Fight Materialism for Your Life
1, 2. (a) How may materialism be compared to the undertow? (b) Why is materialism such a formidable opponent?
IT WAS a warm clear summer day, and the beach glistened in the sunshine. Here and there groups of people were enjoying themselves to the full. Those bathing in the surf also reflected this happy mood. Everywhere joy and satisfaction marked a gladsome occasion. For the benefit of the swimmers a safety zone was marked off. All wisely respected this zone, for they knew that to stray beyond would only invite trouble. Nonetheless, after repeated warnings, one swimmer foolishly ventured beyond the zone of safety and was apparently enjoying himself in the deep water. Then a subtle and powerful foe attacked. It dragged at his feet, pulled at his body; it pressed in from every side. He was twisted, turned and buffeted until all sense of direction was lost. Truly, this man was engaged in a life-and-death struggle; caught in the undertow, he was putting up a fight for his life. It seemed as though he had all but succumbed to this powerful foe, when a rescue team reached him and pulled him ashore. There he lay, exhausted, very nearly another victim of this deadly enemy.
2 Today on the surface things may appear calm; but like an undertow, materialism can viciously pull you out of sight. This regardless of how strong one might appear to be. Daily this world, with its insidious propaganda, attacks and tugs at the mind. Unless a Christian stays within safe bounds, using the spirit of a sound mind, and resists the temptation to stray beyond those limits, he could be drowned, sucked into the swirling sea of materialism. It is brutal, ruthless, spares none, and yet it looks perfectly innocent. Thus it is all the more a formidable opponent. But in order to fight it we must understand it. We must be aware of its presence and resist its encroachments. We must learn to identify it and resist it. Hence, what is materialism, how does it operate, and how can we combat it successfully?
3. How may materialism be defined, and to what desire does it appeal, according to John?
3 First of all, materialism is worldliness. It is the opposite of that which is spiritual; it is earthly and sensual. It is a philosophy spawned by a faithless world and sustained by the false values of a system impoverished for true spiritual values. It maximizes the achievements of men and minimizes the value of Jehovah God and his Word in our lives. In short, while appearing to be a benefactor of mankind, it is as deadly as an undertow, as treacherous as quicksand. Materialism, opposed as it is to Jehovah God and all his righteous principles, will never survive the battle of Armageddon. It, along with all other worldly philosophies, is doomed to destruction at that impending battle. Today, however, many, whether fully aware of it or not, are being subtly tested by the menace of materialism, and not a few have had their spirituality snuffed out. The apostle John said: “Everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:16, 17) Thus materialism appeals to the most selfish of desires, self-gratification, and it must be resisted if we are to preserve our lives in these critical times.
4. How old is materialism, and what wise counsel did Moses give in connection with it?
4 Some have felt that materialism is new to this generation. To the contrary, it is as old as man himself. Because it is subtle and misleading we must fight it, and to help us Jehovah has had several instructive lessons on materialism recorded for us in his Word the Bible. Moses declared that Israel had to fight it: “When you have eaten and satisfied yourself, then you must bless Jehovah your God for the good land that he has given you. Watch out for yourself that you may not forget Jehovah your God so as not to keep his commandments and his judicial decisions and his statutes that I am commanding you today; for fear that you may eat and indeed satisfy yourself and you may build good houses and indeed dwell in them, and your herd and your flock may increase and silver and gold may increase for you and all that is yours may increase; and your heart may indeed be lifted up and you may indeed forget Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves.” (Deut. 8:10-14) Did Israel heed this wise counsel? The pages of history definitely answer No. When Israel prospered it boasted in its own power and strength. In effect, it said, “Our own hands have made this wealth.” They honored themselves and not the God that made such prosperity possible for them.
