Are you trapped in the tyranny of things? A wealthy man was moving into a new house, and his next-door neighbor happened to be a Quaker. The Quakers, as you know, believe in simplicity and plainness of life. The Quaker neighbor watched as the movers carted in numerous pieces of furniture, a great deal of clothing, and many decorative pieces. Then he walked over to his wealthy new neighbor and said in his quiant Quaker way: “Neighbor, if thee hath need of anything, please come to see me–and I will tell thee how to get along without it.” Jesus would have agreed with that advice; for He said one day, “A man’s life does not consisit in the abundance of things that he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
When Jesus made that statement, it dropped into the crowd like an atomic bomb. Some of the people ridiculed Him and laughed out loud. Of course a man can be measured by his wealth. Everybody knows that. How else would you determine how much a man is worth?
Well, if wealth and possessions are the measure of the man, then Jesus Christ Himself is out of the running. He was born in a stable to a humble Jewish mother who was married to a poor carpenter. He Himself said, “The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head.” He left no full safe-deposit box when He died. If happiness and success depend on things, then Jesus was miserable and defeated. But He was not! No man experienced greater joy than He did, in spite of His sufferings. And no person ever accomplished a greater piece of work than He did on the cross. “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses.” Jesus preached that and practiced it, and His life proves that it is true.
Jesus knew that there are some things a man simply has tohave. “Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things,” He said in His Sermon on the Mount. Men need food, and clothing, and shelter. These are needs, and God supplies these needs. God created things to be used for the benefit of mankind; He did not create things to be worshipped as gods. And this is wehre the trouble lies today: too many people think that life can be built on the things that money can buy, and the forget about the things that money cannot buy. It’s wonderful to have the things that money can buy, provided you haven’t lost the things that money cannot buy.
I remember talking with a lovely lady whose home was about to break up. She wore expensive clothing, but underneath was a broken heart. She had a valuable diamond ring on her finger, but there was no love attached to it. She lived in a beautiful house, but for years there had been no home. Her life had been built on things that money can buy–prices, not values–and now everything was about to slip right through her fingers.
Let me make it clear: there is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things God has given us, provided they do not become substitutes for the best things of life. Henry David Thoreau was not far off when he wrote, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
One of the mistakes of our society today is that of living on substitutes. Many people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The have a false sense of security and a counterfeit feeling of satisfaction. Like a child eating cotton candy at a carnival, these people are enjoying the taste of life but getting nothing substantial to really live on. Then when the storms of life start to blow, they topple over like trees without roots.
The basic problem is this: instead of making God the center of their lives, they have made things; instead of worshipping God, they worship things. The Bible has a name for this particular sin–idolatry. A man can bow down to his bankbook and his bonds just as easily as a pagan can bow down to his idols of wood and stone. Our United States coins carry the motto “In God We Trust,” but I fear that this motto does not really express our nation’s faith. “In Money We Trust” might be a more accurate expression.
Jesus said, “See ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). In other words, things–the good things that God wants us to enjoy–are not the center of life, but rather are the extra benefits we receive when God is given His rightful place in our hearts. The man who lives for things and ignores God will lose both, but the man who puts God first will have God and the good things that God wants him to enjoy. This does not mean that every obedient Christian will be rich, but it does mean that he will receive the things God wants to have in this life. It seems to me that this is a very fair contract. God says to us, “Give Me first place in your life, and I will supply all your needs.” David wrote centuries ago, “I have been young and now am old, yet have I not see the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Ps. 37:25).
When you and I allow Jesus Christ to control our lives, then we gradually discover a whole new set of values. Things that once were so important become very trivial, and things that used to lie on the edges of life suddenly take their rightful place at the very center. We discover that many “things” are just “adult toys,” adult pacifiers, to keep us happy until the next novelty comes along. We discover, too, that when Christ is at the center, He gives us a deep satisfaction that nothing else can give. We stop living on substitutes and start enjoying a daily experience of reality.
A rich young man came running up to Jesus one day and sincerely asked how to receive eternal life. He wanted to have his sins forgiven; he wanted to go to heaven. Jesus gave him a strange answer: “Sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow me.” Instead of obeying Christ, the young man turned his back on Him and walked away very unhappy. The reason: he was rich, and he would not give up his riches.
Nobody was ever saved by selling out and giving to the poor. A man is saved by trusting Jesus Christ as his Savior. But this young man trusted his riches, and “no man can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus told him to give away his money–not that he might be saved, but that he might see the sinfulness of his own heart. His god was money, and it is impossible to trust money and trust Christ at the same time.
I have often thought of what that rich young man missed by living for things. He missed sharing in the victory of Calvary and in the glory of the resurrection. He missed fellowshiping with the risen Christ. He missed praying with the apostles and receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. To be sure, this young man had more of life’s riches than all the apostles put together; but they had riches that would last for eternity. Christ was at the center of their lives; and if the center is right, the circumference will take care of itself.
“A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses.” Then what does life consist of? Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). John wrote, “He that hath the Son, hath life” (1 John 5:12). Life is not found in things that fade and decay and lose their value; life is found in a person–in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Jim Eliot, one of the five martyred missionaries, wrote in his diary: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” We brought nothing into this world, and we will carry nothing out of this world. To live for things is to miss one of the most exciting experiences possible–the day-by-day experience of trusting Christ and making Him the center of our lives…the experience of seeing God add to our lives the things that we need just when we need them…the experience of claiming God’s promises and seeing Him fulfill His Word.
Of what does your life consist? Suppose that tomorrow morning all the things that mean so much to you were taken away? What would you have left? Or suppose you became very ill, and had to lie in a hospital bed for weeks and weeks. In what would you find your joy and satisfaction? Is it possible that you are living on substitutes? If so, then I pity you because, when the substitutes are gone, your life will go with them…and you will have nothing worth living for. Why not trust Christ and start living for the true riches–the riches that last for all eternity? Trust Christ and He will give you something worth living for.
Copyright, Warren W. Wiersbe
This material originally appeared in Songs in the Night.
Not to be reproduced or copied without permission of 2PU.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).