Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions–is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever.
–1 John 2:16-17
The concept of attachment is a big deal in the therapy field these days. The basic premise is that adults who present in therapy with personality, relationship, and behavioral disturbances often failed to attach to their parents or primary caregivers in childhood and are ineffectively attempting to heal that disconnection.
When it comes to mental health, attachments to other human beings are essential. Therapy focuses on addressing the damage created by absent or unhealthy attachment and helping clients to form healthy attachments to safe people in their lives.
In a sense, our regeneration in Christ occurs when we attach ourselves to him as our primary love relationship. When this happens, our attachment to the material world weakens. Or, it should, according to his word.
I’ve experienced this myself as a lack of concern about where I live, what I own, what I drive, etc. I seek to live where Jesus plants me, acquire only what helps me represent him well, and drive the most reliable vehicle to get me to his next assignment. Everything beyond that can become a distraction or a burden.
Jesus makes it very clear in several of his extended teachings that attachment to possessions is in the least counterproductive, and at most, evil and idolatrous. He doesn’t say that we are not allowed to have nice things or enjoy them. But the prosperity gospel is not what he is about. We can have possessions and enjoy them as long as we don’t make them more important than our following and emulating him.
Let’s see how Scripture comes to life, helping us understand the dangers of attaching to material things at the expense of wholehearted participation in kingdom living.
Attachment to things can cause conflict, competition, and a poverty spirit. Back in Genesis, Abraham and Lot struggled to keep their relationship intact while competing for land and resources. Their families and entourages quarreled over management of all the stuff they had accumulated on their way to Canaan.Two generations later, Jacob fought with his father-in-law Laban over land and livestock they had cultivated together.
Once wealth becomes conspicuous, it often breeds jealousy, resentments, and negative competition. It reminds me of some of the divorces I’ve witnessed. It can become a “zero-sum” game, where participants believe that when one person prospers, the other must suffer loss, because there is not enough to go around. This is one way of defining a spirit of poverty—despite the presence of wealth, people are driven by fear of lack.
Attachment to things is foolish, because things do not last. The Psalmist writes, “They rush around in vain, gathering possessions without knowing who will get them” (Ps. 39:6). Knowing how brief and fleeting life is for us on earth—a vapor—it is futile to occupy ourselves with acquiring things that we can’t take with us.
Jesus tells us that these treasures on earth will eventually be destroyed by moths and rust or stolen by thieves. Instead, he exhorts his followers to store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. (Matt. 6:19-20).
Jesus also warns his audience to “be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). The consequence of making greed a way of life is that when our earthly journey is complete, not only do we lose our stuff, but we are in danger of losing our souls. Our hearts and intentions must stay attached to the provider of every good thing, not to the things he provides.
Attachment to things hinders our trust in God to provide for us. Another regrettable aspect of attachment to things is that it displays a lack of trust that God knows exactly what we need and will provide it. The Father is displeased when we worry about how to get our needs met.
Jesus contrasts the worrying child of God with wild birds who stay fed without sowing, reaping, or storing food. And he tells us to consider the wildflowers clothed in splendid colors, that don’t sew, or spin, or toil to be beautiful. He will see that we are fed and clothed. He promises that when we seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, all other good things come with it.
Jesus encourages us go even a step further in our trust. He advises us to sell the possessions we don’t need and give the proceeds to the poor. This is how we lay hold of lasting treasure, and “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:22-34). This lofty, beloved Scripture is a constant challenge to apply in a materialistic culture!
Attachment to things can make us selfish, unwilling to share. At the beginning of the Church age, the model for community life looked like this: [The believers] sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:45); and, “Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common (Acts 4:32).
These accounts reveal that the hearts of these new believers had been released from greedy attachment to their stuff to such an extent that they gladly shared their possessions with those in need. The opposite response is found in the next chapter of Acts, when a couple brought an offering dishonestly, unwilling to surrender all to support the new Christian community. They perished instantly at Peter’s feet because their sin couldn’t stand in an atmosphere of repentance and holy conviction.
The discipline of tithing is an acknowledgment that all we have and all we are belong to God. Our tithes support the move of the gospel, which is important. But on the personal level, tithing detaches us from our reliance on money, and attaches us to the source of our money. He is the one who gives us power to gain wealth (Deut. 8:18). This is a continual exercise of faith, trust and submission to the goodness of God.
A beautiful proverb states, “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest; then your barns will be completely filled, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9-10). Giving freely of our first fruits signals that we understand how to steward well the gifts of God without becoming overly attached to them.
Attachment to things limits our freedom and our willingness to follow Jesus fully. When a rich young man asked Jesus how he could be good enough to inherit eternal life, Jesus reminded him of the need for obedience to God’s word. But Jesus went further, saying, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The young man didn’t like this plan, but went away grieving, because he had many possessions” (Matt. 19:21-24). The problem was not his possessions, but his inordinate attachment to them. He missed out on the grand adventure of following Jesus because he had too much stuff.
There is pure freedom and joy in letting go of attachment to our material possessions. This is not an instantaneous process for most of us. It is one of many ways that we grow in intimate attachment and trust in our God day by day. As we do, we are set free from worry. We become freer and freer to love and share with others. Free of envy, greed, jealousy and resentment. Free to follow our Lord and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Bless you as you detach from stuff and attach yourself more and more to our precious Lord and Provider.