Materialism – Preaching to the Choir 6
Western Culture has become more materialistic than in decades past. Jesus told people a materialistic outlook was a futile approach to life. He said there was something much, much better. All Christians who live in the West ought to be circumspect when it comes to a materialistic outlook.
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For Further Consideration
Check out our series on parenting for faith.
I heard a story about Bobby Bonds, the current major league home run record holder. When he would go into a slump, he would get his batting coach and they would go right back to Little League with the fundamentals of how to swing a bat. And they would rebuild his swing, from there, all over again. It doesn’t matter if he was a Little Leaguer or Bobby Bonds, everyone has to follow the fundamentals for success in whatever endeavor.
So this series is about fundamental Christianity. No wonder so few are interested in it. Now, it’s not supposed to be new truth. It’s the stuff we all need to be reminded of periodically.
So, are you materialistic? I had a couple come to me a few years back. They were Christians. He had a business. In fact, he had several of them. He was making a lot of money. They could take their eight kids – they had two adopted kids – maybe it was six – and they went to the Caribbean for a vacation. So that probably cost a lot of money. So he told his wife he wanted to shoot for a billion dollars, and she was not exactly overjoyed, because she felt that he was neglecting her and their children. She asked me, while she was complaining about it, “How much more money do we need?” They both drove a nice vehicle, but not flashy. They both seemed to have a limited wardrobe. He didn’t care about fancy things either, I guess. But he was focused on making, instead of spending, money. And she was concerned with her children, her marriage, her family and her faith. He was materialistic to the detriment of his relationships.
In Western society, wealth, power, lavish life-styles, expensive things are all symbols of success. We live in a materialistic society. Now, even though the title of this presentation is Materialism, we’re not really talking about the philosophy of materialism, but about being what we call materialistic – that is, being overly concerned, or preoccupied, with material possessions rather than with intellectual or spiritual things. Let’s look at a scripture so we can get our spiritual bearings before going forward. This scripture hits a difficulty I’ve had in my life about materialism, so it’s interesting to me. It’s in 1 Timothy 3, starting in verse 1. Paul says:
1 Timothy 3:1 – The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer – that would be a minister – he desires a noble task. He doesn’t say the desire is noble necessarily, but to be an overseer is a noble thing. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?
Now, if a minister is not supposed to be a lover of money, then, by extension, materialistic, he’s supposed to be a good manager. And that would probably include being a good money manager. He’s supposed to be respectable, so that would mean that he wouldn’t be head over heels in debt. So he would know how to manage his income. Also, to be a good parent and husband – we’re going to talk more about that later. So, the issue, for me, has been one of balance. I have always had to be concerned with money, because I didn’t have so much of it that I didn’t need to keep track of it – and always a concern – especially when we get older – and facing lives without earned income. I was not supposed to love money, but I had to think about it a lot, because there never seemed to be enough of it to provide for my family the way I would have liked – not that we ever went without the basics – for which we are very thankful. It could have been different. So I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining why this is interesting. I’ve also noticed that most of the patriarchs seemed to have been wealthy with flocks, and herds, and servants, and land. Although Peter and brother fished for a living, they seemed to have enough money that they didn’t need to do it anymore when Jesus called them. They were not old men when that happened. So they, apparently, were successful fishermen. None of them, in fact, seemed to worry about that at all. They didn’t talk much about it.
It seems that having money and loving money are two different things then. So, what’s the difference? Let’s talk about loving money. Being overly concerned or preoccupied with material possessions rather than with intellectual or spiritual things. My client, who was shooting to make a billion, he was preoccupied with it – to the neglect of his family. He was obsessed with it. So that’s the sin. It’s not about the money itself. It’s not that we’re not to have money. It’s that we’re not to be a lover of money – not to be obsessed with making or spending it. We all need to manage our money and not spend it on things that we can’t afford, for example, and save it for the future. But we shouldn’t be obsessed with making or spending it instead of focusing on the things of God. We love God and then love others as ourselves. Those are the two great commandments. Right? There’s nothing in there about shooting for a billion. You know, that wouldn’t even be bad if he could also balance that with the others aspects of his life. But it was the obsession that was the problem.
