Materialism, the worship of the god “Mammon” as the greatest good on earth, may well be the biggest competitor with the God of Jesus Christ for the allegiance of human hearts in our world today. It is easy to demonize other religions or aberrant offshoots of Christianity because we do not accept their theological tenets; it is much harder to see the weaknesses of the worldviews in which we ourselves are enmeshed. Like the Israelites of old who believed they could still worship Yahweh under the guise of a golden calf, Christians in more well-to-do nations or parts of the world think they can serve Jesus while still worshiping money and material possessions even more. They quickly deny that their attachment to those possessions comes anywhere close to worship, but when one compares the time and energy expended in working for it, managing it, protecting it, longing for more of it, and deciding how to spend it with the time and energy put into kingdom activity, the denials often ring hollow.
Unlike those ideologies that find the material world inherently evil, biblical Christianity recognizes the fundamental goodness of property and possessions. God created the entire universe as good. Despite human sin bringing many damaging results to all of God’s creation, a decent standard of living is something almost all people appropriately desire. Being materially poor is not a virtue, nor does it by itself bestow any level of spirituality. Precisely because helping the poor is such a pervasive principle in the Bible, we can recognize that extreme forms of self-denial are not particularly Christian forms of spirituality. God wants his people not to live in poverty, so those who are well above the poverty line must be generous in helping those who have less so that as many people as possible can enjoy his good, created gifts….
…Because of sin, material possessions do not always function as God intended them to. In many contexts, they may seldom function as he wishes. There is no biblical support, however, for the notion that money, since the fall, is inherently corrupting. But possessions or the desire for possessions does frequently serve as a seduction to sin. Those who amass great riches are tempted to use them to wield power over others in inappropriate, heavy-handed fashion. They may think that people owe them favors in return for their patronage or benefaction. They readily imagine that money can buy happiness, health, and even salvation — if, indeed, they think they have anything to be saved from. They are naturally tempted to imagine that they don’t need God or even that there is no God. They often live in subcultures that shield them from having to encounter the most desperately needy people of the world, so that they can assuage their consciences that they have helped the poor even when they offer a much smaller percentage of their profits to that end than they might have otherwise.
The best way, therefore, to maximize the goodness of material possessions and minimize their negative effects is to give a generous, even sacrificial amount of them away. Philanthropy, in and of itself, saves no one, but it can do a huge amount of good for hurting people. The best forms of philanthropy, however, grow out of a Christian worldview. Sacrificial giving cannot be fixed at a certain percentage of one’s gross or net income or worth. Qualifying levels vary from person to person and from one set of circumstances to another. But they always involve giving up something that a person values considerably.
God normally does not ask the rich to trade places with the poor, merely to give from their surplus. But they must be ruthlessly honest about just how much is surplus. Savings, investments, insurance, retirement accounts, and leaving money behind for one’s closest
relatives after one dies may also exemplify good stewardship under various conditions. But they cannot automatically be said to be appropriate for everybody. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all-stewardship; all Christians must regularly reassess their finances and determine what God will be pleased with in their specific contexts.
- Craig Blomberg, Christians in an Age of Wealth, p. 243