Theme: God Demands Your Undivided Attention
“Oh, [Lord] how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way (Psalm 119:97,103-104).”
Our portion of God’s law for meditation today focuses on the 1st commandment, and comes from Matthew 6:24:
“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.”
157 years ago, presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech about the severe problem of slavery in America. His speech is often remembered by a phrase Lincoln used to emphasize his point: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln’s point was that America could not endure if slavery continued to be a polarizing issue. Change was needed to survive.
Most people remember those words from Lincoln’s speech and what they meant. But he wasn’t the first to use that phrase. The idea of a house divided against itself was used much earlier before Lincoln, and for an entirely different purpose. Jesus was the one who first said those words. And when He said them He wasn’t applying them to a blemish on the record of civil society. He spoke them concerning His spiritual work as God. Many at Jesus’ time were accusing Him of receiving power from Satan. If this was the case, it would have verified without question that Jesus was not the Son of God and was not working for God’s will.
In the face of this serious accusation Jesus simply revealed the contradiction of such a thought. If Jesus really was working for Satan and not God, it would show through what He did. The very fact that Jesus did things in alignment with God’s Word and against Satan’s desires proved that He was from God. Because, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” If Jesus was truly against God’s will, He was contributing to His demise by His teaching and by His works. He would have been destroying the very house that He supposedly was supporting.
The way in which Lincoln used this phrase certainly fit the culture of America at that time. But it shouldn’t overshadow the greater truths that Jesus first revealed through it. Slavery, as witnessed in our nation’s history, is one result of many that come from sin. Jesus addressed the core problem, the corruption of our human nature by sin. We see a similar teaching from Jesus in our verse for today. In it He calls each of us to examine our hearts and test where our spiritual loyalty rests. The essence of the first commandment is that God demands your undivided attention. If you’re trying to serve other masters, your house will fall.
The word “mammon” is taken directly from the Aramaic language in which Jesus spoke these words and it means worshipping money, riches, or possessions. When we think of Jesus highlighting mammon as an idol that can be served over God, it certainly makes sense. In our culture, money and possessions are often the most important things in life for many people. Pursuit of acquiring the best things and the salaries that allow rich lifestyles are common themes in America, probably because America allows the greatest opportunities to achieve these things. But even if you don’t have a lot in life as far as money and possessions go, mammon can still be a problem. There’s a mindset and an attitude that comes along with seeking money and riches above all else. You may not get caught up in everything as much as others, but it can still change your heart from seeking God first. Whatever you desire the most will affect how you manage your time and what you choose to select as priorities. You don’t necessary need to have a fat bank account or a mansion to fall victim to the god of mammon, it can begin in your heart first.
I would say that the heart is where mammon usually affects us the most. Many of us know that money can’t buy happiness and we understand the importance of God in our lives. Most of us are also wise with our money and generous with giving gifts. But we also must remember that it’s not only those who greedily desire to be filthy rich who break the first commandment. Anytime we put something above God in our lives is idolatry. Very often the more you know about God’s Word, the harder it is to be honest about the areas where you’ve fallen short. Yes, we use the Word to examine ourselves and confess our sins, but we can also use our knowledge of the Word in a sinful way to blur the line between right and wrong.
Making excuses for sinful attitudes and stretching the truth to convince others of morality is just as serious as bowing down to a carved image. We all know better than to worship a false god, but are we always honest about the deeper attitudes and feelings in our hearts? Putting our money and possessions above God can be a hard sin to be honest about. For example, there’s nothing wrong with working hard to support yourself or your family and putting in a lot of time to be good at what you do. God expects as much from a Christian who seeks to bring Him glory in all that he or she does. But what about when your job keeps you from church? What do you do when you have to work on Sunday and you’re not getting that weekly day of rest that God commands? Are you able to recognize the point when your career and job has become more important than God? Not everyone who works on weekends is bowing down to mammon, but it can happen easily and it can be hard to be honest about it when it does. Your job is important, but it’s not more important than God.
Because it is a good thing to work hard and to have a good job, it’s often used an excuse for missed time with God and His Word. Be honest with yourself right now and think about how often you’ve used the excuse of busyness or other responsibilities when you’ve had opportunities to hear and study God’s Word. And think also about how often you use this excuse. That could be an indicator of the effect that mammon has on your life.
Perhaps at this point you might be thinking, “Pastor, you’re being too harsh. I need to support my family, I need to make sacrifices for my job, and I need to make time for my relationships outside of work too. Sometimes there’s just too much going on! Plus, it’s easy for to stand up there and talk about studying the Word, you get to do that for your job, I don’t have that luxury.” It’s true that the more responsibilities you have the harder it will be to properly prioritize everything. It’s also true that a pastor has the benefit of being around the Word of God often. But that blessing can lead to problems if not properly understood. One of the greatest dangers I have as a pastor stems directly from being around God’s Word a lot. It’s very easy for me to look at my time in the Word as a purely academic process that’s simply part of my job. With that attitude studying the Word of God becomes more of a chore and obligation, rather than something I desire to do for my personal relationship with God. Each week I have the command from God to make time in His Word for my own spiritual life, on top of what I do for the congregation. That is difficult to do and I fail often; but that’s what the first commandment demands of me.
