5 Things the Bible Says About Materialism in Ecclesiastes

materialism and the bibleOne of the hardest things for Christians to deal with, especially those living in Western countries like the United States, is materialism.

We are constantly bombarded with messages, often subliminal, in the form of signs, commercials, advertisements, magazines, online columns, and overall culture that our self-worth is determined by the possessions we own, whether it be in the form of wealth, property, houses, cars, educational pedigree, or career.

The Prosperity Gospel, which preaches heretical teachings about God’s purpose for our life, only makes this more difficult for Christians to wade through. Often, since this false gospel placates to our natural imperfections and selfishness as humans, it is easy to become consumed with surrounding one’s self with whatever possession they crave or seek most.

Fortunately, the Bible provides us with plenty of warnings on materialism written by men who either saw how rampant it was in their society or those who engaged in it themselves and lived to rue it.

One of the most vivid, descriptive, and compelling accounts is found in Ecclesiastes.

Written by King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live save for Jesus Christ, the book is a reflection on the life he had lived, particularly the latter part, where he fell away from God and succumbed to major sins – including materialism. 1 and 2 Chronicles, as well as 1 Kings, recounts how Solomon turned away from God. Ecclesiastes is essentially not only an elongated apology on Solomon’s behalf, but it is written as a warning to all others on the consequences of poor choices.

Materialism is one of the major topics he discusses in the book.

There are five critical things he said about it that Christians today would be wise to note, as well as some fictional and real life examples.

1. It is idolatry

Ecclesiastes 3:14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Materialism puts something other than God as an idol to be worshiped. Materialists make sacrifices to their idol in terms of time, money, energy, passion, hope, and even love. But even if they happen to achieve what they seek, God will still prevent them from enjoying it. If the purpose of seeking something is based on one’s worship of it, there is no point in it.

As I wrote in a previous column about the story of the rich young man and Jesus, the moral of the story wasn’t that the man was sinful because he was rich, but because he loved money more than Jesus. He was not willing to give up his wealth in order to follow Jesus. It was more important to him than than God.

2. It is all-consuming

Ecclesiastes 4:8: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. For whom am I toiling,❠he asked, and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?❠This too is meaningless┠a miserable business!

A person who obsesses about owning possessions – whether it is obtaining a Ph.D. or a purchasing a new Corvette – will become so consumed with pursuing it that they will neglect more important matters in life. They will put it ahead of their relationships with their family, friends, and spouses. Or, it can even be possessing many relationships or friends; this too will rob someone of their relationship with God.

Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” is one of the finest literary examples of such a man. Enough though he is rich and successful, he is a lonely, greedy, cankerous old man. After spending his entire life pursuing money, he finally realizes he has in consequence shunned his nephew, his only living relative, a girl whom he fell in love with but left him when his love for money replace it, and a family of his own, like his underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. When shown what the future may bring, he watches as his possessions are sold following his death, proceeded by a funereal that attracts few.

3. It is counter-productive

Ecclesiastes 4:4: And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

The whole point of materialism is that one can find contentment and happiness by owning something. But the problem with this belief is it is a lie. Materialism subliminally teaches it is necessary to own what other people own by promoting jealousy and envy; if your neighbor owns a yacht or a cabin, then it inspires you to seek one out due to envy. This produces a “keeping up with the Jones‘” mentality whereby a person becomes entrapped in a situation where they must buy things, not because they personally enjoy them, but in order to maintain the same level of appearance as their neighbor. But it does not ever create a lasting happiness.

Just as the Lernaean Hydra in Greek mythology would grow two heads for every one lost, as soon as one possession desired is obtained, a person immediately loses interest in it and desires something else’s their neighbor owns.

The whole point of materialism is supposed to bring happiness by possessing, but in the end it only causer deeper and greater unhappiness because it produces only temporary bouts of superficial elation, much like a sugar or caffeine high. There’s always a crash.

4. It is unsatisfying

Ecclesiastes 5:10: Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

When asked how much money is enough, Andrew Carnegie was said to have replied, “Just a little bit more.”
This may have been said in jest, however, because Carnegie also said that a man that dies rich “thus dies disgraced.” In other words, he criticized the accumulation of money for the mere sake of wealth.

