Friday, 05 August 2011 12:25

Mastering Materialism

Written by  Lou Priolo
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Where in the Bible can we find the word materialism?
“I don’t ever remember coming across that term in my Bible reading. Are you sure it’s in there?”
The concept is in there, but you are right—it’s not referred to as materialism.
“Ok, so what is the biblical word for what we call materialism?”
How about covetousness?

Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance
of the things he possesses. (Luke 12:15, NKJV; C.f. Hebrews 13:5)


A Biblical Taxonomy
The American Psychiatric Association has a bible of sorts. It’s called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The DSM-IV categorizes each of its diagnosis by number, with the specific diagnoses categorized under the more general ones.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Christians had such a book? We really do have such a book. It’s called the Bible. Think of all the categories of pathology it includes. There are sins of thought, word, and deed; disorders of the heart (motives, volition, conscience, etc.); and over a hundred types of “disordered personalities” (people with serious character deficiencies) such as the fool, the drunkard, the glutton, the strange woman, the angry man, the people-pleaser, the liar, the talebearer, the slanderer, the arrogant, and the covetous man (idolater).

Diagnostic Criteria for the Covetous Man
Allow me to introduce you to one such “pathological personality” identified in the Bible.

1. He trusts more in his own resources than in God. Paul told Timothy to “instruct 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.” (1 Timothy 6:17) David put it this way: “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.” (Psalm 62:10b, emphasis added)

2. He is discontent. The love of money cannot peacefully coexist with contentment. The two concepts are incongruous and incompatible. To the extent that a person possesses one, he dispossesses the other.

Let 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.” (Hebrews 13:5)

3. He is consumed [or at least concerned] more with storing up riches to enjoy in this life, than he is with storing up treasure in heaven. If we are building our life around things that are temporal--things that can be taken away (as by thieves) or destroyed (as by moths or rust)--we will never truly be secure.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

There are no guarantees that the temporary things God gives us to enjoy in this life will not be taken from us. Consequently, if we place our security (fix our hope) in these kinds of treasures and they are taken away or destroyed, our whole world can easily come crashing in on us. On the other hand, if we are building our life around treasures in heaven, which no one can take from us or destroy, then our world cannot be easily shaken.

4. He is more anxious and sorrowful over the potential loss of his possessions than he is over his own sin. The central theme of Jeremiah Burrough’s great book The Evil of Evils is this: Because there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction, the Christian should always choose to suffer affliction rather than to sin. Indeed, he asks the question of his readers, “All men are afraid of afflictions and troubled at affliction, but where is the man or woman that fears sin and flies from it as from a serpent, affliction?”

5. He is willing to violate the word of God and his own conscience in order to acquire wealth or avoid financial loss. Speaking of false teachers, who were apparently motivated to teach for financial gain (having a heart trained in greed), Peter said, “Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” (2 Peter 2:15) Jude expresses a similar sentiment about false teachers: “Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.” (Jude 1:11)

6. He is unloving and selfish with his money, wanting to spend it only on his own desires rather than on the needs of others. The materialistic person is quick to forget that everything he has has been given to him by God and that he is merely a steward of whatever he “owns.” He sees his money as something to do with as he pleases. Even when he does give, he can be selfish in comparison to what he spends on his own superfluous creature comforts.

7. He believes that the quality of his life will necessarily be improved in direct proportion to his wealth. Christ’s words cut to the heart of materialism. And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15, NKJV) The materialistic individual believes that more stuff (following the so-called “American Dream”) is going to satisfy him. But the Bible is clear that it will not. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Next time we will take a look at how to effectively manage materialism.

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