What are the consequences of materialism?
Since there is more than one type of materialism, there is more than one answer to the consequences of materialism. The first type of materialism is related to the theory that life consists only in terms of physical matter -- it is the only reality in the universe; all thoughts, feelings, and any other things explained by physical laws. The glaring spiritual consequences of this theory are obvious. The person who believes in this philosophy has no room for God at all. It is an atheistic view and will lead to death. “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12). Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
A more subtle form of materialism is of danger to Christians. This is the view that values life by amassing, clinging to and utilizing goods. It sets us up to measure one another by the quantity and wealth of possessions.
There are several dangers that can be associated with this type of materialism. When our pursuit is on making profit, pursuing pleasure, and obtaining position, it leaves little time, energy, and ability to focus on the goals that Christ set for us. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It causes us to selectively emphasize some concepts of Christian duty, ignoring other concepts like serving others or giving liberally. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).
One danger is feeling pressure to maintain a level of acquisitions equal to those of your acquaintance. This sets up social strata based on material goods. James 4:1-4 talks about this and how it affects our lives: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world is an enemy of God.”
The Book of James talks about the dangers of measuring one another by what we perceive to be the wealth of their possessions. “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘you stand there,’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:2-4, 8-9).
Possessions can become more important to us than our knowledge of God. Jesus tells a story of a rich young ruler. The pull of his goods was so strong that the young man chose them over eternal life (Luke 18:18-30). In the Old Testament is the story of Lot’s wife who could not leave her possessions behind to flee certain death. She too valued her possessions over spiritual truth (Genesis 19:26). Luke, in his gospel, warns us that we can be in danger of losing our life also when the Son of Man returns, if we cling to our material goods like Lot’s wife did (Luke 17:32). Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Another danger with materialism that is very pervasive is the danger of equating economic prosperity with Christianity. Although there are many scriptures that do talk about success, wealth and great gain, Paul reminds us that we need to be content whatever our financial state. ”But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
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