John 4:22-24, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Knowing what we worship is an important New Testament concept. Knowing what we ought not to worship is equally important. There have existed people, and there still are people, who don’t know what they worship.
We often hear talk about the worldliness that goes on in the church today. Maybe the most prevalent form of worldliness is the devotion, or worship, of material things in contrast to spiritual things. The worship of temporal things rather than the God of Heaven is one of the greatest curses of God’s people today.
When you read and study your bible you hear a lot about idolatry. You see where people of the world, and at times…even God’s people, worshiped golden images, false gods and even creations of the true, living God (things like the sun, the moon, and the stars). It seems unbelievable, but even as Moses was receiving the commandments of the law from God himself, the people were down at the base of the mountain melting down their jewelry so they could create a golden calf to worship.
It’s easy for us to think that idol worship is bowing down to some golden calf or some other image. It’s substantially more difficult for us to realize that anything we put before God is considered idolatry by God. Materialism is the ungodly focus on anything that is not eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18 “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Anything that stands between us and God is an idol. Take money for example. Didn’t the apostle Paul tell Timothy in 1st Timothy 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all evil? Jesus himself said in Acts 20:35 that it was more blessed to give than to receive. But, no matter what heaven has told us about the evils of longing to be rich, men still continue to serve their own greed and quest for greater material wealth.
When men covet material things they’re just as guilty of idolatry as those who bow down to idols. Remember what Paul wrote to the Colossians:
Colossians 3:5-6, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:”
There are some examples of materialism in the OT that can teach us the dangers of this sin. One of the earliest examples comes from the story of Abraham and Lot. When God told Abraham to leave his homeland and his family…he was told to go “unto a land that I will show thee” by God. Lot, his nephew, went with him and the scripture says they went into the land of Canaan.
Due to famine, Abraham and Lot went down to Egypt until the dearth was over. When they got back to Canaan, they both had so many cattle and possessions that a disturbance broke out.
Genesis 13:6-12, “And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.”
It was blatant materialism that caused Lot to choose the better part of the land for his herd, leaving Abraham the lesser watered land of Canaan. We all know the rest of the story. God blessed Abraham for his unselfish spirit and his obedience. Lot was cursed for his devotion to material things.
Another classic example of all time was the attitude of the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings. God, through Moses, had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Once they were in the wilderness they forgot all about what God had done for them. They even forgot about their slavery, but instead they remembered only the food they left behind in Egypt.
Numbers 11:4-6, “And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.”
God’s people couldn’t appreciate their blessings in being free and in having manna from God. They could remember what they ate while they were slaves in Egypt. They would have gone back into slavery just so they could eat better. Those physical meals meant more to them than serving God. Materialism and idolatry plagued them throughout their wilderness journey.
But next, we have the story of Ahab who lusted after Naboth’s vineyard. In 1st Kings 21 we read the story of how the king longed to have the vineyard of Naboth. He offered to buy it, but Naboth was not interested in selling it. He told the king, “The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.”
The king was so depressed about Naboth’s refusal that the scripture tells us he went home, laid down on his bed and pouted like a child, refusing to eat. He was so upset that he couldn’t have what he wanted, he couldn’t even eat.
Enter wife Jezebel, a name forever more synonymous with wickedness. She concocted a plan to have Naboth killed, arranging for the two men of Belial to be false witnesses against Naboth for blaspheming God and the king. As a result of these false accusers the nobles of the city “carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died.”
Ahab went down to the vineyard of Naboth and took it for his own. The evil king and his wife demonstrate the ultimate evil that materialism can cause.
There are New Testament examples of materialism, too. Normally we focus on other issues and problems in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, but materialism was the principle problem in their life. The story is recorded for us in Acts 5. Other saints were selling their possessions and bringing the money at the apostles’ feet for distribution to the needy saints. Luke records that this couple also sold some land. Nothing required them to do that, but I’m sure seeing the sacrificial spirit of those around them caused them to seek glory for themselves instead of seeking glory for God.
The scripture says they brought the money to the apostles’ feet and represented it as being the full purchase price of the land they sold. We read of the confrontation in Acts 5:1-11, “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.”
From doctor Luke’s account it is clear to see the high price this couple paid for materialism. It makes a person wonder what prices might be paid by some couples today if the apostles were present with this same power to execute God’s will immediately.
Consider Simon, the former sorcerer of Samaria, who believed and was baptized. Upon being obedient to the gospel he saw the power of the apostles to transmit the Holy Spirit to others and he fell back to his old ways. He wanted that power for himself.
Acts 8:18-24, “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.”
Simon, like other Samaritans, had obeyed the gospel, but his old propensity for materialism caused him to desire the apostles’ power. He had to repent and pray (and be prayed for) so he could renew himself before God.
In the first 3 chapters of the Revelation we learn a lot about what Jesus had to say about the 7 churches of Asia, not the least of which involves the church of the Laodiceans. This entire church was given over to materialism. John was instructed to write the following words in Revelation 3:14-18, “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see.”
We’ve heard sermons against being lukewarm, but what caused the lukewarmness of the Laodiceans? The reason was that they put their trust in worldly riches and possessions rather than in heavenly riches and spiritual living. They were blinded to their spiritual condition because of their quest for material things.
