Materialism. Webster says it is, “the tendency to be more concerned with material than with spiritual values.” Simply put, materialism sets up another object of worship besides God. It replaces God on the throne of one’s heart with the desire for and the pursuit of money and possessions. There is a sort of religious purpose, a devotion of the soul to tangible, temporal concerns. One student appropriately calls materialism “the gospel of the flesh.” The Biblical word for this is “covetousness” (Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:5; James. 4:2; 2 Peter 2:14). Consider:
Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness…” (Luke 12:15).
To engage in covetousness is to engage in the greedy desire for more things.
The apostle Paul said, “Covetousness…is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5; cf. Ephesians 5:5).
An idolatrous person worships or bows to the inferior (1 Corinthians 8:4; Jeremiah 10:14); he renders ultimate devotion to an object of limited value.
Therefore, materialism bows to the greedy desire for and pursuit of things and exalts such above God.
Another student states it well when he says:
“…Man is bowing down figuratively to an idol when he keeps for himself such. It is remarkable covetousness is listed with fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire; all such passions so detestable within the heart a Christian. Yet, it is listed there evidently because it is what turns the heart of a Christian away from God! It dethrones God from His rightful place. When a man seeks happiness in things, possessions, money, etc., he has dethroned God from his heart” (Roy Lanier, Jr., A Little Contribution, preface).
While our modern-day idols may share little physical similarity to their crude counterparts of wood and stone, we pay them reverence nonetheless. And although the position of our bodies may be somewhat different in that we do not physically bow, the position of our hearts is essentially the same.
Someone inquires, “But where is the line (or dollar amount) at which a child of God becomes materialistic?” The answer may surprise some. In truth, materialism is not determined by income. Wealth, per se, is not an indicator of idolatry. A Christian does not suddenly become a 21st century idolater when his annual paycheck surpasses a certain figure. One can be wealthy and not be materialistic (eg., Abraham — Genesis 13:2; Hebrews 11:8-10; Job — Job 1:3, 21-22; Barnabas — Acts 4:36-37). Conversely, one can be of very modest means and yet be very materially-oriented. We tend to equate materialism with financial prosperity. This is faulty reasoning.
Materialism is not determined by financial APTITUDE, but rather by carnal, covetous ATTITUDE (eg., Achan — Joshua 7:1ff; Gehazi — 2 Kgs. 5:20ff; Ahab — 1 Kings 21:1ff; the rich young ruler — Luke 18:18-27; the rich farmer/fool — Luke 12:13-21; the rich man sometimes called Dives — Luke 16:19-31; the prodigal son — Luke 15:13; Judas — John 12:4-6; 18:2ff; Matthew 26:15; 27:3-5; Acts 1:25; Ananias and Sapphira — Acts 5:1ff; Demetrius — Acts 19:23ff; Felix — Acts 24:24-26; and Demas — 2 Timothy 4:10).
Paul told Timothy that those who are “minded,” (1 Timothy 6:9 ASV) to be rich fall into spiritual peril. The word “minded” has reference to the deliberate exercise of the will and is often translated “desire.” “For the wicked boasts of his hearts desire; he blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord” (Psalms 10:3).