No matter which way you look at it, God never says that personal or professional busyness is a valid excuse for failing to find time with Him. There will be certain times that where no matter how hard you try to make it to church, Bible study, or devotion, it won’t work out. But if you plan your time the right way, that will almost never happen because you won’t be put in those situations where you have to decide between one or the other.
It may not seem like a big deal if you miss time with God here and there. Maybe in the end it won’t really change what you believe. But any missed opportunity, especially when there’s not a good reason for it, creates a division. Jesus warned, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Take these words to heart when you think of your obligations in the first commandment. Once a division is created, it will widen unless you fix it. So, yes it’s true that missed time with God is not so big of a deal when isolated on its own. A Sunday here or there is not going to destroy your faith.
But the question is, what precedent are setting, both for yourself and for others? If you convince yourself once that your job or whatever event you’ve been looking forward to is important enough to displace your time in God’s Word, what will happen the next time you’re confronted with the same situation? When others see you putting matters of finances and employment ahead of God, what message will they get from that? How serious will they take God’s first command? But when you make it clear, both for yourself for those that learn from you, that time with God comes first no matter what, your spiritual house becomes stronger, not divided. In both cases, habits are developed and once established, they grow – in whatever direction they’re headed. Don’t allow mammon to dictate the direction of your spiritual life. God’s standard is very clear, He is to come above all other things.
There’s no denying that we’ve failed in this regard many times. And this is only one facet of the first commandment; mammon is not the only thing that can get in the way of God. So, what do we do? When confronted with our misplaced priorities and the fact that we’ve allowed money and possessions to so often trump God’s Word, how can we change?
The only thing that can change you is to know that you are forgiven. Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who weary and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Who doesn’t want rest when it comes to the daily grind of a busy life? But the rest that Jesus offers is spiritual. The confidence and good cheer that comes with knowing that your sins are taken away and you have a fresh life with God. But forgiveness doesn’t mean anything to those who don’t need it. If you can’t recognize the ways that idolatry has invaded your life, especially through your job and possessions, the promise of sins forgiven will go in one ear and out the other. No change will happen.
Along with recognition and repentance of sins comes a healthy test of your life to see what you can do differently so as not fall into the same trap again. Repentance is meaningless if you confess your sins in one breath yet have no intention of correcting the attitude or thought which first led to the sin. When it comes to mammon, perhaps you and your family need to have a serious conversation about what’s keeping you from hearing and studying God’s Word consistently. Perhaps you need to take time to reevaluate your dedication to God and willingness to serve Him. And when you isolate the cause, work on changing it.
You don’t have to do it alone. Christ says that whatever you ask in prayer in His name, He can accomplish it for you. You have a fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters that are going through the same struggles, and they can and should be ready to step up and lend helpful aid or advice. God has put me into your life to aid and assist you in staying connected to His Word, and I am always happy to help. And in that Word you have direct access to Christ whenever you need it. What else could you want for change? You simply have to use it like God wants you to.
No one wants to be a member of a divided church and no one wants to be a divided individual. If you’re struggling with keeping the first commandment because of time management or misplaced priorities, you’re not alone. Don’t get discouraged. God’s command is a lot simpler than you think. But for us who know that command well, we need to ask the tough questions to get to the root of the problem. If you’re worshipping an idol, the solution is clear, stop doing it. But for the dedicated and sincere Christian who is struggling to understand where idolatry has entered, you need to dig deeper.
If you find that your job or possessions are keeping you from God, are you willing to follow God above all else? Perhaps that solution means seeking a new job or reorganizing your schedule so that you don’t have to be divided about where to spend your time. That’s a tough thing to examine and even tougher to change. If you see a fellow Christian struggling with these things, are they important enough for you to lend a helping hand or an attentive ear? It takes courage to put yourself out there in order to help others. But with forgiveness in heart and hand, nothing is impossible.
It’s not a coincidence that the verses after our text address food, clothing, possessions, and priorities. Right after teaching the first commandment and warning about the danger of mammon, Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:25-26, 33).”
If your job, possessions, money, time management, or anything else is taking a higher priority than your relationship with God are you willing to part with those things? Are you willing to follow the change that comes through the good news of forgiveness in Christ? You don’t have to worry, no matter how difficult it seems. God promises that whenever you seek His righteousness above all else, and that’s the kind of righteousness that only comes by faith in Christ, everything will be fine. It’s there in the words, all you have to do is listen and trust Christ by faith, faith that changes your life through the gospel.
May He continue to lead us from division in our heart and souls about whom and what to serve to peace and unity in the Gospel of forgiveness as found only in His Word of truth. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.