People often wonder why wealthy individuals, whatever their background may be, so often resort to breaking the law in order to obtain even more money and or possessions than what they already have. The answer is that it isn’t enough, because if money is the specific craving a person has who subscribes to materialism, it is a life purpose, not an objective. There is never an exact amount of money that will satisfy. As Carnegie said, a person will always need “just a little bit more.”

Yet, as I have written before in previous columns, having wealth or being rich is not a sin; putting it above God, however, is.

5. It is ultimately futile

Ecclesiastes 5:15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.

In the end, everyone is going to die. When they do, all the money, possessions, education and whatever else they have accumulated will be left here on earth, regardless of where they ultimately go. The Rembrandt painting will stay on the wall. So will the collection of rare coins or the library of first editions.

But, most importantly, none of these will be there for entirety. Everything material will be destroyed.

A person is born with nothing and when they die they take none of it with them. For someone who lives in an area that suffers from natural disasters, war, famine, or instability, this is easy to understand. For Christians who live in places where such situations are rare, it is easy to forget that nothing will go with them when they die. It will stay behind. Or, it could be taken away in an instant. What this means is that a person’s worth is not defined by what they own but by God. And the only wealth that will go with you when you die will be the acts of righteousness credited to you.

So the next time we feel pressured to buy or accumulate something in order to feel either a sense of belonging or self-worth, we need to remember men like John the Baptist. He had no home. He wore clothes of camel’s hair and a leather belt. He ate locust and honey for sustenance. He didn’t have two coins to rub together. He had no livestock, property, or position. He died while suffering in a prison.

Solomon, on the other hand, had riches beyond measure, hundreds of wives, and a lavish palace, yet in the end it was meaningless to him.

Additionally, while Solomon was the wisest man on earth, Jesus said no man born of woman was greater than John.

photo by Axiom 23

The Bible and Finance: The Myth of the Prosperity Gospel

prosperity gospelIn my last article, I talked about the story of the rich young man and how finances is merely one of many idols people can have in front of God.  I also pointed out that the Bible does not condemn wealth, per se, but what is done with it.  On the other side of the coin, however, is one of the more subversive beliefs today within the Christian Church: The Prosperity Gospel.

Pure heresy at it’s finest

Make no mistake about it; it is more than a simple misunderstanding or poor reading of Scriptures; it’s pure heresy.  The Prosperity Gospel teaches that if you are a “good” Christian, you will be rewarded with success in worldly endeavors, i.e. your wishes and desires, whatever they may be, will be fulfilled.

Christianity, under this Gospel, becomes a mathematical formula in which your righteousness is directly proportional to your worldly blessings.  In America and many developed nations, this false Gospel has taken root due to our unparalleled degree of personal and national wealth.

Preachers and followers of this Gospel use examples from the Bible where righteous men such as the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were all wealthy, as were kings such as David and Solomen, under whom gold became so common that it was practically worthless.
One such verse they use to advocate this belief comes from Psalms 37:4

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

 

False teachers are everywhere

What makes this belief so subversive and destructive is that those who promote it do not do so blatantly, but discreetly.  Prosperity Gospel preachers and churches will not state directly that if you are poor or financially struggling that you are somehow less of a Christian than someone who is rich. If you listen to their sermons, however, and listen carefully to what they are actually saying, there is a subtle, yet unmistakable theme that righteousness is connected to worldly success. Their sermons consist of how if you accept God as your savior everything in your life will get better and the things you desire can be gained through “trusting God.”

They will quote Scripture, such as Deuteronomy 30:15-20, where God promises blessings on those who are obedient to his word and trouble on those who do not.
Or they will point out stories such as King Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-20) and King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-36). Both were torn from their throne and riches because of their flagrant disobedience to God. After they turned back to Him, their kingdoms and riches were restored to them.

Yet, the Prosperity Gospel falls apart under the weight of both Scripture and the example Jesus set for Christians.  All one need do is point to Jesus’ warning in John 16:33:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Yes, there were men in the Bible who were blessed with wealth for their faithfulness.  There were also men who were not, and it had nothing to do with their faith.

The Prophet Elijah lived penniless and homeless for years while he prophesied against King Ahab. He was so poor he had to beg a woman, who was on the cusp of starvation, for food.

John the Baptist lived a spartan-like existence in the desert by himself, subsisting off of locust and honey. All he had for clothes was a leather belt and camel hair. He was ultimately was beheaded by King Herod.

