2-11-2 The Danger of Materialism
The Deception Of Possession
The connection between the desire for riches and the devil (our nature) is powerful. The devil is a deceiver. And 'riches' is also a deceiver (Mt. 13:22). That we know for sure. The desire for material things, for the false security of bank balances, the excuse that we are allowing ourselves to be so preoccupied for the sake of our families, the idea that we are only human beings and so God will let us be dominated by these worries...all this is the deception of the flesh. God does remember that we are dust, and yes, of course we must provide for our own, some thought (but not anxious thought) must be given to tomorrow (Mt. 6:25,31,34). But these facts must never make us push God's Truth into second place. The lilies of the field are fed and dressed by God without anxiously worrying about it. Israel on their wilderness journey were miraculously provided with food and clothing , surely to prefigure God's basic material care of His spiritual Israel of later years. David, all his life long, never saw the seed of the righteous begging bread (Ps. 37:25). Those Old Testament promises are surely relevant to us: " Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said (to you, as well as Joshua), I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb. 1:5). Notice once again that it isn't the actual possession of wealth that is condemned, but the way of life that seeks more than what we have been given. This is the real danger of materialism.
If we are faithful with the riches we have been given, then we will be given the true riches of eternal salvation (Lk. 16:11). This " unrighteous mammon" is not our own, it is the wealth of " another man" , i.e. God; whereas in the Kingdom, we will have our very own " true riches" . This is an altogether lovely idea. Whatever we have now is not ours; we come into this world with nothing, and at death we carry nothing out (1 Tim. 6:7). We must give our all if we are to attain the Kingdom. The weak king who sends ambassadors asking for conditions of peace is understood by the Lord as the man who forsakes all he has in order for peace with God. This is the importance of forsaking wealth (Lk. 14:33), as the merchant did (Mt. 13:44-46), as the blind man left his garment (Mk. 10:50), as the widow threw in her two mites, rejecting the temptation to be 'prudent' and keep one for herself to use as capital for the future (Lk. 21:2), as Matthew " left all, rose up and followed" (Lk. 5:28), and as the disciples in that beauteous childlike innocence could say " Lo, we have left all...?" (Mk. 10:28). What this surely means is that in our attitudes we must be as if we possessed nothing, as if we have in our heart of hearts resigned everything, even the very concept of personal 'possession'. Paul could say that he was as if he possessed nothing (2 Cor. 6:10), although he evidently had at least some money to his name (Acts 24:26), and could offer to re-imburse Philemon for any damages. There is a great freedom in this, if only we would know it. We have nothing now, we own nothing, all we have is given for us to use wisely, so that when we fail (morally, in the failures of our lives), our use of these things may prepare the way for our entry into the everlasting place of the Kingdom (Lk. 16:9). We fall so easily into the trap of thinking 'this is my money…I worked for it, saved it…’. It's God's money. The danger of materialism is to think it is ours. Israel were told that every 7th year they were to cancel debts, release each other from the debt they had; and yet it was " the LORD'srelease" . You released a man from his debt, Yahweh released him. What it meant was that your money was Yahweh's money. He released the debt, you released it. In being generous spirited, then, and realizing 'our' money is God's, we are Yahweh-manifest. We are invited to see ourselves as the Levites- whose inheritance was Yahweh, and not anything material in this world. Relationship with God and the honour of doing His service was seen as the ultimate antidote to materialism. Eliphaz seems to have perceived this when he told the wealthy Job: “Lay thou thy treasure in the dust…and the Almighty shall be thy treasure” (Job 22:24,25 RV).
