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Whom Are You Going to Serve?
We are constantly bombarded with the message, "to be happy you must have ________." Each advertiser fills that blank with the particular item being hawked. It may be a certain auto, a cruise, a particular credit card, the list is practically endless. The message, however, is always the same. "Things will make you happy. Things will give you status and make you important."
We are continually encouraged to acquire. We are encouraged to pursue status through possessions. Such pressure feeds into the sin nature of mankind. We have an inborn desire to possess. One of the first words children learn is "mine." A.W. Tozer said it best in The Pursuit of God, "There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess...the roots of our hearts have grown down into things."
It is not only in worldly advertising that we face this pressure. We have greed clothed in Christian language broadcast across the radio and television airwaves. We are told we can have "things" if only we have enough faith. We have preachers driving the most expensive cars, wearing the most expensive clothing and jewelry. They tell us, "if you have enough faith, you can have it too." This corruption of the Gospel floods our land. It tells the naive that gain is godliness. It is covetousness. Such teaching sets material possessions before us as a goal to be attained. "If you are godly, you will have material wealth," they lie to us. "Possessions prove God's favor on your life," the corrupt message states.
As we heed the demonic deception (whether through worldly advertising or prostituted pulpits) we place material goods on the throne that belongs only to God. We pursue things while God takes a back seat in our lives. Covetousness, greed is idolatry Colossians 3:5 tells us directly. If we pursue anything other than God, we have an idol. We tend to think of idolatry being the backward pagan practice of venerating some carved stone or piece of wood. We don't like to think of our modern affluent society being idolatrous. Yet, it is. It bows to the throne of materialism.
We are drawn into the deception of materialism for many reasons. One reason is that we trust what we can see. We can see the numbers in our bank account, so we trust in its security. The sense of security we feel in material possessions battles against the real security found only in God. It is only as we are willing to release our grip on the material that we may fully lay hold of the Greatest Reality.
Jesus addressed materialism in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:19-34, he lays out some realities for us. One reality is that only heavenly treasure will endure. Another reality is that we cannot serve God and material possessions. We can serve one or the other, but never both.
The earthly treasures we attempt to lay up bring anxiety and headache to our lives. "Moth and rust destroy, thieves break in and steal." If our heart is on earthly treasure, we must constantly concern ourselves with protecting that treasure. Moth and rust speak of a slow, gradual loss over a period of time. We may build up a sizable bank account only to see it eaten away by "small" expenses (auto or home repairs, medical bills, etc.). Thieves breaking in and stealing speaks of a sudden catastrophic loss. We may have a fortune invested in the stock market, only to see it all lost in tomorrow's trading. So we must always be concerned with protecting our treasure.
As we make material success our goal we become ineffective for the Kingdom of God. We cannot do the work God would have us do because we are too busy pursuing our goals. A by-product of materialistic pursuit is neglect of the Christian duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We overlook the down-trodden. We think, "If they were motivated, they wouldn't be in that condition."
The Apostle James, in his epistle, picks up on Jesus' teaching. In chapter 5:1-6, James depicts the materialistic person. Such a person, pursuing personal gain, walks over those in his way. James lays out the ultimate result of one who overlooks the Lord's admonition against laying up earthly treasures. The very treasures themselves become a witness against the person in the Day of Judgment. Such stored goods should have been used to feed the hungry, but instead were hoarded. God gives us our earthly possessions so that we may serve him and our fellow humans. They are given for us to use in spreading the Kingdom of God. In the Day of Judgment, gold and silver will be as useless as rusted-out metal. Their only use then will be as a witness against the one who hoarded them.
Right thinking about material goods is a matter of getting our priorities straight. Whom am I going to serve? Am I going to chase what may be an ever-elusive dream of material prosperity or am I going to serve God? I will take the safe option of pursuing God.
After Jesus' warning against materialism he then said "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33 NASB). If we put God first, he will meet all our needs. We have his word on it. We probably won't have all that society says we should have, but we will have all we need. The truth is, if we now have things we do not use, we have too much. If we are still seeking to acquire even more, we are serving the god of mammon, the god of materialism. Such service will only bring anxiety and bondage. It will cripple service to the true and living God. Whom are you going to serve?