While Jesus was in the days of His flesh upon earth, He talked with two men on separate occasions about the peril of riches. The cases show the pull of materialism from two very distinct directions. Though the events took place almost two thousand years ago, the truths presented are as relevant today as they were then. Greed was manifested then much as it is manifested today. Yes, the specific things which greedy people hoard today may differ in appearance from the things amassed in Bible times, but the nature of the process has not changed at all. Materialistic people are consumed with storing up the things of this world as the focus and priority of their lives. Let us all examine our lives to rid this evil from invading and overthrowing our souls.
The first man experienced the pull of materialism as one who was trying to acquire wealth. He was not yet rich, but was seeking to gain through an inheritance. He came to Jesus saying, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." To this Jesus replied, "Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" (Luke 12:14).
Jesus knew this man's problem. The man had his priorities in the wrong place -- on the material things rather than the eternal things. Jesus said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15). He went on to relate the following parable:
The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, "What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?" So he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry'" (Luke 12:16-19).
God, however, looked at these things in a different way. Jesus declared God's view in these words: "But God said to him, 'You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:20-21).
Christ wants us to understand where the true treasure may be found. It is not to be found upon this earth, but in the eternal realm. The true treasure cannot be locked up in a bank or sheltered in an investment, but is found in service to God.
The second man experienced the pull of materialism as one who was already rich and desired to maintain that wealth. He even had some interest in spiritual things. He came to Jesus asking, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18). His problem was not a total lack of desire for heavenly things, but misplaced priorities.
Jesus, understanding the man's problem, instructed him, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Luke 18:22).
The Bible then records, "But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, 'How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God'" (Luke 18:23-25).
Why is it so difficult for the wealthy to enter God's kingdom? Because it demands that they place the things of God as their first priority rather than themselves or their material possessions. The apostle Paul gave the following charge in this regard:
Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
In this age of affluence, all of us need to examine ourselves to see how materialism is pulling on us. It is easy for each of us to deny being wealthy because we define "wealth" as having beyond our own level of abundance. However, in terms of the vast majority of this world, we are all wealthy and would be so viewed by most people on Earth. How would we react to the Lord's command if it was given to us today? Would our love for material things cause us to sorrowfully reject the call of Christ? Is it possible that we may have already rejected Christ and His cause by making His call secondary to our love of the things of this world (cf. 1 John 2:15-17)? Just as Jesus knew the heart of the rich, young ruler, Jesus knows our hearts today. If our hearts are filled with materialism, covetousness or greed, we cannot be acceptable to God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5-6).
Over the years of preaching, I have seen both types of people given to materialism. Two in particular come to mind.
One was a young man who proudly told me that his main ambition in life was to be rich. He followed the path of God's warning:
But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition (1 Timothy 6:9).
He is no longer faithful to the Lord. Sinful lusts and worldly folly have taken their toll on him through the years. He now lives a bitter life thinking all have conspired against him to cause his trials, not realizing his plight is only life in the snare set by his own greed. Had he years ago heeded the words of Jesus, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses," how much better his life would now be.
The other man conformed to the pattern of the rich ruler. He expressed a desire for spiritual things until a moment of truth exposed his greater desire for possessions. In his quest for this world's goods, one acquisition led to another and another and another. Like a child with a lap full of marbles, he grabbed for that possessed by others with one hand while he guarded his own, sure that everyone else had the same designs on his goods that he had on their's. While consumed by avarice, his family and friends rolled away like so many spilled marbles. What a tragic waste! One looking at the man today can almost hear the echo of the words of Jesus: "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:24-25).
Let us be thankful for that which we have, but let us make sure that our true treasure is measured in spiritual terms. This will be accomplished only as we honestly and objectively examine ourselves by the standard of our Lord's teaching.
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