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Materialism and Idolatry

Here is the wise warning from the Apostle John. I must pay attention. God doesn’t tolerate worship of anything but Him.

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. | 1 John 5:21 (CSB)

Idolatry is real in our world today. We think not but we are deceiving ourselves. I see it in my life. I am guessing you can as well.

All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. We no longer bow down to idols and images. Instead we worship at the altar of the god of self. This brand of modern idolatry takes various forms.

Here is the big one. More and more, we worship at the altar of materialism which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.” Our homes are filled with all manner of possessions. We build bigger and bigger houses with more closets and storage space in order to house all the things we buy, much of which we haven’t even paid for yet.

Most of our stuff has “planned obsolescence” built into it, making it useless in no time, and so we consign it to the garage or other storage space. Then we rush out to buy the newest item, garment or gadget and the whole process starts over.

This insatiable desire for more, better, and newer stuff is nothing more than covetousness. The tenth commandment tells us not to fall victim to coveting:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).

God doesn’t just want to rain on our buying sprees. He knows we will never be happy indulging our materialistic desires because it is Satan’s trap to keep our focus on ourselves and not on Him.

Materialism is defined as “the preoccupation with material things rather than intellectual or spiritual things.” If a Christian is preoccupied with material things, it is wrong. That is not to say we cannot have material things, but the obsession with acquiring and caring for “stuff” is a dangerous thing for the disciple of Jesus.

Any preoccupation, obsession or fascination with anything other than God is sinful and is displeasing to God. We are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”, which is, according to Jesus, the first and greatest commandment. God is the only thing we can (and should) occupy ourselves with habitually. He alone is worthy of our complete attention, love and service. To offer these things to anything, or anyone, else is idolatry.

When we concern ourselves with the material world, we are easily drawn in by the “deceitfulness of wealth”, thinking that we will be happy or fulfilled or content if only we had more of whatever it is we are chasing.

This is a lie from the father of lies, Satan. He wants us to be chasing after something he knows will never satisfy us so we will be kept from pursuing that which is the only thing that can satisfy—God Himself. Luke 16:13 tells us we “cannot serve both God and money.”

We must seek to be content with what we have, and materialism is the exact opposite of that contentment. It causes us to strive for more and more and more, all the while telling us that this will be the answer to all our needs and dreams. The Bible tells us that a person’s “life is not in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15) and that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

If materialism was ever to satisfy anyone, it would have been Solomon, the richest king the world has ever known. He had absolutely everything and had more of it than anyone, and yet he found it was all worthless and futile. It did not produce happiness or the satisfaction our souls long for. He declared,

“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

In the end, Solomon concluded that we are to:

“Fear God, and keep His commandments. For this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

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