INTRODUCTION: It starts when we’re young. Toddlers going through the ‘mine, mine, mine’ stage. Shaun doesn’t exactly go around saying that but if he sees it, likes it and wants it, in his mind there is an automatic transfer of ownership. Trying to convey the concept of sharing to a four-year-old isn’t exactly easy. If Shaun sees you on the computer and you try to tell him, ‘it’s mommy or daddy’s turn’ you won’t hear, “okay, let me know when you’re done; I can wait.” Possessiveness is something that doesn’t necessarily disappear with age. The ‘mine’ syndrome is something we might still be struggling with. Last week John preached about what we need to be devoted to. Today I’m going to preach on what we shouldn’t be devoted to. Let’s learn about materialism.
1) The dangers of materialism. The Encarta dictionary defines materialism as, ‘devotion to material wealth and possessions at the expense of spiritual or intellectual values’. This sounds pretty dangerous to me. But what are the dangers of materialism?
· It’s deceiving. One way materialism deceives me is that it makes me think that my wealth determines my worth. Billionaire Ted Turner once said, “It’s all relative. I sit down and say, ‘I’ve got $10 billion, but Bill Gates has $100 billion; I feel like a complete failure in life.” We are tempted to have a ‘keep up with the Jones’ mentality. We can fall into the trap of, ‘I’m a failure unless I have as much, if not more, than you. That way of thinking is not only wrong; it’s dangerous. That mindset will ruin me because no matter how well I think I’m doing materially, I will see someone who has more and I’ll be brought back to my feelings of inadequacy. In this we fail to recognize that our worth comes not in dollar signs but in God’s eyes. Another way materialism is deceiving is because it makes me think that the more I have the happier I’ll be. All he ever wanted was more. He wanted more money so he turned inherited wealth into a billion dollars worth of assets. He wanted more fame so he broke into the Hollywood scene and soon became a film producer and star. He wanted more thrills so he designed, built and piloted the fastest airplane in the world. He wanted more power so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two presidents became his pawns. All he ever wanted was more. He was absolutely convinced that more would bring him contentment. Unfortunately, history shows otherwise. He died emaciated, weighing only 95 pounds. His fingernails resembled grotesque, long corkscrews. His teeth were rotting, and countless needle marks covered his body from his drug addiction. I’m talking about Howard Hughes. Ecc. 5:10 says that, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” Materialism is deceptively dangerous.
· It centers on self. The problem is that materialism is centered on self. When I’m in the grips of materialism I see my wants and desires. I put me 1st. An old, rich man with a cranky, miserable attitude (see, money can’t buy happiness) visited a rabbi who lived a simple life. The rabbi had an idea on how to get through to him about his negative attitude. He took him over to a window and asked him what he saw. “I see men and women and a few children.” Then the rabbi took him to a mirror and asked him what he saw. The man frowned, rolled his eyes and blurted, “Well, obviously I see myself.” “Interesting”, the rabbi replied. “In the window there is glass. In the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little bit of silver. And no sooner is the silver added then you cease to see others, only yourself.” James 3:16, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Because I’m centered on self I set the stage for sins like envy, greed, lust and covetousness; thus emphasizing the danger of materialism. Since materialism is centered on self, it prevents me from being a benefit to God, others and ironically even myself.
· Our possessions possess us. We can get to the point where we spend way more time pursuing goods than we do pursuing God. We get to where we idolize our stuff. We get to where we don’t own our possessions; our possessions own us. They bind us, having to invest lots of time and energy into keeping them up. And we feel in order to get our money’s worth out of it we need to devote much of our free time using it. Millard Dean Fuller, charitable organization executive and attorney, along with his wife, Linda, lived the "Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous." At age 29, Millard had become a millionaire; and, because of his obsession with making money and accumulating possessions, he almost lost his wife forever! Linda left her husband over his obsession; however, he loved her more than anything else, so he went after her and they reconciled by determining to put Almighty God first and foremost in their life and to live in a simple way. They sold their possessions, gave the proceeds to charities, and started all over again - this time with God at the Head of their home! Millard became the founder and President of "Habitat for Humanity" of Americus, Georgia, taking only a modest salary for his leadership of that magnificent ministry! Writing in "Building Materials for Life," he said, "The more possessions one accumulates the more thinking is devoted to them. If a person has multiple cars, boats, acres of land, houses, all kinds of investments and other possessions, it takes a lot of time to make sure everything is secure and well taken care of. No time is left for God." Millard Fuller understood the stranglehold his possessions had on his life. He recognized how the focus on his possessions took him away from his wife and God. When our possessions possess us, we become robbed of a joy filled life centered on God. Allan Emery said, “My parents consistently taught us that all we had must be held in an open hand, that when we closed our fingers tightly over anything placed in our trust, we lost the joy and the blessing. Things acquired as an end in themselves become idols and possess us.” Another way our possessions possess us is with the amount of debt we’re in because of them. We rack up credit card debt and make minimum payments and are thus bound by the chokehold of debt. Then we justify why we need to work so much overtime or take on another job, which in turn can cause us to miss church or bible study. And this bondage will cut into the time we could better use to establish and build relationships. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed by our inability to keep up that we end up collapsing into bankruptcy. Proverbs 22:7 says, "The borrower is servant to the lender." Being possessed by our possessions is a danger of materialism.
