Deuteronomy 15:10-11, Ecclesiastes 5:10, Matthew 10:39 & 1 Timothy 6:9-10
In many ways it’s quite normal to pursue our own wants and desires: to strive to be totally self-sufficient; to own our own home, to have our own transport, to have enough money to live on; and to have all those other things that have become ‘necessities’ of life. Indeed, it’s quite normal to have standards—and to dream of improving the standards by which we live. And it’s quite normal to pursue our goals: trying to better ourselves; to have nice clothes; and to acquire a few luxuries in life. So that we can then, not only become totally self-sufficient, but retire in great comfort as well.
Of course, how one achieves those dreams varies from one person to another. Because some have the good fortune of getting a well-paid job; some scrimp and save to own their dreams; and others . . . well, their only hope is to resort to gambling in the hope of attaining a better life.
The common end, however, is that even though people may have the desire for possessions—the desire to become self-sufficient; the desire to improve their standard of living—and indeed, it becomes the focus of their lives. And yet, very rarely are people happy with the end result.
B. FOUR LESSONS
And there are reasons for that. And, today, I’m going to suggest four:
1. The Unsatisfying Nature of Material Possessions (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Because the first of these is that no matter what one acquires or accumulates, generally speaking, it can never be enough. Because wherever you are on the ladder of success there is always room for improvement, there is always another rung just out of reach.
Which is why the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes comments: ‘Whoever loves money never has enough. Whoever loves wealth never has enough income.’
But then pursuing one’s goals is a journey that is often unsatisfying. And in many ways, we can never quite get there. Because even when we get close to our goals, there’s a tendency to move the posts—to just that little bit further away and just that little bit higher—to something bigger and better again.
2. The Alternatives: The Material and the Spiritual (Matthew 10:39)
The second reason is that material possessions are not the only thing in life. We have a spiritual nature to satisfy too. And the words of Jesus are very telling on this point. For he said, ‘Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life on account of me will find it.’
a). Anyone Who Finds His Life . . .
And Jesus’s words are a reminder that anyone who is focused on getting the best things in life, whose outlook is on seeking the things that they enjoy and delight in (that is without regard to and other considerations) . . . Well, they might actually find what they are seeking. But at what price?
Now, for Jesus, the point isn’t that of Ecclesiastes—that the pursuit of this kind of lifestyle can never produce satisfaction—rather, his point is that this kind of pursuit is pointless. Because it is a recipe for disaster in regard to a person’s eternal well-being.
In the phrase ‘Anyone who finds his life will lose it . . .’ Jesus is saying that, yes, people might have some wonderful goals and they might acquire as many things as they can, but what’s the point when all these things are only temporary? Because you can’t take them with you when you die.
At the point of death our possessions will be useless to us. We can’t take them with us. On the contrary, they will be left behind for someone else to use or dispose of. But more than that, any emphasis on the material things in this world—to the exclusion of all else—means that during this life our life will have been wasted. We would not have done what was necessary in this world to promote a relationship with God. And as a consequence, we will fall short of God’s criteria for eternal life with him in the next.
In short, pursuing pleasures and material gain in this world (to the exclusion of all else) points to a life lived in empty pursuit in this world. And it is one which will have disastrous consequences in the next world too.
b). Anyone Who Loses His Life . . .
But, of course, the other side of the coin is that anyone who does not pursue a material life now—but willingly forgoes worldly pleasures for the service of Christ now—he (or she) will find life in all its fullest, both here and now in this world, as well as in the life to come. Hence the second part of Jesus’ statement: “Anyone who loses his life on account of me will find it.”
Anyone who follows Jesus in this world will gain a fuller life here and now, because they will not be living in empty pursuit of things that don’t last. And they will have nurtured a relationship with God that will last and develop. As consequence, they will be blessed with all the rich blessings of God—both spiritual and material. But more than that, because the person has chosen to forgo the pursuit of material pleasures—and has chosen a life of devotion to God—they will have prepared themselves for the next life too. And as a consequence, the act of dying itself will be a mere hiccup in the transition between a life with God in this world and life with God in the next.
3. The Material as an Obstacle to the Spiritual (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
The third reason why material things can be so unsatisfying is that the material and the spiritual are not just two alternatives but, at times, they can be diametrically opposites. They can be two alternatives that conflict and clash with one another—with dangerous consequences.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘Those who want to get rich, fall into temptation and a trap and have many foolish and harmful desires that cause men to sink into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and some who long for it have wandered away from their faith. They have pierced themselves with much pain.’
