A Critique of My American World View – Part 2 – Materialism


Part 2 – Materialism (Click here for Part 1)

I start with materialism because it is the easiest to see.  I surround myself with stuff, I want stuff, I buy stuff, and I throw away more stuff in a day than six Cambodians put together.[1]  But it’s not just that I have a lot of stuff, I also don’t want you to touch my stuff. I rationalize it by thinking, “Well, if I let them use it and they break it, they’ll have to pay me for it, and they can’t afford it” or “I wouldn’t want that to come between our friendship.” But my motive is self-focused, not looking out for their interests, rather just my own, and making sure I get to keep my stuff.  And when I look into my heart at the reason I have all this stuff, most of the reasoning is purely selfish.  How do I know?  What if someone took all my stuff?  Would I be upset? Yes.  I would be.  What if I was asked to give it all away?  Would it be hard?  Yes. Would I want to? No.   I would like to think if Jesus asked me to sell everything I own that I would do it in a split second, and without looking back, but sometimes I wonder if it would be harder to do than I think.

The truth is, materialism can be an asset to all of us who are Christians.  Because contained within the core principles of materialism there is a truth: we like stuff, and we like nice stuff, and we want a lot of nice stuff.

Who taught us that mansions, yachts, Lamborghinis, iphones, computers, and flat-screen TV’s are nice things?  Would anyone in their right mind rather have a clump of dirt over a bar of gold?  But who told us gold is better than dirt? Sure, there is some cultural variance on what is viewed as valuable, but every culture has those really nice things that everyone wishes they could have.  Who taught us to like nice things?  I would argue that it is the very essence of being human that we desire nice things.  This is why Jesus never had to explain to his disciples that being first in the Kingdom of God was something to be desired – because they inherently desired it.  Jesus didn’t have to teach on the value of treasure – because everyone already knew treasure was valuable.

So how is materialism an asset to us?  Well, we are all really motivated by attaining material possessions, and we are good at getting nice stuff.  As Christians we are not to change this motivation – only we are to enhance it – to get even better stuff!

Jesus said: ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21, NASB95)

It isn’t that storing up treasure is forbidden – it is storing up treasure on earth that Jesus commands us not to do.  Why?  Well, one of the reasons is because storing up treasure on earth is not the best we can have!  If we store up treasure on earth, thieves might take it from us, moths and rust might destroy what we have worked so hard for – and in the end, we will die, and then all we had would be lost.  So Jesus gives us the better alternative – and as materialists, we should listen!  Storing up treasure on earth is dumb! Foolish! Futile! Rather we should store up treasure in heaven because it will last forever, and is even better than any sort of treasure we can find here on earth!

Consider the words of Jesus:

“But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:3–4, NASB95)

“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6, NASB95)

“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:17–18, NASB95)

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:35, NASB95)

“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”” (Luke 14:13–14, NASB95)

“And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9, NASB95)

People work 100 hours a week in order to get money.  People sacrifice everything for an extra dime!  And even we, as Christians do the same thing as the world!  Wasting our lives for stuff!  But a true materialist would see the futility of storing up treasure on earth, and move all – ALL – their assets to heaven.  Do I really want nice stuff?  Do I really want a lot of nice stuff?  The question then remains – do I believe what Jesus has said about reward to be true or not?  If I believe His words, then my life will never be the same.  And the way I deal with stuff will look nothing like the world’s materialism – for I will have switched to a heavenly culture of materialism that this world knows nothing about.

Is this selfish?  It depends on who is giving the definition.  Was Christ being selfish when He died on the cross?  The author of Hebrews wrote that Christ endured the cross and despised shame “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2).  So was Jesus selfish – because He did it for His own joy?  No! Not at all! Our benefit, and His joy are not mutually exclusive, but are actually connected!

The way to reward in Christ is through selflessness. Through making myself the slave of everyone else around me. Through serving, and humbling myself.  And to use the joy of reward and heaven as a motivation does not taint the selflessness.  Because it is reward from God, and to seek out reward from God actually honors Him, because we are saying we believe His reward to be better than anything this world can offer – we are saying we believe in His promises, and that even at the cost of our lives, we will have His reward that He has for us, and no other.  If we do some act of kindness, and the recipient asks us why and we say, “Because my God is going to reward me for what I did for you today”, that makes God great, it displays His value to the world.

As I seek heavenly treasure, Christ will be glorified, and I will be eternally happy in Him for He gives good gifts, He gives only the best gifts.  What an amazing God we serve – that He is “not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” (Heb. 6:10).


[1] University College of Swansea. International Development Abstracts. Vol 26 Norwich [Norfolk]: Geo Abstracts, 2007, 30.
Kutz, Myer. Environmentally Conscious Materials Handling. Hoboken (N.J.): J. Wiley & sons, 2009, 139.

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6 Responses to A Critique of My American World View – Part 2 – Materialism

  1. Michele Harvey says:

    Very good post. I have one thought, which I share simply to ask what you think.

