“If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

HOW MUCH DIFFERENCE WOULD IT MAKE IN OUR LIVES IF WE KNEW FOR CERTAIN THAT NOTHING OF A SPIRITUAL NATURE EXISTED? Sad to say, in many of our lives it wouldn’t make much difference at all. Although we pay lip service to the priority of spiritual realities, on many days it must be said that materialism is the real governing force in our lives.

Materialism is more of a problem than many churchgoers like to admit. Just as we define “worldliness” too narrowly, we also define “materialism” in a way that is too restricted. The person who has an inordinate affection for money and earthly possessions is obviously materialistic (1 Timothy 6:6–10,17–19). But the problem goes well beyond the sin of outright covetousness, as harmful as that may be. We are being materialistic any time we live as though physical things were our most important consideration. Esau, for example, was being materialistic when he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup (Hebrews 12:16).

As a philosophy, materialism holds that there is no reality except material reality. Materialists deny that spiritual realities have any objective existence. Such things, according to the materialist, are simply the products of our imagination, which itself is no more than the product of our brain’s biochemistry. As practical people, few of us would subscribe to the philosophy of materialism, and indeed, few philosophers would go so far as to be radical materialists. But many of us end up being materialists anyway. No matter what our philosophy may be, we seem to live as if the only things that are real are material. Judging from the way we live, one would think we believe the material world is all there is.

When we allow our lives to be driven by materialism, it must be admitted that we lead very hollow lives. Whether we face the fact or not, our hearts were made to experience much more than anything the material world can provide. We have needs that are deeper by far than our physical ones, and when these needs are not fulfilled, or when we try to fulfill them illegitimately, we find life to be difficult and our hearts to have holes in them.

“Materialism is organized emptiness of the spirit” (Franz Werfel).