How to Avoid Materialism
I want you to note the first three things that come to your mind when I ask, what is most important to you? We kind of search our minds for the things that we should be thinking. I don't want the things you should be thinking, I want what comes to your mind immediately. Okay? And note those. I won't ask you to feed them back. So don't be afraid. I don't do these things to embarrass you. I just do them so we can look at ourselves with a little mirror. All right, are you ready? I want you to note the first three things that are the most important to you. Keep those in the back of your mind.
15Then He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." 16And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. 17And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' 18Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' 20But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' 21So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
- Luke 12:15-21
Now the things that you were thinking about, ask yourself another question: Were they spiritual things or were they material things? Were you thinking about things that could be stored in barns, like money, houses, careers, cars, future security, health. Were those the things that you were thinking about? Were they things that you could take to heaven with you, like faith, knowledge of God, service to others? Jesus says that we are foolish if our treasures are simply material things and they're not spiritual things. So this morning in our continuing series, we're going to talk about materialism.
We've talked about sex and drugs, we've talked about the occult, and those things are very dangerous. But the dangers of these other things compared to materialism is nothing. Materialism is a very subtle attack against our faith, against our soul. There's nothing more subtle than materialism. It kind of creeps into your life, because we have to deal every day with material. It's not every day we have to deal with the occult, and not every day we're tempted to practice elicit sex. It's not every day we have to say no to the temptation of taking drugs or not stealing. It's not every day that we have to come into contact with those things, but we have to deal with materialism every single day. We have to deal with this in small or large quantities. So it's a problem.
Can someone give me a definition of materialism? We hear it all the time, but can you give me a definition of what it is? Okay, the desire for things. Let's put down some key words. Desire, desire for things. Okay, someone else maybe? Greed, to possess what we don't have. Like the farmer, he says, "I don't want much in life, just the field next to mine." Someone said, it deals with the physical. Okay. Let me just write one word: Temporal. Temporal things, things that are just for a time, right? They will eventually deteriorate.
Well, we've got part of it, the desire for things, greed to possess what we don't have. One of the key words is missing. The keyword here for materialism is the word emphasis.
Materialism is the undue emphasis on the material rather than on the spiritual.
In your life, you can emphasize certain things. Materialism is when you emphasize what is material rather than what is spiritual. When your priorities all line up with material things. Like I said to you, what are the three most important things? I've done the test myself and believe me, material things were right away. It's easy because we're physical.
It's very hard not to have at least one or two, if not all three of the things be material, but the point is that materialism, this thing that destroys- let's call it an attitude- that destroys our faith is when we emphasize material things over spiritual things. Whenever there's a conflict between something that is material and spiritual, the material will always win out. Whenever there's a compromise that we have to make between something physical and something spiritual, the physical will always win over the spiritual.
This is not to say that wealth is a bad thing. Abraham was a rich man. And Job was a rich man, and David, and Solomon and Saul. A lot of these servants of God, that God chose, were very wealthy men and women. He raised them up to positions- Daniel and Joseph and Esther. Remember the story of Esther and Mordecai? All of them were raised to great positions. Moses. All of these people were wealthy and in very, very high position. On the contrary, we should thank God when we are blessed with abundance. When you have a lot, when all of a sudden you get that raise or that wonderful opportunity, or someone gives you something, I teach my kids, just say, "Thank you." Don't feel guilty. Say, "Thank you, God."
All of us here, we live in this wonderful country that has an abundance of food and a variety. Not only can we eat as much as we want, we can buy whatever we want. That's amazing. Even people who are collecting welfare for one reason or other can still have access to buying a variety of foods. I mean, this is a wonderful blessing that we have. So, having a lot isn't a sin. A lot of people think that people are materialistic, who have a lot. That's not materialism. Just having many things doesn't make you materialistic. Materialism occurs when our love for things becomes so strong that we will lie or cheat or steal or hold back what we owe to God in order to invest it in material things; or we begin to refuse to share with those who are in need because we want to hang onto what is ours. Have you never had that?
I think all of us here are salary people, right? We're all salary people. I mean I'm on a salary. You guys are all on a salary of some kind or other, whether you collect a check from a company or from the government or from the church. We're all salary people, right? And as salary people, when the end of the month comes it gets a little thin, especially in my house because I get paid once a month. And for those of us who get paid on a monthly basis, boy, those months that have five weeks, it seems like forever. There's five weekends, and that fifth week, supplies are getting low, you know what I mean? And things are getting low and I've got that check that I wrote out at the beginning of the month. I took a portion for the Lord and I cut it up into four checks, let's say, four Sundays in a row. Well, by the end of the month I've got a whole lot less to pay other things with and my muffler goes, and I've got the check that I wrote at the beginning of the month for the Lord. The temptation is great. You see what I'm saying? The temptation is great to hold back from the Lord what I already would have given Him.