So, when we talk about money, most of us have to always wonder if there’s enough. But how much is enough? That was the question the lady asked me. And Jesus answered the question about how much money we really need. It’s in Matthew 6. He said:
Matthew 6:25-34 – “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat – that takes money – or what you will drink – that takes money – nor about your body – to take care of it – what you will put on – don’t worry about clothes. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin – they don’t have to make their own clothes – yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles – now who are the Gentiles? Well, back then, they were people who weren’t Jews, but today, Gentiles are non-believers. For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
So Jesus is happy if He got enough food to eat today, and was wearing clothes today, and He didn’t worry about tomorrow, because He believed God was going to take care of Him.
Here’s another thing that Paul said about it in 1 Timothy 6, beginning verse 6:
1 Timothy 6:6 – But godliness with contentment is great gain. So that would be anxiety free, right? Content with what we have. For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. Paul said he’d learned how to be abased – how to have very little – and how to abound – how to have a lot. He was a highly educated man, who probably made a fair amount of money in his work on the Sanhedrin. But he also had been persecuted, and stood before wild beasts at Ephesus, suffered terrible depravity because a lot of the people in the church weren’t willing to support him. So work hard, make a living, don’t burden others, don’t worry about it. God’s going to take care of us.
I had a client once, who was bitter about his life. He said everything had gone down to nothing. And he was bitter toward God. He rode Job’s horse all the time. But I started noticing things about him, as I got to know him a little better. He drove a nice new car to his session. He had decent clothing. He had a place to live. He had a job. He had enough to eat. He was healthy. He had at least one person that cared about him – his pastor – because I met him once. And yet, to hear this guy tell it, he was cursed. He told me once that he hated it when his pastor would tell him to have faith. It made him angry to hear that. He knew God does not keep His promises. Anything anyone would say, to try to encourage him, only made him more angry. So he’d worked himself into that position, where nothing could be done to help him – because he hated to hear all the things that he needed to do be a happy person.
We think about Jesus when He was on earth. He didn’t seem to have a job, other than walking around talking to crowds, and He seemed really relaxed and mellow and mild. And there’s the picture of Him and His disciples in a boat out on the Sea of Galilee in a fierce storm. Those guys were all experienced sailors – not Jesus, but the disciples. They were fishermen. And they were panicking. What was Jesus doing? Well, He was asleep in the bow of the boat. He seemed to be able to walk on water without effort. He could feed 5,000 people with a couple of fish and a couple of loaves of bread. Everything was great. God even resurrected Him from the dead! So what do you know?
Do you have faith that God’s going to resurrect you from the dead? Why is it, then, we worry about stuff like clothing and food? Which is harder for God? Well, neither one of them are harder at all, but it’s more of a miracle, we think, to be resurrected.
I heard a song a long time ago that I try to remember – Don’t Worry, Be Happy. It’s a real mellow song. Bobby McFerrin, after he made that one hit – I guess he was a one-hit wonder – very able musician – he spent his life, I heard much later, teaching children about music.
I had a really interesting experience last fall. I went camping with my brother up in Wyoming. It was after the season. The campground was shut down, which means you could camp there for free – the gates were still open. We were there, and this guy drove in one day with an old Saturn. Remember them? And he was pulling a tiny, two-wheel trailer. I learned later that trailer weighed about 250 pounds – very light weight. We watched him set up his camp. He lifted up the top of his trailer from the rear, and then pulled up another folding side from the front, to form a steep roof from the two sides. It looked a lot like a teepee on wheels. He had a little old dog with him. After he’d had time to set up, we went over to check him out and say, “Hi.” His trailer was just big enough to sleep in, yet he could stand up to get dressed. We learned that years ago – he was probably a little younger than we were, but not much – he had been disabled by a traumatic brain injury. He couldn’t focus that well anymore. His wife left him when his construction business dried up, and he lived in a tiny house in Wisconsin that was very small. I think he said it was 15 by 15 – very small. There was one room and a bathroom – and he had built this home himself. He had no payments – hardly any taxes. It was easy to heat. He told me all his clothes came from thrift shops, but he looked as well equipped as did for hiking and camping. He had no money but Social Security – no income – yet he was, by his own thrift, able to extend out so that he could drive anywhere he wanted every summer. And that’s what he did. He spent about four months every year on the road. He had very little, yet he appeared to be very happy. He loved people and travel. He was very fun to talk to. He told us he had a son in Florida, whom he would visit every summer. And during the winter in Wisconsin, he worked in a homeless shelter, as a volunteer, fixing things that were broken and rebuilding the facility. So this man would be the opposite of somebody that was materialistic. Contrary to what the materialistic think, money does not make people happy.
