The Influence of Materialism
The Word of God tells His people not to “be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2, NKJV), but the lure of materialism, the inordinate desire for wealth and for what we think wealth can bring, is powerful. Very few people, whether rich or poor, are beyond the reach of materialism. This includes Christians, as well.
Nothing is wrong with being rich, or even working hard to get ahead in order to provide comfortably for yourself and your loved ones. But when money, or the pursuit of money, becomes all-encompassing, we have fallen into the devil’s trap and have, indeed, become “conformed to this world.”
The world conveys the idea that the good life, the abundant life, can be found only in money. But money is one mask that Satan hides behind in order to secure our allegiance. Materialism is one of Satan’s weapons of choice against Christians. After all, who doesn’t like money and what money can bring us in the here and now? Its greatest achievement is instant gratification, but in the end it cannot answer our deepest needs.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 6.
Money has become the god of this world, and materialism is its religion. Materialism is a sophisticated and insidious system that offers temporary security but no ultimate safety.
Materialism, as we define it here, is when the desire for wealth and possessions becomes more important and more valuable than spiritual realities. Possessions may have value, but their value shouldn’t possess us: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Eccles. 5:10, NIV). That’s the problem with desiring the things of this world: no matter how much we get, it’s never enough. We push harder and harder for more and more of that which can never satisfy us. Talk about a trap!
Maybe it could be said like this: those for whom money, or the desire for money, becomes an all-consuming reality should, indeed, count the cost. “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NLT).
“When Christ came to the earth, humanity seemed to be fast reaching its lowest point. The very foundations of society were undermined. Life had become false and artificial. . . . Throughout the world all systems of religion were losing their hold on mind and soul. Disgusted with fable and falsehood, seeking to drown thought, men turned to infidelity and materialism. Leaving eternity out of their reckoning, they lived for the present.”—Ellen G. White, Education, pp. 74, 75.
People drawn to infidelity and materialism and living only for the present? Sound familiar?
Whether we are rich or poor, our desire to own things can take our minds off what really matters and focus them, instead, on what’s only temporal and fleeting and certainly not worth the loss of eternal life. We probably never would bow down to a literal statue of gold or silver and worship it today. Nevertheless, we still can be in danger of worshiping gold and silver, just in another form.
This parable is applicable in many parts of the world, where life is dedicated almost exclusively to acquiring possessions. Retailers have turned the hawking of their products into an art form on a global scale. Their marketing strategies are built on making us think that we can’t be happy or satisfied until we own what they are selling. One very successful company created a product, made us think we needed it, and then sold it to us. And the truth is: it worked! Even Christians, whose hope is not of this world, are not safe from this deception.
The advertising world is powerful. Companies spend billions putting images of their products before us. They almost always use beautiful and appealing people to promote what they are selling. We look at those ads and see ourselves, not just with the products but as actually being like the people in the ads.
Materialism would not be nearly as effective if it were not for the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) sensuality woven into the advertising. It is advertising’s most powerful technique, but it acts like poison to Christians who are struggling against the dangers of materialism.
Advertising that attaches sensuality to retailers’ products can become a powerful tool. Retailers sell their merchandise by creating excitement in the minds of consumers. The experience is pure fantasy, but it works. It can be almost mystical, taking people, however fleetingly, to what seems like another realm of existence. It becomes a false religion that offers no knowledge and no spiritual truth; yet, at the moment, it is so appealing and alluring that many people don’t resist it. We want it, and we feel that we deserve it, so why not get it? God alone knows the vast amounts that have been spent, and still will be spent, on things that advertisers have convinced us we need.
God said, “ ‘Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor’ ” (Ezek. 28:17, NKJV). Lucifer deceived himself, thinking he was greater than he really was. When he said in his heart, “ ‘I will be like the Most High’ ” (Isa. 14:14, NKJV), he revealed self-ambition, claiming rights that he did not have. Self-deception and self-ambition were two traits of Lucifer’s fallen heart.
These texts about the fall of Lucifer should tell us that, in many ways, the original sin is that of narcissism, which one dictionary defines as “inordinate fascination with oneself; self-love, vanity.” What traits, in any fallen human being, are greater indicators of self-deception than these?
Yet, these traits are more common than one might think. Nebuchadnezzar arrogantly thought he was greater than he was (Dan. 4:30). The Pharisees also learned to believe this seductive fantasy (see Luke 18:11, 12). Wealth, too, can lead to this same deception if we are not careful.
Paul instructs Timothy to beware of many bad kinds of people (2 Tim. 3:1–5), including “lovers of money” (NKJV). This love of money can encourage overconfidence and a grandiose attitude of self-absorption and conceit. This is because materialism imbues people who have great possessions with an inflated sense of importance. When one has a lot of money, it’s easy to think more highly of oneself than one should. After all, everyone wants to be rich, but only a very few attain great wealth. Hence, it is easy for the rich to become self-absorbed, proud, and boastful.
There are many people who love God. Their identity is blended with His in a way that material possessions can’t dislodge.
God says, “ ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. . . . Without Me you can do nothing’ ” (John 15:5, NKJV). The connection is direct and secure. “All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 668.
On the other hand, materialism offers us an identity that is synonymous with our possessions. In other words, we define ourselves on the basis of what we own and what we can buy of this world’s goods. James cautions us against this: “Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days” (James 5:3, NIV). “To hoard” means to collect and store up many treasures; more important, it is in those treasures, whether few or many, that many find their identity (Luke 12:19–21).
Materialism is a form of identity confusion. This means that for many of us, our identity becomes fused with our possessions. Our possessions become our God (Matt. 6:19–21). As one person said, “I am nothing without my things.” How sad that we can identify ourselves only through whatever earthly possessions we have. What a shallow, fleeting, and ultimately futile way to live one’s life, especially for someone claiming to be a Christian. Do we identify with God or with our possessions? Eventually, it will be one or the other.
Further Thought: “The enemy is buying souls today very cheap. ‘Ye have sold yourselves for nought,’ is the language of Scripture. One is selling his soul for the world’s applause, another for money; one to gratify base passions, another for worldly amusement. Such bargains are made daily. Satan is bidding for the purchase of Christ’s blood and buying them cheap, notwithstanding the infinite price which has been paid to ransom them.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 133.
Buying souls through materialism is the goal of Satan, and the superficial trappings appeal to every heart. Materialism cannot speak, but it knows every language. It knows how to provide pleasure and gratification to both the rich and the poor and cause them to say, “I have all that I need here; why worry about anything else?” Thus, materialism corrupts the mind; it causes people to trust in what they own as opposed to trusting in God. However, the antidote is “ ‘not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6, NIV). Materialism cannot withstand the control of the Holy Spirit when we give ourselves over to God and determine by His grace not to let materialism rule our lives.