This past weekend we talked about the divine cycle associated with sowing and reaping. We give (sow) and God gives back to us (reaping) so that we can give even more (sow again). That’s God’s expectation, according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11. The problem is, our natural inclination is the more we receive (reap), the more we consume for ourselves. One of the ways we can avoid our natural inclination and live up to God’s expectation is to do all we can to avoid materialism. Let me give you four reasons from the Book of Ecclesiastes why materialism is a dangerous thing.
1. Materialism causes you to think that you never have enough. Ecclesiastes 5:10a says, Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income (NIV, 1984). We all know intellectually that money can’t buy happiness, but many of us think that we could be the one exception to that rule. We think that money might not buy happiness for everyone else, but it could buy happiness for me.
Here’s one of the most common and most dangerous lies that we believe. “If I had just a little bit more, I’d be happy…just a little bit more.” Orange County in Southern California is one of the most affluent counties in America. Yet a few years ago, when the residents were surveyed with the question, “What do you need most?” the number one answer was, “I need more money.” If we were to ask this question in our community, the answer would likely be the same. Yet when we compare our standard of living with the rest of the world, we find that we have comforts and luxuries most people only dream of. Materialism makes you think you need more, no matter how much you already have.
2. Materialism causes you to make bad decisions. Ecclesiastes 5:13-14 says, There is another serious problem I have seen in the world. Riches are sometimes hoarded to the harm of the saver, or they are put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost (NLT).
Anyone who has invested money has lost money at some point in time. It’s part of the process. If we’re honest, however, we would have to admit that oftentimes those shaky investments were motivated by greed. Have you ever noticed that con men don’t promise you a 12% return on your money? They always offer 300% in the next 90 days — or something like that. That’s how they get takers. And that’s why someone came up with the saying, “A fool and his money are soon parted.”
Greed doesn’t just cause you to make bad investment decisions. It causes you to make spending bad decisions, too. It causes you to want things you shouldn’t have. 1 Timothy 6:9 says, But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction (NLT).
3. Materialism causes you to think primarily of yourself. Greed in its ugliest form causes us to think only of ourselves, with no thought at all to those around us in need. Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 says, Don’t be surprised if you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and if justice is being miscarried throughout the land! … Even the king milks the land for his own profit! (NLT)
These words are a sharp contrast to the words of the Apostle John in I John 3:17. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion — how can God’s love be in that person? (NLT)
4. Materialism causes a lot of pain. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says, The rich are always worrying and seldom get a good night’s sleep. Why are the rich always worrying? Because too often we’re leveraged to the hilt. It’s a simple fact that the more money you make, the more likely you are to live a little beyond your means. Even living at the extent of your means is stressful — especially when it comes to putting yourself in debt.
This is why Paul wrote in I Timothy 6:10, … And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows (NLT).
One of the main ways materialism causes pain is that it leads people into debt. For most people, debt is an annoying inconvenience. But for others (maybe you), debt has turned their lives into a nightmare, and almost every dollar they earn today is already spoken for, because of unwise purchases from the past. I’m not writing this to make you to feel guilty; I’m writing this because I want to be clear about the danger of debt.
We overcome materialism when we learn to be content. We learn to be content by making the choice to be content, by being willing to embrace a simple lifestyle, and by being willing to give. Nothing breaks the power of money (materialism) in our lives faster than giving it away.