Preached October 2, 2011
St. Matthew 6:24–34
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This is the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, and the third Sunday in our short series on “true and laudable service in love, purity, and singleness of heart. We focus today on the last part, singleness of heart, or what we might otherwise express as undivided loyalty. This is reflected in the title line, a phrase from the opening verse of the Gospel lesson for the day, Matthew 6:24a No man can serve two masters.
Our Epistle lesson for the day is from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the only letter Paul wrote that has not a single word of praise in it. It is entirely a message of correction for a weak congregation that has fallen away from the Gospel that he has taught them, so in many places he sounds thoroughly exasperated with them. In our reading today, he presents himself as an example, starting off by saying, Galatians 6:11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. In this sentence, he is showing his personal commitment to the faith, much like the large signature of John Hancock to the American Declaration of Independence showed his commitment to that document. The fact that it is in his own hand, rather than the hand of a scribe, shows how strongly personal all of this is to St. Paul, while the length of it all, and size of the letters emphasize the extent of his dedication.
There had been some men who were trying to convince the Galatians that they needed to add the Old Testament Law of circumcision to their faith. These Judaizers were seeking to corrupt the Christian faith, to add to it, which is always to take something away from what Christ has given to us. As St. Paul says to the Galatians, Galatians 6:12-13 12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. They wanted the entire community to give the appearance of being respectable Jews; they did not want the stigma of being Christians. Further they wanted to be sure that no one could accuse them of associating with Christians, so they wanted to be sure others suffer circumcision to make themselves look good.
Today we see a similar but somewhat different stigma with being clearly identified as a Christian. In many public discussions, to be labeled a Christian may be the equivalent of being labeled backward, ignorant, anti–science, uneducated, bigoted, irrational, untrustworthy, etc. We see this right now in the current political campaigns where any of the candidates who is an admitted Christian is often accused of wanting to establish a theocracy, even though none have said any such thing of the kind. We live in an openly anti–religious age, when unbelieving people think themselves very righteous to attack believers as enemies of the country. This is such a gross absurdity, and yet it is very real! Thus we face precisely the same kinds of attacks that the Galatians faced, and we need to hear St. Paul, just as they did.
St. Paul’s response is simple, Galatians 6:14-15 14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. He says that keeping the Jewish Law or not keeping it is of absolutely no importance if we are made new creatures in Jesus Christ, that is, if we are truly Christians. If we are crucified to the world, we go our own way, separated from the world, so that what the world thinks about us, or says about us, really does not matter at all because we now live in Christ. Our glory is in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, only. Nothing else at all matters, nor should it. We can go on our way, without looking over our shoulder to see who is saying what about us, because those people simply do not matter. That was true for the Galatians, and it remains true for us today.
For St. Paul, as for any Christian, his goal was to become like Jesus. It did not matter if he was cast out of the Jewish church, Roman society, or any other group; his only goal was to be like Jesus. For those who live according to that rule of trying to be like Jesus, he has these words: Galatians 6:16-17 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. There are three interesting ways to interpret this pair of verses:
(1) Just leave me alone. I am weary enough from all the work I have done. Do not add more to my burden by your constant quarreling and fighting. For pity sake, simply leave me alone.
(2) Cease resisting my authority. You know all of my credentials. You know that I bear in my body the marks of an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Have respect for me as an Apostle, and leave me alone.
(3) Leave me alone. I have said all that I have to say to you. You know very clearly where I stand, and there is nothing more I can say that will be useful to you or me. Therefore, leave me alone.
In some respects, the last interpretation is the most interesting, particularly when we recall that this letter was written from Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. He had said all he could think of to say to these backsliding Christians in Galatia. He had scolded them severely, he had exhausted his strength in trying to correct them, and he knows that there is now nothing more that he can do for them. So he tells them that they are on their own; they must not expect more from him. He ends the letter with a blessing, Galatians 6:18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. In many respects, it is a sad ending, and yet it carries a warning that we need to hear for ourselves. He has said all he can say to help us as well; let us be sure that we have heard the message.
The ability to turn away from the world such as we have been talking about is possible only for those who have confidence that they will receive all that they need from God. Just as we have had an Epistle lesson today regarding service with undivided Loyalty, so we have a Gospel lesson about undivided Trust.
Our Lord Jesus introduces this topic with the following verse: Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. The point Jesus is making is that man has only one, undivided heart. What Jesus says about how man’s heart works is entirely clear, even if we might want to deny it; it is true. In this case, mammon should not be taken to mean only money, but rather any worldly object or cause that comes in competition with God. Eventually, we must all choose one or the other.
That choice is not only which one we will serve, but in the same choice, which one we will depend upon. Who will provide for us? Will it be God, or will it be the worldly object that we choose in place of God? Many people would like to think that they can do both, or that they can work for their daily bread in an ungodly pursuit, but still think that they are serving God with their lives. It does not work like that. Either we depend upon God, or we depend upon our worldly substitute. Either God is God and to be depended upon to provide for us, or He is not. If He is God, there is no place in our lives for anxiety; if He is not, there is no room for faith.
We might ask why we should think we might trust God? First off, God is to be trusted for His power as the one who gives all life to the living. It was He who created us in our bodies, and it is He who provides the materials for our clothes. Our complete helplessness in ourselves makes trust in God completely essential, and shows worry on our part to be simple foolishness.
If we think about our place in the hierarchy of creation, we are far more significant than the birds and the flowers, and yet they rely entirely upon God without a thought, and for this they are richly provided. To doubt the providence of God puts us in the same category as the faithless heathens who know nothing of God. We do know God, and more importantly, we know His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, so we ought have no fears about his providence.
We also have the promise of Jesus, Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. This is the word of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Heaven and earth, Himself. How much more assurance could we possible ask for? He tells us that if we will attend to the needs of our souls, He will provide for the needs of our bodies. What a deal!! But it requires that we truly put our primary attentions on the things eternal, our affections, our efforts, and our time. How many of us really do this? Are you surprised that we are hungry at times? Those who make God their only concern, have no other cares.
In our efforts to sanctify our souls, let us bear constantly in mind the need to do God true and laudable service in Love, Purity, and Singleness of Heart at all times. This is not easy, but this is the goal. As we strive to sanctify our lives in our Christian walk here on earth, we have to be aware of the components necessary in order to achieve the goal.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.