5. Why according to David, is it foolish to trust in one’s means of maintenance?
5 David showed that materialism is wrong. “Those who are trusting in their means of maintenance, and who keep boasting about the abundance of their riches, not one of them can by any means redeem even a brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.” (Ps. 49:6, 7) Hence many are blinded by a materialistic way of life, allowing it to crowd out the real joys, one of the greatest of which is the gaining of accurate knowledge, which leads to life and the vindication of Jehovah’s name. Wealth certainly cannot buy life for anyone. Would it not be better to please God and Christ and learn the true way that leads to life rather than chase after the wind?
6. What splendid example did wealthy Job provide as a warning against materialism?
6 Job also provided us with some splendid counsel showing how misleading materialism is. Even though he was an extremely wealthy man, it cannot be said that he was a materialist. Why? Because his mental attitude was right. His sense of values was correct. His primary interest was not in his material riches but in his worship of God. Of him it is written: “For disaster from God was a dread to me, and against his dignity I could not hold out. If I have put gold as my confidence, or to gold I have said: ‘You are my trust!’ if I used to rejoice because my property was much and because my hand had found a lot of things; that too would be an error for attention by the justices, for I should have denied The true God above.”—Job 31:23-25, 28.
7. For what reason does the third type of seed mentioned in Jesus’ illustration of the sower not bear fruitage? How does this apply today?
7 Jesus, too, illustrated the dangers of materialism. He gave a powerful illustration outlining four types of people that the preaching of this good news of the Kingdom affects. The first two types were quite unreceptive, the Word making little or no penetration into their hard hearts. Now observe the third type. “There are still others who are sown among the thorns; these are the ones that have heard the word, but the anxieties of this system of things and the deceptive power of wealth and the desires for the rest of the things make inroads and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” Note here that Jesus shows these persons have a wrong sense of values. They place too much emphasis on material things, to the complete exclusion of the spiritual. That is the wrong they have committed and it will cost them their lives.—Mark 4:18, 19.
8. (a) Illustrate how and why the farmer fights for the life of his crops. (b) How can Kingdom fruitage be shaded out by materialism?
8 Further, what does a farmer do when he sees that the weeds are crowding out the crops on which his livelihood depends? The farmer will get into the field and fight for the very life of his crops and he will use every means available to him to root out and cut down the weeds so his crops might grow and bear fruitage. Further, if the weeds grow too high they can shade out the crop that is growing up. So too if we permit materialism to grow up alongside the true fruitage of God’s Word in our hearts, then it can easily be shaded out by materialism. Just as the farmer fights for the life of his crop, so we as Christians should fight for the fruits of the Kingdom ministry and not allow the weeds of materialism to choke them out or stunt their growth. Pull up materialism by its roots, exposing it to the scorching light of God’s Word and thereby cause it to wither away and die.
9. Why can materialism get such a powerful grip on an individual before it is noticed and how can this predicament be avoided?
9 So we see the necessity to fight materialism, lest it make inroads. Nonetheless, because it is so subtle it very often goes unnoticed until it has a powerful grip on an individual. Hence the value of recognizing its symptoms so we can prevent its getting started. First of all, though, Paul tells us that Jehovah expects his people to provide the necessary material things; we should not confuse that with materialism. Paul said: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Tim. 5:8) Thus we must face up to the proper and Scriptural obligations we have and discharge them. Any other course would be displeasing to Jehovah and a violation of his Word. The point we want to keep in mind, though, is the one that Jesus makes at Luke 12:15: “Then he said to them: ‘Be on the alert and on guard against every kind of covetousness, because even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.’” So the distinction must be made between providing the necessary material things and going beyond that by leaning toward materialism.
10. (a) In Jesus’ illustration of the rich man, what principle is highlighted? (b) Hence what distinction must be made?
