The above title might suggest that I’m about to rail against the “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel which has unfortunately infected many segments of the visible church. Instead I’m going to address another, but very similar, false gospel promoted by the world. The gospel of materialism is certainly nothing new, especially here in the West where wealth has become our favorite idol. We truly need perspective when it comes to defining what it means to be poor.
Ironically, the reactions to the concentration of wealth are equally idolatrous–and equally materialistic. Most of the folks who rail against the wealthy want to create an entirely new system which focuses on redistributing wealth rather than concentrating it. But the main focus is still upon wealth and who gets it. At the end of the day, the poor man in the street who protests in favor of more redistribution to his benefit is just as greedy and materialistic as the rich man who obsesses over how to increase his holdings.
Now that I’m engaged, I’m getting some rather dire warnings from some people about whether I ought to proceed with the wedding. The main concern among these people is almost exclusively financial in nature. I’m not going to question the motives of these people and I believe they are well-meaning. However, I think such sentiments are a reflection of our materialistic culture and a general lack of trust in God to provide for our needs. Yes, needs–not wants. Americans have a hard time being able to distinguish between the two.
“Children are expensive!” “Most divorces are caused by financial problems!” “You don’t know what kinds of emergencies might happen!” These are some of the statements I’ve heard so far. This is living by sight, not by faith. This is living in fear. What we see in those statements stands in stark contrast to the words of our Lord found in Matt. 6:25-33, speaking to our needs:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. 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, 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 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.
None of this is to say that Christians ought to live recklessly or with a fatalistic attitude. There’s always going to be that tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. We are to be good stewards of what has been given to us and maintain a good work ethic. This isn’t saying that we can’t prepare for the future or maintain a savings account in case something goes wrong. Jesus is talking about our attitudes and where we put our trust. He’s teaching His people to be more and more reliant upon Him.
I don’t need cable television or video games. I’d rather read a good book. As a part-time grad student, I really don’t have time for it anyway. Nor do I need a fancy vacation. A hiking trip up Old Rag Mountain will do just fine. I may not have the greatest car in the world, but I just need something to get me from Point A to Point B. I told Hollie one day that I would be content to live “like a married monk.”
Preaching against materialism is nothing new in church history. John Chrysostom was known for doing exactly that, perhaps going too far at times. Yet when we condemn the false gospel of materialism, we have to be balanced in our approach. It’s correct to condemn an inappropriate obsession with wealth and all things material. That being said, it’s important to remember that merely possessing wealth–even a lot of wealth–is not a sin. And getting rid of all your wealth is not in itself going to bring you closer to God.
To whom much is given, much is required. John Calvin is famous for saying that the human mind is a constant factory of idols. This is definitely true when it comes to material wealth. Whether we constantly worry about our material goods or glory in abundance, we are in rebellion against the One who sustains us. Those who have been blessed with wealth are obligated to use to the glory of God. It’s all His anyway…something we often forget.