    If we actually tell someone that we are motivated to help because of the reward our God will give us, the hearer may get a mixed up message. I say this because we live in a world where people are willing to kill themselves and others in order to get a reward in “heaven.” The context of this world might garble the message.

    What do you think?

    • nathanwells says:

      Hi Michele,
      Yes, I understand the concern. And it is a good question! It isn’t an easy answer, but I’ll try to give a few thoughts.

      There is a difference in that one hurts people to gain reward (such as a Islamic extremest suicide bomber), and we (as a follower of Christ) do good to others, and in some cases are killed, not for doing evil, but for doing good.

      One views others “outside” their religion as enemies, we are to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us (and there is reward when we are persecuted for the name of Jesus!). So there is a different motivation – hate vs. love. One promotes active martyrdom (being killed while you fight others who do not believe as you do) the other teaches passive martyrdom (being killed by those who do not believe as you do because you will not denounce your faith).

      Both believe themselves to be in the truth – but we actually are in the Truth. And so because God has told us it is good to go after reward, even if it is confusing to unbelievers, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what God commanded (there are other truths like this, such as being forgiven by grace alone – that can lead people to just go sin a lot, but as Paul says, “May it never be!” Rom. 6:2).

      One does good deeds to gain heaven – to gain God’s favor, but we who are in Christ have God’s favor already – we do nothing to earn it or deserve it. Our receiving reward in heaven is purely of grace! So one can be prideful of their “good” works, while we can never claim anything as our own, even though God will remember the good works that we do (which is so amazing!!).

      Personally, if someone did something nice to me, and I knew it was because they believed God would reward them I wouldn’t have trouble with that – though I might think it strange if I never heard of it before – I might even think it a bit selfish (though probably over a long period of observation, that notion would begin to fade from view because I would see that person wasn’t selfish). On the other hand, if someone blew me up because they wanted reward – I’d be dead. And if they blew up my friend – I wouldn’t be OK with that, and there wouldn’t be a way to convince me otherwise (but even that goes into worldview, because the bombers friend would be ok with him/her killing himself/herself and other people). But I still think the motive is wholly different as stated in the points above.

      I’m not sure if that helps – just some quick thoughts :)

      Because He lives,
      Nathan

      • Michele Harvey says:

        Yes, the motivation is entirely different. I’m just thinking that some in the world might respond negatively and that perhaps this is an idea to share onlt after an unbeliever begins to show some understanding.
        On the other hand, it is the kind of paradox that might spark questions and draw an unbeliever closer. If we can show that there is a difference between a Christian serving others because of the value we place on heavenly rewards and an Islamicist blowing human beings to pieces because of a certainty that doing so assures them of Heaven. Maybe that’s the (awkwardly stated in a sentence fragment) difference. We trust Jesus for eternal life, so we want the rewards He offers in Heaven more than we want the rewards this world appears to offer. Arggh…I don’t know why I’m struggling so to make this concept work. I get it; I’m not sure how non-Christians will perceive it. Do you see what I’m saying though? It’s not that I don’t agree with you, but that I’m trying to see how a non-Christian might equate this idea with works.

  2. Michele Harvey says:

    That’s not exactly what I meant either. I’m just wondering if a non-Christian might equate this idea with works, is what I meant to say.

    • nathanwells says:

      Sure, it is possible, and likely. But there are a lot of things non-Christians are confused about when it comes to believing in Christ. The question is not so much will a non-Christian misunderstand, but is it a barrier/misunderstanding that we created, or one that is inherent in the Gospel. I guess I would argue that this [that someone would equate striving for eternal reward as works based salvation) possible misunderstanding is inherit in the Gospel and not man-made.
      This isn’t indifference to non-believers – just the opposite – because if reward is kept as a motivation, it should spur us on to strive to share the Gospel more passionately and actively “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:22–24, NASB95)

  3. Cam says:

    So just what is this reward? I believe it’s greater intimacy with Jesus. Think about it, if you spend time with Jesus a lot, work with Him, constantly talk to Him, listen to what makes Him tick, learn how to love Him, how to show your love to Him, what makes Him feel loved by you, and you actually do love Him (only because He first loved us), then your reward is more of Him! There is no greater reward! He is the whole point, intimacy with Him is the whole point to salvation!

    John 21:15-17
    King James Version (KJV)

    15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
    16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
    17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

    1 Corinthians 3:9
    King James Version (KJV)

    9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

    Phillipians 3:10
    King James Version (KJV)
    10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

    How close do we get to someone with whom we work with? The longer we work with that person, the closer we become and the more we learn about each other.

    John 14:15
    King James Version (KJV)

    15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

    If you love your wife or husband, do you do what makes her feel loved by you and what brings you closer together or only do things with the intent of only what is good for you?
    The term ‘eternal life’ is translated from a greek word meaning basically ‘intimacy forever’ So any reward from doing the things God has told us to do, is greater intimacy with Him I believe. Anything else would be just that, materialism. God wants us, not our stuff, and we are made in His image so I believe that what we really want is more of Him. This is what life is all about, Jesus!

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