10 To illustrate the point, Jesus showed that the land of a certain rich man produced well. He reasoned that the thing to do was to build larger barns and then take life easy. He felt that material riches were sufficient for his need. However, in all of this he failed to give glory to God and relied completely on his material wealth, giving little or no thought to spiritual prosperity. As the record continues, “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21) His treasures failed to save him. Actually Jesus gave the proper balance and the right perspective in his model prayer when he stated: “Give us today our bread for this day.” (Matt. 6:11) Notice, we are not to be consumed with long-range material planning but only one day at a time. If anything, we should plan ahead for spiritual advancement, and even then it is only as Jehovah wills.
11. What counsel did James give as to long-range material planning?
11 James well exemplifies this point when he says: “Come, now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to this city and will spend a year there, and we will engage in business and make profits,’ whereas you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. For you are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing. Instead, you ought to say: ‘If Jehovah wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’” (Jas. 4:13-15) This, then, is the proper balance, and how wrong it is to plan ahead to gain material riches when we do not know what one day will bring!
12. Can the poor as well as the rich be affected by materialism? Why?
12 Another point worthy of consideration is that materialism is no respecter of persons. Just like the undertow, it has no regard for either rich or poor, young or old. Its appetite is greedy and voracious. Often we think of the rich only as being infected with it. Perhaps you have gone into a brother’s home and seen the finest in furniture, a TV with a screen twenty-one inches wide and the latest-model car and said to yourself, “How can this brother do it and not be affected with materialism?” What you have seen may well be within this brother’s means and may be no deterrent to his Kingdom ministry. In fact, he may use his material means wisely and thus aid himself and others in the ministry. Such is commendable. On the other hand, a brother who may not have so much may be working diligently for what he has. He may have gone deep into debt to keep up with the Joneses. Because he has to work overtime to get sufficient funds to advance materially, he crowds out his time for study, destroys his progressive New World outlook and becomes a slave to his consuming material desires. What folly! How much better to follow the advice Paul gave at 2 Corinthians 8:12: “If the readiness is there first, it is especially acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have”! So Jehovah judges us on the basis of what we have and how hospitable we are with it and not on the basis of what we do not have.
13. Failure to do what will contribute toward the encouraging of selfish tendencies?
13 Moreover, Paul, in describing how to overcome worldly tendencies and habits, stated: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and complete will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) Yes, a failure to work diligently at this transformation can affect the poor as well as the rich and can make it a lot easier for one to succumb to the inborn, selfish tendencies of the flesh. Thus no one is immune from the powerful force that materialism exerts. It affects all classes.
14. How may youth fight materialism, and what part can parents play therein?
14 Thus it is seen that not only must the rich as well as the poor fight materialism but both young and old must combat it wholeheartedly too. A young person will want to take to heart the counsel at Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10: (Continued on page 595)
(Continued from page 584) “Rejoice, young man, in your youth and let your heart do you good in the days of your young manhood, and walk in the ways of your heart and in the things seen by your eyes. But know that on account of all these The [true] God will bring you into judgment. So remove vexation from your heart and ward off calamity from your flesh, for youth and the prime of life are vanity.” So to those who are young we say, Work for a favorable judgment from Jehovah, not for the latest-model car. Why not direct your energies into the full-time service? A Bethel branch home, Gilead School and the pioneer service are marvelous and worthwhile goals. Work toward one of them. Moreover, how wrong it would be for parents to encourage their children to strive for material riches! The greatest heritage you can bestow upon your child is the desire to serve Jehovah full time. Do not frustrate their entering the full-time service by encouraging them to work for large salaries so the family can now enjoy some of the finer things of life. Yes, youth as well as the older ones must resist materialism, and parents can help their children much along these lines.
15. In setting a proper example for their children, how will parents provide a mighty bulwark against materialism?
15 Those who set the proper example in teaching their children to respect true spiritual values provide a splendid means of combating delinquency. Set a proper example by attending and participating in the meetings regularly. Remember, good training in the early formative years will provide a real foundation that will act as a mighty bulwark against materialism in later years. Parents, give due consideration to this and gain untold blessings for yourselves and your family. Yes, resist materialism in the spirit of Colossians 3:23:“Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah.” This would include having a balanced view of material riches, for a wise use of resources is required. Such is in harmony with the instructions given in Proverbs 30:8: “Give me neither poverty nor riches.”