Yet, in both instances, these men were praised for their righteousness. Elijah was taken up into Heaven and did not experience death. Jesus called John the greatest man – aside from himself – who ever lived.
It’s absurd that such a belief like the Prosperity Gospel has taken root, since the entire Book of Job is dedicated to squashing this attitude. Unfortunately the sad truth is that it is easy for us to jump to the same conclusion as those who follow the Prosperity Gospel.

 

Bible and modern day

Sometimes it can be hard to understand Biblical stories without giving them a modern comparison. As I pointed out in my previous article, Job was probably the richest man who ever lived. The Bible says he owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys, as well as the necessary servants to tend to these flocks. He also had a large family, seven sons and three daughters. Later chapters in the book imply he also held considerable sway over the political issues in his region and was well-respected.

Try to imagine a billionaire businessman/politician who had a large, closely-knit family, power and influence on a national level, and outwardly showed every sign of godliness.
Then suddenly, he loses everything he owns through a series of natural and unnatural events in a single day, along with all of his children. Shortly after, he is stricken with a myriad of diseases and illnesses.

Our first reaction to such news would be, sadly, predictable.  What did he do to make God so angry at him?  According to the Prosperity Gospel, this is the only possible explanation. Why else would God cause one of his followers so much pain?

This is exactly what Job’s friends believed; the the Book of Job contains long lectures Job’s friends give him, telling him he had to have sinned horribly in order to have brought such a disaster down on himself, and that only by repentance could things change.

Job knew in his heart this was not so. While he did not understand why God has caused him so much sorrow, he knew that it had not been because of anything he had done.
Job 2:10 is probably the best verse to dismantle the Prosperity Gospel.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Only the reader is aware that Job is being tested by God to see if he will hold onto his faith after losing everything.

In the end, God chastised Job’s friends for their false teachings, which is essentially the Prosperity Gospel, and rewarded Job for not accepting it by returning his wealth, then doubling it.

Inasmuch as Job contradicts the Prosperity Gospel, the rest of the Bible is full of examples which disprove this myth.

Not one of Jesus’ disciples ever became rich; they all died gruesome, horrific deaths preaching the Gospel. The Apostle Paul was flogged, whipped, stoned, beaten, ship wrecked, and finally beheaded.

Other Christians in the first century were covered in pitch and burned as torches by Nero or torn to pieces by wild beasts in the Colosseum because they refused to recant their faith. Martyrs like Polycarp and John Hus were burned to death.

 

What about the rest of the world?

To this day, Christians in Africa and the Middle East are martyred or live in constant fear of death or imprisonment.

If the Prosperity Gospel is true, then what are they doing wrong?  The sad truth is that this heresy only exists in developed countries, such as America, because only in such countries would it ever make any logical sense. Insomuch as people complain about income inequality and the 99 vs. 1 percent, we have attained such luxury that all one has to do is avoid making poor life choices and one can still live a life of relative affluence.

In Third World countries, where death, war, terror, disease, and persecution are commonplace, the Prosperity Gospel and its believers would be ridiculed. In developed countries, proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ will bring scorn or ridiculed, but in countries like Iran or Afghanistan, it’s akin to signing one’s own death warrant.

 

Prosperity gospel a bunch of non-sense

The Prosperity Gospel is essentially a blend of Christian gnosticism and eastern religions’ belief in karma, where the unfathomable complexity of God’s divine plan for the individual and all of mankind is reduced down to a facile modus operandi. It also takes away the true purpose for following God and replaces it with the greed desire for possessions.

Nowhere in Scripture does it guarantee that a Christian will live a life blessed with material possessions if they follow God. Any verses used to promote this idea are twisted and taken out of their proper context.

The Apostle Paul and the other authors of the News Testament state a very consistent message; if you are faithful to God, he will strengthen you spiritually. He will enable you to accomplish great things in advance of the Gospel.

He will not, however, necessarily make life easy in terms of finances or anything else. As I stated before, however, this also does not mean that as Christians we are commanded to be poor or shun wealth. Wealth can be a sign of God’s blessing on an individual, but it also may simply be an indication of what a person truly worships in life.

Christians should never look at their worldly possessions, financial security, or social status as an indication of their favor with God.  Rather, they ask themselves how great their wealth is that they have stored up for themselves in Heaven.

As Jesus said,

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

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