The Gospel Between Moralism and Materialism

4 November 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

“The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest..We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all.”

Brian Griffiths, an international advisor for Goldman Sachs, spoke these words to a church in London this past week.

First of all…no. 

This is the same Jesus who told a rich young ruler to sell all he had and give to the poor:

17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”  20“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”  21Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22)

This was a man committed to the soul-stealing systems of moralism and materialism. 

MORALISM

In the ancient world, material wealth was considered a sign of God’s blessing.  The rich young ruler had spent a lifetime trying to gain God’s favor by behaving.  Even today we struggle through the lie of religion, that if I do the right thing, then God will bless me.

But the ruler admitted that he had kept “all these [commandments] since [he] was a boy.”  You can almost hear the disappointment dripping from his voice – expecting Jesus to reveal some hidden truth, the next in a long line of religious promises designed to garner worth and satisfaction.

Moralistic Christianity is “treadmill Christianity.”  We can try all we want, but like runners on a treadmill we get nowhere, and only exhaust ourselves with our lack of progress.

In Mark’s gospel, this is the only time Jesus is said to “love” a specific individual.  What did the man “lack?”

It is the same thing that all fundamentally lack, a vast emptiness that transcends the content of our checking accounts and speaks of the fundamental barrenness of the human heart.

The man lacked devotion.

MATERIALISM

How did Jesus suggest his devotion be expressed?  By selling all he had and giving to the poor.  No wonder the poor guy was bummed out – his only worth in life was tied to his luxury condo, his SUV and 401k.

And the sad thing is most of our worth is tied into our sedans and our jobs and our shoe closets.  Not sure?  Ask yourself: would you feel satisfied with less?  Will possessions be the only legacy we leave in this life?

Materialism is like salt water – the more you drink the greater your thirst.  And then you die.

THE GOSPEL

We have to be careful, lest we confuse Jesus’ message to the young man as another item on our religious “to do” list.  Selling your stuff and giving to the poor isn’t a bad idea, but by itself does not offer salvation.

The gospel turns us away from these lies of moralism and materialism, and offers us a lifestyle that opens us to love God and our neighbor.  The maxim to love others as ourselves offers no margin for inequality, but demands that we hold ourselves and others to the same standard – to God’s standard, a standard far higher than any bank or financial establishment.

So sorry, Mr. Griffiths.  Regardless of how you feel about capitalism, the gospel can hardly be invoked in reference to material prosperity.

4 November 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.

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