2) How can I tell if I’m materialistic? You know the Jeff Foxworthy you might be a redneck routine where he goes, ‘if this is true, you might be a redneck’? I’m going to use this pattern to see if we might be materialistic. See if you can identify with any of these.
· If you cry over spilled milk…you might be materialistic. If you get out of control over losing something minor then you might have a problem with materialism. If you go off on someone over breaking something of yours that is replaceable, then you might have a problem with materialism. What you’re doing is valuing an item over a person. You’re saying this thing is more important to me than you are. Especially if you carry that anger and it drives a wedge between you and them.
· If the term, ‘packrat’ best describes you…then you might be materialistic. A packrat might be described as someone who goes through withdrawal when they have to part with something they haven’t touched since they don’t know when. If your favorite phrase when deciding to get rid of something you haven’t used in a while is, ‘well, you never know, I might need this someday’, then you might be dealing with materialism. As a packrat, you might have 10 of something but when someone needs one, you are reluctant to part with it, even though that will leave you with nine others. And chances are you won’t ever use any of those either.
· If you live in the land of ‘ing’: hav-ing, show-ing, bling-bling, cha-ching…you might be materialistic. If you feel your sense of status comes from your possessions then you have a problem with materialism. If you’re more concerned that your logo shows than your light shines then you probably have some materialism issues. If you value what’s in your checkbook more than what’s in the ‘Good Book’ then you might be dealing with materialism. Maybe you’re passing your debit or credit card through the machine more than you’re passing scripture through your mind. If so, you might be living in the dangerous land of, ‘ing’.
· If you spend a lot of time talking about what you own…you might be materialistic. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. We talk about what we’re passionate about. If you’re more excited to tell others about your new toy than you are telling them about Jesus then you may just have a problem with materialism. Your new toy may excite you but it didn’t die on the cross for your sins. If your joy comes from concentrating on how much stuff you have rather on the life you have through Jesus then chances are you’re dealing with materialism.
· If you value the created more than the Creator…you might be materialistic. Romans 1:25 warns against worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator. If you spend much more time centered on the things in your life than the giver of life then you could very well be dealing with materialism. God shouldn’t have to compete with your possessions. He will not play second fiddle, nor should he. He is the one who deserves to be worshipped and adored. This was the problem with the rich young man in Matt. 19. When Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give to the poor and then come and follow him the man went away sad. He chose to value his wealth more than Jesus.
3) How can I escape materialism?
· Change your focus. Matt. 6:19-21. What does it mean to ‘store up’? It means to accumulate an abundance of. Therefore, Jesus isn’t saying it’s wrong to have material things. He’s saying it’s wrong to have the mindset to accumulate an abundance of possessions with the thought of them being my security, passion and joy-my ‘treasure’. We need to put things into perspective. We need to prioritize correctly. Making more money and accumulating more stuff cannot be at the top of the list. Instead, my joy and passion needs to be found in the treasures I store up in heaven. When we recognize that the greater treasure is a heavenly one then we will pursue it. I need to change my focus from ‘me’ to ‘God’ (vs. 33). When I become God centered instead of me centered I will understand that building up treasures on earth will not get me anywhere. But what constitutes ‘heavenly treasure’? Salvation (Matt 13:44-46), the Gospel (2nd Cor. 4:1-7), helping others (Matt. 19:16-22), wisdom (Prov. 2:1-6), generosity (1st Tim. 6:17-19). When I become others centered instead of me centered I will understand that part of my treasure in heaven will be people I’ve influenced for Christ. Where my treasure is, there my heart will be also. In Disciplines of a Godly Man, R. Kent Hughes states, “God can have our money and not our hearts, but He cannot have our hearts without having our money.” We need to be like the psalmist who wrote in Psalm 119:35-37, “Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” If we are going to escape the trap of materialism we will need to change our focus.
