by Dick Wamsley
If you go into a Starbucks today and consider the milk options, number of shots, various syrups, and the choice of whip or no-whip, you have over 87,000 combinations, all customized to your own individual needs – or whims. That feeds the consumer mentality: “I want it my way.” We live in a consumer culture, which is a shift from a few decades back when we were a producer culture. We are now buyers and hoarders and users. That’s how our economy keeps growing.
Paul writes to his son-in-faith, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 6:6-8 (ESV), “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Paul advises Timothy that the greatest gains come through “godliness with contentment,” not through consuming. That requires a daily renewal of commitment to your priorities as a Christian leader and making a conscious decision that the accumulation of things is not going to be the priority of your life.
In his book The Good and Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith reports that neurologists once scanned the brains of people of faith as they recalled and re-experienced the times they felt close to God, either in prayer, worship, or solitude. Then they exposed the same people to stained glass, the smell of incense, icons, and other religious images that connected people to God. The same specific area of the brain, called the “caudate nucleus,” lit up in all of these people when they felt connected to God.
The neurologists then tested another group, but this time exposed them to material possessions. When they showed images of products that were tied to “cool” brands, the exact same area of the brain lit up. The neuroscientists discovered that people who bought certain items experienced the same sensations as those who had deep religious experiences (The Good and Beautiful Life, pp. 163-164). Maybe that’s why Paul says to be content with the simpler things.
Contentment is also preferred when you recognize the uncertainty of riches. Later in 1 Timothy 6, Paul writes, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (verse 17).
Riches are deceptive. They portray themselves as bringing a sense of security, but they are in fact very unstable. A recession, government intervention, an unpredictable stock market, lawsuits, health problems – any of these can wipe out a lifetime of accumulated wealth in short order. Even what we call “Social Security” isn’t. As someone wrote, “Money will buy a bed but not sleep; books but not brains; food but not appetite; finery but not beauty; a house but not a home; medicine but not health; luxuries but not culture; amusements but not happiness; religion but not salvation – a passport to everywhere but heaven.”
It is imperative that leaders in the church guard themselves against the idol of consumerism. I echo what Paul said to Timothy after he warned him of the love of money, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Those who do will be less likely to want “my way,” and more likely to desire God’s way.