There’s been a lot of research done about happiness. It’s true that poverty makes people unhappy, but having more than one needs to meet the basics doesn’t improve on a person’s happiness – once you have more than enough to live day by day. Isn’t that what Jesus said? You know, if you’ve got enough for today, you’re good!
I want to talk now about the effects of materialism on our society and what’s happened to us. We don’t think about it much, because, as Western people, we’re caught up in this. You think, “Well, I’m not.” Well, you might be the exception, but most of us are.
Materialism, for one thing, is ruining the environment. I can’t prove global warming either way, and I have to say, however, I am suspicious. Have you ever talked to a retired weather scientist? We have one that was on the radio the other day that lives here in town. He came from back east. He said that he could not express his views on global warming until after he retired. That was because he didn’t believe that it was really happening. But it wasn’t politically correct to say that, and he would have been fired if he expressed that opinion. So that sounds, to me, like everything else in our country that is socialist. Their approach is so unacceptable to most people that it has to be imposed on others. I listen to the leftists talk on TV, and I change the channel. But they talk about the “Hannity problem” – you know, how to silence Sean Hannity. Turning the channel isn’t good enough. They don’t want anybody to listen to him, because they know he makes too much sense – at least, that’s what it seems like to me. So they can’t tolerate somebody else’s opinion. See, they talk about social justice, but they’re not about social justice. They just think they are. They’re really about control. So, when I talk about materialism ruining the environment, I’m not going to talk about global warming.
But think about all the plastic we have dumped in the ocean. We have created a substance that, unlike everything else in nature, including the mountain ranges, doesn’t degrade. So it stays there in the environment forever. It never goes away. Think how that happened. Well, it’s those rich people – those oil barons. Isn’t that right? Well, they’re part of the problem, but who do they sell the plastic to? Who is it that buys the gasoline they make? Even though we know it’s harmful, why do we keep buying those things? Well, we need gas to get to work, so we can make more money and buy more stuff. Right? We save time using plastic, too, which means we can spend more time at work. It’s very quick and convenient.
It’s kind of funny here in town. They’re putting forth one of these laws to get rid of plastic – grocery bags and straws and the containers you put your food in when you come home from a restaurant – you know, the foam stuff. Just a few years ago, all the environmentalists were trying to get rid of paper bags and go to plastic, because paper and cardboard take up so much room in the landfills. So whatever the current fad is, everybody goes with it.
So, in the last few years, there have been Hollywood types that have railed on the oil industry and on big business and bitterly condemned it. And yet they fly all over the planet in their private jets, which are many, many more times polluting than our Honda Accords. Their materialistic, jet-set lifestyle is juxtaposed to their talk. They’re hypocrites! It’s not that they want to stop using oil-based products – just you and me. Of course, even though the oil industrial CEOs are not the cause of the problem, they’re making mountains of cash off it, too, so they can also own a private jet. So, we’re all part of the problem, not just those guys.
I think, too, that because we’re such a materialistic society, it’s making people sick. All the big companies are corporations. A corporation is layer of protection between the law and the wrong doers in corporations. They can get away with polluting the environment, selling products that aren’t safe quite often. And they don’t have to worry about lawsuits. Their corporation might get sued, but they can parachute out of that and salvage themselves.
Drug companies can buy phony research to make dangerous drugs look marketable. They can build wings on hospitals and pay off doctors as part of their sales campaigns. And of course, you know I’m not exaggerating. All you have to do is watch TV to see all the class action suits filed against companies that have sold dangerous health products – drugs – to us. Why do they do that? Well, to make more money.
Think of all the toxic petro-chemicals in an automobile. You know, we keep buying them. You know the instructions in the Honda Accord we bought said that you should leave your windows open for two months – I think it was two months – at night, so that the chemicals could leach out into the environment, so you wouldn’t breathe them in concentrated doses when you’re in the car. But we keep buying them because they’re convenient and we can get to work so we can make more money and buy more things. Then we get upset when we cancer rates climbing higher and higher.
All this reminds me of the French voters, who are rioting right now against high taxes, which were put forward by the one they elected into office. Once they get rid of him, they’re going to elect another one who promises them the moon, just like the last one, and then taxes them to pay for it. So is that materialistic, or just plain stupid, or both?
