In recent years it has become widely known that a large majority of professional athletes end up broke within just a few years of ending their professional career. In 2009 Sports Illustrated estimated that 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or facing serious financial stress within two years of their athletic career; 60 percent of the players in the NBA are overdrawn within five years of retiring from the game.
It is hard to imagine why people who make more money in one season than most Americans make in a whole lifetime end up absolutely penniless. Despite having a lucrative career and having earned staggering amounts of money, they end up sitting on the curb as beggars because they squandered it in one big materialistic orgy.
Much of this has to do with the fact that these men, despite being godlike in their athletic discipline, they have no spiritual discipline. Because they lack character, they end up lacking sufficient funds to provide for themselves.
What is important to understand though is that these professional athletes illustrate on a more grand scale the disease that infects most people in our culture today. We are living in an age where most people are consumed with consuming.
Francis Schaeffer summarized it well when he said that the majority of people in America today had adopted two impoverished values: personal peace and affluence. He described affluence as “A life made up of things, things, and more things. [It is] a success [which is] judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.”
Madonna, that great theologian, might have put it best in her 80’s hit, “We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.”
One of the main trappings of our age is the desire for stuff. This world, and the things associated with it, are easily exalted in our eyes and we can become consumed with our possessions, or, as the case may be, our lack of possessions.
This urge for stuff can go by many names. Some call it greed, others call it worldliness. The Biblical word is covetousness. We might also call it materialism because it is that inflated and insatiable desire for material goods. But among the list of names rarely will you find someone calls it what it really is: unholy.
Sure, some people will admit that no one should be possessed by his possessions or make materialistic gain his goal in life, but such are typically hypocrites. The truth is most people have that inordinate affection for things, things, and more things.
And it is this ungodly urge that Jesus addresses in our passage today. Our text for today is set before us so that we might be on guard against the sin of covetousness. The passage is here to dissuade us from being one who has placed his affections on this world, rather than Christ and the world to come.
And, as we look at this text, I want us to consider the mind, marks and mortality of one who is materialistically inclined so that we might do as Jesus commands, and Be on our guard against covetousness.”
Consider with me the mentality of the materialistically inclined.
I. The mentality of materialistically inclined [13-14]:
When we look at our passage we can’t help but see one who is preoccupied with one’s possessions or the lack of possessions. Verse 13 tells us about a man stands up and calls out to Jesus, “Hey Jesus. Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!”
Now, I do not think that the question in and of itself is not altogether wrong. He very well may be having a brother who had wronged him. And that can be a real legit problem. Even today, there is nothing like the death of a parent or grandparent to show a family’s true colors. Just ask any lawyer and he will tell you that the distribution of one’s estate can be one of the ugliest things that can be experienced. Siblings can be quite cutthroat when it comes to their inheritance. It may be that this guy was the victim of a bad deal by his brother.
And back in those days, if something like this happened, it was a common practice to go to a rabbi. A rabbi was one who would have been fluent in the law and he would be able to give guidance on the matter.
So again, the question that this guy asks is, most likely, not wrong in and of itself. What really reveals his heart is the timing of it all. He is supposed to be listening to Jesus. You have to understand that Son of God has been speaking. Jesus has been talking about the need to stand up and profess him before men. And what is the first thing this guy does when Jesus finishes? He barks out his little complaint about his brother and the goods that they are fighting over.
The two really are not connected in the least. I think it reveals that he hadn’t really been listening to Jesus all along. He was caught up in his own thoughts about his stuff and how he would get his hands on it, and he hadn’t heard a word Jesus said.
You see what I mean? He was so consumed with his precious things that he couldn’t pause for a minute to consider what was more important. He couldn’t take his mind off of it to give Jesus the due attention he deserved.
That’s the mentality of someone who is materialistically inclined. He is so fixated on his possessions and the stuff of this world, so much so that he is distracted from the things of greater importance. Jesus is no longer the main thing in his life. Something else has taken his affections and the throne of his heart.
When that happens, when your mind is unable to focus appropriately on the Lord and his calling in your life, what you have done is made for yourself an idol. You are demonstrating that you worship another in the place of God.
Years ago I had a friend who was really into the stock market. He was making a fair amount of money with certain transactions, and he was really good at calculating when to get in and when to get out. Over time he started getting into some really risky deals though. He was still doing really good. He was making even better money. But he found that it was consuming him. Every spare moment he had he was looking at the internet to see how the companies were fairing. He finally realized that his mind was so wrapped up in these things that it was taking his attention away from his wife and from the Lord. His personal time with the Lord was evaporating. He was eager for church to be over so he could get back home and see the latest stats. His time with his wife was also suffering because, even though he might be with her, mentally he was running numbers and schemes.
