The following is an excerpt from God Owns It All Bible Study by Ron Blue, a study on financial principles that are affirmed by the authority of Scripture and tested by the marketplace. Find more information at lifeway.com.
In the late 1970s I was working for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), traveling to Africa and training people in leadership. One Saturday morning I was speaking to a pastor in a village on the outskirts of town as we watched a little girl play with a D battery on top of a pile of discarded rocks. What amazed me about this picture was how perfectly happy and contented this little girl appeared. She didn’t even seem to know that she was playing with trash on a pile of trash. I couldn’t help but wonder what my five kids were doing back in America—likely watching Saturday-morning cartoons and arguing about who got to play with which toys.
In the midst of this beautiful and convicting scene, I asked the pastor a question I had been wrestling with for some time: what he perceived to be the greatest hindrance to the spread of the gospel in that part of Africa. His answer took me off guard. He simply said, “Materialism.”
I was floored and honestly didn’t fully comprehend his answer, so I asked him to explain. After all, we were watching a kid play with trash on trash. How could materialism be an issue here? The pastor wisely explained to me that in that part of the world, if someone had a one-room hut, they wanted a hut with two rooms. If someone had a mud hut, they wanted a brick one. If they had two cows, they wanted three. And so on.
You see, materialism, the pastor explained to me, isn’t about having a lot and wanting more. Instead, it’s defined by worshiping what you have and what you want. It’s a belief that having more things can bring contentment and joy. It’s a sickness that’s present in all corners of the world, and it’s just as prevalent among the poor as among the rich. We all struggle with materialism in one form or another, and it’s a direct violation of a right belief in who God is and what He has done for us.
King Solomon is one of the most qualified individuals in the history of the world to speak to the issue of materialism. He’s believed to have been one of the wealthiest people ever. He could have whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, and he didn’t deny himself much of anything. Yet at the end of his life, he reflected on his accumulation of wealth and his pursuit of pleasure and found it wanting. His thoughts are recorded in the Book of Ecclesiastes:
“The one who loves money is never satisfied with money, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile. When good things increase, the ones who consume them multiply; what, then, is the profit to the owner, except to gaze at them with his eyes? The sleep of the worker is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the is a sickening tragedy I have seen under the sun: wealth kept by its owner to his harm. That wealth was lost in a bad venture, so when he fathered a son, he was empty-handed. As he came from his mother’s womb, so he will go again, naked as he came; he will take nothing for his efforts that he can carry in his hands” (Eccl. 5:10-15, HCSB).
Excerpted from Ron Blue, God Owns It All Bible Study. © 2016 Lifeway Press. Used by permission.
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