Regarding material possessions

As a Christian, I often hear of a philosophy that states we should spend more time with our spouse and God, and secondly, our immediate family, and thirdly, friends and extended family. They are very important in our lives. Careers (this means being a pastor, elder, deacon, or missionary as well as an engineer or designer), money, vacations, cars, hobbies are not important things. I believe there are very good intentions behind this philosophy, but it seems off to me. Let’s examine this philosophy.

It is interesting and sounds noble on the surface, but like all such spiritual advice, what about practical application? What would a person’s life be like who lived this way? I’m not sure where this belief comes from, but it sounds to me like it is calling material possessions and careers bad. This is a common philosophy I find in Christianity, and I want to address it here – there is some truth to it, and some misconceptions I believe.

If careers and material possessions are bad things because they are not important in life, what is the alternative?! If you are arguing this perspective, then it logically follows that you should ONLY focus on the important things in life. So let’s not live half-way with this philosophy, but live it to the tee, otherwise, we don’t really believe but just like to say pretty things and not think them through. So the truly spiritual person would get rid of ALL unimportant things in life. This thinking taken to its purest form would look like this: A husband and wife would quit their jobs, get rid of all hobbies and material possessions, and spend ALL DAY with God, each other, and their kids in appropriate increments (5 hours a day with God, 4 hours a day with the spouse, and the rest of the day with kids and friends). They cannot have a house because that would take away from the wife’s time with the husband, kids, and friends. We’d have to all live in a warm climate and eat and sleep under trees that bore fruit all year long. But we can take this argument further. Isn’t it God that is the most important? Spouses, kids, friends – aren’t they less important than God? We should then be running our lives in such a way that we severely limit this as well. We should all live as monks or nuns and not have kids, and therefore have tons of time to spend with God (say 8 hours a day, and then our friends and our extended family, mainly to tell them about God. We would not need jobs or money because we have no possessions. We could just climb trees and eat fruit when we are hungry. Is this how God would like us to live? As soon as any of us DO something, like spending too much time climbing trees and looking for fruit, or making a fire, or collecting firewood, we will be sinning. How much time would it take to start sinning? For the MOST spiritual, the instant they entertained the thought of making a fire at the expense of spending it with God or family or friends.

Saying that material possessions, hobbies, and careers aren’t important is unbiblical. Making a distinction between the sacred and profane is not based on reality — the sacred and profane, the worldly and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, are intricately interwoven like threads in clothing — pulling them apart results in a pile of thread and no longer an item of clothing it once was. We can thank Aristotle for this misunderstanding of the world that has plauged Christianity ever since.

According to the Old Testament, people worked 6 days a week, and rested on the 7th. This would mean that they worked a little harder than we do today. We have more time to spend with our families today. God ordained this, if I remember correctly. Why would the wise women in Proverbs have an estate to take care of if God were against material possessions? Not just a little hovel of a house, but an ESTATE for God sakes. For that matter, why did God give Solomon great wealth even when he never asked for it? That’s mean of God to give him something unimportant that will potentially destroy his family and his walk. Why does God talk with great pride of the craftsman who made the ark of the covenant and the other items in the temple if God thought gifts, abilities, and actually using them to make material objects were unimportant or even bad?

He’s not against working and careers. If we are looking at proverb’s example of a wise women, she is VERY industrious in what she does. At the time, the only sphere of influence she had was the affairs of the estate, so she did that with all her heart. However, today, more choices are open to women were they can apply their God-given abilities in the workforce too. Managing the estate can now be a joint effort between the husband and the wife. God did not design the wife to work and have an influence ONLY at home. Where in the Bible did God decree this?!

Are the activities of career, hobby, and spending time with family and friends so distinct? With the above stated philosophy, it can be assumed that they are separated from one another and they don’t collide (My wife, my kids, my work, my hobbies are experienced completely separate from one another) However, I do not believe this is the case. God is with me when I work, and I am always asking him for advice and talking with him while I am being creative, designing, making decisions, in short—the daily activities that make up my job he is like a co-worker, and in another sense, my boss. Thinking that God is only a daily companion of people in ministry careers is a sad misunderstanding. I can spend time with God and my wife by reading or talking about spiritual things like a devotion-type setting or at the very least, praying together. Secondly, my hobbies are not something enjoyed by me alone, but by others as well. I tend to enjoy hobbies that I can do with my wife (skiing, hiking, weight-lifting, playing video games, camping, biking, working on the garden, etc.) At the same time, we can do hobbies that are more personal while we are together in the same room, such as web design and scrap booking, reading, etc. I enjoy cars in such a way that I can spend time with my friends enjoying car shows, races, etc.

A more moderate version of this philosophy might be saying not to neglect God, spouse, kids, and parents for other Godly pursuits in life, such as material possessions, hobbies, and careers. It appears that even this approach seems to favor the latter group of activities rather then the former for bad reasons — because those activities can be self-serving without benefit to others. You get recognition and more money for doing a good job; you get cool toys to play with, and you have fun doing cool stuff. This is strange to me because those are good things that can come from good intentions as easily as bad ones. Doing a good job means you get to keep your job, and God is proud of your stewardship in the job he has given you and you continue to do what you love because God gave you that gift. Playing with cool toys means you get to play with them with others, such as your wife, kids, and friends and your relationships increase and thrive playing together. Doing cool things can be done with others that enrich relationships in doing them. How can God be against these kind of motivations behind careers, material possessions, and hobbies?! Is buying a dog for the family to play with bad? Is having a good job doing what you love somehow bad becuase having fun is selfish?

