Sermon preached on Matthew 6:22-24 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/31/2014 in Novato, CA
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Love and Loyalty to God
In our last message from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged us to examine what we treasure. We were called to set our hearts on heavenly treasure instead of earthly treasure. That basic theme is further developed in today’s passage in slightly different terms. Here the comparison becomes even more focused. It’s not just about earthly treasure versus heavenly treasure. It’s earthly treasure versus God. Is your love in earthly wealth, or in God? Is your focus and devotion on God and the things of God, or have you given it to something else? And so today’s passage calls us to consider our love for God and our loyalty to him, over any earthly treasure. This theme is developed in two different ways. First, Jesus uses the analogy of an eye. Second, Jesus uses the idea that we can’t have two masters. Both of these ideas are calling us to have love and loyalty toward God. Or, to put it in a different way, they both get us to think about how to live out that greatest of commands; to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Or to put it in yet another way — we must set out chief end in life to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
So then, let’s dig into this passage by considering first Jesus’ analogy here about the eye. This is verses 22-23. Jesus begins in verse 22 by saying that the lamp of the body is the eye. Now, please understand that this is an analogy. People sometimes get hung up here because they know their biology and how an eye actually works from a biological standpoint. From a biological standpoint, calling the eye a lamp is surely not the most accurate of analogies. But Jesus is not talking about biology here. He’s not really even concerned with eyes. The analogy is the eye here, and so we need to appreciate what he is saying so we can understand the lesson he is giving us. And so he says that the eye is a lamp. What does that mean? Well, it’s fairly simple. Lamps give off light. They make it so that we can see where we are going. If you don’t have a lamp, you will stumble around in darkness. But otherwise, if you have a lamp shining in the darkness, you will be able to see where you are going. And so Jesus starts by saying that an eye is like a lamp for the body. Without the eye, the body would be in darkness. With the eye, the body can see where it’s going. That’s the initial basic idea here.
Jesus then goes on to talk about two different kinds of eyes. One good eye and one bad eye. Or at least that’s how the NKJV translates the adjectives there for the eyes. Good and bad. A more literal translation of those adjectives is what you have in the KJV, though. Instead of good and bad, it has single and evil. So the KJV reads, “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.” So the KJV has a very literal reading here: single versus evil. This is interesting, because the adjectives of single versus evil are not the kinds of words you might expect to be side to side like this as opposites. I think the translations that explain these contrasting adjectives as good and bad, or some have healthy and bad, those seem like adequate interpretations of these words. But it is interesting that the literal language is single and evil.
And so to have a single eye, is the sense of a sound and working eye; an eye that is able to rightly focus on the object it is looking at. In verse 22 Jesus says that such a single or sound eye is a good thing. It means that the eye which Jesus calls a lamp will shine that light into your body. In other words, a working eye means you will be able to see. On the other hand, to have an evil eye, is one that doesn’t work right. Jesus says in verse 23 that such an eye means that your body will be in darkness. Remember, Jesus says that the eye is the lamp for the body. So if the body’s lamp is broken, then your body will not have the light of that lamp. In other words, you’ll be blind.
So with this understanding of the analogy, we have to then ask what Jesus is getting at. We can appreciate how eyes enable us to see, and how we want a working eye and not a broken one. But as an analogy, what is Jesus teaching us? Well, the context helps us to “see” what Jesus is getting at. As mentioned, this analogy is sandwiched by two passages that compare two opposing things. First, it’s the comparison of heavenly treasure versus earthly treasure. Second, it’s the comparison of God as your master or wealth as your master. And so the analogy goes something like this. Just as your eye won’t work if it’s not singularly fixed on the object to see, so too we will be blind and in the darkness if we do not have our eyes of faith solidly fixed on God and his heavenly treasure. If we try to fix the eye of our heart on both earthly treasure and heavenly treasure, we have a broken eye. If we try to fix a soul’s eye on both God and wealth, we’ll be setup to fail. This is the rough idea.
The connection with the context might seem a bit rough at first, but this is where the literal adjectives of single and evil are helpful to further connect with the context. I suspect this was the motivation behind Jesus picking those two adjectives that might not seem quite the most normal ones otherwise. Take first the word for “single”. This is exactly the issue in the surrounding verses. Will you have a single focus? An eye cannot focus on multiple things at once; otherwise it’s not focused, by definition. In order for the eye to work properly, you have to have a single focus. We can’t really focus on both heavenly and earthly treasure. Nor can we focus on serving both God and wealth. So too, on matters of the heart. We need to have singly focused hearts.
As for the second adjective here of “evil”, that also seems well suited for the context. It’s interesting that the phrase of an “evil eye” appears to be a Jewish idiom for being stingy. Think of being like Scrooge, they would call that as someone with an “evil eye”. For example, you can see this usage in Proverbs 28:22, that literally says, “a man with an evil eye hastens after riches.” And similarly in reverse, Proverbs 22:9 shows how a good eye was used to describe someone generous with earthly wealth. Proverbs 22:9, “He who has a generous [literally “good”] eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor. And so both these rather out-of-the-ordinary adjectives of “single” and “evil” actually help to thematically connect with the context of seeking God and his things versus earthly treasures and wealth.
