Possessions: Hindrance or Help?
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
Those of us who live as Christian believers in the Western world need to come to terms with the affluent society and materialistic culture in which we find ourselves today. Despite all its evident advantages and comforts there is a real danger that we allow our thinking and conduct to be moulded by its rather selfish aims and philosophy.
Did not the apostle Paul exhort the saints in Rome not to be conformed (even outwardly) to this age, but to be transformed inwardly by the renewing of their minds, so that they might prove what was the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God for their lives on earth, Rom. 12. 2? The aim of this article, therefore, is to give believers guidance on the question of how we should relate to the affluent society around us in the light of biblical principles which are intended to govern us today. Are possessions just a hindrance to the accomplishment of the Lord’s will in us, or can they be used to serve His higher purposes in the world around us?
First of all, we shall consider:
The Danger of Materialism
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘materialism’ clearly indicates its danger: ‘a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values’. The scriptures warn us, ‘But they that will (desire to) 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 (kinds of) evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’, 1 Tim. 6. 9-10.
Materialism is really a form of covetousness, which is forbidden by the tenth commandment, Exod. 20. 17. And in Colossians 3 verse 5, covetousness is called idolatry, because it puts things and self in the place that only God should have as our sole object of worship. The Lord Jesus Himself said that no man can serve both God and mammon, or money. Materialism is allied to the principle of worldliness, and springs from selfishness, greed and self-indulgence.
In Old Testament days, when God was dealing with an earthly people, Israel, and the patriarchs, to have great riches was a sign of God’s blessing, because those who trusted and obeyed Him were blessed for their obedience to His word. But there is no such correlation between obedience and material wealth in New Testament days. God is now dealing with a heavenly, not an earthly people, the church. Our promised blessings are mainly spiritual, rather than material, so that many godly saints today have little of this world’s material wealth. This is because we worship and serve a Lord and Saviour who was rejected by the world at the cross, and will only receive His rightful place in this world at His second coming to earth in glory to reign in a scene of perfect righteousness and peace. Our rewards for faithfulness largely await that day. So we should neither expect, nor strive to become rich in this world’s goods, but strive for spiritual blessings instead.
Secondly, therefore, we should consider:
The Principle of Stewardship
Materialism can rightly be regarded as a serious misuse of our stewardship of all God’s gifts to us. Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for us at Calvary and God’s love shown in giving Him there mean that God has complete rights over us as His redeemed people. We do not now belong to, or rightly live for, ourselves; we are ‘bought with a price’ and should therefore glorify God in our bodies, 1 Cor. 6. 20. Nothing really ever belongs to us. All we have is a gift from His hand and should be used in His worship and service. This is the argument of Romans chapter 12 verse 1, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (or, acceptable worship)’. God has a moral claim upon us, and all He has given us, because of Calvary.
We are on this account His stewards to use all God’s gifts to us for Him. The Lord’s parables of the talents and the pounds give the principles of faithful stewardship that should mark us in this age. Our money, possessions, time, abilities, and spiritual gifts are all to be included in this remit. In fact, our stewardship of these things is a vital part of our wider Christian priesthood, which we received through new birth and has as its object in the worship of God alone. Hebrews chapter 13 verse 16, which exhorts us to do good and to communicate, or share our possessions with others, puts this part of our priesthood on a par with our sacrifices of praise expressed in the meetings of the local church.
Therefore, we see that we are to hold such possessions as we may acquire in stewardship for God alone. ‘Naught that I have my own I call, I hold it for the Giver’, J. G. SMALL, should be the spirit in which we possess everything. Just to give away all our possessions, so that we have nothing at all, is foolish, irresponsible, and unnecessary, because we would then become dependent upon others wrongly and be unable to support either our own families or the Lord’s servants. ‘If any man provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel’, 1 Tim. 5. 8, is the verdict of scripture on such.
Provision for oneself and one’s own requires at least some possessions. On the other hand, ‘Be content with such things as ye have’, Heb. 13. 5, is a good principle to follow. Even better is the assurance and guidance of 1 Timothy chapter 6 verses 6-8, ‘But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment (which probably includes the idea of shelter as well as clothing) let us be therewith content’. And the psalmist said, ‘If riches increase, set not your heart upon them’, Ps 62. 10. Wealth honestly acquired or inherited is not wrong in itself, but an opportunity to exercise more diligent and faithful stewardship for God.
Finally, then, we need to consider:
The Grace of Giving
Instead of continually acquiring possessions for ourselves, as Christian stewards of the manifold grace of God we should cultivate the grace of giving to others in need around us and to the Lord’s servants. If we have become ‘rich in this world’, through honourable means, we are not to be ‘high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy’, and unselfishly ‘do good and be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate (share with others)’, 1 Tim. 6. 17-18.
Our motive in giving should be thankfulness for God’s unspeakable Gift to us of Christ according to 2 Corinthians chapter 9 verse 15. The governing principle of our giving should be, as God has prospered us, whether with little or much, 1 Cor. 16. 2. The same verse indicates the method of giving, namely, regularly, on the first day of the week particularly. The objects of our giving should be all men, to some extent, but especially to the ‘household of faith’, that is, other believers in need, Gal. 6. 10. Our giving should be ‘every man according as he purposeth in his heart . . . not grudgingly, nor of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver’, 2 Cor. 9. 6-7. The giving of our possessions, as well as our money, will be liberal as we follow the example of the Macedonian saints, who ‘first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us’, 2 Cor. 8. 5.
Since God is no man’s debtor, we need not fear the consequences of generous giving. For the promise of the Lord Jesus Himself concerning material possessions is that, if we ‘seek . . . first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’, God will see to it that all the necessary material things which He knows we need will be added to us also, see Matt. 6. 33. Let us, then, remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’, Acts 20. 35, and exercise a responsible and liberal stewardship of all our possessions for our gracious God who first blessed us with them all.
Possessions wrongly or selfishly acquired are a great hindrance to all spiritual life and a temptation to much evil, but possessions honestly, and unselfishly acquired are, first of all, essential to fulfil our earthly responsibilities and, secondly, can be an invaluable help in the relief of the needs of others, both fellow-believers and poor unsaved folk around us, and also in the support and furtherance of the Lord’s work throughout the world.