Preaching Heaven to Help Your People Fight Materialism
As my Cameroonian co-pastor likes to remind me, materialism is a global problem. The maxed-out credit cards that fill the wallets of so many Americans and the extortion that lines the pockets of so many “officials” in the world’s poorest countries are symptoms of the same disease. Materialism is everywhere. The siren song of the prosperity gospel is as alluring in the double-wide trailers of rural Montana as it is in the mud huts of rural Africa.
Biblical pastors, wherever they may find themselves, know that materialism is a spiritually deadly global pandemic. Jesus himself taught us that “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). The universal desire for stuff threatens the progress of God’s Word which alone can lead men to salvation.
What’s a pastor to do? One thing we can do is preach more about heaven. The reality of heaven will counter the ravenous and poisonous allure that materialism has on our souls. Okay, but what should we actually say about heaven? Below, I’ve highlighted four ways we can preach about heaven that will help both our people and ourselves put off an unhealthy desire to treat the material things of this life as our ultimate treasure.
1. Preach heaven as a motivation.
As Paul prays for the Colossians, he thanks God for their love and then reveals its cause. The love that they “have for all the saints” is “ because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:4–5). The hope of heaven unleashes the kind of love in the heart that sees a brother in need and gives him the world’s goods (1 John 3:17).
There’s something about being sure you’re going to a place with divine fellowship, a street made of gold, and “prime cuts of choice meat” (Is. 25:6, CSB) that makes it easier to take some money out of your bank account and to love a brother with your cash. So pastor, describe heaven to your people vividly. Precisely and passionately explain how the work of Christ secures heaven. When you do, you’ll strike a mighty blow against the materialism in their souls.
2. Preach heaven as material.
Heaven is a real place, and it is a lot like earth. Transitioning to heaven isn’t about moving from a world with material delights to a world of clouds and spiritual vapors that give off a totally awesome god vibe. Heaven is a place of cities and gates, people and places, food and clothing. It’s like earth, except without sin.
Peter tells us that “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). Too often, we preach like Gnostics instead of Christians. We imagine heaven to be the place of pure spiritual delights instead of a place where material and spiritual delights come together.
How many times have you been assured that in heaven you won’t be enjoying the street of gold because you’ll be too busy enjoying Jesus and Jesus alone? Really? Did Jesus build a street of gold so it could go unnoticed. What if Jesus built it as one of the “immeasurable riches of his grace” that he wants to show me in his kindness (Eph 2:7)?
We need to recalibrate our beliefs. Heaven is where the relationship between the material and the spiritual are no longer in competition. Heaven is where the perfect material world brings praise to our perfect creating and redeeming Savior. So pastor, preach a material heaven so that the embodied Christians you’re preaching to know how good and comprehensible the treasure that awaits them really is. It’s hard to be motivated by something you can’t fathom, let alone comprehend.
3. Preach heaven as a storehouse.
Materialistic sinners stockpile material goods for their own enjoyment here on earth. In so doing, they worship and serve the created things rather than the Creator. Christians, on the other hand, stockpile treasures in heaven so that they can enjoy them with great thanksgiving in the presence of their gift-giving Father. Jesus wants us to pursue that kind of stockpiling.
He famously said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mt 6:19–21).
As preachers, we get the privilege of announcing to those who have no ability to save for retirement—let alone next week—that by serving God and using their resources to serve his people they can stockpile real treasures in heaven. We also get to share with those who are busy finding the most lucrative and secure investments here on earth that the most lucrative and secure investment is found when we serve God here on earth with an eye to receiving more of his treasures in heaven.
What will those treasures be? See my above point. Christians disagree about this, but I think they include material treasures like “a feast of rich food, of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow” (Is. 25:6), all enjoyed sinlessly to the praise of his glorious, material-creating, soul-saving grace!
4. Preach heaven as an example.
In heaven, the God who is Spirit brings us into his presence through the work of his Incarnate—there it is, material again—Son to enjoy treasures with him forever. Does that have anything to do with life here on earth? How does that shape how we pray, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”?
Well, in part, it means that living faithfully here on earth means enjoying material goods to the glory of our Father just like we will in heaven. As a new Christian, I was deeply influenced and harmed by certain Reformed teaching that emphasized the danger of the good gifts of this life without a corresponding emphasis on the necessity of enjoying the material blessings of this life. After being told I was to go through life surviving on the bare necessities, I was shocked when I learned that Paul told the rich not only that they were to give, but that they were to enjoy what had been given to them.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17–19).
God encouraged the rich to enjoy the good gifts they have been given in the same breath that he called them to store up treasure in heaven. This led me to a critical insight: we’ll be more generous if we see God as generous to us. It’s hard to get motivated to store up treasures in heaven if you think you’re serving a stingy God who never lets you enjoy anything here on earth. But it’s much easier to give and store up treasures in heaven if we serve a God who, at times, richly provides for us here on earth, just as he will in heaven.
Brothers, in heaven we will enjoy God’s good gifts in his glorious presence. The more we see this, the more we’ll be motivated to abandon materialism and to let “goods and kindred go.” In heaven, the true gospel will have brought us into a world that is both spiritually and materially rich. Knowing this, we can genuinely look forward to heaven as we eagerly store up treasures to enjoy there. Since God plans to shower us with material gifts in heaven forever, we should thank him for whatever generous gifts he gives us here on earth. His present and future generosity should break the sway materialism has over us and free us to share our material gifts with others in love.