Consumerism, according to Wikipedia, is a “social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-greater amounts.” Consumerism has become a way of life for us to the point that those of us who live in western society really don’t know anything else. More than ever we become discontent very quickly.
Whether it is the car we drive, the cereal we eat, the supermarket we use, the church we attend, the clothes we wear, or the computer we use … it doesn’t take much for us to be looking over the fence to see if the grass is greener in someone else’s backyard.
You’d think this ideology of consumerism was just a product of the industrial revolution, but references in the Bible to contentment suggest that the desire for something bigger, better and prettier has been around for a very long time.
This morning I talked at church about the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and used the theme, Joy in Community. Paul was in prison in Rome at the time and was writing to a church at Philippi in eastern Macedonia. Despite his own circumstances Paul expressed joy at the church in Philippi and all it was doing. He noticed that a couple of women in the church, key people who he described as fellow-workers, had a difference of opinion, but he called for gentleness in dealing with this issue, and it seemed even this didn’t stop his sense of joy.
What I found significant is that Paul seemed have a very lay-back approach to life. He called for gentleness, appealed for the disputing women to get together and sort out their issues, he reminded the people of the presence of Christ, and told them not to be anxious. Paul was a pretty serious person but on this occasion, at least, he seemed to be keen to help the church to take their foot off the accelerator.
One of the things he had to say to the church was that he had learned “the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” In a consumer society that sounds like a secret worth knowing. Paul went on to let his readers in on his secret: ” I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” It seems that his trust in Jesus gave him the capacity to appreciate what he had and to enjoy his circumstances without getting anxious.
It took me back to John’s Bunyan’s allegory published in 1678 called “Pilgrim’s Progress“. Without telling the whole story, the key character, Christian, is carrying a heavy burden on his back and in his search to find a solution to his problem comes to the “place of deliverance” where the straps that hold the burden on to his back are released and the burden rolls into an open grave.
John Bunyan’s allegorical story about “Christian” was the same as Paul’s: Consumerism and all the other pressures of modern life are like a heavy backpack that create constant anxiety. By throwing that backpack down at the foot of Jesus’ cross we can be released from anxiety and experience peace and contentment.