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Loosely Gathered Thoughts on Materialism
Posted By Gerald Hiestand on December 16, 2009
Materialism: A misplaced confidence in the capacity of the material world to provide ultimate meaning.
Materialism is the bane of the American church; it is more destructive to North American Christianity than bloody persecutions were to the first century church. At times, our enemy slays us with the sword of persecution; other times he poisons us with the wine of pleasure. In the first instance, our fall is glorious. In the second, it is a tragedy.
We don’t lay aside a pursuit of the material world simply as an end in and of itself. We let go of one pursuit in order to lay hold of another. Christ doesn’t simply call us to not be materialists—he calls us to be disciple-makers. The best antidote to materialism is a firm hope in, and commitment to advance, the Kingdom of God.
Materialism is not simply the desire to “get rich.” There are many people who have no desire for riches but are yet materialists. The desire for a “reasonable” level of material comfort (just an average middle class life) can compete with Christ’s kingdom just as much outright riches. The question is not simply “Do I want to be rich?” but “Do I want my current level of material comfort more than I want to advance Christ’s kingdom?” Or again, “What stresses me most—failing to advance Christ’s kingdom, or failing to achieve a ‘reasonable’ level of material prosperity?” Personally, this is question I’m always wrestling with.
When a person is starting a new business, they don’t really expect to make money the first couple of years. They are content to tighten the belt and persevere through the lean times in hopes of a future windfall. We Christians can tend to be too short-sighted. We can’t see that the true windfall is waiting for us in the Kingdom of God. Our lives extend beyond a mere 70 or 80 years. Our payoff doesn’t need to kick in when we’re 65. This whole life is the season to tighten the belt and make do with less, based on a confident expectation in the windfall of the future.
Paul’s Great Commission ministry (indeed his whole life!) is fueled by his confidence in his own bodily resurrection and participation in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15). If there were no such resurrection waiting for us—no payoff for the labor, persecutions, trials and difficulties that attend Great Commission Ministry—then “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” In other words, if there was no hope of a resurrection and participation in the Kingdom of God, why live a life of such self-denial? We’d all be better off as materialists.
Does your commitment to Christ’s Kingdom make any noticeable difference in how you manage your finances? C. S. Lewis once remarked something like, “If we have the same standard of living as the non-Christians around us who make the same amount of money, then we’re probably not giving enough.”