WHo Owns Who?
The late American comedian George Carlin had a comedy routine called “Stuff” which he did in the early 80s. I was reminded of this schtick when I started preparing for this message on possessions and greed. Unfortunately, I cannot show the video clip due to the vulgar nature of some of the content so I will read the filtered transcript. Carlin talks about “stuff,” or his possessions, in his bit. He says, “All I want, (or) all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table; everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need: a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down; you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up (to keep your stuff safe) … Sometimes you gotta move. Why? Because you need more room for your stuff.”
Isn’t this true? We all have or do work hard to acquire things; we save our hard-earned money so we can buy the latest gadgets and gizmos, and once we acquire them, we spend more time and/or money taking care of or protecting our stuff. For example, if you buy a new phone, what is the first thing you usually buy for it? A case and maybe a screen protector to protect your new investment.
Look around the city of Bradenton. Whenever I see new construction around town, it is often for a new car wash, a bank, or a storage unit facility. Or, more specifically, a place to clean stuff, keep money safe, and store excess stuff that people probably don’t need. One of the fastest-growing businesses is storage buildings or container units. When you think about it, it is almost ridiculous that we have so much stuff that we can’t keep all of it in our homes that we have to pay someone a monthly fee to store the stuff we don’t use or have room for.
Carlin did a great job describing how we have allowed possessions to rule our lives. The stuff we own can and does just as easily become idols in our lives as fame, power, and money. Today I will discuss the Biblical view of possessions or our “stuff” and their role in our lives as believers.
Do you own your stuff, or does your stuff own you?
Disclaimer, the point of today is not to beat you up emotionally regarding possessions. I do not intend to bash those with many possessions, nor will I advocate that possessions are evil and idolatrous. I intend to shed light on what the Bible says about allowing possessions to become idols. Before I get much further into this message, I do not want you to tune me out because you believe you don’t have a problem with greed or possessions ruling your life. I want to warn you of the subtle trap greed and possessions can be in our lives if we allow them to remain unchecked and take root in our hearts. Author and Pastor Tim Keller write in his book COUNTERFEIT GODS about the idolatry of greed and possessions, “Greed hides itself so deeply, no one should be confident that it is not a problem for them.” One of the reasons why you may feel as though you are immune to the idolatry of greed and possessions is that you may not have a lot of money thus, you don’t have many possessions. Let me be clear you do not need to be rich or even have many possessions for greed and materialism to become an idol.”
Right now, you need to ask yourself, “Do you find significance, security, and worth in your possessions, or do you find your significance, security, and worth in Christ?” Does your stuff define you? Are you so consumed with what you own, where you live, and what others think of you that you dedicate your life to the gathering, protecting, and hoarding all you have acquired for yourself?
What does the Bible say about possessions?
Let’s dive into the Bible and see what Jesus says regarding riches, possessions, and greed.
Luke 12:13 – 21: Jesus was asked a question about possessions, and he responds first by telling them to be on guard or be aware to guard themselves against greed and not to allow their possessions to define who they are. He then tells a parable about a young rich man who spends his whole life gathering, protecting, and hoarding possessions. George Carlin would say, “He had so much stuff that he tore down the buildings that he kept his stuff in and built bigger and better buildings so he could put more stuff in them and spend his whole life resting and partying.” The problem was that the young man spent his whole life gathering and saving, thus wasting his life because he died at a young age. Verse 15 hits the nail on the head, “Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” In other words, don’t waste your life hoarding, acquiring, and protecting because your life does not depend on your stuff. The young man in the parable is not worried about using his abundance prudently. His intent is not to serve God or to help people. He is not even seeking to live or have a better life in lieu of his possessions. His only concern is self-indulgence. Jesus calls this person a fool because life is uncertain, and no one can guarantee a long life. He was a fool because he thought he had control over his possessions and his future. A little later, he tells his listeners not to waste their life investing in material things; invest in those things of spiritual value.