And so, spiritually speaking, we need to have our focus in life be on God and on the things of God, such as his heavenly reward. If we try to split our focus into part heavenly treasure and part earthly treasure, we will have a broken focus. We’ll be setup to fail. In the same way, if we try to split our focus into part on God and part on material wealth, we will stumble around, fall, and ultimately fail. And so we need to spiritually fix the eye of our soul on God. That means we set our heart’s eye on the things of God, such as righteousness, and his kingdom, and on heavenly treasure. Then we will not be blind and in darkness.
I thought it would be helpful to further run with this eye and light analogy by cross referencing this with John 1:9. John 1:9 refers to Jesus being the true light that lighteth every man. This then is how our eye ultimately will serve as a lamp for us that directs us to God. It will be as it is fixed on Jesus. We fix our soul’s eye on the light of Christ, and in that we are led to God. In focusing on Jesus, our souls are enlightened and we come to focus on God. We know and see God through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s turn now to the second way Jesus calls us to have love and loyalty toward God in this passage. This is verse 24 where he talks about the impossibility of serving two masters. Let me read the verse again to us. “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.” And so to set the context, again he has the same two opposing things in view here, but here he describes them in terms of masters, using God on the one hand, and mammon on the other. The word for “mammon” is essentially a word from the Aramaic that essentially refers to material wealth. Historically this word for mammon has been personified into some kind of deity or demon, quite possibly because of how Jesus uses it here when he talks about how it could be someone’s master. And so that is what Jesus pits against each other. Who is your master? God? Or earthly riches? Whom do you serve?
You see, Jesus is challenging the idea that you could serve both. Jesus says that is not true. If you try, you will fail. Look at the language Jesus uses to compare how if we serve one, we won’t serve the other. He uses two sets of contrasting terms. These contrasting terms are rather normal words that would be put in opposition to each other, by the way. And so first he deals with it in terms of love and hate. If you try to have two masters, you’ll end up only loving one of them, and really in turn then hating the other. The other contrasting terms he uses are loyalty and despising. If you try to have two masters, you’ll end up being loyal to only one of them, and really in turn despising the other. And so here is where I got the title for our sermon today. We’ve said we are talking today about the love and loyalty we should have to God. Jesus says if you try to have love and loyalty at the same time to earthly wealth, then you won’t be able to also have it for God simultaneously. You can have only one master. You can have only one sovereign. Only one Lord. Only one God. Otherwise, whenever the competing interests of one come up against another, you’ll be in conflict. Then you will know who is your real master. By whom you choose to serve in that conflict. When the rubber meets the road, that will show you who is the real one you are serving.
You see, Jesus is basically getting us to look at our heart and see if we have some idol in there. Have we setup earthly wealth as an idol? That’s what this master language is getting at. And so it’s a lie of Satan when we try to think we can have God plus something else as our master. When I think of this lie that we think we can have two such masters, I think of James warning against being double-minded in James 4:8. There James talks about trying to have friendship with the world while also trying to be a follower of God. James says it doesn’t work that way. You can’t have both. That’s again trying to serve two masters. James talks earlier in chapter 1 that being double minded causes you to be unstable in all that you do. That sums it up well. If you try to serve two different interests, you will be unstable at best, constantly torn between two opposing thing. At the worst, you will be unfaithful to God, a spiritual adulterer who has betrayed your Lord. And for what? For some fleeting treasure.
Two opposite examples of this come to mind. On the one hand you have Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus who betrayed him. He clearly had a love for mammon. Recall, that according to John’s gospel, he was the one who was supposed to be in charge of safeguarding the money bag that held the money they collected for the poor — but he was stealing from it! Well, it’s no surprise then that Judas betrayed his so-called master for the price of thirty pieces of silver. How could he betray Jesus, his master, for some earthly wealth? Because Jesus evidently wasn’t his true master. You can’t have two masters. Evidently Judas was in love with money. That’s where he put his loyalties when push came to shove. And like is so common with humans, we see that double-mindness of Judas afterwards. After Judas betrayed Jesus to the cross, he evidently felt bad in some way over his evil, and he tried to return the money. In Matthew 27:4, Judas even admits that he betrayed Jesus — that’s what happens when you try to have two masters. You end up loyal to one and betraying the other. You love the one and hate the other. Judas ultimately committed suicide. In his attempt to return the money it reveals the very double-minded state he was in. He really was unstable in whatever way he tried to have two masters. You just can’t really have two masters. You can’t serve both God and money.
The other example, an opposite example, is the Apostle Paul. With Paul you have the memorable passage in Philippians 3 where he talks about all his earthly standing and prestige which he gave up when becoming a Christian. Then he takes it one step further and in Philippians 3:8 he says that he counts all things loss and rubbish for the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord. He says he counts them as loss that he might gain Christ. Paul knew how other things could compete with Christ being his master, and let them all go, that he would have only one master — the Lord Jesus Christ. And so Paul really was a good example of someone who didn’t try to live as someone with two masters. Even before he became a Christian, he seemed to loyally serve with the single-minded focus of persecuting Christians. But then after he came to know the truth, he all the more served his new master, the Lord Jesus Christ, with singular focus and devotion. His love and loyalty to Christ comes across so clearly in his work as a missionary. The book of Acts and his epistles illustrate this so clearly. Of course Paul wasn’t perfect in this, but he is a godly model from which we can learn.
