Arie den Hartog is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
There is a great danger of worldliness in the midst of our own churches. We want to consider several areas which pose the greatest threat. We need constantly to be warned against the great danger of materialism. The world in which we live is a dreadfully materialistic world. We must be careful that we do not become worldly in that we follow this materialism. We become worldly when we are spiritually conformed to this world, in its goals and purposes, in its conversation and life style. As Christians we must be spiritually different. This difference does not come out when we attempt to live in physical separation from the world. We are called to live in the midst of the world and yet not be of the world. We are called to bear a Christian testimony before the world of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. We are called to condemn the sin and evil of this world and to testify of the righteousness and truth of God. The real test of the genuineness of our Christianity comes in how we live and act in the midst of the world and before men. We must be spiritually different and separate from the world. We must be absolutely spiritually different in our attitude towards the material things of this world and in the manner in which we use these material things.
Materialism is a great evil. It is really a denial of God and of His sovereignty. It is the worship and service of mammon. It is the love of money which is the root of all evil. A man is materialistic when he makes earthly and material gain the end-all of his life. The materialistic man covets more and more material things, he has an insatiable lust for riches, luxury, for great abundance of worldly things. A materialistic man spends all or most of his time working and striving for material things. For these things he uses all his energies, and to obtain them he employs all of his God-given talents and opportunities. The materialistic man vainly imagines that man’s life consists in the abundance of things which he possesses. The materialistic man cares not for the higher and spiritual things of God. His life is consumed only to obtain the earthly and temporal. He cares not for the true and eternal riches of God. He is not concerned about laying up treasures in heaven. His greatest treasures are lands and houses and cars, the latest technology, expensive and exotic vacations to the ends of the world, fancy restaurants and lavish meals and on and on. The materialistic man does not think of God. He refuses to acknowledge that the Lord is the sovereign creator and Lord of the universe and all that it contains. He does not give God thanks. He imagines that he will obtain all of his material gain by his own wisdom and ingenuity and strength. Materialism is such a great evil because it is bound up and flows forth from so many other great sins in the life of the totally depraved natural man. The materialistic man imagines that the things which God has given him only as a trust really belong to him and that he is free to do with them as he pleases and according to his own lusts. A materialistic man is greedy. He is never satisfied, no matter how much he has. He is selfish and careless about the miserable and wretched condition of his neighbor. Our Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus brings that out very graphically. Materialism in its very nature chokes out all spiritual interest and concern. The Lord’s Day is forgotten because all the days of the week must serve to satisfy the lust for material wealth of the world. The materialistic man is too busy to be involved in the life of the church. He does not care about his own spiritual welfare nor about the spiritual welfare of his neighbor. The cause of the Lord and of His kingdom does not interest him because they do not promise any material gain. The materialistic man will finally resort to lying, cheating, and stealing only to get more of the material things he lusts after.
We live in the midst of extreme wealth and luxury. America is one of the richest countries in all the world. Even during times of economic hardship, Americans have more material things than almost anyone else in the world. In fact it is shocking how much even the common man in America has and how much this is all taken for granted. Meanwhile half of the rest of the world languishes in poverty, and even in our modern world millions starve to death. Though the modern mass media can bring this all very graphically before our eyes, there is really very little concern. Americans continue to live lavishly and to waste enough to feed half of those who are starving to death. It is a very good experience to live for a time in another part of the world as we did and witness the awful contrast between the great wealth of America and the comparative poverty of the greater part of the rest of the world.
The Christian has been taught of God a whole different perspective towards material things. We know that God is the sovereign creator and owner of all things. He it is that makes one wealthy and another poor. He has given us all that we have. He gave us the power to get wealth. He holds us solemnly responsible and will judge us for the way we use the material things of this world. As Christians, we know too that all the things of this world are temporal. Some day this world and all that is in it will be destroyed by fire. Furthermore, the material things of this world are for our use for only a short time, only for the short time of this present life. As Christians we are taught not to set our affections upon the things of this earth but upon the things which are above. God has prepared something better for us. God has in Christ prepared for us an eternal and glorious inheritance in heaven. The Lord has in Christ given us spiritual riches 9 which shall never fade away, the riches of the knowledge of God and of His salvation and of the hope of eternal life in glory. By His grace and Holy Spirit the Lord has made us to differ from the world. We must therefore also live and act differently from the world. This must also be seen in the whole different perspective which we as Christians have in regard to the material things of this world. We must constantly reveal before the world that material things are very much secondary in our life. There is no value in simply multiplying to ourselves earthly riches and luxury. We must reveal before the world that we strive for far greater and more glorious treasures, the spiritual treasures of the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, the treasures of knowledge of God and of fellowship with Him and His Son Jesus Christ.