But then Paul was concerned not just with the choice of living in the material realm or the spiritual realm, but that those who were pursuing a more spiritual life should be aware of the dangers of the strong and attractive appeal of all things material. Of course, there is a suspicion of this behind Jesus’s words to his disciples. But here Paul specifically identifies this as a problem in the early church, hence needing to share this advice with his fellow worker, Timothy.
The lure of possessions, the attractiveness of worldly things, and the excitement of pursuing one’s material goals may seem worthwhile, but the side effect of it should not be lost. And that is that such practices will have a detrimental impact on a person’s relationship with God. And furthermore, it will not necessarily guarantee a positive outcome regarding the acquiring of earthly possessions either.
Now, of course, at this stage, one could easily get the idea that there is something wrong regarding owning anything at all (that is from a spiritual perspective). However, nothing could be further from the truth. And nothing could be more un-biblical either.
Indeed, in Old Testament times, in particular, there was an expectation that God would reward the faithful, not just in the growth of their spiritual relationship, but by the giving of physical possessions too.
Nevertheless, what the Bible is very strong on, is that nothing should be allowed to get in the way of a proper relationship with God. And possessions, and the pursuit of material possessions, do tend to do that. That’s why the Bible records the very strong line regarding the issue of wanting and pursuing possessions.
5. The Purpose of Possessions (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)
And that leads us to the fourth reason that people might not find happiness in possessions. And that is that possessions are designed to be shared.
Yes, we are supposed to enjoy the things to which we have been entrusted by God. But we need to hold the idea of ownership of property from the perspective of need to share. And that is a perspective that is repeated again and again through-out the Bible. And perhaps is no clearer put than in the book of Deuteronomy: “Give generously to the poor; when you give, do not do so begrudgingly. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do. For there will always be some who are poor among you. That is why I command you to be generous to your brother—to the needy and poor in your land.’
In other words, the things with which we have been entrusted—the things that many people like to cling on to for themselves, and even want more of—aren’t bad in themselves. But with ownership comes responsibility, and we are to use what we have to make a difference in the world.
The dissatisfaction that many people face regarding possessions, therefore, may simply be because they were not designed by God to be sought after and accumulated (with selfish intentions). Rather they were designed and given to be shared.
And with that sharing there is a paradox. Because the more we share the more God gives. But he doesn’t give us more so that we can collect and accumulate it for ourselves. Rather, he gives us more so that we can give and share more too.
The question of material possessions and pursuit of them, therefore, is of vital importance in the life of every believer. At the heart of it, is the issue: ‘Should we fit God in to our material lives? Or should we be managing our material lives to fit in to our relationship with God?’ In other words, do we arrange our lives around the things we own and want to pursue and then, if there’s time to spare, fit God in somewhere? Or, rather, do we make God our priority first and then, if time permits, add in the rest?
At the heart of the question is our priorities. And the answer that each one of us gives will be the measure of our personal commitment to God.
Having said that, however, there is a catch in this whole material versus spiritual debate. Because Jesus did not intend us just to weigh up for ourselves the pros and cons of each alternative, and then decide on the spiritual approach because the benefits are greater. Because, in a sense, that is still selfish living, and is unlikely to provide the kind of discipleship that Jesus wants.
Rather, what Jesus’ hoped for was that people would be so grateful to God for the opportunity for salvation that he provided, that they would willingly give up the pursuit of the material, and take on the road of self-denial that Jesus did.
And the reason for this distinction is important. Because the response to the Christian faith is not about what’s best for me, and what I can secure for myself here and now (Although it does that too). Rather, it’s about being actively and willingly involved in the service of God and in the service of one’s fellow man—as a natural response of gratitude for what Jesus has done for you and me.
So it’s only normal to want the best. It’s normal to have dreams about improving our situations. But to have that mind set—without the consideration of other factors—opens us to all sorts of issues. Not least of which is to the detriment of our relationship with God.
Regarding possessions and material things . . . We need to get them into perspective. Because if we don’t, we will not only lose our lives in this world—over things that can be unsatisfying and very shallow—but we may also lose our lives in the next world too. Because we haven’t used the opportunity to acquaint ourselves properly with our creator and redeemer.
Posted: 8th July 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
Deuteronomy 15:10-11, Ecclesiastes 5:10, Matthew 10:39 & 1 Timothy 6:9-10