Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Materialism Is Just Plain Stupid

Jesus warned against piling up money on earth because money comes and goes. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19). Moreover, the book of Proverbs warns about the unstable nature of wealth, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (23:4-5). In other words, if your money could talk it would say, “Goodbye.”

A sad reminder of the vulnerability of money came with the recent news story of an elderly woman in Israel who had hidden her life savings of one million dollars in her bed mattress. Every night she slept on one million in American dollars and Israeli shekels. She must have felt very secure with her fortune literally inches away, holding her up each night—especially since 2008 and 2009 had been disastrous years for banks and financial institutions as the world economy suffered its worst recession in decades. What's more, she had had a bad experience with a bank and had lost trust in them. Whom could she trust? No one! In fact, she did not tell even her own daughter where all that fortune was hidden.

And that was the wealthy woman's big mistake. One day her daughter decided that the mother needed a new mattress. Who knows, maybe she sat on the bed, and it felt a bit lumpy—one of those ten thousand dollar lumps perhaps—and she thought,” What a cheap bed this is!” So the well-meaning daughter decided to replace the mattress. She wanted to present the new mattress as a surprise gift, so it was delivered without her mother's knowledge, and the old, lumpy mattress went into the garbage.

How pleased the daughter must have felt as she watched the delivery men put the new mattress in place and haul the old mattress out to the truck. Imagine the smile on her face when she brought her mother into the bedroom and presented her surprise gift. Somehow her elderly mother did not put two and two together right away. After a night of sleep on her new mattress, however, she woke up and suddenly realized what had happened to her life savings. She literally screamed.

The news report ended with the daughter walking through a garbage dump hunting for the lost mattress and workers combing through the trash as bulldozers moved piles of garbage attempting to uncover the lost treasure.[1]

Truly there is no sure way to safeguard our worldly treasures. So why then do we spend so much time and energy trying to accumulate things that will not last? I think one of the reasons is because many Christians have come to believe the lie that this world is really their home. Even though the Bible tells us repeatedly that nothing gold can stay (1 John 2:17, 2 Peter 3:10) we still max out credit cards, go into debt for things we don’t need, and try to keep up with the Joneses. No one buys a leather couch and hangs priceless paintings on the walls of their hotel room down at the Holiday Inn. Why? Because it’s just a temporary place to lay their head. This world is no more permanent, so to invest in this market is like purchasing a first class ticket for the Titanic. So materialism isn't just sinful, its plain stupid.    

Another reason is that we are truly blind to our own idolatry. In Jesus’ parable of the sower He warned about the seed that fell among the thorns and was eventually stifled out, “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Notice the term used by Jesus to diagnose the disease of affluenza, “the deceitfulness of riches.” In other words, Jesus maintained that one of the most noxious weeds that stunts our spiritual growth is materialism.

So how do we combat the subtle temptations that come with riches? The first is to be honest with God about your spending habits. If you have made an idol out of MasterCard and the Benjamins, then it’s time to repent and ask for forgiveness. Second, realize that your money isn’t really yours. That’s right, the money we have is given by God for us to steward on His behalf. The truth is one day we will all give an account for how we managed God’s money (Matt. 25:23). When this sinks in it will change your spending habits because money is ultimately tied to our spiritual lives. Finally, we should all be giving to our local church and the poor (Pro. 3:9-10; Mark 12:41-44). Giving has a way of rooting out the tough old miser within us. The very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, destroys the sin of greed.    

[1] IAN DEITCH, “Israeli Woman Mistakenly Junks $1 Million Mattress,” Associated Press, 10 June 2009 <http://newsok.com/israeli-woman-mistakenly-junks-1-million-mattress/article/3376561> 

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