Look, if someone tries to tell you that they don’t have a problem with materialism, I suggest you smile politely and walk away. It’s like saying, “I don’t think I have a problem with pride.” Sorry, but it just “ain’t” so and you just proved it.
Americans are probably the worse. Assuming that Christians are different from the world in this matter is a mistake. I know the Bible tells us in no uncertain terms to beware of covetousness and loving money and I think that is universal to every human heart, regardless of our financial status—rich or poor or in-between. Materialism is so prevalent in our country that we are most often referred to as “consumers,” because, well, that’s what we do, consume.
Yet, the Lord comes along and tells us in plain language, “Set your affection on things above.” How are we to rise above the culture in which we live? While we know this is possible, we would be wise to remember that we cannot be a witness for Jesus Christ if we are living lives in which our affections are in reality set on things on the earth.
You have heard it said that Jesus Christ spoke more about money than He did about heaven and earth combined. Take a bird’s eye view of just the Gospel of Luke:
- Luke 4:18 – Jesus begins His spiritual ministry proclaiming good news to the poor (both spiritually and materially).
- Luke 6:20 – Jesus blesses the poor and condemns the pride and self-sufficiency of the rich.
- Luke 12:15-21 – Jesus tells the story of building bulging barns and warning rich people of finding fulfillment in stuff that passes away.
- Luke 16:9 – Jesus tells us to use our wealth to win others to an eternal reward.
- Luke 16:13 – Jesus gives us the truth that you cannot serve God and money.
- Luke 16 – Jesus tells us about a beggar named Lazarus and the rich, selfish man who ended up in hell begging for just a drop of water.
- Luke 18 – Jesus tells a devout rich man to give up his possessions and follow Him.
- Luke 19 – Jesus brings salvation to a wealthy little man called Zacchaeus.
Here’s the kicker: Every time Jesus talks about money and materialism, He advises that we give it away. Jesus never said that money was evil, but He repeatedly warns us that there is grave spiritual danger that comes with riches and how we handle it.
You know there were wealthy men and women throughout the Bible, right? Just to name a few: Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus, and Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Jesus’ ministry was supported by wealthy women. Money makes a great servant, but a horrible master. Possessions become either a tool or an idol. It is not a sin to be blessed by God; it is a sin to be blessed by God and not use it for God’s glory.
Wealth is intrinsically deceptive. It makes a person feel superior to have a lot of money. We would never say it, but the attitude can rise that says, “I have more money/things than you and that makes me more blessed than you.” You can even add on, “I know that this is true because God is the One who blessed me with all of this.” Dress it up in religious clothes if you will. Materialism is connected to pride and feeling superior to others. It makes us feel strong, independently strong. But God wants us dependent, not independent.
One of the ways money is deceptive is that you compartmentalize your view of materialism. “I drive a car with 250,000 miles on it; I pray it goes another 250,000 miles. I do not struggle with wanting new cars; therefore, I am not materialistic.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Take another look, however. Examine spending habits. Jewelry? A Timex and a Rolex both end in –ex, but I promise you that there is a difference. What about your love to travel and go to places you have never been? Exotic vacations? It is easy to get caught up in living life to the fullest by the experiences money will buy. Personally, I bought two sets of sunglasses, one for each vehicle. Cost? Got them at the fairgrounds flea market for $10 each. I could have saved up for some famous name brand, but you see, I’m not materialistic (for sunglasses). Clothes? How many can you wear at one time? Houses? Renovation and restoration projects? Like to eat out a lot?
This circle we draw and stand in is actually a spiral, tailored just for us. This is why our Lord warned all of us over and over again about money, possessions, self-sufficiency, and pride. All of them are potentially dangerous to our spiritual health. We want to be in control, but the problem is, so does God.
Just because someone owns a classic car, that doesn’t make him materialistic anymore than a man who saves his money for his retirement fund. Saving versus spending doesn’t make you less materialistic. It is ironic the scenarios that we can come up with just to soothe our consciences that we are okay.
So, what’s the answer here if we are all in the same boat together? Let me give you three practical helps:
- Your money does not belong to you; it belongs to God. – That’s easy to say, but hard to remember. You are only a steward to what God owns. When you are tempted to spend, invest, save, or give, ask the Owner what He wants you to do. Pray over your financial decisions. Pray earnestly. Wait on Him to lead and guide you.
- Since the money does not belong to you, give it away. – And when you give it away, give it away joyfully. Money tends to make us feel godlike so when you give it away you remove the power it can have over you. Every time you give money away, you are declaring that it does not control you and that you have not placed your trust in it.
- Since you are going to be a giver and not a taker, give it away regularly. – Make it a part of your daily life in ways that removes the deification of money. This is what tithing and giving to missions is all about. It is saying that every paycheck will place God and His work ahead of my own needs and wants. Don’t do it because He will bless you for it, though He will, but do it out of a heart of love for God and others.
Our stewardship theme this year is “Grace and Gratitude.” I like it. It is saying to us, “The way to live is to give, give, and give some more.” God’s grace enables you to be a biblical giver, free from the lust for money and things. Let us resolve not to get self-righteous in our view of how we handle God’s money. You are not better than someone else because you do not do what they do with their material blessings. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to those we view as inferior or superior. Be content with what God has blessed you to have.
Coveting is universal to all people in all cultures. Americans are blessed more than most other people in other nations and Christians are blessed more than other people, too. Coveting leads to idolatry; it is so much more than just one of the Ten Commandments. Determine to let God control you and the things that He entrusts to you.
And, by all means, let’s be honest and admit that it is something we all must deal with in walking in the Spirit. It really is possible to be blessed and to not be materialistic. Invest in God and His work today, every day.