The importance (the eternal importance) which attaches to our attitude to materialism is certainly stressed. All that we have is not our own. It's not 'my money', it's not 'your car', it's not even 'my toe' which you accidentally trod on. Yet we all cling on to what little we have; we get offended and upset if we 'lose' it, or if we feel it is demanded of us. But not only is our material possession not 'ours'; " ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:19,20). This is said in the context of warning against abuse of our sexuality; it's not our body, so follow God's teaching concerning it. We ourselves, the very essential me, and you, have been bought with the blood of the Lord Jesus. If I don't own even myself, I certainly don't own anything material. Now, I am not my own. I am a slave, bought by the Lord Jesus. The fact He is Lord of all means He is owner of absolutely everything to do with us (Acts 10:36). At the judgment, this fact will be brought home. The Lord will ask for " my money...mine own" ; we will be asked what we have done with our Lord's money (Mt. 20:15; 25:27). All we have is God's; it is not our own. Therefore if we hold back in our giving, we are robbing God. Israel thought it was absurd to put it like this: But yes, God insisted through Malachi (3:8-12), you are robbing me if you don't give back, or even if you don't give your heart to Him in faith. And will a man rob God? Will a man...? We must give God what has His image stamped on it: and we, our bodies, are made in His image (Mt. 22:21); therefore we have a duty to give ourselves to Him. We are not our own: how much less is 'our' money or time our own! Like David, we need to realize now, in this life, before the judgment, that all our giving is only a giving back to God of what we have been given by Him: " Of thine own have we given thee" (1 Chron. 19:14). The danger of materialism is the assumption that we are ultimate owners of what we 'have'.
But the time is soon coming when I will be given that which is my own (Lk. 16:12)- the things associated with being in the Kingdom. We are slaves now, owning nothing, but then we will be gloriously free (Rom. 8:21). So this idea of owning nothing, not even ourselves, is only true of this life; the day of release from slavery will dawn, we will receive that true freedom and that true concept of personal possession- if now we resign it. Abraham really grasped this idea that we now can own nothing. He swore to Yahweh as " the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine..." (Gen. 14:22,23). He knew that Yahweh is the owner of all, and therefore he was not going to yield to the temptation to increase what appeared to be 'his' possessions. Solomon likewise had the theory straight at least: " Labour not to be rich...wilt thou set thine eyes on that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven" (Prov. 23:4,5). The riches men seek don't exist, material possession is a pure fantasy. " He that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes" (Hag. 1:6- note that paid employment wasn't the norm them. Haggai is targeting the graspingly-materialistic of his times). Real personal ownership of wealth, or anything, is impossible; because God owns all, and like an eagle soaring back upwards, all will return to Him. If we don't give back what we have to God, He will ultimately take it back from us anyway by death- or before. " All that is not given is lost" , as an Indian proverb says. We should consider what we buy as not really being possessed by us (1 Cor. 7:30). Paul practised what he preached: although he evidently had some financial resources (Acts 24:26), he acted and felt as if he possessed absolutely nothing (2 Cor. 6:10). The early brethren in Jerusalem had the attitude that nothing they possessed was really theirs (Acts 4:32), and therefore as a result of this, many sold what superfluous things they had. But those who didn't, we later learn, had their possessions and lands stolen during the persecution of the Hebrew believers that soon followed (Acts 11:19 cp. Heb. 10:32-34). God took back what He had lent them, even before their death. Their realization that they owned nothing was not just a temporary height of enthusiasm; they appreciated a principle which was true before, then and now. That principle applies today just as much as it did then.
All this said about the deception of possession and the danger of materialism, we need to consider the implications of the terrible judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira. When they sold their property, the Holy Spirit’s comment in Acts 5:4 was that the money was “their own” and “under their own power” [Gk. exousia]. They could have chosen to give all or part of that money to God. It was theirs and not God’s, the implication was. This is a startling insight. What wealth we have has been genuinely entrusted to us by the Lord, and in that sense it is indeed ‘ours’, under our power. Yet we are to realize that of course as those under the sphere of God’s rulership / Kingdom, we are under His ‘exousia’. Absolutely all power of exousia in any part of Heaven or earth has now been given to the Lord Jesus (Mt. 28:18; Jn. 17:2; Col. 2:10). And yet He has given “authority” or exousia to us His servants, and will judge us on His return as to how we have used this (Mk. 13:34; Jn. 1:12). We need to make this connection- that although He has delegated to us wealth, and placed it under our power or exousia, if we are truly part of His Kingdom, we are to give back the exousia or power / authority over our wealth to Him.
“The ransom of a man’s life is his riches” (Prov. 13:8) could imply that our attitude to wealth is one of the things which ends up affecting our eternal destiny. It’s not the only thing- but there are many, Solomon tragically included, who have allowed their riches to divert them from the path to the life eternal.