America is a country of wealth and abundance. This abundance means we’re presented with countless products and services competing for our money. This alone is not bad. It’s wonderful to have shelves full of items from which to choose. The problem, however, is that the pursuit of stuff has become an obsession for Americans. We constantly chase the new and shiny, maybe to compete with our friends and neighbors. We are bombarded with messages that tell us—implicitly or explicitly—that owning this product will make us happy and popular. It will give us ultimate fulfillment. But, before long, our identity is formed by our possessions. The goods we own can easily own us instead.
The Bible gives many warnings about the pursuit of wealth and goods as an end in themselves. In Luke 12:13-21, a man asks Jesus to arbitrate an inheritance between the man and his brother. Jesus responds, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (v. 15). He then tells a parable of a man who built giant barns to store his abundance of grain so he can relax and enjoy his wealth. However, God tells the man his life will be taken that very night and someone else will enjoy the man’s wealth, not him. In the following verses, Jesus tells his companions not to worry about their possessions, as God will provide for them. Instead, we are to give to the poor and store our treasure in heaven (Luke 12:22-34).
Luke 18:18-30 describes an interaction between Jesus and a rich ruler. The man tells Jesus that he has followed God’s commandments since he was a boy, but Jesus tells him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (v. 22). This upset the man as he was very wealthy. Does this exchange mean that Christians cannot own any possessions and must give everything they own to the poor? No—although the Bible does command us to be generous and give to those in need, as mentioned above. Jesus had simply identified the one thing standing between the young man and Jesus: the man’s wealth. As Jesus said in Luke 12:34, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The Cure for Consumerism
What is the cure for consumerism? Contentment. As 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” And Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” Many Christians are familiar with Philipians 4:13 (NKJV): “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But the key to properly understanding this statement is in the two preceding verses: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philipians 4:11-12). The key to overcoming many hardships in life is contentment.
It isn’t wrong to own possessions, to have a nice house or car or clothes. It is wrong, however, for the pursuit of earthly goods to become the focus of our lives. That is greed, covetousness, and, ultimately, idolatry. Instead, we must be content: content without the newest phone, the largest television, or the hottest sneakers. And we must learn to be content with God himself.
From a practical standpoint, rejecting the pursuit of the latest and greatest things will save us so much time, stress, and money. The money we save can be spent on worthwhile things or be given to those in need. Ultimately, our greatest treasures must be stored in heaven, for earthly goods will pass away, but heavenly treasures will last forever.
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