For about five minutes, nearly everyone in America is disgusted with how stores require their employees to work on Thanksgiving evening. Then, as the retail stores open, that thought gets thrown to the side. The greed of companies might be bad, but how can you pass up such good deals?
Even if you don’t go shopping on Black Friday and consider yourself above the masses, soon enough, in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’ll find yourself looking for and thinking about how to buy all kinds of stuff – even if you hate shopping, like me.
You may not be in the rushing hordes of shoppers, but the love of stuff is a serious problem. Our excitement over the latest toys, gadgets, or clothes can very quickly shade over into idolatry. After all, how is our fascination with shiny new objects much different from the devotion to images of men, birds, animals, and creeping things that Paul talks about in Romans 1? We might not bow down to the things in our shopping bags, but we spend an awful lot of time, energy, and money getting them.
That’s what materialism is – the love of getting the stuff. The love of the feeling of having something new, something shiny, something that impresses everyone else. The love of feeling like you’ve achieved something because you spent 30% less on it than you would have in October. Those loves are idolatrous because they show that our attention, energy, and affection are centered on something else, in the place of God.
But the answer to materialism is not to do away with every single thing. Killing Christmas isn’t the solution. Getting rid of everything and living in a cardboard box won’t stop your idolatry. Even if you did those things, you would quickly find something else worship.
In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus said that if our hand causes us to sin, we should cut it off. The problem (and the point) is that it is not your hand that causes you to sin. Neither is it your stuff. It’s your heart.
Throwing away all your nice things and refusing to go shopping this season will not make you a holier person than those who don’t. Only God’s Spirit can make you that.
The solution to the rampant materialism that rears its head in our culture during this season is not to do away with shopping, sales, or Christmas presents. The solution is to love Christ more deeply.
I think there’s a real, satanic reason why the love of things tends to well up in our hearts at this time of the year in particular. What better time is there to distract us from the Giver of every good and perfect gift? And what better way is there to distract us from the Lord, than to trick into settling for good things that are lesser than him who can give all those things, and abundantly more?
When we are thankful to the Giver, we don’t disregard his gifts. Our affection is directed in the right place by our remembering that it is God who gives us good things. We can be generous, and in return enjoy good things that God gives to us without fixating on the stuff.
Instead of rejecting the good things God has made, we return them to their proper place. That’s how you kill the love of stuff—not by hating it, but by loving God.
Caleb Greggsen lives and works in Louisville, KY. He serves as a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville. He holds a Master’s of Divinity and a Bachelor’s of Applied Science (Psychology), and is pursuing fulltime ministry.