The Fallacy of Materialism: Solomon

Joel Snider


Sermon delivered by Joel Snider, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., on October 4, 2009.

1 Kings 10:14-25

Meditation Text:

       Materialism is not the same as having money.  As we’ve seen, once basic needs are       met, there is no relationship between money and happiness.  Materialism, on the other           hand, does predict a lack of happiness and satisfaction.

 

                                                                   —Madeline Levine in The Price of Privilege

 

 

 

 

The news for the past couple of weeks has been about influenza.  Where are the cases breaking out—what towns, counties, and school systems?  How many cases are there and what is the reaction?  Have the officials reacted appropriately for the danger?  We know of some colleges where they have quarantined dorms.  Others have forced students to return home until they are better.  We all share news about an outbreak.  Maybe it is a child’s roommate at school or places of work.  We are all interested in knowing how much, where, and what is going on.

 

If officials announce appropriately and everybody has warning, there is at least that good sense but there is also a lot of frustration and anger when people feel they have not been told appropriately that someone around them actually has influenza.

 

If you watch the news, they are always talking about doctors who are being asked to write prescriptions for Tamiflu.  The company that makes the masks that are helpful in filtering out the virus are being overworked.  The news is fairly constant and it almost makes us forget what was going on this time last year. 

 

Just in case you have managed to forget, I will remind you that this time last year was about the time the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 700 points in one day.  It was the time that Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were collapsing, and with that, almost the banking system of the world.  If you are not aware, there was a week about a year ago where we came very close that if you had taken your ATM card and tried to withdraw money, you would not have been able to get anything.  If you are one of those people who are anti-technology and you are thinking, “I don’t use an ATM card,” your check would not have been any good either.  We were that close to financial collapse.

We look at the things that people were doing in their personal lives.  We look at the things that helped bring about some of this.  We often want to blame it on certain people who borrowed inappropriate mortgages, but the truth is just about everybody had a stake in it.  We found out that a credit card with an introductory rate of zero still had to be paid off and it was not a good idea to borrow up to 125% of the value of your home to buy a car or take a vacation.  We also learned that resort condos were as subject to the greater fool theory as the stock market.  If you don’t understand that, I will get someone to explain it to you.

 

Everybody was on a binge buying stuff.  We were gorging on material goods and we were trying to defer payment.  We were trying to live above our means.  One pundant described it as a sickness.  It was described as affluenza, taking affluence and influenza and reminding us that it was a sickness, a sickness in wanting more, a sickness in trying to acquire things, a sickness where nothing ever seemed to be enough.

 

This reminder of affluenza brings us to the third of a three-part series on the shortcomings in the parenting of David.  We have looked at the different children of David and the things that David did that you have to shake your head at and wonder what he was thinking.  In today’s case, as in the other two cases, we have to look to the words of Jesus to find a corrective. 

 

The first week, we looked at Amnon, not one of the more commonly known children of David.  We discovered that trying to stop your children from being unhappy is not the same thing as making your children happy.  If you really want to make your children happy, the best way to do it is to teach them to have purpose and mission in their lives.

 

The second week, we looked at the man with five-pound hair.  They said he cut his hair and it weighed so many shekels.  That was about five pounds.  Absalom was the good-looking, advantaged son of David who always had every opportunity but did not have the character or the virtue to match the opportunity that was his.  He just wound up doing all sorts of evil things.  We were reminded that, as families, it would be a good thing to teach our children what we stand for, what Christian virtues are ours because of what we believe and what we hope they will believe as well.

 

Today, in the great scheme of parenting, we come to the limits of materialism and Solomon is our example.  It is hard to believe that Solomon has shortcomings.  Solomon is so often portrayed as a great and good character in the Bible, and in many ways he is.  When Jesus is trying to describe the glory of wealth to his disciples, he said, “Consider the lilies of the field.  Even Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed as such as these.”  We think of that as a good thing.

 

We know that when God said to Solomon, “Pray for anything you want and I will give it to you,” Solomon prudently prayed for wisdom.  God said, “You could have asked for all this other stuff but I am going to give you what you want.  I am going to give you wisdom.”  As a child, I always remember that story of the great example of how wise Solomon was when the two women were arguing about whose child it was and Solomon said, “Cut the child in half and give a half to each,” knowing that the true mother would rather give up her child than see that happen.  What a wise person he was.

