One of the gravest warnings Jesus issued during His ministry involved the dangers of greed and materialism. “Take heed and beware of covetousness,” He said, “for one’s life does not consist of the abundance of things he possesses” (Luke 12:15, NKJV). Jesus’ admonition addresses one of the dominant themes of Scripture, and seems tailor-made for a nation inundated by avarice and unbridled consumerism. But in a strange twist of irony it is one of the least sermonized subjects on Sunday.
Perhaps that’s no surprise. After all, we don’t consider ourselves covetous. No matter how many possessions we acquire, how selfishly we spend our income, how quickly we pursue the latest technology, or how much stuff we consume, we insist that Christ’s warning does not apply to us. We explain away any apparent contradiction by declaring that our hearts belong to Christ and therefore we’re free from a spirit of materialism. Our possessions cannot be idols because we profess Jesus as Lord. Therefore no matter how much stuff we accumulate it’s never sin.
But these excuses reveal more about our ability to rationalize then they do about the absence of covetousness in our lives. We have become adept at gaming the system of God’s admonitions. We convince ourselves that rabid consumerism constitutes sin only if it supplants Christ as Lord, and since that never happens we continue to pursue the things of the world without trepidation.
Our expertise at justifying such idolatry threatens our spiritual vitality and dulls our ability to identify the rampant materialism in our lives. What results are lives with divided loyalties – committed to Christ in principle but intoxicated with the world in practice. Our profession of love for the Lord is starkly contrasted by the wild-eyed enthusiasm with which we chase the things of this world.
Jesus tackled this subject early in His ministry and left no room for ambiguity. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). We nod in agreement with Jesus’ assertions. They produce no angst because we see no battle being waged for our allegiance, our love, or our souls. We make no effort to validate our claim that Jesus is the object of our love, service, and devotion.
But Jesus anticipated the ease with which we would enthrone idols in our heart and the casualness with which we would deny their existence. So He tackled that subject as well. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NKJV). That succinct statement slices through the noise and exposes our duplicity. Irrespective of what we say about the heart’s affections, it always lies with our treasures.
It is easy to say we treasure Jesus and our relationship with Him. But what do our checkbooks identify as our true treasure? What do our calendars point to as our real treasure? And what would our colleagues at work say we treasure? If Jesus really is our treasure shouldn’t every area of life reflect His presence and Lordship?
We can no longer afford to ignore this epidemic. It’s time we expose its existence in our hearts, our churches, and our nation. We are covetous – as a body and as individuals – and that spirit of covetousness is weakening our witness in the community, undermining our effectiveness for the Lord, and often revealing an absence of faith altogether (though not the absence of religion – for religion thrives where covetousness goes unchecked).
To remedy this spiritual contagion we must recognize that it is insufficient to simply quit acquiring stuff, stop spending lavishly on ourselves, and refrain from pursuing the world’s treasures with wild abandon. Our greed and materialism are symptoms of a much larger problem and are not the entirety of the problem themselves. The real problem at the root of our covetousness is our failure to abide in Christ.
Amidst our pursuit of pleasure, products, and merchandise we have lost our first love. Our hearts and our attention have been captured by the lures of this world and we no longer seek the presence of Christ regularly. To resolve our idolatry, then, we must pursue Him with passion. It is only as we rekindle the flame of affection for Jesus that our burning desire for worldly treasure grows dim. It is only then that we fulfill our purpose in this world and grow to resemble our Lord and Savior.