The Master On Materialism

By Harry R. Osborne

While in Lithuania last spring, I saw living conditions unheard of in this country. We had classes in homes that would have been condemned even in the slum areas of our inner cities. Many people had little to eat and only one or two outfits of clothes. They accepted it as a normal fact of life, but it made me think about how materialistic American culture is today.

Our society seems obsessed with wealth and material possessions. Whether young or old, that pattern is clear to detect in the people of our time. Among some young people, peers are judged on the basis of what label is found on their shirt and jeans. Among some adults, the basis of such judgments are too often made on one’s perceived wealth and status.

Television has done much to reinforce this inflated importance of money and possessions. Commercials bombard us with the message that we can be “in” or respected if we just had the right car, fine jewelry, a more expensive house, and the list goes on. There is even a program exalting the extravagance of the wealthy, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Is our life to be used in pursuit of material wealth? Is the amassing of things the priority in life? Jesus said,

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” (Matt. 6:19-20).

While Jesus was here upon the earth, he talked with two different men on separate occasions about the peril of riches. They show the pull of materialism from two very distinct directions. Though the events took place almost two thou-sand years ago, the truths presented are as relevant today as they were then.

The first man experienced the pull of materialism as one who was trying to acquire wealth. He was not yet rich, but was seeking to gain through an inheritance. He came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, tell my brother to di-vide the inheritance with me.” To this Jesus replied, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” (Luke 2:14).

Jesus knew this man’s problem. The man had his priori-ties in the wrong place  on the material things rather than the eternal things. Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). He went on to relate the following parable:

The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry”‘ (Luke 12:16-19).

God, however, looked at these things in a different way. Jesus declared God’s view saying, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).

Christ wants us to understand where the true treasure may be found. It is not to be found upon this earth, but in the eternal realm. The true treasure cannot be locked up in a bank or sheltered in an investment, but is found in service to God.

The second man experienced the pull of materialism as one who was already rich and desired to maintain that wealth. He even had some interest in spiritual things. He came to Jesus asking, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). His problem was not a total lack of desire for heavenly things, but misplaced priorities.

Jesus, understanding the man’s problem, instructed him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22).

The Bible then records, “But when he heard this, he be-came very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, `How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ (Luke 18:23-25).

Why is it so difficult for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom? Because it demands that they place the things of God as their first priority rather than themselves or their material possessions. The apostle Paul gave the following charge in this regard:

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

In this age of affluence, all of us need to examine our-selves to see how materialism is pulling on us. Let us be thankful for that which we have, but let us make sure that our true treasure is measured in spiritual terms. This will be accomplished only as we honestly and objectively examine ourselves by the standard of our Lord as revealed in his truth.

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 19, p. 14-15
October 3, 1996