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Which is better – doing a good deed or doing a good deed and being rewarded for it? Most people assume simultaneous altruism and gain reap the best of both worlds, but they often learn Truth the hard way – you can’t have both. As the old saying goes, virtue is its own reward. A real life example combined with Scripture proves the point.

In 1993, the Swiss government held meetings in two towns with geologic conditions conducive to radioactive waste storage. During a town meeting, the citizens were asked whether they would be willing to allow a repository to be built in their community. Whether out of national pride, a sense of fairness, or just a desire to contribute to the common good, 50.8 percent of the respondents said they would agree.

Desiring an overwhelming majority instead of a narrow victory margin, the Swiss government then offered a financial incentive of $2,175 per person per year to sweeten the deal. Later, the government upped the ante to $6,525. The result: the acceptance plummeted to 24.6 percent, less than one half the original approval rate, with fewer than one in four agreeing to the larger monetary reward. This result stupefied government officials. Had these people lost their minds?

Jesus, who is Truth, warned us of this result when He said, “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Mammon.” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus, as the One through whom all things were made (John 1:3), knew most townspeople could not accept the money. The reason: Jesus wired our brains so we can only serve God or Mammon, not both. We must serve One or the other.

Medical research using MRIs has demonstrated that human brain functions are split. Two different regions (with difficult names) compete to control our thinking – the nucleus accumbens and the posterior superior temporal sulcus, control our pleasure center and altruism center respectively. Our pleasure center reacts positively to worldly pleasures such as financial compensation, whereas our altruism center is motivated strictly by charitable actions. As with oil and water, these two brain functions repel each other by design, and wrestle with our psyche to control our actions and decision-making.

The moment officials offered money to the townspeople, the resident’s brains shifted gears instantly and processed the offer differently – the altruism center shut down and the pleasure center took control. Instead of being willing to take one for the team for free, the calculating pleasure center – which also controls addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling and other thrills – engages fully, wiping out any altruistic tendencies and replacing them with an overwhelming drive to maximize profit and/or thrills. In other words, our brains are in a perpetual tug-of-war with themselves.

In Matthew 6:24, our LORD Jesus exposed the great lie many try to put upon their souls, thinking they can divide loyalties between God and the world. They think they can have both pleasure on Earth and treasure in Heaven. They attempt to make their religion serve their secular interest and, thus, achieve gain both ways – the spiritual equivalent of double dipping. Our split-brained design forbids it, by order of Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus did not tell us we must not or even should not serve both God and Mammon, He said we cannot do it (1 John 2:15, James 4:4). This admonition is no coincidence. Modern science has demonstrated why Jesus chose His words so carefully – we have two different engines running in our heads that cannot operate simultaneously, and the Mammon engine typically overpowers the altruistic engine. Thus, modern science continues to validate Scripture.

Interestingly, mammon is a Syriac word, implying gain. Whatever we attribute as gain – the lust of the eye, the pride of life – is Mammon. To some, their belly is Mammon, and they serve that (Philippians 3:19). Others pursue their ease and comfort, their sleep, or their sports and pastimes (Proverbs 6:9). Many focus on worldly riches (James 4:13), whereas others prefer honors and glory along with the praise and adulation of men – such was the Pharisees’ Mammon. In a word, Mammon is self, our sensual and secular desires, which are in direct competition with God.

Listen how the worldly pleasures and spiritual yearnings do battle in our splintered brains. God says, “My son, give me your heart.” Mammon says, “No, give it to me.” God says, “Be content with the things you have.” Mammon says, “Grasp at all you possibly can.” God says, “Do not defraud, never lie, be honest and just in all your dealings.” Mammon says “Cheat your own Father, if you can gain by it. God says, “Be charitable.” Mammon says, “Hold your own: this giving undoes us all.” God says, “Care for nothing worldly.” Mammon says, “Care for everything of the world.” God says, “Keep holy the Sabbath day.” Mammon says, “Make use of that day as well as any other for the world.” Our pleasure and altruism centers are at war with the commands of God and Mammon, so we cannot possible serve both. We must serve One or the other, and He is the One we must serve.

It is not normal to serve both God and Mammon. As Jesus puts it so elegantly, we simply cannot do it. He wired our brains to make it impossible, not just difficult, to serve both God and Mammon. That is intelligent design. Which portion of your brain will you engage today?

Jeff Myers
A servant of Jesus Christ


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