Materialism is probably the number one cause of death of Christianity in America. We live in a “keeping up with the Joneses” society, where we need to out-do and out-spend our neighbors to feel good about ourselves. Growing up, we are taught that money and things equal status and a good social life. Yet Jesus says in Mark 10:25, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” It’s also quoted in Matthew 19:24. So how important is this lesson that it should be quoted in two gospels?
Material Possessions: Blessing or Curse?
First thing you might be saying, is “Whoa, buddy! I definitely am not rich!” Did you know that if you make $40,000 a year, you make 100 times more than the average population of the world does? Now we also have a higher cost of living than most, but we enjoy many luxuries that most people in third world countries could only dream to have,—electricity, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, refrigerators, microwaves, television, beds, a roof over our heads, etc. We’re also very aware of the fact that we have so much more than the rest of the world, but most of the time we just scoff at it, and go back to worrying about our own troubles. So would you say we are blessed? You might be feeling guilty and saying, “Yes, we are very blessed to have all of these things.” Jesus would probably disagree.
While having these things gives us worldly luxuries, these worldly treasures can mask the beauty of heavenly treasure.
Here’s an example: if you give a 5-year old $100, and gave him the choice of whether he wanted to spend it right now or invest it into a high-yield account that he couldn’t access until he’s 60, what do you think he would do? He would probably look at us like we were complete idiots first, and then go blow the money on toys and games.
We have trouble seeing past our current riches and being patient for the untold riches we’ll have with God in heaven. The major problem with having so much isn’t the fact that we have more than others (that’s not necessarily a good thing, either). The problem is that we think about following Christ, and we paint the picture that our “things” would have to be “sacrificed”.
Going further with this, let’s look at the verses mentioned earlier in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Jesus is saying that you’d have an easier time squeezing a camel, an animal that stands about 7-8 feet tall and weighs around 1,500 lbs., through the eye of a needle (Disclaimer: please don’t try this), than trying to enter heaven having lived as a rich man (Matthew 19:24)! So that presents us with the question, “What is unnecessary, and keeping me from my relationship with the Lord?” All of a sudden we look around and feel a thud in the pits of our stomachs as we realize we have surrounded ourselves with wants, rather than needs.
Let’s read Luke 18:18-23: Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
There is a book out that is highly recommended called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. David is the pastor of a megachurch in Birmingham, AL, and has been challenging his congregation to seek Christ above everything else. He stresses how God and people are the most important things. Not making money. Not having “stuff.” He talks about members of his congregation who are doctors, engineers, and entrepreneurs, who have gone and sold their possessions and moved overseas to use their gifts and talents to help others and spread the gospel. This is something truly inspiring, to see fellow believers literally drop their worldly baggage for something greater—our Lord and Savior.
Don’t look at material goods as things that need to be sacrificed. Think of why you would do it. You would get rid of something because you know it’s not good for you. What keeps you from committing more to God? Perhaps the TV takes up more time than reading the Bible. So you don’t have to trash the TV, but you can turn it off and open up your Bible. Perhaps you’re going to the bars on the weekends and blowing your paycheck on alcohol. Perhaps you’re afraid to go where God is calling you to preach or evangelize, because you have security in your home and job. These are all very serious things to think about, and not take lightly.
Many folks have families they need to consider. They would say, “Scripture teaches us to be mindful of our loved ones and not forsake them.” This is very true and should not be in any way overlooked, but we can’t use that excuse to avoid making changes to better serve God. Husbands and wives would have to talk and discuss what they feel God is calling them to do.
What worldly treasures in this life are taking precedence over heavenly treasures in the next life for you and the rest of your church? Think about it deeply, and pray that God would put it on your heart to remove the things that are keeping you from growing closer with Him. God could be calling you right now to spend more time with Him and build your relationship, or maybe He’s ready to use you to spread and teach the gospel, and needs you to get rid of your possessions so you can.
For more on this topic, check out these Bible verses about tithing and generosity, and learn what Jesus meant when he said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”