Is Materialism Getting in the Way of Your Faith

Dear Roger,

Why do I spend so much money? I’m trying hard to minimize my spending, but I always seem to spend everything that I make. My credit card debts are increasing every month. I’d like to have money to give to people in need and to support special ministries, but I never have enough. I’m getting farther and farther behind. Can you help?

Sincerely, Kristi

Dear Kristi,

Rest assured; you are not the only one who struggles with overspending. George Barna research (or other surveys like it), reveal that 90% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. In other words, like you, most people spend everything they make.

The problem is what the Bible identifies as “Mammon” (Matthew 6:24) or “Materialism,” or perhaps “Money.”

Let me share some symptoms of the sin of materialism? 

  • Overspending 
  • Compulsive buying
  • Being discontent with what we have
  • Holding on to more wealth than we need (hoarding)
  • Failing to give God the “top portion” of our income
  • Spending everything we make and saving nothing for the future
  • Borrowing money for depreciating items
  • Cheating on our income tax
  • Using a credit card and not paying off, or not being able to pay off the balance completely at the end of the month
  • Not having enough space to store all our stuff
  • Getting nervous or upset when the pastor preaches about money

Materialism is the sin of thinking of ourselves as owners rather than as managers of God’s wealth.

You know, Kristi, we can turn on the TV at any time of the day or night; we can get into a conversation with almost anybody on the street or at school or at work; we can pick up any newspaper or almost any book; or we can go to any movie and we are being programmed to think like materialists.

We are being programmed to seek a higher standard of living than we now have… to borrow money for depreciating items… to spend now and save later… to buy things that we do not need. Unfortunately, it is happening automatically. We don’t have to do a thing to become a materialist. Materialism is all around us.

What’s so bad about materialism?

Paul answers that question in 1 Timothy 6:6-10:

 “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. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people 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. Materialism impedes our ability to be content.

“Godliness with contentment equals great wealth,” is perhaps the most succinct statement describing the biblical philosophy of money.

Regarding contentment, “food and clothing” refer to the bare essentials of life. 

This is another way of saying, “Don’t put your emphasis on the things of this life.” Putting the emphasis of our lives on earthly things is to miss the point of life because we are going to leave it all here when we die. We can take none of it with us.

Paul is making the point that for the Christian, life is moving toward eternity – not toward later life on this earth. So often we think of life as moving toward retirement or later life. It is moving toward eternity.

2. We can be materialists without having any material.

“Want to get rich” is one word in the original Greek. We might better translate this as “eager for money.” It is a Greek word which means to “stretch out in order to grasp something.” It describes the Christian who is reaching out after material wealth.

Our problem is not the possession of wealth. Our problem is the reaching out and grasping after it.

It doesn’t matter whether wealth is sticking to your fingers or slipping through them. The issue is, What is your attitude toward it? Do you long for it? Do you grasp for it? If so, you will be stymied from ever going on to spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ.

3. Grasping after wealth sets into motion a spiritual retrogression.

“The faith” here is the Christian faith. This is the doctrinal truth as contained in the Bible. “Eagerness for money” will cause folks to wander away from the faith.

Some will actually lose their faith while others will see their spiritual growth decimated.

4. Materialism results in Christians “piercing” themselves with misery and grief.

“Pierced themselves” literally means “to put on a spit.” You know what a spit is. You put a raw piece of meat on a spit and then rotate it over an open fire until it is equally roasted all the way around.

I want you to get the picture portrayed here. Instead of putting a piece of chicken or beef on a spit, suppose you put a live human being on the spit and roast him or her on an open fire. Perhaps the fire might be made of the very material things that he/she chased after? This is a metaphorical picture of a person torturing his own soul.

Believers who are guilty of being eager for money will ultimately end up being tortured in their own souls.

I know of Christians who are being tortured emotionally, mentally, financially, and physically. If we trace all of it back, it leads right back to the sin of materialism.

5. Materialism has spawned every sin in the catalog.

Have you ever heard, “Money is the root of all evil?” The Bible doesn’t say that! The New International Version translates this as, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” 

If our trend toward materialism continues, our sin natures can run in any direction and produce any brand of sin imaginable in our lives.

How to Conquer Materialism

We put into practice the four pillars of good biblical economics. Only when these four are in place will God be able to bless our finances.

1. We tithe 10 percent of our income to the Lord (Luke 11:42).

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

Note that Jesus Himself reiterated the importance of giving a tithe (10 percent) of our income to the Lord. This is not optional. Some use 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 to teach that grace giving has supplanted the need to give a tithe. However, Paul was not talking in these passages about the tithe, he was encouraging them to be generous in giving to people in need. These gifts are over and above our tithing.

2. We pay our taxes to the government (Romans 13:6-7).

“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing… If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue…” 

3. We have a positive cash flow. In other words, we make more than we spend (Proverbs 21:20).

“In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all that he has.”

4. We save for the future (Proverbs 6:8).

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”

Kristi, let me share one final thought. The sin of materialism is something of which we Christians ought to be afraid. You and I have every legitimate reason to be scared to death of this sin. It will literally ruin our lives.

Thanks for your letter. I hope my response is helpful. Let me know how things are coming along.

Love, Roger

Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese.His latest work isGot Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answerfrom Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.