After a while the Lord helped him to see that he was becoming too consumed with the things of this world. It was almost all he ever thought about. So he repented of that before the Lord and sought to put things straight.
Now I want you to think about this and how it might apply to you. I know that something similar could be going on right at this minute. Someone here might be zoned out because their minds are caught up with a certain toy or a shopping spree or how your investments are doing.
It might be good for you to just pause today and think about what you think about. Or maybe it would be good for you to reflect on the conversations that you have. What you talk about is usually a good indicator of what is typically on your mind. What do your conversations revolve around? When you are with other people do your conversations typically focus on the things of this world—what you want, what you are going get, what other people have? This might be an indicator of where you heart is and what is most important to you.
You should analyze your thoughts and your conversations. They could very well reveal that you are a little too preoccupied with materialistic things. If you are, then that is where you need to begin your repentance before the Lord. We need to have the mentality where Christ is above everything. We cannot forget what is to be preeminent in your lives. If the things of this world are taking over out thoughts, then we need to be aware that this is something that needs to change
Now, having talked about the mentality that characterizes the materialistically inclined, let’s talk about the marks that define them. It is important that we single out some of the traits that distinguish a person who is a little too in love with the things of this world. Especially in light of what Jesus says in verse 15.
II. The marks of the materialistically inclined
In verse 15 Jesus says, “Take care and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Now this language is rather strong. It is the language of vigilance. It is the language of a soldier posted on watch duty. We are to be on guard so as not to allow the enemy to slip by and conquer. This verse tells us that Jesus is very concerned that we not let this materialistic spirit have any kind of hold on us.
And if Jesus is so insistent on us being on our guard against covetousness, then we ought to take a moment and think about what are some of the defining features of covetousness so that we can guard against them.
What are some marks of one who is materialistic? One of the primary indicators of covetousness is a person’s inability to be content with what they have.
A covetous person is someone who is unable to be satisfied with what God has given them. There is within them an unholy urge for more.
This is something that is, I believe, quite descriptive of our culture today. All we have to do is look at the numbers: It is said that the average American has over $7,000 in credit card debt. And if that is not telling, I don’t know what is. A person with this kind of debt on their credit card likely has the uncontrollable impulse to buy, buy, buy. They rack up all kinds of debt because they cannot control their appetite. They are always trying to get more, because they are not satisfied with what they have.
It started with finding a pair of shoes, then it turned into an all out spree for a whole wardrobe.
The credit card just feeds the impulse too because you can have it now with just a swipe of a piece of plastic. You don’t have to delay and do all that tedious work to actually earn the money or delaying the gratification of your urge.
There is certainly nothing wrong with upgrading or purchasing some of the nicer things in life. I don’t ever want you to think that I am advocating any form of asceticism. What I am trying to focus you on is that insatiable desire to consume.
And it is important to note that it is the discontent that is the real mark of materialism, because you can be materialistic without having debt.
A second mark of a materialistic person is a little thing we call envy. Envy is similar to what we just talked about, but it has a slightly different focus. An envious person is not so much concerned with his own things as he is concerned with the things of others. Envy is that resentment you feel when someone has something you don’t.
The proper reaction of a Christian person is to be happy for them. For instance, if Suzzie gets a new washing machine that actually picks up the close and puts in the detergent for you, your proper response is to rejoice that Suzzie was able to gain this machine. You are going to be happy that God has blessed them this way.
But that is not the way a materialistic person will react. Someone who is materialistic is going to be bitter. It might displayed directly in front of that person. It may be that it is only revealed behind that person’s back. But it there is going to be some sort of snearing. There is going to be some show of ire because they cannot stand it that this person has something that they do not.
Now I can think of at least one more mark of a materialistic person. It is not just their inability to be content with what they have or with what others have. It is also their inability to be content to give what they have to others.
I’m talking about here is their lack of charity. When someone is in need, a materialistic person is hard pressed to help out. And if they do, it is typically not with the kind of liberality that Christ demands of them. That’s because their love for the things of this world keeps them from parting with it.
The classic example is that of Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge. Remember that old miser? What was his problem? His hand and his heart were wrapped so tightly around his possessions that he couldn’t even bear to give up a single penny.
Scrooge is an example of someone who is memorized by materialism. And the Lord wants us to be aware of becoming a Scrooge. If we cannot part with the things that we own—if we are not able to give them away at a moment’s notice, then we need to understand that we are not living according to God’s will.
If you really think about it, the only thing that you can’t part with is your religion. We talked last week about standing up and acknowledging Christ in the public realm. That’s our job. Another way to think of it is like this: We can’t part with Christ when someone asks us to. Your heart must say, “I love Christ so much I can’t let go of him.”
But if that’s true of anything you possess—if you are not able to let go of it, then you are a miserly scrooge and your religion has become the worship of things.
