Matthew 6:24. No one can serve two masters; for 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 God and Mammon.
This is a horrible judgment that He pronounces here upon greedy people, and primarily upon His Jews. Like our priests and clergy, they were the real greedy bellies; yet they claimed to be doing God a great and holy service. What He wants to say is: “You think that you are all right and that you are serving God with great sincerity. And yet at the same time you are greedy scoundrels, who are doing everything for the sake of Mammon even while you are serving God. But here is the rule: No one can serve two masters at the same time. If you want to be servants of God, you cannot serve Mammon.” He is referring to two masters that are opposed to each other, not to those that govern together. There is no contradiction involved if I serve both God and my prince or emperor at the same time; if I obey the lower one, I am obeying the highest one as well, since my obedience moves in an orderly fashion from the one to the other. When the head of the family sends his wife or children to the servants with orders what the servants are to do, there is only one master, not several, and all the orders come from one master. But “two masters” means two that are opposed to each other and that issue contradictory orders, the way God and the devil do. God says: “You shall not be greedy, and you shall not have any other gods.” But the devil contradicts this and says: “You may be greedy and serve Mammon.”
Reason itself teaches that serving two opposing masters at the same time is an intolerable situation. Still the world is quite skillful at doing it, what we call in German “carrying water on both shoulders”33 or “blowing hot and cold at the same time.” Sometimes a nobleman will serve one prince and accept remuneration from him, but will doublecross him and betray him to another and accept money there, too. Then he will watch to see how the weather comes out, whether there will be rain here and sunshine there. So he will betray and doublecross both of them. But such people do not serve anybody, and even reason has to say that they are traitors and villains. Suppose you had a servant who accepted wages and remuneration from you but kept looking with one eye at someone else without caring about your affairs. And suppose that something went wrong today or tomorrow and he scampered off to the other master and left you sitting there. How would you like that?
That is why it is correct to say that whoever wants to be a loyal servant and to do his work faithfully dare not adhere to two masters but must say: “This is the master that feeds me, and I will serve him as long as I am with him. I will work for his best interests, and I will not be diverted to somebody else.” But if he wants to filch something here and steal something there, that is business for the executioner. The hens that eat at home but lay their eggs elsewhere deserve to be killed. The Jews also had the idea that God should regard them as great saints and be satisfied so long as they sacrificed in the temple and slaughtered their calves and cows. Meanwhile they did their grasping wherever they could. They even set up shop and erected their money-changing tables in front of the temple and in it, to make everything convenient so that no one would have to leave without having made his sacrifice.
It is in opposition to these people that Christ now sets down the maxim that no one should make up his mind to be the servant of both God and Mammon. Since to serve God means to cling to His Word alone and to subordinate everything else to it, you cannot continue this service in the way in which He has instituted it if you want to be greedy for Mammon. if you want to live according to His Word and continue in it, you must immediately repudiate Mammon. This much is sure: as soon as a preacher or minister becomes greedy, he becomes useless, and his preaching becomes worthless. He has to be cautious; he does not dare to denounce anyone; he lets the donations come in till they stuff up his mouth; he has to let the people do as they please; and he refuses to anger anyone, especially the great and powerful. Thus he neglects his duty and his office, which require him to denounce the wicked. Similarly, any burgomaster or judge or other official who wants to pay attention to his office and wants to have it run properly must not give much thought to getting rich or making any profit from it. But if he is the servant of Mammon, he will let himself be bought off with presents, till he becomes blind and no longer sees how people live. He will think: “If I punish this person or that one, I will make enemies, and it may cost me what I have.” Though he may have a fine position and occupy the office that God has commanded and given him, still he cannot carry it out and exercise it. All this is accomplished by Mammon, who has taken possession of his heart.
