No one is able to be enslaved by two lords. Either he will hate one and love the other or he will love one and despise the other. You are not able to be enslaved to God and Mammon. -Jesus
The audience of Jesus’ sermons knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. Sure, they all worshipped one God and served him at one temple. But in every nation all around them and even within their borders are people who worshipped more than one god. There were a ton of them: Jupiter, Caesar, Ishtar, Ra, and thousands of others. Many people tried to worship more than one god, just to make as many happy as possible. Ultimately, however, they had to rely on just one of them, and usually that became the god of the household, with specific holidays and rules and service that the particular god required. There really isn’t any room for any other.
But today, we don’t worship so many gods. Sure, there are a few Hindus who worship more than one god, but the far majority of us recognize that there is simply one God in the heavens, the Creator and Lord of all. If we worship, we worship only Him. There is only one God, and there exists no other.
To follow this line of reasoning, we are neglecting the wisdom of the ancients—including that of the Hebrews and the New Testament. There is more than one god in every society. And most of us don’t even know which one we serve.
Systems of Meeting Needs
Humans, at their core, are pretty simple. We have millions of wants, but really only six needs. We need to have what we need to survive—nutrition, warmth, and we need to avoid death and illness. We need to have peace in our lives and to avoid anxiety and unmanageable stress. We need to have security and avoid attack or vulnerability. We need to have honor or respect and we need to avoid shame as much as possible. We need social connection with others, and we need to avoid isolation. And we need a certain amount of pleasure in our lives, and to avoid pain and lethargy.
There are millions of ways to meet these needs, and these are our wants. God wants to help us achieve these needs, and He said he would—but at times we may need to wait and not have our needs for a period of time so he can get us what we need in the best way possible. However, we are impatient, and we want what we want and we want it now. And there are systems—many systems—that assist us in meeting our needs outside of God. These could be the system of employment, the system of governments, the system of religions, or the system of education.
These systems, in the ancient world, were not seen as just human institutions or ideals, but seen as spiritual entities. They were called gods. There is no difference from the ancient world and today, except that we ignore the spiritual power of the gods, no matter how true they are.
Serving v. Using Gods
Are these gods all evil? Should we avoid things like medicine and science completely as evil entities? Absolutely not. God is the God over all gods, and He has given these systems to assist us to meet some of our needs. However, if the system itself becomes our god, if we are serving the system instead of using the system to serve God, then we are worshiping the wrong god.
How do we know if we are serving another god? We need to look at the following questions:
A. Do we trust in a lesser god? Do we see the system as what meets our needs, is the core of our fulfillment? Is the system itself our security, our contentment, our means of survival? Do we feel that we couldn’t live without the system?
B. Do we participate in a community whose focus is to serve the system? Do we find our well-being to be found in being a participant in that community, or in the community of God?
C. What images do we put around us? Do we honor and serve images that represent the system?
D. Do we ignore God’s limitations on the system? Do we feel the need to obey the system more than God?
If we answer “yes” to any of these questions, we may need to recognize that we are not worshippers of the Most High God, but of a lesser god.
We live in a secularized, materialistic society, but this doesn’t mean that we do not have our gods. The gods are simply shown as something we feel we need. There are many systems that Americans have served as gods, we simply have not recognize them as such. Below are four ancient gods whom most modern Americans worship daily, or almost daily.
Venus was the goddess of erotic love. Today, she is honored somewhat in Playboy, but more firmly in Cosmopolitan, Glamour and romance novels. In advertisements, sex is displayed as the final salvation, which the product helps you obtain. Lifestyles of sex are displayed on television and movies, and they are considered a healthy alternative in our society. It might be easy to think of pornography as the image of sex, which is worshiped by men through masturbation. But the image of Venus is also carved upon our own bodies as we all attempt to make ourselves look like models, and feel inadequate for every blemish and deviation from the “ideal” shape. Abortion is finally the ultimate destructive sacrifice to Venus, killing the children for the sake of “free love”.
Sex is not evil, but God has placed limitations around Venus, so that she may not roam free. Sex is to be placed within a life-long commitment, and should be given full freedom between a husband and wife. To be pure before God, sex is not a casual pastime, nor is it to be done between family members or the same sex.
Mars is the name of the ancient god of War, and he is the god of human weaponry. Weapons are the image of Mars, and those who serve him, honor weapons and recognize the gain of destruction. Those who display weapons, use weapons on people and depend on weapons for security. Those who join the military or the NRA, although they may be doing it for noble reasons, are joining organizations that fundamentally serve Mars.
God has used Mars many times to carry out his will. However, Jesus placed the limitation on those who follow Him to never join Mars, but to do good to one’s enemy, not evil. And God placed the additional limitation on all who use Mars’ power not to kill or oppress the innocent—the civilian or those not guilty of a crime.
Bacchus is the ancient god of parties and drunkenness. We can see an image of him in Fantasia, the original Disney film, riding on a donkey and holding a huge cup of wine. Today, however, Bacchus would just as well hold a bong, a pipe or a needle. To get drunk or high is to serve Bacchus, and to have a lifestyle of it is to declare Bacchus your god. Bacchus courts his worshippers with pleasure and then he keeps them with his promise of feeling no stress or guilt about anything. Bacchus rules on many college campuses, and people hold services to him in their homes on a frequent basis. Many rock concerts are traveling Bacchus worship vehicles and bars and casinos honor him daily.
However, God is not averse to a party. Jesus attended many parties himself, and drank much wine. Parties are a part of God’s kingdom. But they are limited by God as well. Drinking is okay, but God does not accept into his kingdom a drunk—one who cannot limit oneself. God does not allow of sexual immorality in his parties. And he welcomes the poor and the needy to join.
Mammon was never a god worshipped in a temple in the ancient world, but is Jesus’ name for the god of material possessions and money. Everyone who says that “money is the bottom line” ultimately recognizes Mammon as their god. Advertisements serve Mammon by convincing the populace that they need what they have not even wanted up until then. The business section of the paper is about serving Mammon and who has succeeded in serving it the best. Those who serve Mammon will work just for their own personal gain and desire much. They will see money as the measure of all things, whether worth or security or pleasure or contentment.
The use of money is not evil in itself, but how we use it indicates whether it is a tool or a god in our lives. God told us that our money should be used to meet our basic needs and the rest is to be used to serve the poor. However, if we use money to obtain more for ourselves or if we are always looking for the next thing we can get, then we are not serving God but Mammon.
One or Two Gods?
Jesus was clear and plain. He didn’t say, “It’s really hard to serve two lords.” He said it was impossible. Just can’t be done. Perhaps one could coast along with two lords for a while, but eventually there will be a crisis point. At that point, everyone will know that they have to make a decision—will it be the God of the universe, or my personal god. Will I serve and love Yahweh, the Creator, the God of sacrificial love, the Most High above all gods? Or will I serve my own god whom I have cherished for years? And we may pretend—even for the rest of our lives—that we really can serve two gods. But we can’t. It’s one or the other. And as time goes on, it will be more and more clear. Make your decision. Serve the God of Jesus.