Those are just a couple traits of a materialistically inclined person. And it is something we should think about. Are we content with what we have? Are we content with what others have? Are we content to give it away when the Lord calls us to?
These are the kinds of things that describe a person who has fallen into idolatry. And it is important that we analyze our hearts because these are the kinds of things that Jesus wants us to be on guard against.
Now, our passage mentions one more thing. We’ve talked about the mentality and the marks of a materialistic person. But you’ll notice that our passage also talks about his mortality.
III. The mortality of materialistically inclined
The parable that Jesus tells in verses 16 and following tells us that a materialistically inclined person will die. And when he dies, he will lose everything.
This story tells us of a man who had a great harvest. And his harvest is so great he decides to tear down his barns and builds bigger ones. Now, thus far, everything is ok. Nothing wrong here. If you have an economic boom like this man does, you have to expand your business. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is what comes next that is the problem.
The guy thinks to himself, “Now look! I don’t have to work anymore! I can kick up my feet and indulge myself in all the pleasure I want!” Eat, drink and be merry!
You see what that reveals? This reveals that the guy has no kingdom focus! It is not that he takes a little vacation. He’s lost himself in his wealth and he’s not taken into any consideration his life before God.
God calls us to work. No matter how much money we make the Lord still commands us to use the gifts that he has given us. God also calls us to be good stewards of our wealth. We are to use it wisely, thinking about how we can benefit His kingdom with it. One thing that God certainly does not call us to do is live a life of extravagant indulgence.
What this man has done is made his possessions and the pleasure he can get from them his god. His mind is completely focused on himself and this world.
And so God says to him, “Look, your life is going to be demanded of you this night!” What then? All is lost! There is no hope for him. He has had no thought towards eternity and what the Lord wants, and now eternity has come upon him. He is going to lose everything he gained and spend the rest of his life in hell, languishing in the poverty of his own soul.
If you want to live the materialistic life, then you must consider the mortality of a materialistic person. He will die, and have the rest of forever to lament it.
The Scriptures are replete with illustrations of this. Think of Lot’s wife. Remember how Lot was ushered out of Sodom because God was going to destroy it. As they were being hurried along by the angels, Lot’s wife turned back. It was a sign of how deeply attracted she was to the life she had there—the friends, the parties, the life of worldly care. And as she looked longingly towards the city of self indulgence she was turned into a pillar of salt. She became a monument to the soul killing power of materialism.
There is also the story of Achan. The people of Israel were to destroy everything when they stormed the city of Jericho. Not one thing was to be kept from the plunder. But Achan got greedy. A couple nice things caught his attention. He thought, “What harm could it be?” and he did not heed the word of God. He secretly took a coat and a gold bar. But what happened to him? His materialism caught up with him. God was greatly displeased and he ended up dying for it.
Demas is another example. Demas is held up as the quintessential specimen when it comes to covetousness. His epitaph is found in 2 timothy 4 where Paul says, “Demas, in love with this world, has abandoned me.”
Those sobering words shall ever mark his grave and indicate how much he lost. He traded the riches associated with eternal life for the temporal joys of this life.
To be sure, the Bible is quite clear on this point: He who is consumed with the things of this life will end up dying and missing out on the life to come.
The only alternative is to do as Jesus says here and be rich towards God. That is to say, be one who never lets anything come between him and Christ. Show that Christ is foremost in your life by having a right attitude towards your possessions and being a good steward of them.
In times past I’ve drawn from that great work of John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress. We may do so again because he illustrates well the very thing that Christ speaks of here. As they make their way to the Celestial City, Christian and his friend Hopeful spy a man on the side of the road calling to them. His name is Demas, and he is beckoning them to come over. Demas is the manager of a silver mine and he petitions them to come and dig in his mind. He holds out the promise of finding great treasure and, having done so, being able to enjoy the profits thereof. Christian upbraids his traveling companion because he is tempted by the proposition. And because of the godly rebuke they pass by. But they watch as some travelers behind them are wooed over. Demas makes the same call to three men, Mr. By ends, Mr. Moneylover, and Mr. Hold-the-world. Bunyan writes,
At the first beck [they] went over to Demas. Now whether they fell into the Pit by looking over the brink thereof, or whether they went down to dig, or whether they were smothered in the bottom by the damps that commonly arise, of these things I am not certain; but this I observed, that they never were seen again in the way.
That is the end of one whose god is this world and the things that are associated with it. He will not make it to the Celestial City.
May you then take heed to the warning that Christ gives. Consider the mind that you have and see to it that it does not have the preoccupation of a worldly minded person. And consider the marks that characterize such. See to it that Christ is your greatest treasure!
 Pro-Athletes Typcially Fumble the Financial Ball, Russ Wiles
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