Bible Studies for Life

with Laura Leathers

Sunday,  February 17

When Materialism Consumes

1 John 2:12-17; 3:16-18

The rich young ruler, a story found in Matthew 19:16-22, asks Jesus what good deed he would need to accomplish to have eternal life. Jesus replies, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (v. 17 ESV). The conversation continues, and then, with a self-righteous tone, the ruler wants to know what he is lacking. Jesus tells him to sell everything and give to the poor and “you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (v. 21).

His wealth wasn’t the issue, the problem was his divided heart. Jesus was offering him eternal life, something he couldn’t buy. But the young ruler couldn’t let go of his love for the world, nor surrender his life to Christ. His possessions were a stumbling block, and he walked away in unbelief. He chose the temporal over the eternal. Humanity still suffers with this struggle between the temporal and eternal today. Materialism is defined as “a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values” (internet dictionary).

In 1 John 2, the disciple John writes about Christ being our advocate, the propitiation for our sins. We know Him if we keep his commandments and “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (v. 6). If we don’t keep his commandments, we are a liar, and the truth is not in us. Then in verse 7, John goes into depth regarding the old commandment. He’s asking his readers to take a fresh look, a new emphasis, regarding the old commandment to love one another.

In the first focal passage section, verses 12 – 14, John emphasizes three distinctive groups who are at three different levels of maturity. First is the reference to “little children” (vv 12a, 13c). They have a basic awareness of who God is; however, they need to grow. The next category is “young men” (13b, 14b) who are walking in sound doctrine because the word of God abides in them. Lastly, the “fathers” (13a, 14a), who are mature with an in-depth knowledge of truth and wisdom. They are Christ-followers who know and love God.

Next, John addresses the subject of not loving the world (vv. 15-17). He is referencing an invisible spiritual system. Warren Wiersbe writes, “It is Satan’s system for opposing the world of Christ on earth. It is the very opposite of what is godly and holy and spiritual” (1 John 2:16), (1 John Commentary: Be Real, Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth). Wiersbe also gives “four reasons why Christians should not love “the world.” 1. Because of What the World is; 2. Because of What the World Does to Us (2:15-16); 3. Because of What a Christian Is (2:12-14); and 4. Because of Where the World is Going” (2:17).

“The desires of the flesh and desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (v. 16). None of these desires are tangible, they refer to the sin nature of man. The eyes represent taking in the wrong desires. Pride is arrogance or haughtiness. Wiersbe writes, “Anything in a Christian’s life that causes him to lose his enjoyment of the Father’s love or his desire to do the Father’s will is worldly and must be avoided. Responding to the Father’s love (your personal devotional life), and doing the Father’s will (your daily conduct)—these are two tests of worldliness.” 

Our love for God is reflected in our attitude toward our possessions (1 John 3:16-18). We are to remember the great love Jesus demonstrated by laying down His life for us. His sacrifice compels us to share the good news and demonstrate His love. We should be willing to give our lives sacrificially for our brothers. In verse 17, John narrows it to “a brother in need.” In the last verse: “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” “To love ‘in word’ means simply to talk about a need, but to love ‘in deed’ means to do something about it. . . To love ‘in tongue’ is the opposite of to love ‘in truth.’ It means to love insincerely. To love ‘in truth’ means to love a person genuinely from the heart and not just from the tongue” (Weirsbe).

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Possessions never satisfy nor last, but the love of God does!

Leathers is a member of First Church, Madison.