Scripture warns severely against the evil of materialism. What does James say to the rich of this world? “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. . . . . Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in the day of slaughter,” James 5:1-3, 5. Our Lord Jesus warned that it is harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Think about this. Paul writes to Timothy: “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, and godliness, faith, love and patience, meekness,” I Timothy 6:9-11. What a mighty word of God this is in regard to materialism. These are real warnings! How many are there among us who desire to become rich and will even sacrifice spiritual things for the sake of gaining more and more wealth even after they already have such great abundance? Can it be said of us that we truly flee these things in our life? Or are we in great danger of being drowned in destruction and perdition and of erring from the faith because of the great evil of the love of money in our hearts?
We said that there is a great danger of materialism in our midst. Perhaps there are some who would say that this is a rash statement. Where are the evidences? Do we not give lots of money to church and school? Do we not have beautiful church buildings and modern school facilities? What more can be asked of us? Well, let each man judge his own heart and life. Along with our fellow Americans we, too, have become very wealthy. Consider some of the beautiful homes that we live in. Consider all the material abundance that surrounds us. Even the “poorest” of us really has so much more than we need and so much more than many others in the world. We ought to have a holy fear about all the wealth that we possess lest we use it all in a wrong way and become materialistic. Moses had to warn the people of Israel severely about this after they would come into the land of the Canaan, lest they would forget the Lord their God and begin to glory in their great wealth. It is seldom true that when a people become more and more rich they also become more and more spiritual. History has proved that the reverse is almost always the case.
Are there very serious signs of materialism in our midst? There are! It is simply a fact that among some there is a grievous lack of spirituality. Let God be the judge of each one of us and of our hearts. Many can go on and on speaking of the glories of new houses, of vacations, and the latest fashions in dress, of the latest restaurants and on and on. But when it comes to speaking of spiritual things, they are almost absolutely silent. This is a grievous thing. The Bible says that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Does our speech reveal that the abundance of our heart is the love of God, and the love of the things of God are those of His truth and of His church and kingdom? We see those in our midst who, though they come to church on the Lord’s Day, are involved in little else in the life and ministry of the church. The chief reason in many cases is that they have made themselves so busy with the things of the world, with their careers and occupations, to get more and more wealth that they have little time for the church. This, too, is serious. The Christian’s life and involvement in the church ought not to end merely with coming to the worship service on the Lord’s Day. Increasingly in our own churches we find mothers following the way of the world, forsaking their covenant obligations in the home, and going after a career in the world. The chief reason for it all is that we are ashamed to live on a lower standard than the world and we desire to be as wealthy as our ungodly neighbors. This is a serious indication of worldliness, and the warnings of the above passage of Scripture ought to be seriously taken into account. Are we truly a people that is noted for its liberality in giving to the poor? Do not say that there are no poor people. Our Lord said that we would have the poor always with us. We can make all kinds of justifications why we need not give to the poor but we better be sure that they stand the test of the Word of God. Generally there is a good amount of giving in our churches for the cause of the church and kingdom of God. There are those who make great sacrifices and those who have great difficulty, especially when it comes to paying Christian school tuition. On the other hand we as a people are extremely wealthy. To whom much is given much is required. The more wealthy among us are under solemn obligation to give more abundantly. It should never be the case that our Christian schools are in trouble because of lack of money. It should never be the case that projects of our churches have to be hindered or even stopped because of lack of money. It fills me with great, shame when on a few occasions decisions had to be made at our church assemblies not to engage in some mission programs because of lack of money. We are so wealthy as people of God that money ought not be the major determining factor.
Worldliness in the church has a devastating effect upon the witness of the church. If the world sees that we too as people of God have become materialistic, it will surely use that as an occasion to blaspheme the name of our Lord. May God give to us a spiritual perspective on the proper use of material things and may the glory of His grace shine through us in that we are a people who are ready to forsake all the riches of this world for the true spiritual riches of our God and our Lord Jesus Christ.