The promise of materialism has never been true

The promise of materialism drives millions of single people, but the consequences of it can actually be fatal.

Stated in simple terms, society tells us material possessions can make us right.  Whether it's a $6 can opener or a $60,000 car, the message is that if we only buy this thing, we'll be smarter, sexier, or better than our neighbor.

It's the fuel that runs capitalism. Billions of dollars are spent on advertising every year to convince us that stuff is the answer.

The truth, however, is very different. The Bible tells us God is the answer.

Now that doesn't mean God doesn't want us to have a can opener or a car, but it does mean that we cannot let the things we own take over his place in our lives. Let's see how all of us (including me) do this and what we can do to change.

Promise of materialism: The need to fit in

We all have a natural need for recognition and affirmation from others. There's nothing wrong with that. Where we get off the path is when we try to buy that affirmation.

Buying the approval of others is easier than building character to get it. You can buy a showy car and give the impression you're successful—even if you go deeply into debt—easier than you can be an honest, kind person. Many celebrities have flashy cars, clothes and huge mansions, yet they're empty inside. They think only of themselves.

Make no mistake. Advertisers know how to push our buttons. Through decades of psychological testing, they've learned the most effective ways to target our need for admiration. In the 1950s, advertising slogans were "Keep up with the Joneses" or "Be the first on your block to own one."

Today the pitch is more sophisticated, but we still fall for it. Life has become a competition to collect the coolest junk, then replace it when something cooler comes along. Landfills are packed with last year's "must-have" products.

We use material goods as scorecards, and everybody has done it, including me. The promise of materialism triggers credit card debt when people buy things they can't afford to be accepted by their peer group.

A lifetime of doing it makes it seem natural

We start in elementary school, convincing our parents to buy us a special backpack or sneakers so we'll fit in with our friends. We all remember the kids who had generic shoes or a jacket their parents got at a resale shop and how they were ostracized.

It continues in high school and college, and the habit is set for life. When you get into the workplace, especially a large corporation, you soon learn to dress like the boss to show you believe in the company's standards. The book Dress for Success convinced my generation capitalism was the new religion, and if you wanted to be good at it, you dressed like one of the priests—or priestesses.

It feels good to fit in. It feels bad to be an outsider. Somewhere along the way, the promise of materialism turned life into the cliques we all remember from high school, the cliques that were, more often than not, pretty cruel.

Several years ago I was at a party, and a woman in her late 70s, who had worked her entire life for the same company, made the remark that, "When you work for a business, that company owns you," meaning you owe them total, unquestioning loyalty. The rest of us recoiled in shock. I wasn't the only rebel in the group.

That's another area where the promise of materialism becomes dangerous: when it involves immoral business behavior in the name of success. Wells Fargo paid over $1.5 billion in fines a few years ago for setting up millions of fake bank accounts so managers would make goals set by executives. That same kind of greed has resulted in massive pollution, unsafe products, and even deaths among customers, all to help companies' bottom lines.

I am not advising you to quit your job if your company is engaged in questionable behavior. That practice is so common it's hard to find a business that doesn't put profit over ethics in some way. If you do decide to change jobs, always, always have another job ready to go to.

What you can control

How has this promise of materialism affected your personal life? What role does stuff play in your pursuit of contentment? If you are a Christian, these are questions Jesus calls you to answer:

And he (Jesus) said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15, ESV)

Millions of Christians excuse their quest for "more" and "better" by believing some version of the Prosperity Gospel, namely that God wants his children to be financially successful and that fancy cars, clothes, and homes are demonstrations of "God's favor."

Don't you believe it.

The heart of the problem boils down to simple idolatry. We worship success and its symbols instead of God himself. We try to persuade others God loves us more than them because we have more or better toys.

Again, there's nothing wrong with a nice car, clothes or home. The issue is perspective. The apostle Paul told us exactly what to avoid:

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV)

Things have only gotten worse in 2,000 years. Don't fall victim to the promise of materialism.

What single people can do

As single people, we have a strong need for love and assurance. The promise of materialism seems like a good way to get the acceptance we're after, but it's counterfeit love. It gets in the way of the healing love God offers.

We have to be especially alert to falling for the seduction of worldly success. Many people who reach the top of their field are as hollow as a seashell.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you shouldn't do the best job you can. Conscientiousness at work is a hallmark of the committed Christian. But so is prioritizing. As tempting as money and compliments may be, they can't take the place of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

God promises to never leave you or forsake you. Can stuff promise that—and deliver? God promises to love you whether you're rich or poor, important or unknown. Can the world promise you that? God promises to cleanse you from your sins and give you eternal life with him. The world doesn't even know what sin is.

Let's be vigilant. Let's all review our life to see what gets our passion. When we take a detour, let's correct and get back on the road to our Heavenly Father. Let's see through the emptiness of the promise of materialism and recognize the love behind the promises of God.

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