From “Ten Ways Materialism Brings Us to Ruin” by pastor and author Randy Alcorn, (adapted from his book Money, Possessions, and Eternity), posted December 13, 2019 on his blog at: www.epm.org
6. Materialism spawns independence and self-sufficiency, which are deadly to faith.
Why have faith in God when you have faith in yourself? Why trust God when you have all your bases covered? Why pray when you have everything under control? Why ask for your daily bread when you own the bakery? Self-sufficiency is the great enemy of faith and prayer, which are the heartbeat of the Christian life. We pride ourselves on our “financial independence,” but where would we be without God, from whom our every breath is a gift?
7. Materialism leads to pride and elitism.
The Bible is full of references proving that our tendency in prosperity is to believe we deserve the credit for what we have and to grow proud and thankless (Deuteronomy 6:1-15; 31:20; 32:15-18; 2 Chronicles 26:6-16; Psalm 49:5-6; 52:7; Proverbs 30:8-9; Hosea 13:4-6). Paul asks the prideful Christians of Corinth, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Paul tells Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant” (1 Timothy 6:17). After all, God is the one who has given us our intellect (Daniel 2:21), our abilities (Romans 12:6), and our capacity to earn money (Deuteronomy 8:18).
Jesus came to die for every person of every social and economic level. Paul reminds the proud Corinthians that the Church is made up of the dregs of this world (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). Elitism boosts our egos by making us think we are somehow more worthy than others. Few things are more repugnant to the Lord than the rich despising the poor (Job 12:5). Yet our clubs and social circles, sometimes even our churches, foster this very attitude.
8. Materialism promotes injustice and exploitation.
James condemned the rich, virtually assuming that anyone who is rich practices injustice to the poor and will come under God’s judgment as a result (James 5:1-6). The Old Testament prophets spoke out so consistently against the oppression of the poor by the rich that they left the distinct impression that a righteous rich man is rare (Isaiah 10:1-3; Jeremiah 5:27-28; 15:13; Hosea 12:8; Amos 5:11, 24; Micah 6:12).
The rich man will usually be materialistic. The materialistic man will always be unjust. The wealthier the man, the greater his opportunity for injustice. Of course, the wealthy man is no more inherently sinful than the poor—he simply has more means and opportunity to subsidize and impose his sins upon others.
9. Materialism fosters immorality and the deterioration of the family.
Those who enjoy prosperity, power, and privilege also commonly indulge in sexual immorality. Solomon had seen his father’s bad example. Prosperous King David, spoiled by getting everything he wanted, did not deny himself one more possession—another man’s wife (2 Samuel 11).
For years studies have shown a connection between marital infidelity and an increase in income. Of course, the point is not the income itself, but the lifestyle it underwrites. A Christian can make a million dollars a year, give generously, live modestly, and avoid much of the added temptation to immorality. It’s not how much we make that matters. It’s how much we keep.
A consequence of adultery is often divorce, and the consequences of divorce in the lives of children are inestimable. Even when adultery doesn’t result in divorce, it destroys the fabric of marriage and prevents the home from being a moral sanctuary from the corruption of the world. Anything that contributes to an increase in immorality, as materialism clearly does, directly contributes to the breakdown of families and the deterioration of society.
10. Materialism distracts us from our central purpose.
When Jesus describes the various kinds of people who respond to the gospel, He states that some seed “fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants” (Matthew 13:7). He later explains to the disciples, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). Notice the clear relationship between wealth and worry.
Like the circus plate spinner who runs frantically from one plate to the next, quickly spinning each one again before it can fall and crash, many of us center our lives around possessions, concerns, and activities that demand our constant attention and thereby draw attention away from what God has called us to be and do.
Let’s Not Fail to Prepare for the Life Ahead
After striking a large deposit of gold, two miners in the Klondike gold rush were so excited about unearthing more and more gold each day that they neglected to store up provisions for the winter. Then came the first blizzard. Nearly frozen, one of the miners scribbled a note explaining their foolishness. Then he lay down to die, having come to his senses too late. Months later, a prospecting party discovered the note and the miners’ frozen bodies lying on top of a huge pile of gold.
Obsessed with their treasure, these men hadn’t taken into account that the fair weather wouldn’t last and winter was coming. Hypnotized by their wealth, they failed to prepare for the imminent future. The gold that seemed such a blessing proved to be a deadly curse.
Dazzled by riches and the prospect of having more, materialists live out their life on earth as if this were all there is. They fail to prepare for the long life ahead. One day, sooner than expected, materialists will find out they were wrong. They will discover the truth that all the wealth in the world can do nothing for them. If they don’t make that discovery until they die, it will be too late to go back and change the way they lived.
The good news is, God gave us His Word so we don’t have to wait until we die to discover how we should have lived. That’s why in order to break free from the tyranny of materialism, we desperately need to read the Scriptures, to grapple with these issues, bring them to God in prayer, discuss them with our brothers and sisters, and look for and learn from those rare models of non-materialistic living in our Christian communities.
Revelation 3:17 — You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Mark 10:23 — Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
Proverbs 11:4 — Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.
Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own. Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, Augsburg Publishing House