July 10, 2020

Jesus and My Stuff

buynothing2003.gifMy men’s Bible study has been reading and discussing John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life. If you aren’t familiar with DWYL, it is a small book that Piper wrote to persuade college-age young people to live missional, Kingdom-building, God-glorifying and passionate lives. If you want to give the “Piper” experience in short form, this book is your best bet.

As IM readers, know, I am a real fan of this book even though I disagree with aspects of Piper’s appeal. None of my reservations, however, take away from the value of the book for American Christians, particularly as Piper deals with materialism.

There’s been a BHT discussion this past week over the value of “Purity Clubs.” True Love Waits and other abstinence supporting efforts are commendable, even if their track record is somewhat less than what was promised. I have some reluctance to endorse Purity Clubs based on my own view of how their interact with Christian ethics overall, but I understand their pragmatic value: they underline the wisdom of Christian sexual morality, and they create communities that help achieve their goals.

What interests me is how Americans Christians have largely exempted an equally corrupting common set of sins from these same kinds of evangelical efforts at mutual sanctification. Where are the vows and communities aimed at helping us live free from the corrosion of materialism? Where is the peer pressure for what Piper calls “wartime living and giving?” Where is the recognition that Jesus taught many explicit and unmistakable things about possessions, money and materialism?

While Piper himself acknowledges that the “wartime” metaphor has limitations in the total Biblical picture of life lived before and to the glory of God, the teaching of Jesus regarding materialism isn’t just about funding missions. It is about the nature of human life in the image of God.

Think of some of the questions that grow out of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 and Luke 12:

Luke 12:22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?* 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,* yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his* kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Is life MORE than what materialism says?

Is the body MORE than what materialism says?

Are we not MORE valuable? (i.e. is not more VALUE given to us by God than the value given to other parts of creation?)

What power do material possessions have to effect the essence of life? What can they ADD to what we are?

If Life ends in an AUDIT, and not just a judgement, how much of life will we have spent in pursuit of material things? Or the security, prestige and pride promised by materialism?

How much are we DOMINATED by the thought processes and pursuits of the culture and persons around us?

Does our involvement with materialism REPLACE our commitment to the Kingdom and to Kingdom resources?

Is our involvement with materialism, and our failure to trust God, a manifestation of FEAR rather than faith?

Has the affluence of our culture BLINDED us to true beauty and true faithfulness that are manifested all around us?

Is the coming of the Kingdom through the POWER of the Holy Spirit (not through human ingenuity and resources) the great passion of our lives and churches?

Do we see the NEEDY through the compassionate eyes of Jesus or through the threatened eyes of affluent, western Christians?

Can we sell, let go of and give away our POSSESSIONS in order to build the Kingdom of God?

Do we see materialism as a HEART issue, or as a peripheral issue where disobedience and idolatry are not at stake?

These are the kinds of questions that should be addressed by Christians living in community, seeking to turn away from the materialism of our part of the empire. If “Purity Clubs” model community in pursuit of righteousness, then communities dedicated to living out Jesus’ teaching on money and possessions are just as appropriate.

One other note: This particular subject came along at a timely place for me. This coming year, I project that we as a family will make the least we’ve ever made together since we married in 1978, putting us well under the various levels where we are entitled to all kinds of government assistance (which I have no plans to participate in.)

This economic transition is made considerably different for us because we live in an intentional Christian community, where food, housing, utilities, insurance and many other benefits are provided. Still, I am aware that when Jesus says we are too “anxious” about money and material things, he is not just talking to the rich, but to those with modest means as well.

Can I let go of what comforts I have? Books? Internet? Air Conditioning? Two cars? Four computers? Eating out a couple of times a month? The occasional baseball game?

Do I have eyes and heart for the needy when our budget is a constant point of discussion?

Can I continue to cheerfully support ministries like Blood Water Mission and Gospel for Asia when I may need the money for medical expenses or car repair?

How will my passion for the Kingdom be effected when I am overwhelmed with anxiety about financial earthquakes that I cannot control?

