Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Megan, a listener, writes in: “Pastor John, I have a confession: I love stuff, and I am very materialistic. I buy things online and get a thrill in buying, as well as getting things in the mail. I know I need to stop this, and I want to stop. But how do I? And why do I do it in the first place?”

I have tasted enough of what Megan is talking about that I think I can speak with some sense of empathy, even though for me the temptation is almost entirely restricted to books, as you can imagine. I love to look at Amazon. I love to immediately click on some new book, like Doug Sweeney on Edwards the Exegete. Oh, hasten the day, right?! And I just love to be able to click once and know it will be here in two days. And when the doorbell rings and the FedEx guy is walking down the sidewalk, there rises up in me a kind of euphoria that I am going to get to open a box, and in it is going to be a book.

I think I know what she is talking about. For her it may be clothing. I don’t know what it is for her, but she likes stuff and books are stuff. They are more than stuff. But they are stuff. And so I feel the issue here — and we are swimming in treacherous waters. Why is it that we get this kind of pleasure from ordering things — things that we can hold in our hands? And why is it that our pleasure rises when those things come in the mail?

Life-Giving Power

And as I have tried to analyze my own heart as well as read about the experience of others and look in the Bible and look at the way people market things to us, it seems to me that the pleasure rises mainly from the elusive sense that buying and receiving things is life-giving. It feels life-giving. Or it feels like I get a sense of empowerment here.

When this book arrives, for example, there is a kind of this amorphous euphoric sense that life is going to be better for me now. My knowledge is going to be larger. My influence is going to be greater. Some of my weaknesses and limitations of ignorance and looking foolish because I had once never heard of this book are going to be overcome. In other words, there is a sense that somehow my life will go better, and I will be a stronger, more capable person.

And, of course, for someone else it might not be books. It may be clothing or tools or gadgets or the newest device. And in their case, the life-giving empowerment wouldn’t be necessarily like mine. It might be that you are going to look better or you are going to be more productive or you are going to be more cool with your latest data device and so on.

And we should admit, in passing here, that to some degree there is truth in that — maybe. We may indeed be enhanced in some way to be more productive or fruitful in a good way, not just a bad way.

Contentment Without the Stuff

But if we are honest — and it seems to me that Megan is really being honest — the pleasures that we feel are not often totally noble. They are not coming primarily from the fact that we are being equipped as better servants of Christ because we just clicked and got it in two days and could open the box. So we need to hear the words of Jesus:

Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15).

It seems to me that Jesus strikes right at the heart of the matter. Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. That feeling, that arrival of the package in the mail, that feeling is an illusion. The euphoria is short-lived. It is shallow. It keeps us from deeper pleasures that we were made for.

Another reason I think we are so hungry for this kind of elusive, life-giving, empowering pleasure is that there is a void in our hearts — some measure of emptiness that Jesus intends to satisfy by himself with his fellowship, his ministry. Paul says in Philippians 4:11–13 that he learned the secret of contentment so that he could have little and stay content. No doorbell ringing this week, no packages showing up — totally content. Or if the doorbell rings three or four times in a week, he’s still totally content. And the reason he gave is in 3:8: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ was such an overwhelming value and precious treasure for Paul that the ups and downs of having much or having little, doorbell ringing or doorbell not ringing, clicking or not clicking, did not destroy his contentment. His craving heart was satisfied in Jesus. So Megan and I need to devote ourselves to feeding our hearts on Christ and his word.

But not just his word and his fellowship are satisfying. I am thinking now of Acts 20:35, which quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The fact that Megan or I would get more pleasure out of receiving than giving shows that something has gone wrong in our hearts. We were designed as followers of Christ to experience even greater euphoria in giving than in the doorbell ringing and a new package coming. And perhaps this pleasure has fallen into disuse for Megan, maybe, and she needs to recover it. And that very pleasure of giving would dampen the pleasures of material possession.

Abundance Can Wait

I would mention just two other points real quick. One is that Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that he didn’t want to be enslaved or mastered by anything. We are free in Jesus. Megan, as a Christian, is free in Jesus. And she and I should be on the lookout for anything that has an enslaving force in our lives. And when we spot it, we should wave the flag of Christian liberty in front of it and say, “You will not enslave me. I am a free woman [or man]. You, material thing, will not control me,” and we renounce it in the name of our freedom.

And maybe just one more. This is the best thing I could say because it is so breathtaking, it is so influential and powerful when it grips us. Megan, listen carefully: “Let no one boast in men” — or I would say, in things. “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).

Megan, if you are a Christian, you already possess all material things. You really do. Your Father created and owns everything — everything in the universe. And as his child, you will inherit it, and it will be at your disposal in the age to come on the new earth, in the new heavens, and you will be able to do with it as you please. This is why Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, . . . but . . . in heaven (Matthew 6:19–20). In heaven we will have them forever. We won’t lose them — no rust, no thief. And we will be able, for the very first time, to use them with joy without any greed, without any covetousness, without any idolatry.

So in a sense, abundance of material things can wait. We have more important things to do right now. Love God, love people, and find the greatest pleasure in giving.