Such is the way of the world everywhere now. It imagines that Mammon is a mere trifle and not very dangerous, while it deceives itself into accepting the sweet and lovely idea that it can serve God nonetheless. But this is a miserable disease, with which the devil blinds a person to keep him from perceiving his official duty any longer and to ensnare him in greed, simply by making him worry that otherwise people will not give him honor, gifts, and donations. Christ makes His judgment so strict, as we have pointed out, to keep anyone from deceiving himself with such thoughts and supposing that it does not really matter very much. He makes it clear that whoever fails to do his duty as he should on account of Mammon—money or pleasure, popularity or favor—will not be acknowledged by God as His servant but as His enemy, as we shall hear presently. But whoever wants to be found in the service of God and to do his duty properly, should make up his mind to stand up like a man and to despise the world and its Mammon. This does not spring up from within, however, but comes down as a gift from heaven. It is a response to the petition that the God who has given and assigned this office to you may press it down (Luke 6:38) and also give you the capacity to carry it out, persuading you that there is nothing nobler or better on earth for you to have and to do than the service that you are to do for Him. You need not worry very much about whether you suffer a loss on account of this or get into difficulty. You can console yourself with the realization that you are serving a greater Master, one who can easily requite you for your loss. This is certainly better than losing the eternal treasure for the sake of a tiny temporal possession that cannot help you anyway. If you are to choose a master, would you not much rather serve the living God than a helpless and dead scamp?
That, you see, is what every Christian does when he has the Word of God. He honors and keeps it, regardless of whether this irritates the world or whether it costs him his success. This is his attitude: “There is my wallet and money bag, my house and home. But here is my Christ. Now, if I have to forsake and surrender one of them, I will let it all go in order to keep my Christ.” That is what Christ means with the words: “No one can serve two masters.” Eventually they will come into conflict, and one will have to yield to the other. Therefore it is vain for you to persuade yourself of the idea that you will keep them both as your masters, but you simply have to make up your mind to forsake one of them.
Thus the emphasis here is on the little word “serve.” It is no sin to have money and property, wife and children, house and home. But you must not let it be your master. You must make it serve you, and you must be its master. As it is said of a fine, upstanding gentleman: “He is master of his money”—not its subject and its prisoner, as a stingy, greedy belly is, who would be willing to surrender the Word of God and everything else, doing nothing and saying nothing, rather than to take any chances with his money. That is the heart of a woman or a child or a slave. Such a person despises and forsakes the eternal treasure for the sake of that scabby Mammon, which he can neither use nor enjoy. Meanwhile he goes his own smug way, supposing that he can get around to the Word of God any time, and grabbing whatever he can. He cannot miss a single heller, for God’s sake! Eventually he sinks deeper and deeper into greed, he gets farther and farther away from the Word of God, and finally he becomes completely hostile to it.
This is harsh language and a very outspoken judgment when Christ says here: “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” That is the same as saying: “The miserable love of Mammon makes people enemies of God.” Thus some of our priests say, even in public: “Such a teaching would be fine, except that it is dangerous.”34 It arouses hostility—and with good reason, according to them, since it is asking for it. But Mammon is a wonderful god! He does not do any damage either in the kitchen or in the wallet. Thus love and friendship come to a parting of the ways here over the words: “He will hate the one and love the other.” For there are two masters who oppose each other, and one heart is too small for both of them, just as one house is too small for two owners. When the conflict comes, therefore, and you have to serve one and be devoted to him, you will have to anger the other and let him go. So it is that a lover of money and property inevitably becomes an enemy of God. This is the precious fruit of serving Mammon. It is especially evident, now that greed has gained such complete control. There is a major epidemic of greed among the nobles, the peasants, the townspeople, the priests, and the laymen. What great holiness and what beautiful virtue, to take the best part of man away from God and to give it to Mammon! The object of your highest devotion is certainly the thing to which your heart has attached its love and desire, the thing for which your whole body and all your organs yearn. As Christ said earlier (Matt. 6:21): “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What a person loves, that he will certainly pursue, that he will enjoy talking about, that will occupy all his heart and his thoughts. Therefore St. Augustine says: “Whatever I love, that is my god.”35 From this you see what kind of people they are whom Christ terms “enemies of God.” They make a great show of serving Him as if they were His dearest friends, but-fundamentally all they are is genuine demonic saints, who hate God cordially and persecute Him, His Word, and His work.
