God or Money, Again

Previously, we concluded that you have to serve somebody. Today we return to this ever-present fork in the road of life:

“No one 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 [i.e., possessions].” Matthew 6:24 English Standard Version (ESV)

In the Apostle Matthew’s account above, Christ addresses His disciples. In Luke’s account (Luke 16:13), though Christ is still addressing His disciples, we find out that the Pharisees were also listening and were having none of what He was saying. They ridiculed Him because, as the next passage says, they were greedy.

Is this why we can’t have nice things? Or is it a question of nice things not having us? The preacher John Chrysostom spoke to this very point approximately sixteen hundred years ago:

Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Let us shudder to think what [our sin requires] Christ to say [to shake us loose]; [to put] the name of God with that of gold. But if [His exclamation is] shocking, our preferring the tyranny of gold to the fear of God, [borne out by] our deeds, is much more shocking.

“What then? [Wasn’t serving both] possible among the ancients?” By no means. “How then,” says one, “did Abraham [or] Job obtain a good report?” …Job was rich, but he [did not] serve [wealth. Instead, he] possessed it and ruled over it, and [he] was [its] master [and] not [its] slave.

Therefore [Job] so possessed all those things, as if he had been the steward of another man’s goods; not only not extorting from others, but even giving up his own [goods] to them that were in need.

And what is more, when he had them they were no joy to him: so, he also declared, saying, “If I did so much as rejoice when my wealth waxed great:” wherefore neither did he grieve when it was gone.

Having given the example of godly Job as wealth’s master and not its slave, Chrysostom turns to the condition of his hearers and of us:

But they that are rich are not now such as [Job] was, but are rather in a worse condition than any slave, paying as it were tribute to some grievous tyrant. Because their mind, occupied by the love of money, is as a kind of citadel, [from which it] sends out…its commands full of all iniquity, and there is none to disobey.

[Therefore, do not be too clever.] …For God has declared and pronounced, [once for all, that] it [is]…impossible [to serve God and wealth]. [Do not say], then, “it is possible.” Why, when the one master is commanding you to [plunder] by violence, the other to strip yourself of your possessions; the one to [commit fornication], the other to [be chaste]; the one to be drunken and luxurious, the other to keep the belly in subjection; the one again to despise the things that are [as insufficient], the other to be riveted to the present [in contentment]; the one to admire marbles, and walls, and roofs, the other to [despise] these, but to honor self-restraint: how is it possible that these should agree?

Now [God] calls [wealth] here “a master,” not because of its own nature, but on account of the wretchedness of them that bow themselves beneath it. So also He calls “the belly a god,” not from the dignity of such a mistress, but from the wretchedness of them that are enslaved: it [is] a thing worse than any punishment, and enough, before the punishment, [by] way of vengeance on him who is involved in it.

For what condemned criminals can be so wretched, as they who having God for their Lord, do from that mild rule desert to this grievous tyranny, and this when their act [of desertion and enslavement] brings so much harm [here and now]? For indeed their loss by so doing is unspeakable: there are [judicial actions], and [oppressions], and strife, and toil, and a blinding of the soul; and what is more grievous than all, one falls away from [being God’s servant,] the highest of blessings…

Thus, we are called to make a choice; a different choice than the one Cain made:

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7 (ESV)

Choose God’s way.

The More You Serve, The More You Earn – Dave Ramsey Rant, The Dave Ramsey Show

Confused Language

A recent Economist magazine review on Noam Chomsky’s work [paywall] comments:

Since he wrote “Syntactic Structures” in 1957, Mr. Chomsky has argued that human language is fundamentally different from any other kind of communication, that a “linguist from Mars” would agree that all human languages are variations on a single language, and that children’s incredibly quick and successful learning (despite often messy and inattentive parental input) points to an innate language faculty in the brain.

This view is remarkably accurate, especially considering the differences between Western and Eastern languages. The Economist review goes on to say that Chomsky and a computer scientist, Robert Berwick, claim to explain the evolution of human language in their new book titled: Why Only Us. Perhaps they’re wrong?

For a different perspective, it’s worthwhile reading the entire biblical account of this phenomenon.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore, its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Genesis 11:1-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

So the choice is stark. Either we have different languages because they “evolved” that way. Or we reaped what we sowed in trying to “make a name for ourselves.” And we did; just not a good name. Let’s see what Calvin has to say on this scripture passage.