But yet, Solomon, late in life, seemed to get away from all this.  The temple was a wonderful thing.  When he built the temple, it was something of a public works display, but later in life as he built more things, instead of just simply bringing people in to work for the good of the nation, he made them virtual slaves.  He was a hard, hard taskmaster. 

 

In the beginning there was great wealth.  It was just astounding what kind of wealth there was.  In the beginning, the wealth accrued to the nation, but in the end, Solomon was taxing the people so bitterly that it was simply for his own wealth.  The things that he started off with which were so wise, so smart, and so good seemed to just get the best of him.

 

The Book of Ecclesiastes was either written by Solomon or was written by someone who was putting words that they thought appropriate into the mouth of Solomon.  Listen to this from the second chapter:  “I have made great works.  I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.  I made myself gardens and parks and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.  I made myself pools from which to water the forests of growing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and I had slaves that were born in my house.  I also had great possessions of herds and flocks and more than anyone who had ever been in Jerusalem before.  I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of the kings of the provinces.  I have singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh.  So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem.  My wisdom remained with me.  Whatever my eyes desired, I did not keep from them.  I kept my heart from no pleasure for my heart found pleasure in my toil and this was my reward for my toil.  Then I considered all that my hands had done, and the toil I had spent in doing it, and all was vanity and chasing after the wind.”   He realized when he came to this place that all these things that he had acquired simply did not make him happy.

 

If you are a doubter and if you believe that, in some way, this is just church talk and reading out of the Bible, let me just give you some very current statistics and very current results of research.  In 1958, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote his landmark book about prosperity in America called The Affluent Society.  If you compare dollars then to dollars now, in dollars then the average person had about $9,000 in average income.  Today, that is about $20,000 which is over twice the amount.  Are we twice as happy as people were in the 1950’s? 

 

You may be surprised to find out that teenage suicide has quadrupled, that the rate of divorce has doubled, and that the rates of serious emotional illness, such as depression, anxiety disorder, behavior disorder, self-mutilation, and substance abuse have gone through the roof.  Why, if we have so much more, are we not that much happier?

 

Let me just tell you a little more.  Ed Diener and David Myers have looked at the issue of money and happiness in over 45 countries and 1,000,000 people, and what they have found out is that as long as your basic needs are met, money doesn’t make you any happier.  They say you are just as likely to be happy going to work on the bus in overalls as driving to work in a suit in your own Mercedes. 

 

Then there is this:  Studies on lottery winners show that within eight weeks almost all individual lottery winners return to the same state of happiness that they had before they won the lottery.  Think about that. 

Think about something that you really wanted and you got it.  How long did it make you happy?  Eight weeks seems like a long time to me.  When most of us get something that we really wanted, it is usually much quicker than eight weeks that we have moved on to the next thing that we think would make us happy.  None of us think we are materialists.  We all have things, but none of us would ever think that we are materialistic.  But the truth is we have all bought the bill of goods from advertising.  Do you remember the Lexus commercial that said People who say that money can’t buy happiness don’t know how to spend it right?  Most of us are quicker to believe that than we are quicker to believe what the scripture says.  Once your basic needs are met, it just doesn’t make you any happier.

 

Think about David and Solomon.  It is a typical pattern.  David was a shepherd’s son who rose to prominence and eventually became king.  But David knew what it was like, not only to work hard, to be poor, and to be in danger, but also to move from that all the way to where he was as king.  As the older people today tell the younger people, “He knew the value of a dollar.  He worked for it.”

 

Solomon, on the other hand, had been used to wealth all of his life.  His dad was already king in Jerusalem by the time Solomon came along.  Solomon had simply enjoyed wealth all of his life and it was an assumption that this was what he was going to have, and it didn’t make him happy.

