Summary: Materialism ensures that we can never fully enjoy the blessings of God

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” [1]

Materialism is the guiding doctrine for the our contemporaries. The concept of materialism as the summum bonum of life is summed up by the tongue-in-cheek saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” The corollary is seldom stated, but it is necessary if we are to have a complete understanding of the matter. “He is dead, nevertheless.” Materialism, the acquisition of things, is a tacit admission that one who has adopted this philosophy is living for this world. Focused on the moment and the acquisition of things, we are hard-pressed to be overly concerned about the world to come.

The Master directed His disciples to learn to value those things which are truly important, holding the things associated with this dying world quite loosely. Remember His teaching. “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” [LUKE 12:22-34].

Jesus challenged those who would follow Him concerning their focus when He taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” [MATTHEW 6:19-21].

James must surely have heard his half-brother make this or a similar statement at some point, for he pens this warning, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days” [JAMES 5:1-3].

“The Moneylender and His Wife” is a famous painting by the Renaissance artist Quentin Metsys. The painting, once owned by Rubens, is on display in the Louvre in Paris. Metsys’ painting confronts the one viewing the painting with the choice between God and money that each individual must make. In the painting, the moneylender is seated in his office at home, a measuring scale with pearls, jewels and gold in front of him on the table; he is carefully assessing the value of a single coin.

As we look at the painting, our eye is involuntarily drawn to the woman sitting next to him, the moneylender’s wife. She is leafing through a devotional book, the book presumably purchased for her by her wealthy husband. She appears to be having her devotions, except she is distracted by all the money being counted. As she turns the page, her gaze is captivated by the coin in her husband’s hand.

The painting presents a moralising statement condemning avarice and exalting honesty. Metsys’ his adopted city of Antwerp had become a world center for business and trade, controlling trade between northern and southern Europe. However, Metsys saw how easily wealth can pull our souls away from the worship of God.

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