The Vanity of Materialism

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See full series: studies-in-ecclesiastes

The Vanity of Materialism

Sermon by  Thomas Thornhill Jr

Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:7-8




 We are continuing our examination of Solomon’s pursuit for the meaning of life. He was blessed with great resources, and was able to engage in an intense investigation of all this world has to offer. His conclusion – all is vanity.   We are in the midst of examining the various avenues that Solomon mentions that he pursued. Thus far we have noted his pursuit of wisdom, mirth & laughter, substances (wine), luxury & recreation and even dominion over others.

Tonight, we want to examine materialism or the obtaining of great possessions. While related to luxury, materialism goes further.

  1.   Our text
    1. Solomon was very wealthy and lived in luxury as we have previously noted. A few weeks ago we addressed the luxurious houses Solomon built, including one that took 13 years to build (1 Kings 7:1-13, 2 Chronicles 8:1-6, etc.).  He also had gardens, the equivalent of parks today, etc.   But that was not all, nor does that describe the depth of his resources.
    2. In our text we find that Solomon had greater possession of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before. He also “gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces.”
    3. His wealth also was an indication of his power. Solomon subdued kingdoms around him who gave to him tribute.   Consider 1 Kings 4:20-30   (NOTE: A kor was about 5 bushels)
      His wealth is described in 1 Kings 10:14-29 describes the amount of wealth he amassed on a yearly basis (much of it in tribute; Note a talent of gold would be – about 75 pounds) of 666 talents of gold (meaning about 50,000 pounds) plus other precious stones.   Note vs. 27, he made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem.
      His wealth was tremendous.
    4. Over and over, Solomon mentions things associate with wealth and material possessions.   Why? Perhaps it is because that is main source of man through which so many seek meaning.
    5. But, we are reminded as in all of these lessons, that such is vanity – emptiness and grasping for the wind.  It matters not how much money one has, it CANNOT buy him true happiness or meaning.
      Money can buy stuff, but that is not where true meaning is found.
      Ecclesiastes 5:10, He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.
      Solomon’s wealth was instrumental in his downfall, along with his many idolatrous wives.   But how did he accumulate so many wives and women?   Did his wealth have anything to do with that?
  2.   The folly of materialism
    1. FIRST: Be reminded that wealth is not wrong within itself. Money is morally neutral, but the rich are warned to not trust in uncertain riches, but in God (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
      There are many examples of the wealthy who were godly.   Barnabas was wealthy – but willing to sell property to help others (Acts 4:34-37).
      Even 1 Timothy 6 implies that being wealthy is NOT sinful, it just comes with responsibility.
      NOTE: While we may not appreciate it, for some, the lack of wealth may be a blessing from God that keeps you from forgetting Him (as we shall see below).   Just look at the stories of failed lives of some lottery winners.
    2. Material possessions are temporary – 1 John 2:15-17.
      Matthew 6:19 – moth and rust destroys; thieves break in and steal.
    3. They do not satisfy – Luke 12:18-21 – the parable of the rich, fool.
    4. The dangers of wealth – those who desire to be rich (1 Timothy 6:6-8), fall into a snare…
      1. One of the dangers of wealth is that it can cause us to forget God – Proverbs 30:8-9, Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches— Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal,And profane the name of my God.
        Deuteronomy 8:10-17 – Israel was warned that when the LORD blessed them they must NOT forget Him.
      2. They may give a false sense of security – 1 Timothy 6:17- they are described as uncertain.
      3. They can hinder obedience to the gospel – Matthew 13:22 – the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches choke out the word
        Matthew 19:21-22 – the rich, young ruler
        Luke 16:19ff – the rich man (and Lazarus) forgot about God
      4. Can lead to greed and taking advantage of the poor – Psalm 10:2 – The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor…; Proverbs 22:16, He who oppresses the poor to increase his riches, And he who gives to the rich, will surely come to poverty.
        It was one of the downfalls of Israel and Judah (cf. Isaiah 3:14-15, etc.)
        James 2:5-6, 5:4, – the rich oppress the poor (though not always).
      5. In addition to this, it is often associated with criminal activity.   We see it far too much today – theft, bribery, extortion, falsifying facts, etc.
  3.  Dealing with materialism
    1. ALWAYS be grateful!
      1 Timothy 4:4-5 – every creature is good, received with thanksgiving.
      Philippians 4:6 – in everything with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
      1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always , pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
      Colossians 3:17 – whatever you do…giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
    2. Be content – Always! Sometimes this is more difficult when we are prosperous.
      1 Timothy 6:6-8 – godliness with contentment is great gain
      Philippians 4:11 – in whatever state you are in;
      Hebrews 13:5 – let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have…
      Covetousness (which is a symptom of discontent) is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5)
      NOTE: Debt is most often a sign of a lack of contentment!
    3. Be humble – wealth and possessions can cause one to become haughty and think more highly of himself than he ought to.
      Titus 3:2 reminds u that we are to show humility to all men.
      1 Peter 5:5 be clothed in humility.
    4. Be a faithful steward – again 1 Timothy 6 implies that being wealthy is NOT sinful, it just comes with responsibility.
      Be reminded with whatever resources we have been entrusted with, we must be faithful stewards of it. 1 Corinthians 4:2, Luke 12:42-44, cf. Matthew 25:14-30 (esp. 20-23 – the 5 & 2 talent servants).
      Use your wealth (or whatever you have) for good – 1 Corinthians 10:31 – do all to the glory of God
      1 Peter 4:11 – that in all things God may be glorified…
    5. Where is your treasure?   Jesus again in Matthew 6:19-21 calls for us to lay up treasure in heaven.   THEN in vs. 24, we are reminded that you CANNOT serve God and mammon (material riches, stuff).


While I cannot definitively prove it, I believe (and I would like to believe this) that Solomon penned this letter later in his life, reflecting on his failures and the VANITY of his choices.   Regardless of when he wrote Ecclesiastes, toward the end of his life when he turned away from God, he FAILED to in ALL of the areas we have just discussed.

We must continually remind ourselves of how abundantly blessed we are.   Most of us are prosperous with resources.   Let us learn from Solomon to manage what we have for His glory.