And the Lord came down. …Moses…intimates that God, for a little while, seemed to take no notice of them… For [God] frequently bears with the wicked [such] that he not only suffers them to contrive many nefarious things, as if he were [unconcerned;] but even further[s] their impious and perverse designs with animating success, in order that he may at length cast them down to a lower depth.

Behold, the people is one. …God complains of a wickedness in men…to teach us [not that he is swayed by any passions, but] that he is not negligent of human affairs, and that, as he watches for the salvation of the faithful, so he is intent on observing the wickedness of the ungodly; as it is said in Psalm 34:16,

“The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.”

Go to, let us go down. …[God] declares that the work which they supposed could not be retarded, shall, without any difficulty, be destroyed…This example of Divine vengeance belongs to all ages: for men are always inflamed with the desire of daring to attempt what is unlawful. And this history shows that God will ever be averse to such counsels and designs; so that we here behold, depicted before our eyes what Solomon says:

‘There is no counsel, nor prudence, nor strength against the Lord,’ (Proverbs 21:30)

Unless the blessing of God be present, from which alone we may expect a prosperous issue, all that we attempt will necessarily perish.

So the Lord scattered them abroad. Men had already been spread abroad [by virtue of] the benediction and grace of God. But those whom the Lord had before distributed with honor in various abodes, he now ignominiously scatters[as] a violent rout, because the principal bond…between them was cut asunder.

Therefore, the name of it [is] called Babel. …What [did] they gain by their foolish ambition to acquire a name[?] They hoped that an everlasting memorial of their origin would be engraven on the tower… [However,] they [did] gain a name, but not each as they would have chosen: thus does God opprobriously cast down the pride of those who usurp to themselves honors to which they have no title.

However, Calvin points out God’s mercy and grace through all this:

Now, although the world bears this curse to the present day; yet, in the midst of punishment…the admirable goodness of God is rendered conspicuous, …because He has proclaimed one gospel, in all languages, through the whole world…

…They who before were miserably divided, have coalesced in the unity of the faith. In this sense Isaiah says, that the language of Canaan should be common to all under the reign of Christ, (Isaiah 19:18); because, although their language may differ in sound, they all speak the same thing, while they cry, “Abba, Father.”


What always stands out to me in this Genesis scripture account is the verse: “And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” This was God’s assessment of us when we had one language. With increasing consolidation around a few key languages and advances in CRISPR, AI, and nuclear annihilation, we may still do on a global scale what should have remained impossible for men to do.

Because of these things, but not only these, I urge you to embrace that other human impossibility:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:25-27 (ESV)

Please enter His kingdom, now.

Tower of Babel - Bruegel

The Tower of Babel, 1563, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), public domain in the United States


Have you ever laughed when someone trips up, makes a mistake, or some other calamity befalls them? That’s an example of Schadenfreude.

Wikipedia defines it as:

Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This word is taken from German and literally means ‘harm-joy.’ It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune. It is also borrowed by some other languages.

But it’s not something we should practice towards those we call brothers and sisters.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Romans 12:15-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

We shouldn’t practice it toward those who do us wrong either.

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,

and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,

lest the Lord see it and be displeased,

and turn away his anger from him.

Proverbs 24:17-18 (ESV)

And not because we wish them harm, but because we’re commanded:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 (ESV)


Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 (ESV)

But if we do persist, we’re on a slippery slope. Soon, we may find ourselves siding with the Pharisees and looking down on the Tax Collectors in our midst:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

What does John Calvin think of the passage in Luke?

There are two faults at which Christ glances, and which he intended to condemn, — wicked confidence in ourselves, and the pride of despising brethren, the one of which springs out of the other. It is impossible that he who deceives himself with vain confidence should not lift himself up above his brethren. Nor is it wonderful that it should be so; for how should that man not despise his equals, who vaunts against God himself? Every man that is puffed up with self-confidence carries on open war with God, to whom we cannot be reconciled in any other way than by denial of ourselves; that is, by laying aside all confidence in our own virtue and righteousness, and relying on his mercy alone.

I urge you to read what else Calvin says about the passage.

It always seems to come down to: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…” And it needs to start with me.

The Swallow's Nest Castle near Gaspra

The Swallow’s Nest Castle near Gaspra, Yalta municipality. Republic of Crimea, 4 April 2014, A. Savin, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Resistance Isn’t Futile

The author of the book to the Hebrews, in chapter 12, verses 4-6 says:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

    nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Hebrews 12:4-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Do you say, as I do sometimes: “Why should I struggle against doing my own will and instead do His will?” Or do we see ourselves as better than this One?

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)

Some manuscripts leave out the verses in the third paragraph.

