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.