Whatever we devote ourselves to becomes our God.  When we try to love both God and money sooner or later it will begin to show where our real loyalty lies.  Only one master will win out.  The word “despise” in contrast means “to hold in contempt.”  Money is not just a neutral medium of exchange, but a “power” with a life of its own which seeks to control, and even consume us.  The goal of this Money Master is total domination of your value system, without you even being aware of it.  What you live for will determine who your Lord is.

If you are tight with your time, devoted to the pursuit of possessions and the making of money, you will find yourself despising the things of God

If you’re serving the Money Master, Jesus says you will be unable to fully serve God.  He doesn’t say, “You better not” or “It would be unwise to serve both,” He says, “you cannot serve both God and money.”  It literally means that it is absolutely impossible to serve both.  As such, how we handle our money has a lot to do with how serious we are about obeying God.  His words are unsettling.  If you love money, you will end up loathing the Lord.  If you are tight with your time, devoted to the pursuit of possessions and the making of money, you will find yourself despising the things of God.  

I suspect that you do not want to hate God.  In fact, you’re here because you want to learn how you can get to know Him better.  Our mission statement is to connect people to Jesus and equip them to be growing and faithful followers.  Let me put it right on the table.  You will never be able to fully love God and grow in grace if you are in love with money and all that money can buy.  Loving the Master and loving money is mutually exclusive.  Vernard Eller perceptively quips: “One’s ultimate loyalty must converge at a single point.  To try to go two ways at once will rip a person down the middle.”  Some of you are torn up precisely because you’ve been trying to serve money and minutes and the Lord.  It doesn’t work.

We’ve all heard the expression “Money Talks.”  Do you know what it says?  It says, “Bye-bye.”   Have you ever listened to what it really says? “You hold me in your hand and call me yours.  Yet may I not as well call you mine?  See how easily I rule you?  To gain me, you would all but die.  I am invaluable as rain, essential as water.  Yet I do not hold the power of life — I am futile without the stamp of your desire.  I go nowhere unless you send me.  My power is terrific.  Handle me carefully and wisely, lest you become my servant, rather than I yours.”  As someone has said, “Money is a wonderful servant, but a lousy master.”

In summary,

  • Invest in what lasts forever
  • Look at what you’re longing for
  • Be devoted to one Lord

Since how we use our minutes and our money determines who our Master is, let’s lock into some truths we can take home with us today.

Take-Home Truths

1. Transfer ownership to God.

Randy Alcorn, author of the very helpful book called, “The Treasure Principle,” says that we need to keep two truths in mind: “God’s ownership and our stewardship.”  Psalm 24:1 says that God owns everything so let’s give everything back to Him.  Here’s something practical.  When you talk about money, instead of saying “my money,” simply say, “God’s money.”

2. Decide to serve one Master.

It’s not what God wants from you (more money and more minutes) but what God wants for you (devotion to one Master).  Don’t be like Gehazi in 2 Kings 5 who put money over ministry or like Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10 who was so devoted to this world that he deserted the Apostle Paul or like Judas who sold out Jesus for some silver in Matthew 26:15: “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?”  If you haven’t fully surrendered to the Lord, do so right now.

3. Invest in the eternal.

We show what we’re devoted to by what we do (minutes) with what we have (money).  A recent Harvard Business School study found that the only way that money buys happiness is when we spend it on someone else: “Regardless of how much income each person made, those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not” (   Listen to the words of 1 Timothy 6:17-19: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

4. Tithe your money and your minutes

What would you be able to accomplish for the kingdom if you gave 10% of your time and your treasures?  We all have 168 hours in a week and over 10,000 minutes each week to invest in that which lasts or that which doesn’t.  This idea may be just a starting point for some of you while for others this is really going to challenge you. While we’re all busy, we all have more time than we think we do.  A man and his wife were sitting in the living room when he said to her: “Just so you know, I never want to live in a vegetative state dependent on some machine. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.” So, his wife got up and unplugged the TV. 

Chuck Colson, in a Breakpoint Commentary this week, asked some very provocative questions: “If your church disappeared tomorrow, would your local community even notice? Would it be missed? What vital, world-redeeming tasks would be left undone?  You might ask yourself the same haunting question: If you were to exit…stage right this very evening, what difference would it make?” (

We often don’t observe opportunities around us because we’re so caught up in our own worlds.  We need to have fresh eyes to see.

Use me today, I know you can.  Lord, I surrender to your plan; you made this heart, you made these hands, take me and use me as I am.  Friends, here’s a closing challenge from an anonymous source: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?