By Barry Mark Pennington
According to the New World Dictionary of the American Language, one definition of materialism is “the tendency to be more concerned with material than with spiritual goals.” Christ Jesus exposed the taproot of materialism in his statement about the “thorny soil”: “And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mk. 4:18-19). Christ Jesus thus explained to his disciples the destructiveness of material covetousness and worry. It is sad that the Lord’s explanation of the “thorny soil” accurately describes many who profess to be Christians today. Reader friend, because of (1) your worry about this life, (2) your being deceived by wealth, and (3) your lust for material things, you prevent the word of God from having free course in your life! Are you as fruitful as you know you should be?
Worries of this Life
Tremendous amounts of time and energy are drained off one’s life as a Christian because of anxiety, fretting, and despair. Certainly outside negative pressures influence the Christian’s inner thoughts, but the true disciple of Christ recognizes that it is possible to close the door of his heart (mind) to gloom and doom. Hear the Lord: “Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). It has been stated that one man had been so accustomed to fretting that he often worried because he had forgotten what he was supposed to worry about! Reader friend, God does not want his people to worry. In Phillippians 4:6 Paul commands Christians to “be anxious for nothing.” “Cast all your anxiety on him (God), because he (God) cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7), Peter declares.
In the American culture Christians must especially be aware of and guard against destructive worry about material things. An old preacher once said that the most sensitive artery in the human body is the one which runs downward to the pocketbook or billfold. Americans are accustomed to having a pocket full of “plastic money.” Credit has almost ruined this country as America is fast falling behind in paying her national debts. How many people have you known personally during the last five years who have fallen as victims to the “credit system”? The typical story goes something like this: (1) Man gets a credit card, (2) Man gets many credit cards, (3) Man’s lust of the eye and the pride of life runs his credit accounts up to the limit, (4) Man suddenly realizes that the time has now come to “pay the fiddler” but the resources to pay are not there (meanwhile, the “new” has worn off the material things he thought he just had to have), and (5) Man worries.
If this scenario ended with worry it would be bad enough, but it does not stop here! Now the man must “moonlight” or convince the wife that she “needs” to work. She enters the work force and he gets several extra jobs “just to make ends meet. ” On and on the story goes. Meanwhile the word of God is ignored and the work of God is neglected or forsaken altogether. Does this sound familiar?
Thus, Christians are often consumed by worries of this life. Worrying about finances will not add a single cubit to your life, reader friend (Matt. 6:27). Past financial mistakes should be repented of and a specific plan for restitution (payment of debts) should be forthcoming. A faithful child of God realizes that fretting is unfruitful. The sin of “over extending oneself” in the realm of credit must be acknowledged to God (I Jn. 1:9), and when God’s forgiveness is obtained the lingering consequences of past mistakes must be dealt with. Paul commands Christians to “owe nothing to anyone” (Rom. 13:8). If creditors are willing to work out an alternate payment plan this will help the Christian who is striving to do God’s will in all things. If the creditors are not flexible in payment options, then the Christian must simply do what he is able to do to pay the debt. Some today are striving to convince themselves that it is scriptural to avoid payment of debt. Meanwhile, subconscious guilt and worry proliferate in their minds.
The Lord’s classic text on worry is found in Matthew 6:24-34. Jesus shows that worry about necessities of life (food, drink, and clothing) is (1) unnecessary (“your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things”), (2) prohibited (“do not be anxious”), (3) futile (“which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?”), (4) heathenish (“for all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek”), and (5) faithless (“O men of little faith”). May all Christians in America obtain the wisdom necessary to get back to the basics of life.
Deceitfulness of Riches
Wealth is glorified in America. Satan deceives while Christians seek to obtain the goal of riches. It is “conceived and believed” by many that if enough money and worldly possessions are accumulated in a lifetime surely this will lead to happiness. In contrast, the Savior said, “Beware and be on guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Lk. 12:15). Many today actually believe that luxuries are necessities. In order to biblically define necessities, consider Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:6-8: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.”
Most Americans have food and covering, but many are not content. Even Christians find themselves “slaving away” on extra jobs, working long and extra hours in order to obtain more money and possessions. Again, great amounts of energy are drained off the life of a Christian because of the love of money. Some have even “wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang” (1 Tim. 6:10). Attempts are made to justify this obsession with inordinate pursuits of money and worldly possessions. Some well-meaning brother says, “I’ll be able to do so much more for the Lord.” However, in the final analysis, a great majority of all that extra money and those worldly possessions are used in the pursuit of more luxuries! How often have we heard of “get rich quick” schemes luring some brother away from the things of God? Sometimes entire congregations are affected by money-making schemes when unscrupulous brothers attempt to “make merchandise of the brethren” (2 Pet. 2:14-19). The Bible says that “those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare” (1 Tim. 6:9).
In some cases, faithful Christians are wealthy and they consistently obey God’s instructions to (1) not be conceited, (2) not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, (3) do good, (4) be rich in good works, and (5) be generous and ready to share (1 Tim. 6:17-18). Every saint of God must honestly assess his own heart in the pursuit of money. Are you spending precious time pursuing riches and wealth while ignoring the work of God? Has the pursuit of money become a “thorn” in your life which is “choking” the word of God? Are you more concerned with money than you are with prayer, Bible study, and worship?
Desires For Other Things
The decade of the eighties, a world of materialism, offers many things which distract Christians from the word of God. Television, video cassette players and recorders, computers, video games, hobbies, sports, recreation, entertainment, ad infinitum lure the people of God away from fruitful work and service in the kingdom. Many of these things are not wrong within themselves. However, when an individual uses any of these things to go beyond the boundaries of God’s law, he sins (1 Jn. 3:4). For example, watching lewd programming (pornography) on television (cable television, satellite dishes, and movie rental houses are easily accessible in this generation) which incites lascivious thoughts and actions, spending inordinate amounts of time and money on computers, video games, and hobbies, gambling on sport events, and involving oneself in sinful forms of recreation and entertainment such as mixed swimming. dancing, drinking parties, immodest dress, etc. are sinful! It is not the purpose of this article to go into detail proving the sinfulness of these things. It is the purpose of this article to state simply that “desires for other things” (generic thorns) choke the word of God and prevent a Christian from being fruitful. May all Christians everywhere determine to remove the thorns from their fleshly material lives. “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life” (2 Tim. 2:4).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 15, pp. 454-455
August 3, 1989