The scene opens on the ancient grounds of Camp Pragmatics where newly arrived recruits stand uniformed and ready before Drill Sargeant Joe Lamech Skull, now in the middle of Company 666‘s morning drill.
Drill Sargent Skull (yells): What do you want, privates?
Camp Pragmatics Recruits: Se-cu-ri-ty!
Sargent: What do you fight for?
Sargent: What makes you happy?
Sargent: What’s it all about, privates?
Sargent: Who do you serve?
Sargent: Speak up, vermin! Who do you serve?
Private Average: Ourselves, Sargent Skull! Our country and family!
Sargent: Wrong, Private Average! Try again!
Private Elite (top of his class): Sir! The System, sir! The way things are.
Sargeant: Right, private! And who’s the Master of the System, Private Elite?
Private Elite: Sir, the Devil, sir!
Sargeant: So who do you serve, people?
Recruits: The Devil, sir!
Sargent: Why, vermin? What do you want?
Recruits: Financial Se-cu-ri-ty!
Sargent: Louder, Company 666! Who do you serve?
Recruits: The Devil, sir, for se-cu-ri-ty!
Both Matthew and Luke quote Jesus’ warning that we cannot serve both God and money, but we pass over it satisfied that we don’t fall before the altar of dollar bills. As per our worldly counselors, we’re just being prudent and wise. But it’s really not as simple as all that, is it, because if it were, Jesus wouldn’t have to warn us so strongly not to fool ourselves into thinking we can serve both. The gospels of Matthew and Luke include the account of Jesus’ warning. Here it is in Matthew 6, in context:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“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.
Prior to this passage Matthew has been giving us Jesus’ portraits of hypocrites, the ones who do their good deeds for others to see, practice their piety as a show, praying and fasting to win the admiration of men. They may fool the people, they don’t fool God.
In the fashion of the medical man that he was, Luke follows up Jesus’ warning with a diagnosis:
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And [Jesus] said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
(Luke 16: 14-15)
We justify ourselves when we tell ourselves that pursuing financial security is hardly bowing the knee at the altar of mammon, the idol of wealth. Remember the rich young ruler? He was willing to do anything Jesus asked to be assured of eternal life, except give up his wealth. Why? Because his money was his security in this world, not God.
He’s not alone. In God We Trust is printed on our dollar bills. Isn’t this just another attempt to have it both ways, to serve God and mammon?
“Our heart is deceitful above all things,” says Jeremiah, “and desperately sick; who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jer. 17: 9-10)
The question we face daily is the same one Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden: whom do you trust, God or the devil? Eve, not Adam, was deceived by Satan (1 Tim. 2:14) with a promise of God-likeness, because if you were like God, you would be as wise, you wouldn’t need to trust God, right? Adam’s sin was even more premeditated. He saw that Eve remained non-God-like after eating the fruit, but he ate the forbidden fruit out of desire. He wasn’t deceived. He was single-minded. He knew it was rebellion against God’s authority, and the fruit, after all, was “good for food” and “a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3: 6).
What lures your eyes? Is it the Lord God himself (Ps. 16:8), and his word, a light to your path (Ps. 119: 105)?
Where is your treasure? Is it in heaven?
Where is your heart? Is it where Christ Jesus is?
C. S. Lewis in Perelandra evokes the same tension between trusting God and trusting the devil’s counsel and our desires. The temptation in this new world of Perelandra is for the “Fixed Land,” rather than the floating islands that seemed to take you right past what is indeed good and desirable.
And financial security is good and desirable. You don’t know what the future will bring, your needs multiply constantly, and there’s family to provide for. What’s wrong with having enough to cover all the contingencies? It’s only being pragmatic, after all, to be realists in the real world and cover all the bases.
But what is enough? At what point would you say you have all the bases covered? When does looking after your financial security outweigh your trust in God? Ultimately, God knows what you need. Do you trust him to keep his promise to provide for you as his beloved child? What do you invest your time and energy and ambition in, because if you are a Christian, it must be something bigger than financial security.
There is more at stake here than meets the eye. In the parables in Matthew 13, Jesus likens his kingdom to a hidden one. The world has its kingdoms, God has his, but not everyone sees or lives in the kingdom of heaven. If you dance to the world’s tune you may think you’re making all the right moves, but it’s a dance that leads to the inferno of hell. If you plant your feet firmly in the kingdom of heaven, you’ve stepped out of the dance of death, you’ve entered a new dance of life, and you sing a different tune, a tune whose recurring motif is in Matthew 6 and whose libretto is Romans 12.
It’s the song of the kingdom.
It’s a song of trust in our Savior God.
It’s a song of freedom from the devil’s reign, because “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8: 36).
It’s a song of hope, of joy, of love, and a song unsung by the world because “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Financial security? It’s fool’s gold. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8: 36).
1 Corinthians 2: 9
But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—