"No one can serve two masters" (Mt 6: 24)
Pope Shenouda III | 12 June 2011
In case each master has a different tendency, one cannot serve both equally, or with the same degree of honesty. One's service will be true from all the heart to the one, and in flattery or hypocrisy to the other.
In case both have the same tendency, anybody can serve them equally. A person can serve God, the church, the community, the state, and knowledge, but cannot serve two opposite or competing masters, whether the master is a person or a thing.
God's service ought to be perfect and comprehensive from all the heart.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Deut 6: 5; Mt 22: 37- 40) but what if the love of the neighbor conflicts with the love of God? The Lord says, "He who loves father or mother … son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." (Mt 10: 37) Love everybody and everything within God's love, not more or against, and you will be serving God alone, not two masters.
God and Caesar:
One can serve God and the ruler if both are of the same tendencies, not conflicting. Then as the Lord says, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mt 22: 21) Service will be impossible to both if Caesar interferes to lead people away from God, for, "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5: 29) This was the cause of the conflicts between Christianity and Caesar, and the epochs of martyrdom and persecution, which ended when harmony was restored between Christianity and the holy Caesars, and the church fathers became able to serve both.
God and the world:
"Friendship with the world is enmity with God." (Jas 4: 4) Therefore, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life ... the world is passing away, and the lust of it." (1 Jn 2: 15- 17) The impossibility of combining between the love of God and the love of the world is clear in the words of St. Paul the Apostle about Demas:
"Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." (2 Tim 4)
Solomon the Wise is another example, for the lusts of the world absorbed him.
He said, "I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards … gardens and orchards … I made myself water pools … I acquired male and female servants … I had greater possessions of herds and flocks … I also gathered for myself silver and gold, and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men …whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them." (Eccl 2: 4- 10)
The Spirit and the flesh:
Nobody can serve both together, since the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another (Gal 5: 17). Actually, he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life (Gal 6: 8).
Strange enough that Solomon the wise, having obtained all such worldly treasures, says, "Also my wisdom remained with me" (Eccl 2: 9)! I blame him, because his wisdom remained only for some time, "For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David." (1 Kgs 11: 4) Although the Lord appeared to Solomon twice, he could not serve God and the lust of women. He also went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites, and did evil in the sight of the Lord (1 Kgs 9: 2; 11: 5, 6). So, the Lord punished him and tore away his kingdom (1 Kgs 3: 11- 13).
A prominent example of one who the lust of women destroyed is Samson the valiant:
He was a Nazirite to God from the womb; the Spirit of the Lord moved upon him, and came mightily upon him (Judg 13: 7, 24, 25; 14: 6, 19; 15: 14). God also did wonders to him and saved him. Yet, in spite of all this, Samson fell in the lust of women and could not serve God and this lust. He fell in lust for a woman in Timnah, who pressed him so much until he explained to her the riddle he had put to the young men (Judg 14: 2, 16, 17). Then he fell in lust for a harlot in Gaza, and again he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah (Judg 16: 1, 4) who became the cause of his destruction. She betrayed him, pestered him daily, and pressed him until his soul was vexed to death, so he told her all his heart. He lost his vow, they shaved him off, put out his eyes, and bound him with fetters, and he became a grinder in the prison (Judg 16: 16, 17, 21)
If behind every great man there is a woman, so also behind every unsuccessful man there is more than one woman! True are the words that the lust of women has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by it were strong (Prov 7: 26).
On the other hand, if the spirit and the flesh took the same spiritual way, these words will apply, "Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." (1 Cor 6: 20)
God and Satan:
Certainly, no one can serve God and Satan, as clear from the first sin in which our mother Eve fell, because she could not combine between God's command and the serpent's opposite words. By obeying the serpent and disobeying God she fell, and brought about death to humanity as a whole (Gen 3).
Elijah the Prophet warned the children of Israel, and us as well, saying, "How will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him." (1 Kgs 18: 21) Evidently, nobody can serve two masters.
God and the Ego:
The Ego is our greatest enemy, so God commands us to deny ourselves, saying, "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (Jn 12: 25) "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother … yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." (Lk 14: 26) "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Mt 10: 39) That is why many perished, having focused on themselves more than on God!
The ego was behind Satan's great fall.
He was a great angel of the Cherubim, as God said to him, "You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty … You were the anointed cherub who covers." "You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you." (Ezek 28: 12- 15) Iniquity entered into him when he thought of exalting himself. Therefore, God rebuked him, saying, "For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.'" (Isa 14: 13, 14) Satan could not combine between serving the ego and serving God, so, he was brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit (Isa 14: 15).
The ego destroyed King Saul, when he separated himself from God and acted alone. The ego aroused his hatred against David, to pursue and kill him. Saul could not combine between serving God and serving the ego, or between serving the ego and his love for David.
God and possessions:
The Lord says expressly, "You cannot serve God and mammon." (Mt 6: 24) "How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."(Mk 10: 23- 25) that was the problem of the rich young man who sought the kingdom of God, and came to the Lord saying, "What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" When the Lord said to him, "Go, sell what you have and give to the poor …" he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mt 19: 16- 22)!
Nevertheless, many rich people were righteous and children of God's kingdom.
Our father Abraham was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold, and received the Lord's blessing (Gen 13: 2; 12: 2). Job the Righteous likewise was the greatest of all the people of the East (Job 1: 3), and the Lord testified to him as a blameless and upright man (Job 1: 8). Joseph of Arimathea who wrapped the Lord's body and buried Him in his own tomb, was rich and was a disciple of the Lord (Mt 27: 57). An example from modern history is Ibrahim Al Gohary, a very rich and righteous person who loved the church and the poor.
Here I would like to distinguish between one who "serves by money" and who is "served by money".
All the abovementioned saintly rich people served God by their wealth, as well as the women who followed the Lord and provided for Him from their substance (Lk 8: 3). In the Apostolic Era likewise all the believers who possessed lands or houses sold them, and brought their proceeds and laid them at the apostles' feet, who distributed to each as anyone had need (Acts 4: 34, 35). Other women also gave their houses to be churches (Rom 16: 3- 5).
Ananias and Sapphira did the opposite (Acts 5). They could not combine between love for God and love for wealth. They did not possess money, but money possessed them.
Money made them lie, not only to the apostle, but also to the Spirit of God in him. Actually, whoever serves money seeks always to increase it. It is hard for them to take away from it and give the poor. It is hard for them to give the tithes, the first fruit, and whatever else is due to God. There is always increase in the unrighteous mammon (Lk 16: 9), that is, the money by which they oppressed the poor when they kept it with them, or by which they robbed God Himself (Mal 3: 8)!
Who serves money falls in the sin of collecting and heaping.
As Solomon the Wise said, "To the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting." (Eccl 2: 26) In an article entitled "The devil of wealth", I said, 'A person may rejoice whenever his wealth increases, as if the wealth were the goal, not its use for doing good and distributing to the needy or for assistance in big cases, such as planting kidney or liver or the like!'
The most dangerous effect of serving money is trusting in it, as the Lord explained to his disciples when they felt confused (Mk 10: 23, 24). A person who trusts in money becomes worried and concerned when he suffers shortage of money. That is why the Lord said to those, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body; what you will put on … For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." (Mt 6: 25, 32)
We shall continue with this point next weak – God willing.