So maybe a dog isn’t too bad. How about a minivan? How about a sports car? How about a luxury car? Where do we draw the line? Is it at a certain price? If you think buying a used minivan for the family is ok, but think buying a Mercedes is indulging in “material possessions” (a.k.a Tony Campolo’s speech on wealth) than one can just go to poor people in other countries that have trouble finding clothes and food and point to you as indulging in material possessions. If Bill Gates is purchasing a Mercedes, it’s the equivalent of tossing a quarter in a water fountain to me, which is a far cry from indulging. Regarding price, everything is relative, so any judgement on others being obsessed with “material possessions” must observed with a relative scale in mind, or ideally, don’t judge at all and throw out the scale.

Like all good things in life, without doing them in moderation, they become bad. There is an error in thinking that because something can be abused, it is worth avoiding. A person obsessed with someone else is unhealthy. A person who doesn’t want any human contact at all is unhealthy. Are relationships bad and to be avoided because they can be abused? No. A person who eats too much is unhealthy. A person who eats too little is unhealthy. Is eating bad and to be avoided because it can be abused? Of course not.

So if material possessions, relationships, hobbies, and careers are good things, but can be unhealthy, then what is that thing that causes a good thing to be a bad thing? The heart. A person’s motivation for doing it. If you are doing a good activity for unhealthy reasons, then you must examine your heart. Why do I care more about my career than my family? Why do I want to spend all of my time in church as an elder and not with my family? Why do I want to be a missionary to the world when I leave my family behind even though they beg for me to stay and are driven even to suicide (a.k.a Dr. Bob Pierce who founded World Vision)? These are all good questions – one must examine their heart if they find themselves not doing a good activity in moderation. I use these career examples to clarify a point that a career is a career, whether it is spreading the good news of God, or designing a great engine for a car. God sees both of them as the same. To think that “doing the work of God” excuses people to live a poorly moderated live (too much career) while judging people in non-ministeral careers who do the same thing as sinners is hypocritical.

It is your heart and your motivation for doing an activity. If you want to rise up in your career because you love power, that’s bad. If you want to rise up in your career because you have a gift of administration and love doing it, then that’s GOOD. If you want to rise up in your career because you love money, that’s bad. If you want material possessions so you can have all the coolest toys out of pride, that is bad. To have a hobby that is interesting but you do it to get away from the family, that is bad. If you eat too much because you deal with painful things in life by eating, that’s bad. If you are clingy to people in relationships because you need them to fulfill or complete you, that’s bad. If you want to preach the good news to the world but neglect your own family you are making a decision that you want to make the biggest bang for your buck in the kingdom of God, and that isn’t going to be at home ministering to only 2 or 3 people, it’s gonna be out in the world ministering to thousands. This is bad. Choosing to spend a lot of time with your family because how many people you save isn’t important nor will it get you more points in God’s eyes, but obeying him by putting your family first — that is GOOD.

    2 Responses to “Regarding material possessions”

    1. Elise

      This blog entry is very profound to me, . As a recent college grad new to the workforce, I’ve had a really hard time reconciling my faith to my day-to-day (often mundane) life spent behind a computer in a cubicle. I’m not positive I’m using my God-given talent – developed further through my own sweat and hard work – in the best way I can. But the pay is good and allows me and my husband to spend our first year out of school and first year as a married couple comfortably in Southern California – not an easy feat! I often find myself wondering, though, how I can balance happiness and spirituality with things that – at first glance – seem to draw me away, with working and commuting being at the top of my list.

      The part of this entry I will certainly remember is this:

      Doing a good job means you get to keep your job, and God is proud of your stewardship in the job he has given you and you continue to do what you love because God gave you that gift. Playing with cool toys means you get to play with them with others, such as your wife, kids, and friends and your relationships increase and thrive playing together. Doing cool things can be done with others that enrich relationships in doing them. How can God be against these kind of motivations behind careers, material possessions, and hobbies?! Is buying a dog for the family to play with bad? Is having a good job doing what you love somehow bad becuase having fun is selfish?

      In regards to the job, it may not turn out to be the best use of my passions and abilities in the long-run, but it is serving a purpose for the time-being and, in all fairness, allowing me to develop relationships with family and friends without any inhibiting stress of extreme financial worry or distress. It’s allowing me to learn to work with and relate to people that I generally find difficult and – though I don’t always admit it – allowing me to like them and develop friendships. I don’t think that can be a bad thing! 🙂

      I’m really enjoying working my way through your blog – I got here from MindonFire – thanks for the insights and for letting me get to know you a little better through the internet!

      Reply to this comment.
    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Elise – thanks for stopping by and commenting! Sounds like we have similar jobs. Yea — I’m also in front of the computer all day. I also wonder if this is what God is having me do for now, and that someday, I will be doing something greater — It seems like that is true. All I can say is that whenever I get discouraged about the meaninglessness of it, which definately happens, I pray for direction, and every time, I am filled with fire again. I can hardly break away when then end of the day rolls around. God is definately with us.

      I totally agree with you about its benefits — it’s been great to practice mastering web design and learning to work with people. I’ve been able to use some of the things I’ve learned about web design at work to help local churches and non-profit businesses, which have really been a lot of fun for me.

      I apologize if this post seemed a little harsh. Every time I look at it I feel guilty; I should have been more laid-back instead of so intense. I guess I’m just reacting a bit because my wife and I take a lot of disapproval from the Christian community, whom we care about deeply, but they seem to judge us a little because our jobs aren’t ministry related and we end up doing quite well financially. I feel like I need to explain somehow why I don’t think God agrees with that perspective. He seems to put us in places for a time, and then moves us again – right now we’re in a financially comfortable spot, but later on, who knows?

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