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Pastoral Reflection: Purpose of Life: Our Relationship with Stuff

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about the purpose of life. We were made for the glory of God. We were made to reflect God’s goodness and to use creation to put God’s goodness on display. But because of the Fall, our identities are askew and our purposes become twisted. One area that has become corrupted is our relationship with creation itself. In the first Chapter of Genesis, God gave dominion to Adam and Eve over all creation to cultivate, tend and care for creation. However, like our identities, after the Fall, our relationship with things became twisted. Instead of things becoming instruments of worship, we begin to worship the created things themselves. Paul speaks about this in Romans 1:25 when he talks about how fallen human beings begin to “serve the creature rather than the creator.”

This plays itself out in a myriad of ways. First, instead of things becoming an instrument to be used to serve God and others, we put ourselves in service to the things we possess. Jesus warned his followers and told us a person cannot serve both God and money. Money itself does not have any power. But the desire to acquire it is strong because we put faith in it to give us life. Scripture teaches us that God is the source possessions and wealth (1 Chr. 29:12). They were to be enjoyed but we are warned not to allow these things to turn our hearts away from God.

Second, we become enslaved to the power of possessions. Having possessions are not an evil. But we must be cautious of a certain progression that can happen. There can sometimes be a progression from, “I would like”, to “I want”, to “I need”, to “I can’t live without it”. The things we purchase or buy are just that- things. But they become more than that. They are things that give us meaning, happiness or life. Advertisers and companies think of a meaning behind a product. Items are marketed as being connected to health, beauty, success or happiness. We then begin to place our faith in them for life, happiness or joy. And when we do so, we exert energy and effort to acquire these items and the power they possess. When taken too far, we are no longer free to serve God. We become slaves to them. We can’t live without them.

Third, it numbs our sense of need for God. God warned the Israelites as they were entering the Promised Land not to allow God’s blessings become a reason for them to forget God (Deut. 8:11-20). Jesus also told a parable of a man who became wealthy but was not wealthy to God. Jesus pointed out the foolishness of this man because God was going to demand his soul that night (Luke 12:16-21). Wealth is not the problem. The problem is when wealth blinds us to our need for God.

Fourth, it breaks our relationship with God and one another. I see this repeatedly in my household. One child sees something that they want. They ask Mom and Dad if they can have it. When Mom or Dad says no- there is a tantrum thrown. If another child has something they want, a relationship is broken between siblings over toys that will be broken or lost within a few months. We have also seen family strife over inheritance. Siblings fight over the inheritance. Bitterness and envy manifest if a person does not receive their “fair share”. A broken relationship and understanding of possessions breaks relationships.

If you know or struggle with your possessions, there is Good News. There is a God who loves you and cares for you so much that he sent His Son to set us free from this power and reorient our hearts back to Him. This heart change can come only when a person’s heart allegiances have changed and a person has faith in God’s words in Scripture. Jesus declared that he is the bread of life and the fountain of living water (John 4:10, 6:48, 7:38). Life is not found in what he taught, but in himself.

What does this look like practically? It does not mean that we become cut off from the world. It does not mean that we cannot see the beauty in what God has gifted people to create. But what it does mean is that we have to have a fundamental reorientation of our thinking and heart attitude toward our possessions. Meaning, purpose, happiness is not found in what we possess. When we purchase things a question we must ask is not what happiness will this possession give me, but how can this be used to love others and honor God? Our items are but tools. We must ask ourselves, will I possess this item, or will it possess me?

Lastly, Paul reminds us that sin is not just a state of being. It is a power. Romans 6:17-18 tells us that we have been set free. We were once slaves to sin, which leads to death and now we have been set free to be slaves of righteousness. Christ came to set us free by paying the penalty for our sin. In paying for the penalty for our sin, Jesus has set us free from the power that we have given ourselves over to. The power of addiction is strong. For many it may be a lifelong battle. But Christ has won the victory over sin and death.