by Mike Ratliff
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13 ESV)
When the Protestant Reformation took off in the early 16th Century one of the motivating factors for the cruel retaliation by the Roman church was the teaching by the reformers from God’s Word to the common people that wealth and power were not indicators of God’s blessing on the prelates, priests, monks, bishops, and the Popes. Luther preached a sermon on the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13) telling all who heard it and read the published versions of it that salvation is by grace through faith alone and it is for all who trust in Christ alone, not for those who accumulate wealth and power as a pretense of God’s blessing.
William Tyndale took Luther’s sermon, expanded it and went deeper in his first published work after his English New Testament in 1526. The title of this “book” is The Parable of the Wicked Mammon. In the third part of the introduction to this book he wrote:
Some fast from meat and drink, and yet so tangle themselves in worldly business that they cannot once think on God. Some abstain from butter, some from eggs, some from all manner of white meats, some this day, some that day, some in honour of this saint, some of that, and every man for a sundry purporse. Some for the tooth ache, some for the head ache, for fevers, pestilence, for sudden death, for hanging, drowning, and to be delivered from the pains of hell.
He used this to show the man-made nature of the false version of Christianity that dominated his time. It is that the leaders in this false religion who created this “works theology” gave all the benefits to those who were “elevated.” In their eyes the common people’s work was worthless while God surely loved all of their religiosity because the people supported them through the coerced giving demanded by them. However, Tyndale wrote in his book, “as touching to please God, there is no work better than another…whether thou be an apostle or a shoe maker…Thou art a kitchen page and washest thy masters dishes, another is an Apostle and preacheth the word of God…Now if thou compare deed to deed there is difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching of the word of God. But as touching to please God not at all.” Tyndale is saying that there is nothing to exclude the simplest layman from the upper reaches of the spiritual life.
The English prelates reaction to this was outrage and a frantic effort to destroy Tyndale’s book, the New Testament in English that he published earlier in the year, and all those who loved the truth presented therein. This was a dangerous idea that common people can know God and be part of His Kingdom through faith alone and have no need whatsoever for elevated prelates or a man-made religious system in order to seal their salvation. This is why the ‘upper-class’ in Tyndale’s England scoffed and sneered at what he was saying. They actually considered the Gospel to be too good for the common people and did all they could to keep it from them. Therefore, the resistance to the Word of God in English became violent with hundreds burned at the stake along with the printed works such as the Bible in English.
Tyndale closes the introduction to Wicked Mammon with a polemic comparison of the ‘Romish’ prelates of his time in England with the Pharisees of the New Testament whom our Lord called hypocrites. He said, “There is a difference in the names between a pope, a cardinal, a bishop, and so forth, and to say a scribe, a Pharisee, a senior and so forth, but the thing is all one.” He called this “group” Antichrists. He said that those who oppose the truth in his day are the same group that brought Christ unto Pilate for execution. They oppose the preaching of the genuine gospel to the common people saying they love them so well, that they had rather burn them than that they should have fellowship with Christ.
What was the main motivation for the resistance to the Protestant Reformation? For the established prelates in England it was not a concern for the purity of the Gospel, but an act of self-protection. They knew that if the same thing happened in England that happened when Luther was able to break the German Church away from Rome that they would either conform to it or lose their place. They had a good deal going. They lived off of the labor of others and concentrated on their fasts, their pilgrimages, and their almsgiving. They contributed nothing to the wellbeing of those who paid for them to be able to live like this. Their god was wicked mammon, not the living God.
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 ESV)
Notice that Zacchaeus was a ‘chief tax collector.’ What does that mean? He was in charge of many other tax collectors. He was undoubtedly very rich. Just one chapter earlier in Luke’s Gospel our Lord encountered the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ and said how hard it was for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24). Now a curious yet wealthy individual pursues our Lord. Notice though that Jesus knows him by name saying, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Jesus called Zacchaeus to Himself. What was the response? Zacchaeus hurried and came down receiving Christ joyfully. I believe that this is this man’s salvation. Many grumbled against Christ for calling a “sinner” to believe, but this did not deter our Lord.
Notice the change of heart of this man. He was wealthy and powerful yet now he knows the Lord. He is regenerate. The living faith, a gift from God, is working in him now. What does he do? He gives half of his ‘wicked mammon’ away and vows to repay all whom he has cheated fourfold. This is what genuine faith does. What does our Lord say? He said, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Zacchaeus is no longer serving wicked mammon, but is serving the Living God. The money he has is God’s to use. He is now a righteous steward.
My brethren, let us examine ourselves. Are we trying to serve two masters? It won’t work. We have to repent of this if that is what is going on. Our focus must be on God and His will not on getting ahead with the accumulation of wicked mammon. If God has blessed us with money and possessions then we should seek to use them for His glory according to His will. Never hang onto “stuff” very hard. Instead, see it as all belonging to Him and we are just the stewards of it for a while.
What about the Gospel and religion? I find it incredible how the visible Church, for the most part, hides the Gospel from its people. Instead of preaching the truth about Man’s total depravity and the Good News of the only way to eternal life they teach moralism while becoming separate from those they consider to be “sinners.” This is no different than what the elite did who opposed the Protestant Reformation. Let us examine ourselves and repent of what God shows us.
Soli Deo Gloria!