Some of the most direct teaching of the Bible has to do with the seeking of material wealth. For instance, Jesus gives us an account of the rich fool who had so many goods that his barns couldn’t hold it all. The parable is recorded in Luke 12:16-21, “And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
It was after this parable that Jesus instructed his disciples to take no thought for their life, for what they’d eat or wear. Life, He told them, is more than meat and the body is more than what you wear. Luke 12:29-34, “And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Jesus told another story about the rich man and Lazarus. What was the problem of the rich man? Clearly it was materialism because he was completely blinded to the needs of Lazarus. The Lord says that the certain rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen and he fared sumptuously every day. There was also a beggar named Lazarus who lay at the gate of the rich man. He was full of sores and desired to only have the crumbs from the rich man’s table. They both died. Lazarus was comforted, but the rich man was tormented. When the rich man appealed to father Abraham to send Lazarus to him for relief, Abraham responded in Luke 16:25-26, “But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
Materialism caused the rich man to forfeit his own soul.
Consider the rich young ruler in Luke 18. Until he encountered Christ he figured he’d done pretty well in living right, but materialism and placing other things before godly living were too much of a sacrifice for him.
God gave counsel to those who trusted in wealth. If anybody knew anything about the emptiness of uncertain riches it would have been David. In Psalms 49:6-7 David wrote, “They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:”
David’s own son, Solomon, was probably the wealthiest man of his day, but in Proverbs 23:4-5 he put it this way, “Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.”
Time and again we read in scriptures the warnings of seeking material wealth, but there are other things that directly speak to a quest for material things that can stand in our way of service to God. Jobs and careers can be so consuming that we have no time for God and the things that matter most. The desire to have newer, bigger things causes many Christians to devote themselves to jobs so they can fulfill their material desires. Quite frequently those desires supersede their spiritual desires. When something has to give, too often it’s their service to church and those things that are spiritual.
The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Better is a handful with quietness, than both the hands full of travail and vexation of the spirit…there is no end of all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches.”
Focus is what many Christians lack in their service to God. They neglect God in order to possess things they can see, touch and possess. They fail to serve God as they should and sacrifice their long-term soul salvation for temporary, earthly material things. We’ve examined case after case where this was the effect of materialism. We can’t find a single story in the Bible where a person got away with placing emphasis on pleasure, wealth, fame or power. We can’t serve any of these things and live a successful Christian life.
God’s people have always been known as a simple people who were sojourning here. Described as pilgrims and strangers we should not seek to make this world our final home, but many of God’s people are more devoted to jobs, money and things than they are the church. We’re often not pilgrims at all. We’re making ourselves as comfortable as possible, acting as though we’re digging in on the earth for the eternal duration. Yet, the scripture tells us that THIS world will be burned up. God will destroy it with fire. That means everything we call our own will be destroyed with fire. That house or car that we might be so proud of…that new set of golf clubs, or new computer that we longed to possess…they’ll all burn up one day, but your soul will live on.
It may not be worldly possessions that derail us. It might be worldly entertainment. It might be our zest for activities that have nothing to do with God or the Church. It might be fishing, hunting, camping, having fun or constantly seeking some form of entertainment. We live in a world that loves to be entertained. God’s people are at grave risk of becoming like the world in that we have to always find something else fun and interesting. That’s the lure of the world. Nothing is ever enough. We’re never full. That’s because we’re spending too much time in things that don’t matter. And when it’s all said and done, we’ve often said more than we’ve done for the Lord. We’ve neglected Bible study. We may have neglected worship services. We’ve neglected to busy ourselves with work for the congregation.
Materialism is the ungodly focus on anything that is not eternal. It’s a loss of spiritual priorities. Holding a job, enjoying recreation or sport, improving our financial position…these are not sinful actions, but they can be. We cannot afford to permit anything to stand in the way of our FAITHFUL service to God through the Church. Giving God the scraps of our life won’t help us reach heaven.
We all understand that our souls will live on beyond this physical body. We know our souls will enter eternity. The question is WHERE? (What are we doing to get ready? What are we doing to get others ready?)
Paul’s summary of this topic to Timothy is found 1 Timothy 6:6-11, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.”
Paul’s admonition to the Philippians was to let their hearts dwell and yearn for spiritual things instead of material things. Philippians 4:8-9, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
Do you think about how you can improve your spiritual man or are you consumed with the payment of your bills so you can own that latest, greatest whatever it is? Do you focus on God’s word or the TV Guide? Do you focus on putting God first or are you too busy searching for fun things to do?
Do you give God your best all the time, even when it’s not convenient…or do you put God and the church on a back burner? What message are you sending to heaven about your affections? What message are you sending your family about the priorities of life? What regrets will you have as you search for an improved lifestyle here? Will you come to realize, like Solomon of old, that all this efforting for worldly stuff is merely vexation of the spirit or will you continue your devotion to those things that can rob you of your most precious possession…your soul?
We all need to heed the warnings of putting too much trust in this life and the things offered here.
Exodus 34:14 “for thou shalt worship no other god: for Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:”
We worship the things that consume us. Our salvation is what should consume us!