Friday, January 12, 2007

Materialism isn't a new problem, just ask Chrysostom

I personally wrestle with the materialism of our day. I find a pull in my own heart to want more or covet things. The sin of discontentment is ever assailing me. I know this is a struggle for the members of my church and believe it is a temptation common to most members of Christ’s Church in our privileged country.

Our country has long been blessed with prosperity not known in the world at large. One hundred forty years ago President Lincoln, in a proclamation of national humility (can you imagine?), said-
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown”.
Even with the cyclical trends of our economy, the United States has continued to grow in the realm of material prosperity. The temptation for us, members of the American church in particular, is to fall in love with “stuff” and lose our first love, the Lord Jesus. We can be lured to stop relying on our God, who owns everything and has made us, His redeemed, to be stewards (see link to Crown ministries for excellent teaching on biblical stewardship). I think about this subject quite a bit as it is a constant tug in my own heart and affections as it is in the lives of the people I help to shepherd.

Church History reveals materialism to be a timeless struggle for God’s people. I found it interesting that a key theme John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) preached concerning was the problem of materialism, especially among Christians. There was an unholy alliance between Church and state in John’s day so as Bishop of Constantinople he openly criticized the rampant materialism in both realms. I am not sure if materialism has reached the level John witnessed, however, words from two of his sermons certainly seem to continue in relevance-

How think you that you obey Christ’s commandments, when you spend your time collecting interest, piling up loans, buying slaves like livestock, and merging business with business? …And that is not all. Upon all this you heap injustice, taking possession of lands and houses, and multiplying poverty and hunger.

The gold bit on your horse, the gold circlet on the wrist of your slave, the gilding on your shoes, mean that you are robbing the orphan and starving the widow. When you have passed away, each passer-by who looks upon your great mansion will say, “how many years did it take to build that mansion; how may orphans were stripped; how many widows wronged; how many laborers deprived of their honest wages?” Even death itself will not deliver you from your accusers.

In the future I want to write on the excellent opportunities we have in light of the Lord’s great blessings to us, but for now, I’m still meditating on John Chrysostom’s penetrating words.
Did I mention he got exiled for preaching against materialism? Such preaching never has been popular.


JON MEYERS said...

It is funny how we often look materialism with a blind eye. We tend not to see what our true motivation is with our possession. I possess too many things that have no benefit to my Christian life, but I cherish them deeply, as though they are necessary for my soul to live on. I know the truth: My soul will not suffer if I rid myself of these things. Still I struggle as well.

LO said...

Apropos words of wisdom to one who spent the better part of a week and a half unloading boxes of wedding hand-me-downs, gifts, etc.... It's amazing how quickly stuff can overtake me. Perhaps I need a good half dozen exiles like ol' Jonny to set me straight.

AJF said...

Wait till you've been married 13 years, you won't believe the accumulation. It's pretty convicting.