Dallas Willard said that our obedience to Jesus sometimes simply measures whether we think he knows what is best for us or whether we believe we know better? When it comes to sexual purity, few would argue with Jesus. When it comes to what I will do with an extra $15, I can put up quite an argument.

So let’s consider how we can talk to one another about this subject. How can we help one another, teach and encourage one another in practical ways?

[Don’t Waste Your Life is available as a FREE pdf from Desiring God.]

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great thoughts. This is an issue that my husband and I really grappled with a few years ago. For us the conviction started with 1 John 3:17, “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?”. We were struck by the fact that we had many of the world’s possession that we weren’t sharing. Although we were just poor students at the time we were still rich in resources that we could be using for God’s kingdom but weren’t. After closely examining the rest of scripture we came to the conclusion that we needed to radically change the way that we used God’s resources.

    I agree with you that this is a very under recognized sin in our society. 1 Cor 5:11 says that we aren’t even supposed to eat with people that claim to be Christians but are greedy. This is so foreign to our churches. Some churches even go so far as to teach that if you are faithful to God then you will be financially secure or even rich. Christians need to be taught that true surrender means self-denial and sacrifice. We need to give up our own rights and desires for the sake of others. This is what it really means to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Their needs trump your wants, just as you would do for yourself.

    My husband wrote an essay on this topic in an attempt to share our new convictions with friends and family as well as people on the web. If you are interested you can read his essay here.

  2. Thanks for the insightful thoughts. My husband and I were first convicted on this issue by 1 John 3:17, “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?”. Although we were poor students in the eyes of our culture we still had many resources that we could have been sharing. After examining the rest of scripture on this topic we came to the conclusion that we needed to radically change the way that we used the resources that God entrusted to us.

    I agree with you that this is an often ignored sin in our churches. 1 Cor 5:11 says that we aren’t even supposed to eat with people that consider themselves Christian but are greedy. This is so foreign to our church culture. People will acknowledge that materialism is bad but I think that people usually define that as being “spending more money on myself then I currently do”. People need to be taught that true surrender involves self-denial and sacrifice. To love your neighbor as you love yourself mean that others needs trump our wants, just as we would do for yourselves.

    My husband has written an essay on the biblical mandate for radical self-denial. You can read that here if you are interested.

  3. Fantastic post, Michael. I love DWYL. I also agree that the most worshiped god in America is money. Because of a host of things, some good and some bad, my wife and I realized that we had to make major changes in our lives to combat this very ugly form of idolatry.

  4. What does the entire bible show us about God? That He gives. He gives and gives and gives. He sustains. He provides. He will meet all our needs. Why worry about what we wear or what we eat? He will provide. But, we don’t live like we believe that. We hoard. We consult our budget before we decide whether we can give to the needy, even when God is speaking to our heart to give. It’s no wonder we have rainy days… our faith is to save for rainy days, rather than knowing that God gives and living like we can truly offer ourselves as living sacrifices because He will lift us up and fill us.

  5. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Reminds me of a line from a Michael Card song;

    That we love our brother by all that we own.

    For those of you who know the song I don’t feel like I even need to say more. That song sticks with me.

  6. Fremen_Warrior66 says

    I’m attending a bible study on Acts and we talked about this subject after reading Acts 2:42-47.

    “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,praising God and having favor with all the people And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

    That’s pretty powerful stuff if you think about it. They were practically living in a socialistic community. Socialism has been shown to almost never work, because it depends upon so much sacrifice of the individual. The free-enterprise economy uses our greedy and competitive nature to its advantage; it depends upon it. However, the early Christians were able to make it work.

    In the film “God Grew Tired of Us”, one of the Sudan refugees talks about how lonely American culture is. I think I agree. We seem so intent on having our own things, and our own accomplishments that it tends to separate us from other people.

  7. DLATU1983 says

    Michael,

    I’d be very interested to hear your take on the link that mawhorter posted.

    -Danny

  8. this article is so true…back in the 1920s there was a man who came over from India (i think) to hold some meetings here in the states, and he said that even back then Christianity in America was too material.