So then, we talked briefly today about these two ways that Jesus teaches us that we need to have love and loyalty chiefly to God. He says we need to be singularly sighted and one mastered. What does this actually look like then? Jesus talked about this in terms of an eye as a lamp and in terms of having two masters. But what does this actually look like? And so in our last main point for today, I want to help further explain this idea using two other passages of Scripture. This will be a chance to cross reference today’s teaching with other parts of the Bible.
And so the first cross reference I have in mind, is the one I quoted at the start. Think in terms of the greatest commandment. In Mark 12:30, Jesus says that the greatest commandment of Scripture is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And so cross reference our passage with that verse. That is ultimately what Jesus is talking about in today’s passage as well. Does your every faculty as a human love God? Is he your devotion at your core and in every part of you? That’s what having one master is all about. He’s the master of your heart, he’s the master of your soul, he’s the master of your mind, and he’s the master of your strength. You love him in all that you do, say, and think. He really is the delight of your heart, and so you are loyal to the core.
The next passage to cross reference this is with Matthew 6:33; “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Hopefully you’ll notice that this is just a few verses after our passage for today. In other words, this is actually more than just a cross reference. It’s a context reference! It’s the direction and flow of this passage. If you have only one master; and it’s God, not earthly wealth, then you will seek him and his kingdom and his righteousness first and foremost. Interestingly, this passage tells us that all the rest will fall into place. You won’t have to worry about the various practical needs you will have in this world if you do that. They’ll ultimately be added unto you. That’s what’s so amazing about all this. There is a way to serve God as your master, while still having a job that acquires money. With that money you might even buy certain things that might be considered by some as earthly treasures. In fact, in one way or another, you’ll have to be doing that if you are going to serve God as your master. Because God as our master tells us humans to be about our daily callings. God commands us not to be idle or sluggards, but to work hard. The one who does not work, shall not eat, per 2 Thessalonians 3:10. God is not opposed to us earning money or even having what some might call some earthly treasures. But God is opposed to having anything else as your master. We have to be on guard against setting up any of those things as an idol in your life. Rather if God is supreme in our life, it means that we will be happy to see the money we earn as something that we steward for God. We won’t clutch greedily to it. We won’t seek to find our happiness from it. Our whole perspective to earthly wealth will be changed. We’ll find a peace that transcends all circumstances and an ability to do all things in Christ who gives us strength, no matter whether we have a lot or a little earthly wealth in this life.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, I’m sure most of us today can again affirm the goodness of Jesus’ words. As someone who has come to know God by faith in Jesus Christ, we can surely affirm that what Jesus is saying here is absolutely right. We need to be singularly focused on Christ. If he is our focus, we’ll be able to see clearly in every activity of our life. We need God to be our master. If he is the one we serve, then we can be committed to doing everything according to his standards and priorities in life. Yes, we know that in all that we do, in our everything, we should have complete love and loyalty to God.
And yet as Christians, I hope we also today then realize how much we fall short in this area. Sure, mentally, we can affirm today’s teachings. But in practice, we all have fallen so short in this. It is far too common to have idols of our hearts. These are idols that we probably tend to want to hide from others, like how Rachel tried to cover up the idols she had stolen from her father. We don’t want our fellow believers to know about them. But God knows our heart. Or in a similar way, we surely all can look at how there is too much double-mindedness and double-heartedness in our life. Yes, we affirm God’s way on the one hand, and on the other hand, affirm a different way, a way we want something to be, on the other hand. And we know the trouble this has caused in our lives. We’ve seen the instability and havoc and destruction such double-mindedness has caused in our lives. Because you can’t really have two masters. As Jesus says, you can’t really get by trying to love and be loyal to two different things.
What then do we do with our conflicted souls? Let us again lay them before Jesus. We rightly confess that Jesus is our savior. We are shown again today why we need one. And we rejoice that for those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in the Lord, that we really are forgiven. Not partially. Not just in some blurry way like our love and devotion to Christ too often is. But fully and completely. It truly is finished as Christ declared on the cross! And so Christ by his Spirit has not left us in darkness, but has shined his light into our hearts. And so then, having known Jesus as Savior, may you be renewed today again in knowing him as your Lord then as well. Yes, even knowing your struggles in this. Know him as your savior, and know him yet as your Lord; as your only master. Continue today looking to follow him. To serve him. To seek him and his kingdom and his righteousness first. Be encouraged to know that this is his goal for you. It’s why he preached about in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s the goal he has for us. Yes, a goal that will not be perfected until glory. But a wonderful goal and promise nonetheless. Let us then follow him as Lord in light of that final outcome. And we thank God that even though we so often fail him as his servants, he never fails us as our Lord. He will faithfully be the Lord of our life and see that his good plan for us is carried out to the full. And so to him who is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.