Now we here in New Mexico voted in a governor who promised big things. And she seems to be working hard to bankrupt the state so that taxes can be raised – not on the rich – they buy loopholes – but on the middle class and even the very poor. She doesn’t really care about them. People are starting to get angry about it. There’s a petition to impeach. But one, that’s never going to happen. And two, the same people who would impeach her would just vote in another leftist like herself. And so it goes. Why do people vote for these kind of politicians? Because they think they can get free stuff. And they also love money. They covet things that they haven’t earned. Of course, people have to be forced into paying for it, so bring on the government control. That’s where we’re headed.
Thomas Jefferson said that once the voting public sees it can vote itself unearned benefits from the public trust, the republic is doomed. Also, as we become more and more materialistic, free stuff becomes more and more important. We haven’t really seen the real misery in this country yet. In Venezuela right now, people are eating their pet cats, dogs and iguanas – you know, were promised utopia by a leftist thug and yet that’s not happening.
Every bad thing I can think of in the world, now and in the past, was about the love of money and the control that comes with it. Even the crucifixion of Jesus was driven, in part, by the love of money. Do you remember what the Jews and the religious structure said? They said, “This man is upsetting the status quo! What if the Romans come? We’re going to lose our place in our nation.” So they didn’t want to lose their incomes and their status and their control. So even that was about money and the love of money.
Here’s another thing that I think about. There’s currently a movement afoot to have one world government. Why do you think that is being put forward? Well, that’s about power and control for the few. What does the Bible tell will be the end of that? Well, according to Revelation, two massive governmental entities will face off in the Valley of Megiddo, near Jerusalem. Jesus tells us that, if He didn’t step in to stop it, we would blow ourselves off the planet and destroy the planet with us. But what’s the drive for a one world government? Well, all the pawns are told that it will stop war, when actually, it’s going to bring us to the biggest war ever that literally, thanks to God, will end them all – at least in our age. So we’re thankful to God that He’s not going to let that happen. But that’s where we’re headed. That’s what the Bible says. It’s doesn’t really matter what any of us believe. That’s what the Bible says.
Is there anything else that the love of money does to us? I was reading a book years ago. The author said that, in Western culture, people think that buying their kids things and taking them places communicates love to them. If there’s ever been anything, that is a materialistic, emotionally bankrupt outlook! Bruce Perry, the famous brain researcher said, at the University of New Mexico some years ago, “Our society is the first culture in the history of the planet to lose its ability to communicate its values to the next generation.” Even the Chinese can communicate Communism to their kids better than we can communicate freedom to ours. We think we relate by spending money on our kids. Of course we do! We’re materialistic! If you really want to know how to communicate love to your children, check out our two series on parenting. Just go to liferesource.org and search on Parenting for Faith – that’s one – and Practical Christian Parenting. Those are two series that will show you how to do that.
Now Paul said, “Without faith, it’s impossible to please God.” So how do we pass faith in God to our children? Well, first we have to have it ourselves. So don’t worry, be happy. And number two, nurture your children from birth. Help them learn that you can be depended upon – that you can keep them safe, you can take care of them – that you’re interested in them, that you love them, spend time with them. And then, when they’re older, they’ll find it easy to believe that they can depend on God, too. That’s how it works.
I want to read you something Paul said. You know, Paul was blinded on the Damascus Road and told directly by Christ, “I’m going to turn you into one of My servants.” And He put Paul through the mill. He left him blind for, I think, three days, but he had to face wild beasts in the coliseum at Ephesus. He said everybody had turned away from him. But notice what he says here to the Thessalonians – in the church there.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 – But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Now we know Paul had to be direct with some people at some time. Some people just won’t listen. But he also was a very loving, affectionate and gentle person. So he wasn’t materialistic, was he? Maybe the antithesis of that. He believed in the things of God. He knew how to communicate love to people in his congregation. Do you remember that instance where they, pretty much, stayed up all night because he was leaving in the morning and they wouldn’t let him go? He was a good pastor while he was there.
There’s one more thing. It’s in 1 Timothy 6:10.
1 Timothy 6:10 – For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil – not money, but the love of it – the obsession with it and the power that comes with it. It is through this craving – see, it’s the craving for it – that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Our adversary’s global push toward materialism is just another way to make as many people as possible God-proof, or weak in the faith. Focusing on all that stuff instead of what God tells us to do is a distraction – is what it is – away from what is important. So focus on the things of God, not on the things of this world.
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So until next time, this is Bill Jacobs for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families and the Church of God.