Materialism is defined as “tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values” (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is being pre-occupied with the material rather than the spiritual. It is what Paul had in mind when he spoke of walking by sight (II Cor. 5:7). Walking by sight is to walk after the things of this world. David Lipscomb wrote, “One walks by sight who makes mammon his god; lives for getting and hoarding, or else for spending and squandering; estimates worth by wealth, and will count himself a happy man if he can die rich” (Gospel Advocate Commentary on II Corinthians and Galatians).
Another way of saying it is: I am guilty of materialism: if I am more concerned with money and things than I am with pleasing God; if I am so influenced and controlled by making a living that I forget all about making a life; if I equate happiness with things; if I permit things to control my life. If these things hit closer to home than we would like to admit, it may be because we are more materialistic than we want to admit.
However, if we are ever going to overcome materialism, or if we are ever going to stop being materialistic, then we must first acknowledge its existence. As long as we ignore it and deny its existence, the less likely we are to improve in this regard. We must recognize that it exists; we must determine to rid ourselves of it; and we must ask the Lord to help.
A good starting place is for us to take another look at the Lord's teaching on the subject when He preached His Sermon on the Mount. He taught that we are to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matt. 6:19-21). We cannot serve God and mammon at the same time (Matt. 6:24). We are not to be overly concerned about the physical things of life (Matt. 6:25-31). We are to put spiritual things first and foremost in our lives (Matt. 6:33). In order to succeed we must live one day at a time (Matt. 6:34).
Our Lord also warned, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). He followed his warning with a parable of the rich fool or successful farmer in Luke 12:16-21. This man was rich, successful when measured by the world's standards, but in the eyes of God he was a fool! He was selfish. He used 12 personal pronouns in 3 verses; he was thinking only of himself; he thought his satisfaction could be determined by the material. However, the material perishes. Paul taught that “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (I Tim. 6:7). He described the ways of “they that will be rich” by telling us that they “fall into temptation and a snare, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (v. 9). He concludes by warning, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (v. 10).
And who can forget our Lord's statement in Matthew 19:23-24: “Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
We should not concentrate on material things. “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matt. 6:20). And the clincher is found when he adds, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (v. 21).
Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? Do you “walk by faith” or “by sight”? To sum it all up, “For what is man profited, if he shall gain the whole world” (through his pursuit of materialism) “and lose his own soul?” Not much of a bargain, is it?