We live in a consumption driven culture in which success in life is often measured by possessions. We’re well past the days of owning a house (a basic one at that), a car, a TV and some decent clothes—the trappings of a comfortable middle class life. Now we have computers (desktops and laptops often), multiple TVs, multiple cars, cell phones and iphones, Xboxes, Wii’s, athletic equipment, boats, you name it. And we replace them early and often.
The cost of these possessions, as well as their maintenance (read: service plans), and eventual replacement with higher value models is not insubstantial. Neither is the time we put in to them.
Let’s look at an experience Jesus had and compare it with our lives today.
”Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”—Matthew 19:21-22
Think about how this verse might apply to our possession-rich lives today. There was even a saying a few years back that described it: ”He who has the most toys wins.” Under the “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” doctrine, many Christians have fallen into this trap too. It’s the inevitable fallout of living within cultural norms.
Why might possession addiction be bad for Christians?
Possessions vs. experiences
The very word “life” implies something to be lived. That means to be out doing things, interacting with people, witnessing, building relationships, helping others and, in general, constructing a meaningful life.
When we focus on the accumulation of possessions, we can sap time, money and focus from the process of living life itself.
As Christians, we should know better than anyone that life can only be lived, it can never be possessed! We’re just passing through here, and when our time comes, none of our possessions will come with us. God will not judge us on how well we accumulated and protected our possessions, but on what we actually have done with our lives. That means how we spent our time and how many other lives we’ve touched in a meaningful way. Possessions can draw us away from all of that, often without us even realizing it’s happening.
Possessions vs. people
One of the problems with possessions is their potential to separate us from people. Once you have a certain number of possessions, two situations soon develop:
- They have to be protected. There’s substantial monetary value tied up in a large amount of possessions, so they have to be protected. That means fences, security systems and doors and windows that are always closed and locked.
- They leave us with less time to interact with people. When you have a lot of possessions you spend more time maintaining and using them, leaving less time for people.
Possessions are not people. They don’t interact with us, even though advancing technology often makes it seem as if they do. They can keep us busy, but they don’t have souls. They can’t be happy for us, they can’t mourn when we mourn and they can’t help us when we’re in need. Nor do they help us to do those things for others.
It’s not ridiculous to say that we in the 21st Century are coming dangerously close to having “relationships” with our possessions. This is especially true with entertainment equipment like computers, video games, sound systems and wide screen TVs. We can spend hours each day in front of them while life is happening outside the front door.
Machines merely entertain us, but they don’t relate to us in a human way. The more we try to relate to machines, or even to nurture our possessions in general, the less time or concern there is for other people.
Our job, as Christians, is to be the “salt and light” of the world (Matthew 5:13) reflecting God’s glory in a fallen world. It’s hard to do that when we’re walled inside our homes being entertained and comforted by a bunch of possessions.
Possessions vs. troubles
On this site I’ve often advocated traveling light in life, that is, with a minimum number of possessions. Possessions you see, can weigh us down. We don’t have as much freedom to act during times of difficulty because we’re worried about keeping our stuff.
The rich young man in Matthew 19 above received a direct invitation from the Savior of the world and passed on it because he had too many possessions. In our own ways, we can do the same. Our possessions become so normal to us, so much a part of our lives, that we can’t imagine life without them. Once that happens we’ve crossed a line.
Beyond weighing us down in times of trouble, possessions are often the very cause of our troubles. Think about the mortgage payment on a house we really can’t afford. Or the luxury car, second home, or cache of jewelry. All of them soak up so much cash that we struggle to survive, especially when a financial catastrophe, like a job loss or business failure hits.
And it’s a not-so-funny thing about possessions that no matter how important they may be to us, when we need to sell them in a crunch, no one else is willing to pay us more than a fraction of what we paid to buy them.
Possessions vs. faith
The same factors that cause possessions to isolate us from people also cause us to be separated from God. In Exodus 20:5, God tells us “…for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” God doesn’t want to compete with our possessions for our attention and affection.
No matter how we try to sugarcoat the acquisition of possessions as normal or harmless, or to consider them to be merely the fruits of our labor, our Heavenly Father knows the truth. In Matthew 6:21 Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Possessions reveal our attachment to the world, and many possessions reveal a great attachment. Our very lives are our greatest witness to the world; how effective is that witness if we do exactly what the world does?
Fewer possessions will mean that we’ll have more time, attention and money to give to people and to worship. It’ll mean a life lived with more and richer experiences. And it will be a witness to the world that we’re different, that we’re not “of the world”, but of the Savior who will one day redeem us from the world.
As Christians, shouldn’t that be our goal?