In Genesis 24, Abraham ordered his servant, Eliezer, to swear by YHWH that he would find a wife for Isaac from among Abraham’s people in Haran.
And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
Genesis 24:2-4 ESV
When Eliezer met Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel, he thanked God for guiding him.
The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.”
Genesis 24:26-27 ESV
Eliezer followed the orders of his master, Abraham, and of his God, YHWH.
However, in Matthew 6:24, Yeshua said, “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.” At first, it sounds as if Yeshua was saying that nobody should ever have any master except God himself, but clearly that’s not what he meant.
The word for “master” in this verse is kurios, which means the same as the English word “master”. It can refer to a teacher, employer, slave owner, nobleman…pretty much anyone who has authority over something. In Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, and other places, Paul tells slaves to obey their human masters (kurios). In 1 Peter 3:6, Peter holds Sarah up as an example for women because she obeyed her husband and called him lord (kurios). Since God established the authority of judges, husbands, and others, clearly Yeshua didn’t mean “No one can serve two masters” in a strictly literal sense.
This is another of many times that Yeshua employed hyperbole as a teaching tool. The immediate context of his statement was the pursuit of material wealth. Just a few seconds earlier, in verse 19, he said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth”, and he didn’t mean anyone to take this in a hyperliteral sense either, because it’s not a sin to acquire wealth. Once again, Abraham is a case in point.
The key to understanding what Yeshua meant is in the verses between:
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!
Matthew 6:21-23 ESV
Do you see the world as land to be exploited for every grain of wheat and every lump of coal you can extract? Or do you see it as the property of a higher master entrusted to your care for its health and prosperity?
Eliezer served Abraham by seeking out the best possible wife for Isaac, ultimately serving God by being faithful to his charge. A disciple serves God by serving his master. A wife serves God by serving her husband and caring for her children.
There is no conflict at all between serving God and seeking the wellbeing of one’s family, employers, neighbors, and country, because the wellbeing of all people is tied to their conformity to God’s will. On the other hand, if any authority commands us to disobey God’s clear instructions, then we are obligated to obey God rather than man.
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Acts 5:29 ESV
It’s one thing to submit to taxation that we know will be used for wicked purposes; it’s another thing entirely to obey orders to carry out that wickedness with our own hands. It’s one thing for a wife to submit to a criminal husband; it’s another to be an active participant in a criminal enterprise. Where exactly you draw that line in your own circumstances is between you and God.
YHWH is the Creator of everything and everyone and remains the ultimate authority over all people and relationships. So long as we do everything for his ultimate glory and purposes, we serve him by serving others in whatever role he has placed us. If we elevate our own desires–or those of anyone else!–above God’s, we also elevate ourselves above God, rejecting him as Master.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV
For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Deuteronomy 4:24 ESV