Matthew 19:16 – 30: In this passage, a young rich man came to Jesus and asked him, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Upon reading this account, one can see that this meeting with Jesus was doomed from the get-go. Why? Because the young ruler was asking what work or good act, HE must do to attain eternal life. He was looking for a good moral act to be his savior, not Jesus. Jesus tells the man that the one work he must do is go and sell all his possessions and give to the poor and follow him; he went away sad because he had many possessions, he wasn’t willing to depart with. Jesus talks about the difficulty of a rich person entering the kingdom of heaven because a person of wealth often seeks significance and security in his possessions and not in Jesus. However, author Warren Weirsbe writes, “Nowhere in the Bible are we taught that a sinner is saved by selling his goods and giving the money away. Jesus never told Nicodemus to do this, or any other sinner whose story is recorded in the Gospels. Jesus knew that this man was covetous; he loved material wealth. By asking him to sell his goods, Jesus was forcing him to examine his own heart and determine his priorities. With all his commendable qualities, the young man still did not truly love God with all of his heart. Possessions were his god. He was unable to obey the command, “Go and sell … come and follow.”
Matthew 6:19 – 21: Lastly, in this account, Jesus informs his listeners not to lay up their treasures in earthly possessions that will decay, go out of style, or consume their time protecting because others want to steal them. In this message, Jesus talks point-blank about the impermanence of earthly possessions. Everything we own or possess will decay, go out of style, and may be lost or stolen. He essentially says, “When you die, you can’t take what you have with you.” Jesus’ warning is contrary to the western mindset. We live in a world and society where there is no such thing as contentment. The world constantly throws discontent at us, so we will always want and desire more. The world tells us we should never be satisfied with what we have, and that we should always want and pursue more.
A proper perspective on possessions
Obviously, we live in a society of materialism, and it remains that we all have stuff and having stuff is not necessarily bad. So, what is the true follower of Jesus’ proper perspective on possessions, greed, and our stuff? The Bible clarifies that if the stuff we own begins to own us, we have a problem.
John 6:26 – 29: Jesus tells us not to waste our time, energy, and resources working to acquire or invest in material things of this world. Instead, we are called to invest in spiritual things. He says to use your time, energy, resources, and possessions for the Kingdom of God.
Acts 2:42 – 47: This is a very famous passage and one that makes for a great sermon or even sermon illustration but, unfortunately, is not practiced. In the ancient Church, there was a practice among believers. They would meet, pray, worship, and live in community together. We also see that in the early church, the believers felt compelled (maybe by the prodding of the Holy Spirit) to sell or share all their possessions so that no need would go unmet in the body of Christ. Those who had a lot shared their “stuff” with those who didn’t. I believe they understood the value of community. If there was a need, the people banded together to meet it. It was as simple as that. What was the result? The Lord blessed them and added to their numbers daily.
Throughout the New Testament, we see the body of Christ getting together to meet the needs of those with needs. Am I suggesting we all sell our possessions and distribute the proceeds throughout this congregation? No, I am not, and I do not believe this passage was put in the Bible as a rule for the church. The author, Luke, put this account into the Bible (under the direction of the Holy Spirit) because he wanted us to see that the early church was not going to be in bondage to anything; they were completely sold out to Jesus, and their earthly possessions did not have dominion over them.
This teaches us that the Church must spend more time meeting the needs of the Body of Christ as an act of worship and less time with programs, meetings, and buildings and categorizing them as worship. Does God want us to sell everything and give to those in need? Maybe. This was a conviction the Spirit placed on the early church, and they faithfully responded to the Spirit because their possessions did not own them. Another question we should ask is, are we willing to part with our possessions if that is what the Spirit is nudging us to do? Think long and hard about that question. How would you respond?
In closing, in his book COUNTERFEIT GODS, Timothy Keller introduces the concept of deep idols (these are below-the-surface idols that are sins in our hearts that affect our basic motivation so much so that they become idols) in our lives. I believe materialism, possessions, and greed are what he calls deep idols. He writes about the effects of deep idols, “(T)he deep idols have to be dealt with at the heart level. There is only one way to change at the heart level and that is through faith in the gospel.” He continues, “The solution to stinginess is the reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, how he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to envy someone else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confer on you a remarkable status – one that money cannot give you. Money cannot save you from tragedy or give you control in a chaotic world. Only God can do that.”
We must deal with our idols at a heart level. Our hearts reflect who we are. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope of ever having a changed heart.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 73.
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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