EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written 37 years ago, demonstrating that “There is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9-10).
We may think that the church is confronted with many problems but it faces the same basic problems that God’s people have always faced. Man does not change. His circumstances may be different but he is the same as the man of the past ages. One may tend to think that he is sophisticated and not like those who have gone before, but this is to deceive one’s self.
Man’s basic problem has been and still is materialism. The physical and temporal takes precedence over the spiritual.
This was Eve’s problem. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). When she saw. What she could see with the eye lead away from God.
Esau failed for the same reason. Something to eat and to satisfy the physical was more important than the birth right (Gen. 25:29-34; Heb. 12:16). The first generation that came out of Egyptian bondage made the same mistake. Fellowship with God was not as important to it as food, ease, and comfort. They did not realize that man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Deu. 8:3). The results were tragic. Only two knew where the values of life were found.
The first temptation of Christ was to satisfy the physical at the expense of the spiritual (Mat. 4:4). Satan knew where man was most vulnerable and therefore his first approach was an appeal to Christ to place the physical above the spiritual. I am convinced that this is my prime problem. I belong to the human family and it is folly for me to think that the problem of humanity is not my problem. Ignoring it only makes it easier to get caught up in it without being conscious of it. Let me mention some of the fruits and show the prevalence of the problem.
How many Christian lives are centered around things? There is more unrest, anxiety, and disturbed lives of Christians today than any time I have ever known. But why is this so? Is it because the gospel no longer provides peace and contentment? Are the promises of peace and contentment empty words? Surely not, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). When life turns around things there is always anxious care and a lack of contentment. Jesus points out the fact that divided hearts are disturbed and anxious (Mat. 6:24-34) The price one pays for allowing things to dominate life is far greater than any sacrifice that one must make to place the kingdom of God with its spiritual values first (Mat. 6:33).
Convenience and Ease
The tragic results of a materialistic attitude in the church today m seen in the desire of the Christians for ease and convenience. Many have the idea that they have no responsibility in anything that is not convenient or easy. Hardship is a rejected principle of the gospel. Many have the idea that if they are confronted with any hardship it is an indication that God’s blessings are being withheld from them.
Materialism is manifest in the prevalence of indifference in the church. Many could care less if error, denominationalism, and liberalism consume the church. Materialistic Christians do not want to be bothered, buildings are to be paid for so the truth must be softened so that it loses its cutting edge.
Materialism is seen in the pleasure syndrome of our day. Christians spend more on pleasure than they give to the Lord. Churches are turned into recreational centers because of the prominence of pleasure today. Can anyone conceive of Paul urging the church at Antioch or Philippi to build a race track or a wrestling arena for its members (1 Cor. 9:24; Heb. 12:1)? It would have been as appropriate for Paul to have told churches to build their recreational places as it is for churches today to have their family life centers. How tragic to build playhouses while the world dies without the gospel of Christ.
Religious people of Christ’s day turned the temple into a house of merchandise. He cleansed it early in His ministry (John 2:13-16). But the power of materialism does not die easily. In less than three years were back in business (Mat. 21:12-13). While the blessings of God are conditional and are not without cost they are not for sale. When Jesus sent the twelve out on the limited commission, He said freely ye have received freely give (Mat. 10:8). While this was a reference to miracles of confirmation the principle is true in every realm (Isa. 55:1). We must be careful lest we turn the church into a den of thieves. The craving of the body for the things to satisfy it can push aside the prominence, the need and the values that really count in life unless one is continually aware of what the problem is.