For hating the Word of God is really hating God. This is how it works. You denounce a man for his unbelief and greed, and you hold the First Commandment up to him (Ex. 20:3): “You shall have no other gods before Me.” That is, “You shah not attach your heart, your desire, and your love to anyone else but Me.” And he refuses to hear that denunciation or to stand for it. He starts ranting and raving against it, until in his heart there is bitterness and venomous hatred against the Word and its preachers. That is why the text of the Ten Commandments contains the threat (Ex. 20:5): “I am a jealous God, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children of those who hate Me.” He is talking about these very same greedy bellies and Mammon-servers, for Scripture calls greed “idolatry,” or the worship of idols (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). And yet, as we have said, they lay claim to titles like “the greatest of saints” and “enemies of idolatry and heresy”; and they absolutely disclaim the title “haters of God.” But they are convicted by their inability to hear or see the Word of God when it attacks their greed, and by their insistence that they get off without any denunciation. The more they are denounced and threatened, the more they deride and mock, doing whatever they please to spite God and everyone else.
Now, is that not a horrible disease and an abominable sin, one that should terrify us so that we hate Mammon from the heart, make the sign of the cross against him and run away as from the devil? Who would not be terrified to fall into this and to hear this judgment spoken over him? He will be called “God’s enemy,” one who not only despises God but even wishes that God and His Word did not exist, just so that he could have the freedom to do as he pleases and wills, to insult God and vex Him. Figure out for yourself what the fate of such a person will be. He is saddling himself with a man who will eventually prove to be too heavy for him.
As the text says, they already have punishment enough in the fact that they are such pathetic people, whose heart and desire, whose love and joy are concentrated on the privy, when they ought to be in heaven with the things of God. What could be more shameful for a human being than to turn his trust away from God, who gives him every good thing and who deserves his devotion, and to take a position behind the devil, where he can enjoy his stench and his hell? In fact, he becomes so completely involved in the wickedness of hell that he not only despises the Word of God, but opposes it with the murderous wish that there were no God. This is the gratitude that God gets from these greedy bellies to whom He daily gives body and life, sun and moon, and all their treasures. But what their reward will be, they will find out. They already have part of it in being forced continually to eat the devil’s stench and filth.
That is the first part of the text, referring to Mammon: “Either he will hate the one and love the other.” The second part refers to God: “Or he will be devoted to the one (namely, God) and despise the other.” He does not simply say here: “He will love the one”; but to show what love does and accomplishes, He uses the word “be devoted.” Anyone who intends to love God and His Word will not have an easy time of it. It will often hit him between the eyes, and the love will often become the kind that the devil sours and embitters for him. Hence we need the ability to hold tight and to be devoted to the Word of God. We dare not let ourselves be torn loose from it, even though our own flesh and the example of the whole world, as well as the devil, set themselves against it and make up their minds to take it away from us. Anyone who can oppose so many enemies all by himself and win must really be a man with the bravery of a knight! Indeed, he must be aglow with the fire of love, burning so brightly that he can let everything go—house and home, wife and children, reputation and property, body and life—and can despise it and stamp on it, just to keep a treasure that he still cannot see and that the world despises, but that is presented merely in the Word and believed by the heart.
He does not mean by this that it is wrong to have and to acquire money and property, or if someone does have it, that he should throw it away, as some fools among the philosophers and some crazy saints among the Christians have taught and done. He lets you get rich; but He does not want your love to cling to your riches, as David taught and as he proved by his own example, saying (Ps. 62:10): “If you acquire riches, do not set your heart upon them.” This is an attitude that can keep Ms heart free right in the very midst of the money and property that God has given, something the world cannot do. And if his riches try to seduce his heart and entice it away from the Word of God, as the beautiful guldens and the shiny silver goblets and the jewels smile attractively at him, then he can trample them underfoot and be as contemptuous of them as the world is devoted to them while it despises the heavenly treasure. In other words, as Mammon’s master, a man must make him lie at his feet; but he must be subject to no one and have no master except the Word of God. Now, this is preached to the little flock who believe in Christ and who regard His Word as true. It is meaningless for the others.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:186). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.