Materialism is when our love for things becomes so strong that we're willing to sin in order to gain and keep things, and refuse to share with other people, or when we become ruthless to gain more things, like in Colossians 3:5. Some people are ruthless in their drive to gain more things, not just what they have, but to collect more.
Therefore, consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
- Colossians 3:5
Greed amounts to idolatry. The desire for things above the desire for spiritual things. A good definition of greed is never being satisfied with what we have. That's what greed is. Greed isn't having a lot. Greed is never being satisfied with what we do have, whether we have a lot or a little, that's what greed is. And Paul says that greed is a form of idolatry. Greed, or idolatry, is the greater desire to possess things than the desire to possess God. When we'd rather have things than God, then we're falling into idolatry.
9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wondered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
- I Timothy 6:9-10
This passage is the most misquoted passage in the Bible. How do people always quote it? They say, "Money is the root of all evil." But money isn't the root of all evil. It's the love of money, which is. Money isn't evil. Money is nothing. Money is a tool and we can learn to use it properly or improperly, but it's the love of money that destroys people.
Here he's talking to Christians and he's saying to Christians, be careful when your emphasis is on the material. And I don't mean just gaining stuff. I'm talking about when the emphasis is on your career and on your things and on just the material and not on the spiritual. He says, the natural outcome is you wander away from the faith and destroy yourself. But listen to what he says:
But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.
- I Timothy 6:11
These are the things we should long for, we should pursue, we should be thirsting after: righteousness, godliness, faith and love. I don't have time to exposit all these words, but I think most of us are familiar with what he's talking about. Righteousness, a right way of living. Godliness, how to please God. Faith, the knowledge of the faith and what it means. And love towards one another. Perseverance, to persevere, to continue to finish our lives faithful to Christ. These are the things that we should be pursuing. Not gambling, for example. This is something that's based on greed. The desire to get something for nothing. Prostitution. Many women and men go into prostitution, they say, to support their drug habit; or they say most prostitution is because of a drug habit. But at the base, what is prostitution? It's merely sex, for what? For money and not for love. Two people who fall in love and have sex, and they're not married, that is a sin. That's still fornication, but it's a whole lot different than someone who sells their body for money. It's a different kind of sin. That other sin is based on materialism.
Why do people choose to make things and the accumulation of things their top priority over spiritual things? I mean, we all do it to one degree or another. I do it and I have to continually check myself, and you do it too. We always think of materialism as people who own the Bank of Montreal. They're the ones who are materialistic, but we're all materialistic. Rich or poor, we all struggle with this emphasis on materialism.
I think the reason we fall into this problem, this sin, is because people believe that prosperity and happiness go together. They believe that prosperity equals happiness, and the North American media pushes this idea. In the eastern world, where communism is falling down, this is the new philosophy: democracy. What does democracy mean? It means freedom. Yes, it does mean freedom. Freedom to vote. If you listen to people and what they're saying, especially, like in East Germany- what do you hear them saying? We want to be free. Why? We want prosperity. We want the prosperity that's in the West. And, of course, if you've not had food and the basics, of course you want those things.
But the key idea, the one motivating thing that keeps them going is they want prosperity, because they believe that if they have prosperity, they will have happiness. And the political idea is democracy will bring prosperity and therefore will bring happiness. But has democracy bought happiness to this country? Absolutely not. It has brought prosperity. And prosperity, if it is used properly, can give great comfort and joy. But it doesn't all by itself bring happiness. Just drive around the West Island. There are a lot of beautiful homes and two cars in the garage, but go into the house and find out how much happiness there is.
When I was a kid, I used to think if you had a big house and a white picket fence in front and a nice shiny car that you were happy. I used to go by in Rosemount and say, "I bet you those people are happy," because the lawns were manicured and there was this sprinkler in the summertime, and there was a shiny car. And as I grew up I started knowing people who came out of those homes and they were beating each other, the wife was being beaten, and there was alcoholism, and all kinds of problems. And so, this belief causes people at every age and every social level to judge happiness and personal worth by the quality and the amount of things that you own.