16. (a) Soldierlike, how can we wage war against materialism? (b) Show how Satan cleverly maneuvers some into a position where they are vulnerable to attack.
16 True Christians realize that materialism is out to conquer all the people in this world with its philosophy. Of necessity its conquest will be brief. Nonetheless, it will claim many victims, and that is why we must wage relentless war against it like a true soldier. Paul said: “No man serving as a soldier involves himself in the commercial businesses of life, in order that he may meet the approval of the one who enrolled him as a soldier.” (2 Tim. 2:4) There is a twofold lesson to be learned here. First, a soldier cannot afford to have divided interests. It is essential that he be singularly devoted to his cause; otherwise he will not be a real fighter. Second, a good soldier is keenly interested in victory. Just as a soldier trains, fights and wages relentless war against the enemy in order to gain victory, so too we must fight materialism. The real enemy Satan the Devil is adroit and clever at tactical warfare. He has outflanked and outmaneuvered some by isolating them through their consuming desire for material things. This has placed them on the fringe, where they are easy prey for Satan’s snipers, and the results can be disastrous. Hence none can afford to relax for a moment. We must learn how to use the greatest weapon we have against materialism, the “sword of the spirit.” Against it no materialistic philosophy is successful, for it can slash to pieces and lay bare the most clever arguments in favor of materialism.
17. Why is Jehovah’s Word a mighty weapon against materialism, and how can we fight covetousness?
17 In this vein Paul wrote: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and their marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” (Heb. 4:12, 13) Secretly we may have materialistic designs and be jealous of what someone else has. This would in time influence our thinking and cause us to become off-balanced and covetous. Jehovah in his Word indicates how strongly he feels against covetousness, for he included this in one of the Ten Commandments. Covetousness is really the power of wrong desire at work, and in time one’s thoughts will give way to action, for, ‘where the treasure is, there the heart will be also.’ How profitable it is, then, not to allow our thinking to dwell on materialistic improper desires! We should be satisfied with the necessities and let the joy of Jehovah’s service be our real satisfaction. A failure to let the principles of God’s Word direct our thinking can result in our being drowned in the sea of materialism.
18. (a) How can specious reasoning weaken our resistance? (b) Illustrate how some have allowed selfishness to cause them to evaluate improperly material necessities, and how can we slash away such clever reasonings?
18 Further, to illustrate how vital it is to slash away false reasonings by applying the principles in God’s Word, let us observe a brother who feels there are just too many meetings. He believes that he can keep up with the truth nicely by missing out on one or two and at the same time utilize such evenings by working longer hours to get more pay. He muses that he cannot lose too much if he misses a meeting or two. However, what he fails to recognize is that he has let the bars down and has allowed the subtle encroachments of materialism to direct his thinking and his way of life. This brother and his wife feel that they need a more complete wardrobe. No, they are not destitute of the necessary clothing. They make a good appearance in the service and at meetings, but now they want more clothes. Their wardrobe would not be complete if they did not have just the proper attire for each occasion. Nonetheless, Jehovah provided each meeting for a particular purpose, and to flout that arrangement is to lose Jehovah’s spirit. Which is more important in Jehovah’s eyes: the fine apparel of this world or the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit? (1 Pet. 3:4) How skillfully Satan appeals to the desire of the eyes and the pride of life to entice one away from Jehovah’s organization! A seemingly harmless practice on the part of this brother becomes a deeply entrenched habit, and he will have to make a complete reversal if he is going to win out in the fight against materialism. Slash away such clever reasonings that favor materialism by effectively using the “sword of the spirit.” Stop improper and unnecessary desires from getting rooted. Be satisfied with less materially in order to be rich spiritually.
Keep your minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth.—Col. 3:2.