 

If we want to listen for an echo of Jesus’ voice from the New Testament that is going to tell us as families and parents what we might do with our children in order to combat this foolishness of materialism, what’s the word?  We have heard a dozen times that Jesus spoke more about money than prayer.  We have a lot of things to choose from that Jesus said.  Why don’t we just take a simple one where Jesus says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”?  Nothing is even mentioned about money.  What is the truth about our money and how often do we talk to our children about the spiritual truth of money?

 

If you have children in your home, how many of you have talked to your children about sex?  If something comes on TV that you think is inappropriate, how many of you have tried to offer a corrective word and say, “We don’t believe that.  Here’s what we believe about God’s good gift in this area.”  Then compare that to how many of us have challenged what we have seen on TV, challenged what our children come home saying or have taught our children overtly and directly what we believe the truth about money is.  I don’t mean the value of a dollar.  I am talking about in spiritual relationship to God.  How many of us have taught our children about money?  Not as many as who have taught about the other.

 

Let me just say a couple of things.  One, here’s the truth.  It’s all God.  We think if you tithe that 90% is yours and 10% is God’s.  That is not what the Bible says.  The Bible says it is all God’s.  You give 10% if you tithe because that is a symbol of the fact that you have managed it well enough to give that much because all of it is God’s.  It isn’t 90% mine and 10% God’s; it is all God’s.  God has given me control of it.  Stewardship is not about giving to the church.  Stewardship is about using everything God has entrusted to me in a way that pleases God.  Have we said that to our children? 

The second thing.  A tithe really is the symbol of this belief.  I don’t believe many people at all can give 10% of what they have to God unless they manage the rest of it very well.  Tithing is a symbol of the belief that God owns it all.

 

Then this.  Really, honestly, where is our ultimate trust?  I mentioned this about a year ago during the financial crisis but it seems worth saying again today.  If I burn a twenty dollar bill, where does it go?  What happens to it?  If you owned Washington Mutual stock a year and a half ago, it was worth about $20.00 a share.  If you kept it until today, it is worth about one penny per share.  Where did all that value go?  When people talk about how much wealth was lost in the stock market, where did it all go? 

 

What about the housing market?  I don’t know many people whose houses are not worth less today than they were worth two years ago?  Mine is.   We fill out financial statements at the bank when we borrow money.  Part of what I have is the equity in my house.  The house would be worth less today than it was two years ago.  Where did it go?  It is still the same house.  It still looks the same.  We have this foolish notion that wealth is real and concrete.  We think the things of God are spiritual and that maybe they are real.  We all have this sense that money is what is real.  But let me tell you something, if you burn a twenty dollar bill, it is just as gone as anything.  It doesn’t exist anymore.  The banking system is based on faith, the government, and the people who make decisions, and the reason that a twenty dollar bill is worth $20.00 or thereabouts is because we all share the same faith.  Stock is worth whatever we say at the end of the day when you watch the news based on faith in the investment system.  When that faith goes south as it has over the past year, all of a sudden that faith makes things worth less.  The real estate market is based on faith that somebody else is going to come along and pay me what I think my house is worth.  None of it is real.  Do you understand this?  It is all based on faith and the assumptions that we make together.

 

Do we tell our children that our ultimate faith is in these other systems that have proven to be so fragile or do we trust in God?  In my trust, my hope, my faith, my joy, my peace, my salvation, and my life, do I trust in the living God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead or is my ultimate faith in one of these other things?  It just wouldn’t hurt to have a conversation with our children and it wouldn’t hurt to live out in a way that demonstrated to them that we trust in God.  It is on the money, In God We Trust.  It wouldn’t hurt to let our children know that we trust in God above and beyond all things.

 

You can hear a lot of things that are described as threats to the family today—different rights, divorce, etc.  Nobody wants to say that these things are helpful but do you want to know what really affects a higher percentage of families than any of the things that are often portrayed as the great enemies to the family?  It is a mistaken trust that somehow money will save us, that somehow money and materialism will make us happy. 

 

Only the fullness of Christ can satisfy the emptiness of a person like Solomon who came to the end and said, “I look at all this stuff I have and it is just like chasing after the wind.”  Only the fullness of Christ will satisfy Solomon, will satisfy me, will satisfy you, and our children, if we will tell them.