Combat Materialism with Generosity

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Charitable Giving. Read other perspectives here.

"The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:10).

I feel like we're thrown into an annual soul-searching spiral when the pressure of holiday consumerism invariably comes. How did Christmas go from celebrating the birth of Christ to the death of truly important values? Is buying gifts really the best way to honor God? As we wade through shops and traffic to find that perfect gift, let's stop and take a moment to consider how the true meaning of Christmas got lost in all this "stuff." On the day we welcome the greatest gift the world has ever been given, we want more gifts.

Scripture reminds us that, "If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be open handed and freely lend them whatever they need" (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). Paul told us of the failure of money to give us anything in his first letter to Timothy. Money won't love you back.

As it relates to our personal happiness, the latest scientific research would agree. Even in children as young as ten years old, being fixated on money and other forms of materialism is associated with lower feelings of well-being, according to a 2014 meta-analysis. Materialism is associated with a range of health issues, and amongst our youth, it's on the rise. Materialism leads to loneliness, which in turn reinforces materialism. Another 2014 experiment found that people who bought a gift for a sick child were happier than those who bought the gift for themselves. Participants were also given money and instructed to spend on either themselves or someone else. Those who spent the money on others were found to be happier at the end of the day. Psychologists call this "prosocial spending."

Veronica Neffinger, the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com, compellingly asked, "What would Jesus have us do about Syrian refugees?" I would take this one step further and ask "What would Jesus have us do about the global poor?" As stated in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." Jesus told us countless times to give to the needy. "Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:33-34). In Matthew 25:35-45, Jesus tells us that when we feed, welcome, and clothe strangers, we are doing so to Christ as well, and will be rewarded.

A number of Christians are starting to rethink Christmas by dropping the consumerism and focusing on helping God's children. Advent Conspiracy, founded in 2006, aims to challenge the consumerism and materialism of the holiday season in part by redirecting attention to Jesus' teaching that it is indeed more blessed to give that to receive (Acts 20:35). They ask for people to spend less on buying gifts and give some of the money saved to their charity partner Living Water International. They raised $500,000 in their first year and have already grown to over a million dollars.

There are, in fact, a lot of innovative and impactful things we can do this Christmas that show our devotion and help people. We can make something for a family member, spend some time with a friend in need, volunteer at a local charity, or donate our Christmas to charity.