So, with regard to the verse:

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

what does John Calvin comment?

Certainly those who imagine that the Son of God was exempt from human passions do not truly and sincerely acknowledge him to be a man…

…When Christ was distressed by grief and fear, he did not rise against God, but continued to be regulated by the true rule of moderation. We need not wonder that, since he was innocent and pure from every stain, the affections which flowed from him were pure and stainless… Christ, amidst fear and sadness, was weak without any taint of sin…

…He [Christ] had no horror at death…simply as a passage out of the world, but because he had before his eyes the dreadful tribunal of God, and the Judge himself armed with inconceivable vengeance; and because our sins, the load of which was laid upon him, pressed him down with their enormous weight. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented him grievously with fear and anguish.

…And, therefore, though he suffered death, yet since its pains were loosed—as Peter tells us, (Acts 2:24)—and he was victorious in the conflict, the Apostle justly says, that he was heard on account of his fear [Hebrews 5:7]. Here ignorant people rise up and exclaim, that it would have been unworthy of Christ to be afraid of being swallowed up by death.

But I should wish them to answer this question, What kind of fear do they suppose it to have been which drew from Christ drops of blood? (Luke 22:44). For that mortal sweat could only have proceeded from fearful and unusual horror. If any person, in the present day, were to sweat blood, and in such a quantity that the drops should fall to the ground, it would be reckoned an astonishing miracle…

If it be objected, that the fear which I am describing arises from unbelief, the answer is easy. When Christ was struck with horror at the divine curse, the feeling of the flesh affected him in such a manner, that faith still remained firm and unshaken. For such was the purity of his nature, that he felt, without being wounded by them, those temptations which pierce us with their stings.

And yet those persons, by representing him not to have felt temptations, foolishly imagine that he was victorious without fighting. And, indeed, we have no right to suppose that he used any hypocrisy, when he complained of a mortal sadness in his soul; nor do the Evangelists speak falsely, when they say that he was exceedingly sorrowful, and that he trembled.

In the face of deep fear and anguish, Christ prayed earnestly that His Father’s will be done and He opened the way of salvation to all who will be saved. No matter what anyone says, resistance is not futile.

Borg transmission from the movie Star Trek VIII First Contact – English version

I’m Better Than You?

I’m Better Than You? I know I shouldn’t, but I feel hostile toward someone who indicates, through words or deeds, that they think they’re better than me. Perhaps they’ve denigrated my beliefs, or my world view, or maybe, my God. How dare they do that, I think. They’ll be sorry. God will get them. And I’m not going to warn or pray for them, either.

In his essay, ‘Can We be Good Without God,’ Glenn Tinder describes the setting in which we find ourselves:

The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order… It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle.

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable… The process is harsh also because it is unjust… Few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve.

In his book, Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel warns that Nietzsche called for a new aristocracy; an elite to run the world, as H. G. Wells put it. Siegel shows convincingly that this spirit has been at work in the US political system since before World War One.  The C-SPAN talk, in its entirety, is found here.

In the midst of this and other movements, I worry we’ll give our democracy away to totalitarianism.

But Tinder reminds us that something different, sacrificial love, or agape, undergirds our Western moral system:

Agape is the core of Christian morality. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a source of political standards that are widely accepted and even widely, if imperfectly, realized…

Agape means refusing to take part in this process [of mutual appraisal]. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power; God ‘crucifies’ the observable, and always deficient, individual, and “raises up” that individual to new life. The agape of human beings bestows new life in turn by accepting the work of God.

So we have agape set against ruthless, condemning judgment. Note that condemning judgment is generally censured whereas discerning judgment is imperative if often lacking. The individual who is exalted by God is simultaneously fallen and at war with God. He or she must discern their entrenched faults to repent of them.

Returning to the initial theme of this essay, when I feel this way, I remember these truths:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:14-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:43-45

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? …But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27

“[Peter to the elders] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3

“[Paul to the Corinthians] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Cor. 4:11-13

“[Paul to the Philippians] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil. 3:17

“…[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [to God]…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…” 1 Tim. 2:1-4

“Let us not grow weary of doing good…” Gal. 6:9-10

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Rom. 16:20 …by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev. 12:11

This last one takes me aback, but it is as true as the others.

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642)

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642), painted circa 1636, public domain-US

After this life is over, the only thing I want to hear from my Lord is: “well done good and faithful servant…” knowing that, after doing all, I’ve done only what I was supposed to do. And I want that for you too. But that’s ultimately a transaction between you and Him.

This is my hope for you.