When Lise and I were first married, we lived in a two-and-a-half-room apartment with a sheet across the window, that I had colored to give it some color. We had a table and four chairs and a mattress, on the floor almost, and a lazy boy. We were happy. We'd walk to church in the winter time. And when Paul was born, we'd put him in the stroller and we'd walk to church and we were happy. I had no car. And today, many years later, we have a nice home in Point Claire and there are two cars in the driveway, and God has blessed us these many years, and we're still happy, in exactly the same way that we were in the two-and-a-half-room apartment with a sheet on the wall.
The house and the cars doesn't make a difference, because our happiness is centered on the fact that both of us have an abiding faith in Jesus Christ. Life has changed since then, but the one thing that remains is that we both sincerely believe in Jesus Christ our Lord. And we've tried to make Him the center of our lives and our family. And so because of that, we have confidence that if ever something happens and we have to go back to the two-and-a-half-bedroom apartment, we'll still be happy because it wasn't the change in material things that changed our happiness. We were happy before and we'd continue being happy.
When people believe that happiness is produced by having more and more things, their priorities are set in such a way as to put all of their energies into getting things. If prosperity brings you happiness, well then you need to get an education and a good job and set yourself up and buy bonds and RSPs and do all these things in order to guarantee your prosperity. Because prosperity brings happiness. And all of your priorities get set up in such a way to guarantee prosperity. I need to get a job, I need to get this, I need to do this, because I want to guarantee prosperity, because prosperity brings happiness. Work, education, saving, investing become the most important things because it is through these things that we can accumulate wealth, period. And when this happens, spiritual things are sacrificed and the result is the exact opposite. We become unhappy. We become disenfranchised. We have an emptiness inside.
How many businessmen end up, 55-years old, they've scratched and clawed their way to the top. They've sacrificed. They've got their MBAs, they've got the whole nine yards, they get to be 55 years old and they just pop and they say, "Why did I do this for? Why am I here?" I've got a BMW, I've got a house in town, and all this stuff, the whole nine yards and they pop.
There's a doctor who did a study, an interesting study. He's not a Christian or a preacher, he's a sociologist. And he did a study on the effects of careers on emotions. It was interesting, how different careers affected emotions. And his study showed that half the people that he examined who were considered successful by their peers, when examined one-on-one in a controlled situation admitted that they were not happy. Their peers considered them happy because their peers bought this route: Prosperity equals happiness. And so they saw Joe over here, who was prospering, who was making it, and assumed that because he was making it, he was happy. When the sociologist talked to Joe, Joe said, "Yeah, I've got all this stuff, but I'm not really happy."
Jesus taught that happiness is not based on what you have, but rather on who you are. That's what generates joy. Things do not generate joy, it's who you are that generates joy. The only way to be, of course, that He taught, and the only who to be, that brings lasting happiness and satisfaction, is to be a disciple of Christ. Because He can give you what you need to generate joy. Because joy is a spiritual thing, it's not a physical thing. Joy is a spiritual thing. It's not material. It's not made out of atoms and molecules. Joy is something that God gives.
So how do we avoid materialism? We talked about some of the causes, the main causes: buying into this idea of prosperity equals happiness, and then setting up all our life's priorities to bring us to prosperity. And we said, if we buy into this, then we will also begin to make a top priority of our career, and our education, and our work and so on and so forth. Because all of this will give us this thinking that we will get that. And if we do this, we're buying into the materialistic mode and it'll just eat us alive, because it'll keep us so busy chasing after this, we won't have time to think.
Have you ever noticed people who are chasing this rainbow have no time for anything? And the reason they have no time for anything is that they, if they ever stopped to think for a minute, they'd realize they're not really happy. Okay, how do we avoid it? How do we avoid materialism?
How to Avoid Materialism
Well, you don't avoid materialism by becoming a monk. That was one way, in the Middle Ages, to avoid materialism. The early fathers saw that the world was evil- dualistic philosophy and this and that. And so they said a way to solve this problem is we will just pull out. We'll go to the monastery, we put the hair shirts on, and we whip ourselves. Bad flesh, bad body. And of course that didn't work because they found out that no matter how much they subjugated the flesh, they were still sinful. They still had evil desires. So that didn't really work. It's not by giving away all your possessions and becoming poor that you avoid materialism. The rich and the poor suffer from materialism because it's an attitude of the heart, not of the bank account. God loves rich people and poor people.
1. Be Content With What You Have
If you wish to keep your priorities straight and avoid being trapped by greed and materialism, the first rule is to be content with what you have today. Now the word content in the Bible means to be filled up. That's what it means, to be filled up. It's a picture word.
5Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you." 6So that we confidently say, "The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?"
- Hebrews 13:5-6
You See, God knows what we have and He will provide what we need. We can work to improve what we have, but in order to please God and not become materialistic, we have to be content with what we have today. Freedom from materialism begins with contentment with what we already possess. You want to fight this idea of becoming materialistic? You have to first begin by taking stock of what you have and being content with what you have. No matter what it is. It may be a little or it may be a lot.
Some people who have a lot, all they can think about is getting more. People who have a little, what they think about is how unfair it is that they have so little, and neither of them are happy. And so it's like wiping the slate clean and saying, "Okay, this is what I have. This is the degree of health that I have. This is the degree of education that I have. This is my life, and I'll begin, first of all, by learning to be content with what I have. That's rule number one.
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.
- I Timothy 6:6
Godliness, a respect for God, a great desire to please God, to be like God, that's godliness. He says, this attitude is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. So your spirituality and your spiritual life can benefit you, very much so, if it is accompanied by contentment. But if you're not content physically with what you've got, then your piety will not produce anything because your greed will just eat away at any pious activity that you may have. All the church going, all the Bible studying, all the praying that you do will be worthless if it's not accompanied by a sense of contentment for what you do have. So first, begin by being content with what you have, then your spiritual life will begin to have some profit to it. You'll make gains.
7For we have brought nothing into the world, so we can not take anything out of it either. 8If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
- I Timothy 6:7-8
We didn't bring anything in, we can't bring anything with us. We can't bring anything material with us, but we can bring spiritual things with us. That's what I said at the beginning. We can bring faith with us, love with us, joy with us, peace with us, forgiveness with us, self-control with us. We can bring all those things with us; but our bank accounts, our RSPs, those things, we can't bring those things with us. And so we demonstrate contentment when we can genuinely be grateful. If someone says, "Okay, I'm content. How do I show I'm content? How do I physically express this?" Contentment is physically and emotionally expressed in thanksgiving. It's a cycle. The more you get into the habit of giving thanks, the greater your sense of contentment will be.
It begins by saying, "Thank you." And the thank you acknowledges that you understand what you have and you're grateful for it. And the feedback that comes back is a sense of contentment, and the contentment grows to produce more desire to give thanks. And then the giving of thanks kind of works back and eventually you start being a happy person no matter what you've got.
Be thankful for the degree of health, wealth, and comfort that you possess. You may have a sore back or a sore knee or you may suffer from allergies or something like that. And what you may be saying is, "Why can't I just feel good like this person; or this person over here never sneezes. But every year, three months out of the year, I sneeze, I cough." Be content for the other nine months when you don't sneeze. It's the half-full type at theory.
2. Be Rich in Good Deeds
17Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
- I Timothy 6:17-19
Happiness comes from giving and not getting. And true happiness can only be obtained by sharing what we have with others. Wealth does not produce peace of mind, but being rich in good works does.
The biggest danger with illness or depression is that you tend to begin focusing on self. And when you begin to focus on self, you lose focus of what life's all about. Especially as Christians, our lives are not supposed to be focused on self, but on others. We're not worried, God will take care of us. His desire is to bless others through us. And so giving eradicates the danger of becoming materialistic. And materialism, of course, is the innate desire to always possess whatever we have. God has given it to us to use in the service of others so that His name will be honored.
All right, so let's just summarize. Number one, materialism is a dangerous attitude whereby a person's only goal is to acquire things because they believe that acquiring things will produce happiness in some way. Number two, people fall victim to this attitude because they think that possessing things will bring them happiness. Number three, materialism is wrong because one, it denies that God should be our first priority. God is our first priority. And when we make getting things our first priority, we fall into the sin of idolatry. Number two, it's wrong because it denies us the true happiness that comes from giving and sharing and serving. And number three, it's wrong because it denies that God does and will provide for our needs.
Actually, materialistic people are saying to God, "It's okay, I can take care of myself." And that is the extreme form of pride. And then finally, I said, we can avoid this attitude by first of all being content with what we have and being thankful. And secondly, make being rich in goodness and generosity the number one priority. What is my number one priority? Being rich in good works, not being rich in things.
And so when you thought of those priorities at the beginning of the lesson- remember I said to think of the three things that are most important to you and fix them in your mind? Are you still thinking the same way? If the three things in your mind were, first of all, perhaps remaining faithful to Christ or serving and building up His body or bringing others to Christ, then you're absolutely not materialistic and you never will be. But if you had three things that didn't include any of those things, then maybe you need to readjust your priorities.