Following Jesus

You Cannot Serve Two Masters

A Revelation for the New Year

December 30, 2020 by

Our celebration this Christmas week is so different from what we’ve been used to. This should be the time of the year when we stand closest together, but the hazards of the pandemic dictate this cautious separation from each other. For the sake of safety for ourselves and others we accept these severe public health measures as a temporary burden, but we do it out of love and responsible care for each other. Through this experience of the lack of togetherness, I hope we all gain a fuller appreciation of the importance of gathering – all year long as well as at Christmastime and New Year’s.

Being together is an expression of belonging together, and it is one of the richest blessings of a church where we denounce private property, because wealth is one of the strongest barriers between people and nations. Now this is a pretty strong position, and a rare one, but Eberhard Arnold’s writings and recorded talks convinced me long ago that this is what a love for Jesus leads us to.

SLEmbedThe author and his wife, Alexandra.

The first of his writings that introduced me to this belief is available in a short book, Salt and Light, by Plough Publishing House. Part of chapter twelve is below, from a lecture Arnold gave in Germany in 1923. Yet it is written for today. Arnold’s lecture on Mammon spells out the four tools Satan uses to lead us away from the real God: war (and all hatred), private property (and all wealth), lust (and all sexual perversions and misuse), and lying (and all forms of deception). In my ninety-one years I have never seen such an encompassing exposition of faith anywhere else that points out so clearly our need to follow Jesus with poverty, peace, purity, and truth. Arnold stresses the need to live out all four of these characteristics, not just some of them.

We would not be able to understand the words ‘the god mammon’ unless we knew the other terms by which Jesus exposes this spirit. He calls it the murderer from the beginning, the father of lies, the unclean spirit. Its nature is materialism, its trade is murder, its character lying, its countenance impurity. . . . Mammonism is the covetous will – to seize, possess, and enjoy. It destroys other lives for the sake of ownership and gratification by suggesting that another’s life is obstructing one’s own possession and pleasure, or by inducing the intoxication of lust. . . . Lying, cowardice, and immorality are the consequences of the same covetous will. . . .
In business, lying hides the greed of mammon, the selfishness of human efforts, and the materialism behind relationships. People in business are forced to appear different from what they are, for nobody wants to associate with a beast of prey or a hyena that lives on carcasses. So the ravenous wolf has to don the white fleece of the lamb; the sly hyena has to put on the mask of the honorable citizen, and the old fox has to feign innocence. Business fraud and deception has to be carried out as inoffensively as possible.
Lying and deceit are part of all warfare between nations and social classes. For the weapons of truth and clarity cannot possibly be used to defend greed and selfishness. This dishonest state of affairs shows that trust, unselfishness, and dedication to the global community are required in all areas of life. If human society is to survive, ethical and altruistic motives must at least be simulated. And these motives, morally sound though they may be, are fragile and, more often than not, mixed with the drive for power and the craving for pleasure.
This is the only explanation for the ‘honest’ appearance of the businessman who destroys competitors and takes advantage of his clients. It is the only rationale for the ‘high’ morals behind destruction in wars, including civil wars; for ruthless acts of state that deliberately dispossess and harm other nations. It explains the patronizing exploitation, the oppression and starving of workers by their employers. For the perceptive person, this lying makes a clear case for the truth it simulates.
The same is true of the deceitfulness of impurity that arises from the abyss of covetousness. Unfaithfulness in sex relations is the profoundest and meanest deception imaginable. It kills the soul by deceit and trickery. Nowhere is there so much lying as in ‘love,’ where real love is feigned for the sake of abuse and gratification without restraint.
All this shows clearly that these apparently different designations – mammon, lying, murder, and impurity – disclose one and the same spirit, one and the same ‘god.’ The reality around us shows the enormous power this god possesses in the world. We will be more and more alarmed by Jesus’ words summoning us to battle: No man can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon. This has great significance: lay up no treasure for yourself on earth. Sell all you have and give to the poor, and come, and go a totally new way with me.

It is common around this time to reflect upon the year that is ending, and look forward to the new. My wish is that reflecting on this year, with its pain of isolation for so many, will bring us to a realization of what we have been missing all along: the experience of love – Christian communal gathering love.

Find out more about how it is possible to experience such Christian church community in the new year. Read more of Arnold’s writings and explore the life, work, and activities of the Bruderhof church community. Perhaps you may take these words to heart and go a totally new way with us.

Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year to all!


Milton Zimmerman lives with his wife, Alexandra, at Woodcrest, a Bruderhof in Rifton, New York.

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