Problems in the Church (III): Materialism

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

In an article last month we discussed "Sensualism" as a problem in the church. Presently we want to consider another problem confronting the church. We s p e a k now of "Materialism." Webster, in defining "materialism," breaks down his definition into at least three separate headings. We intend to permit these three definitions given by Webster to serve as topic headings for this second article, and for a second article to follow next month on the same subject.

Undue Importance Given to Material Interests

Webster says that "materialism" is: "The tendency to give undue importance to material interests." The emphasis in this definition should be on the word "undue." The Christian, as well as every other person, has to give some attention to material things. 1 Tim. 5:8 states that a Christian must give sufficient interest to material things to be able to provide for his own household. Eph. 4:28 indicates that the physical necessities of life are to be provided by the labor of one's hands. Paul further declares that the Christian that will not work ought also not to eat (2 Thess. 3:10.) This last cited passage is one that should be given special attention. God does not expect Christians or His church to support lazy "dead-beats," even though they profess to be faithful members of the church. In fact, He specifically prohibits this being done.

The passages just cited do prove that some attention must be given to material things. However, giving some attention to material things does not classify one as being materialistic. Materialism has one in its grip only when one gives "undue" attention to material things. Numerous passages speak concerning giving undue attention to materialistic interests. Jesus, in Matt. 6:19-21, teaches that one's treasures should be laid up in heaven, because there is never any real security in this life, regardless of one's material possessions. Moth and rust corrupt, and thieves break through and steal. But this is not true of heavenly treasures laid up (1 Pet. 1:3-5.) Furthermore, Jesus teaches that where one's treasure is, there will his heart be also. It is certainly obvious that those brethren who are driving themselves to despair in an all-out effort to lay up earthly treasure do not have their hearts on heavenly things. Instead of worshipping God, they are bowing before the god of riches, who is called in the Bible "mammon" (Matt. 6:24.) Paul twice calls this excessive desire to acquire "things" idolatry (Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5.)

In our article last month on "Sensualism," we had occasion to study 1 Jno. 2:15-17. John commands the Christian to "love not the world. " However, there are some who have given up the love of sensual things who yet violate 1 Jno. 2: 15-17. John says not only that one should "love not the world," but he also adds that one must "love not the things of the world." It is my opinion that a lot more brethren will be in hell for loving the ' things" of the world than will be there for loving the sensual sphere.

The acquisition of "things" of this world promotes pride in living. So John warns about the "pride of life." Some gather "things" of the world as though they expected to live here forever. They cling to their "things" so tenaciously that only in death will they release any of them, and then they do so only reluctantly. After death they then attempt yet to hold their "things" by proxy through their children.

There are numerous signs of materialistic attitudes in the lives of church members. Many brethren are working at two occupations, not because it is necessary to provide food, raiment and shelter, but in order that they might enjoy the luxurious "things of the world." They work these long hours at the expense of duties both to their family and to God.

In other instances, the mother in the family also has secured a job. For what purpose? Was it because of physical necessity? In but very few instances. In most cases this was done in order that the family might live more lavishly and pridefully. The unnecessarily working mother does so at the expense of one's family responsibilities. Certainly the added strain of the responsibilities of an outside-of-the-home occupation interrupts and interferes with the family life. It without doubt is a hindrance to one's parental influence. In many instances, if couples would be honest with themselves, they would have to confess that they have reared no family at all simply because doing so would discontinue their "double income." They would have to live more conservatively than they have become accustomed to do.

Others indicate where their heart is when they stay home from worship services for most any cause, yet will hazard their health in order to be at work. Neither is it company loyalty that causes them to go to work under such adverse conditions. They have not the came sort of loyalty toward the Lord on the first day of the week. Instead, it is loyalty to their god, "mammon" or money, that causes them to press themselves so.

It requires no wizard to see that this "undue" importance given to material interests has interfered with the work that God would have his children to do. We are so busy preparing for this life that we have not time to think about the life to come (I Tim. 4:9; Matt.6: 21)

Use Made of Money

A second definition of "materialism" given by Webster is: "The ethical doctrine that consideration of material well being, esp. of the individual himself should rule in the determination of conduct." This definition indicates that materialism also can be reflected in the use that is made of one's material goods. Were the undue importance given to material interests, about which we have spoken, in order that one might have more to use for altruistic purposes, one's criticism might justifiably be lessened.

However, there are very few people, if any, who are unduly concerned with the acquisition of wealth in order that they might give it to others who are in need, or that they might more liberally give to the church. Instead, they hold to the "ethical doctrine" (Is such doctrine really "ethical?") that consideration of the material well being of themselves must rule in the determination of their conduct. In other words, they work so hard that they might expend what they receive for their own enjoyment. This Webster says is "materialism." But not only is it materialism, it also is rank "selfishness." Webster says, "selfishness" is "caring unduly or supremely for oneself; regarding one's own comfort, advantage, etc.; in disregard, or at the expense, of that of others." This is precisely what such people are doing.

Ours is an extremely rich country. We take for granted in this country comforts and possessions, which would be considered lavish in other countries. Those things in our living, which we consider "necessities," most people in most other countries of the world would consider luxuries belonging only to the elite.

When we make our money what do we do with it? Even what is our intention to do with it? We want a better automobile, a finer house, more expensive clothes, a longer and more expensive vacation, better education for our children, or to lessen our labor with some expensive modern convenience. In short, we are considering only our own "material well-being." This is materialism.

God looks at our material possession differently than do most of us. Though there is a sense in which we can call them our own (Acts 5:4), in another sense they are God's possessions committed to our care temporarily, and for the use of which we must give an account (I Cor. 4:2). In addition to what we must spend to provide for our own family, we have individual obligations as Christians. Further. God expects us to give as we have been prospered on the Lord's day (I Cor. 16: I, 2.) He even states that we must give liberally (Rom. 12:8) and that we must "abound" in this grace also (2 Cor. 8:7).

In the Old Testament we read of some people that ceiled their houses with money that should have been used to build the house of God (Hag. 1:4.) W e also read about people who robbed God of a part of that which they should have given (Mal. 3:8). And without doubt, some brethren today are driving new automobiles, living in expensive residences, enjoying luxuries, etc., that were purchased with money that should have been contributed on the Lord's day to assist in doing the work which God assigned His church to do. What is wrong with people who will do this sort of thing? They have simply become materialistic. Those that express their crass materialistic disposition by giving undue concern to the making of money are usually the very ones who again permit their materialism to show through in that they use all that they acquire for the well-being and comfort of themselves. All such are not on the road that leads to heaven.

In another article on" Materialism" we want to look at Webster's third definition of "Materialism": "Any theory which considers the facts of the universe to be sufficiently ex­plained by the existence and nature of matter." We want to see how materialism of this sort also is reflected within the church.

Truth Magazine VII: 2, pp. 2-3,24
November 1962