· Guard your eyes. Matt. 6:22-23. Whatever my eyes take in fills my mind and heart. I need to be careful about how I react to what I allow my eyes to see. If my eyes are taking in bad things my whole being will be dark. If my eyes are focused on material things, causing me to lust, envy or covet then I will be in darkness. But if I focus on spiritual things like the wonderful beauty of creation or having compassionate eyes for the needy and if I have eyes to see the Spirit of God at work and not be blinded by materialism then I will be full of the light of Christ. 2 Cor. 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Spiros Zodhiates in Behavior of Belief said, “When you fix your eyes on things, invariably it leads to materialism. You fix your eyes on things and you will continually be attracted to gadgets, money, an abundance of the plastic, chrome, metal, wood, all the elements about us. You will continually be dissatisfied.” If I’m going to escape materialism I have to guard my eyes.
· Love the right master. Matt. 6:24. We can’t love two masters. Don’t be deceived into thinking you can be devoted to both your possessions and Jesus. One is going to win out. One is going to consume you. Only one can be your master. We need to serve God and use things, not serve things and use God. We need to put God first above everything else. Paul said in 1st Cor. 6:12 that he would not be mastered by anything. Escaping materialism means making Jesus our master.
· Don’t worry. Matt. 6:25-34. Part of the reason we’re so wrapped up in our material life is because we’re afraid of losing our stuff. Fear and worry drives us to think we need to accumulate more and more in case something happens. We’re afraid that if we lose certain things we won’t be able to function or even survive. The reality is, however, that what we’re really worried about is losing our quality of life. If we focus on God’s kingdom instead of our own we can gain freedom from worry. When we focus on material things our thoughts are consumed with how we will be able to hold onto them. But, if we put our trust in God and his word we will know that He loves us and will take care of all of our needs.
· Be content. Paul said in 1st Tim. 6:7-8, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” A 3rd generation farmer had lived on the same farm all his life. It was a good farm, but as the years went by, he began to long for a change. He convinced himself he needed something better. Every day, he found another reason to criticize some feature of the place – the barn needed painting. The pond was in the wrong location. The house was too old. Finally, he decided to sell, so he listed the farm with a real estate agent who came over and worked on an ad. The ad emphasized all the positive features of the farm – great location, modern equipment, healthy stock, fertile ground, beautiful countryside. Before he placed the ad in the paper, the agent called the farmer and read it to him for his approval. Before he was finished the farmer stopped him and said, “Hold it! I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to sell. I’ve been looking for a place like that all my life!” We can lose the value in what we have when our mindset is to have more. Being discontent robs us of the appreciation we need to have toward God for providing for us. If I am going to escape materialism I need to be content.
· Be generous. Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously!” In Randy Alcorn’s book: God, Money and Possessions, we find some worthwhile principles: 1.God owns everything. 2. My heart always goes where I put my money. 3. Heaven, not earth, is my home. 4. Giving is the only antidote to materialism. 5. God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving. I read about a man in southern Ohio who liked going to Starbucks. Sometimes he would give an extra 20 dollars to the cashier and say, “use this for the people in line behind me until the money runs out. Tell them that it’s a gift to show God’s love in a practical way. I’m sitting at the middle table if anyone wants to come over.” Just by doing that a couple times a month, he gets to share God’s love with a lot of people. When we realize why God has prospered us, we will have a kingdom mindset that brings glory to him. There will always be opportunities where we can bless someone else with what God has blessed us with. There are plenty of worthwhile organizations that need donations. 1st John 3:17, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” I need to have a generous spirit if I’m going to escape the trap of materialism.
CONCLUSION: There’s a quote that goes, “The trouble is that too many people are spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.” If we are going to be released from the bondage of materialism we need to put things into perspective and realize what money can’t buy. I don’t know who wrote this but it’s good. “Money will buy…a bed but not sleep; books but not brains; a house but not a home; medicine but not health; amusements but not happiness; a crucifix but not a Savior; religion but not salvation; a good life but not eternal life; a passport to anywhere but heaven.” Don’t be deceived by thinking the things of this world will make you happy. Money can but a lot of things, but not what’s most important. We spend too much time pursuing and focusing on the objects of our desires. Let’s seek to escape the trap of materialism and instead seek first the kingdom of God.