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Flirting with Consumerism

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Flirting with the world  –                                                                                                                                          

“Flirting with Consumerism”  


Matt 6:19-34 & 1 Tim 6:1-20


 David Calderwood

Here’s a quotation to get you thinking about the issue of consumerism. It’s from a discussion paper on ‘Wasteful Consumption in Australia’ produced by The National Institute [An independent think tank dedicated to develop and conduct research and policy analysis].



“At face value we go to the shops to buy the things we need – or, at least, we go to buy things we hope will make us more contented. Increasingly, though, Australians go shopping for the thrill of the purchase rather than the anticipated pleasure of owning or using something.”



Obviously we all have to consume things to live, but this paper suggests we have, as a society moved from ‘consuming to live’ to ‘living to consume’. Do you agree?



I suspect many of you will, but thinking of others. Statistics show that 80% of Australians believe we consume too much as a nation, but do not believe it to be true of themselves.



In fact the same group of people stated that they do not have sufficient income to purchase everything they need.



The implications of this are shocking.



First it means that by far the majority of Australians think they are poor, or at least do not think they are rich, and believe they are just surviving.



And that is in spite of the fact that Australia is listed as the 11th most affluent country in the world out of 181, and in spite of the fact that we are included in the 20% of humanity that accounts for 86% of global private consumption expenditure.



Second, it means we think we have a problem as a society, but do not see consumerism as a personal problem.



Yet The National Institute statistics show well over 10 billion dollars annually of wasteful consumption – that is consumer spending on goods and services that are not consumed or used. That is an average of almost $1500 per household.



Third, it means that we have lost any intelligent distinction between what we need and what we want. This is expressed in the common phrase – “I don’t know what I would do without . . ., or “I couldn’t live without  . . . .  my mobile phone, that third bathroom, second car, LED TV, i-pod, i-pad, my sport, my hobby,

Friends this morning I am suggesting that giving in to consumerism is another way in which we, as Christians individually and the church as a whole are flirting dangerously with the world. Consumerism is another point of worldliness.



Instead of being separate from the world and distinctively Christian in it, clearly stamped ‘made in the Kingdom of God’, we are more like sponges soaked with the value system of our Australian consumerist society and showing little difference to those around us.



But I need to define consumerism and show it is age-old materialism on steroids.  



Consumerism is not just about consuming. Humans have always been consumers of material things - foods, goods, products and services, and there is nothing inherently sinful in that.



We believe this physical world was made by God and that we should work and enjoy the results of our labour, remembering that all things are gifts given by God for our enjoyment.



And there has always been the temptation to materialism in our world, when we forget God and accumulate material things assuming that they will make us happy, and when greed makes us want more and better things, and when pride makes us value ourselves over those who don’t have what we have.



But consumerism is the latest form of materialism, and we must learn to recognise it, if we are going to be able to stand against it as Christians and as the church.           



First, it is the secular religion or world-view of Australian society. A world-view is a set of beliefs that offer meaning and purpose in life, and ultimately what give a person a sense of identity and worth.



Consumerism is the practical expression of the belief that identity, meaning and purpose is tied up in the things I desire and have: with the right clothes I will be seen by others as ‘cool’, or sexy; with the right lifestyle I will be seen to be successful, or sophisticated.



Consumerism is about individual identity and the products that feed the senses – touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell – because these sustain the desired self-image.



That’s why shopping has become our national past-time. It is what people do when they have leisure periods. In a recent documentary called ‘Britain from above’, the commentator, describing the massive increase in land space being used by shopping centres, went so far as to say that shopping centres are the new temples of consumer society, the place where people go to worship the god of consumerism who promises happiness and well-being and value through the accumulation of stuff.

Second, it is a way of life. So many people, including Christians, demonstrate practically that they work so that they have money to feed their craving to consume.



The vast bulk of energy and resources for Australians is applied to accumulating things: - housing, food, clothes, holidays, sport, services, experiences and dreams.



People would not admit it, but that is their goal in life. We all have these lists in our minds and we are constantly trying to tick things off at the top end as we finally get what we have always wanted, and constantly adding the next thing to the bottom of the list.



Even worse, our Australian economy and the global economy is built on consumption. Our leaders talk about our market driven economy, which means our affluent lifestyles require lots of production to create lots of jobs, which people must buy, which in turn makes lots of profit for the business owner or investor.



If we stop spending our economy collapses and so does our standard of living. So our politicians unashamedly tell us that we must spend, spend, spend. And this process, aided by relentless bombardment of advertising, has resulted in people becoming totally confused about ‘needs’ and wants’.



Advertising defines what is ‘normal’ or ‘desirable’ – a big house, two cars, overseas holidays, the latest model iPhone, the latest fashion clothes. So wanting to be normal we actually perceive these items to be the basic necessities of life, things we can’t do without.



And if we cannot manage to purchase those things that make us normal, we conclude that we are poor and underprivileged, and make it our goal in life to get them.



Third, it is about the power of personal choice. This is the steroid factor of materialism that makes consumerism so hard to even see let alone resist.



Advertising promotes the freedom, importance and power of personal choice for customers. The customer is always right- We love the feeling of power and identity we get from the experience of choosing and making a purchase.



So, consumerism is not just the activity of buying things, but is the deeply embedded attitude which is at once a way of expressing ourselves, and also showing that we are in control of our world and well being through carefully researched and selected purchases.



But it is also a never-ending quest. Consumerism is like an addictive drug which gives us pleasure. It is as much about the search to find the best product at the best price and the rush of finally making that purchase. And, of course, there is always something newer, and better, and more desirable to buy.

Friends this is the idea of retail therapy – making yourself feel better through shopping or at least spending a day at the temple. And it applies as much to men shopping at hardware or sports shops as it does to women.



But the sad thing about this addictive element of consumerism is that the perceived freedom is actually slavery to clever marketing and advertising by which others sub-consciously manipulate your choices and massage your idea of what you need and like.



Fashion is a great example. At the same time it tells you that you need to be an individual, but then convinces you to buy clothes that are the same as everybody else who has ‘the look’. We are the new generation of slaves – doing the bidding of those who produce all sorts of stuff and then tell us that is what we want and need.



Friends may I suggest that it is not the so-called big sins of theft or heresy or rejecting the Bible, or even sexual sin that brings down the majority of Christians.



What really undermines our distinctive Christian witness is that we are caught up in the trivia of a consumer society and thousands of choices that distract us and consume our energy and resources – and often without us even noticing or worse still, thinking that we are just attending to the basic necessities of life which we need to survive. 



And this consumerist mentality is now seen in churches. Christians are now more likely to choose a church based on their choice of what they like about a church and what makes them feel good about themself, rather than what is true or right.



Often Christians attend two churches because they like different aspects of the different churches. Often Christians are low on commitment and quick to move on to a new church that may be perceived to be bigger and better.



Christians are less likely to give sacrificially on a regular basis, and are more likely to give when they choose to or when there is a special appeal – so that they can have more control.



And again as Christians we quickly say we cannot afford to give more to the work of the gospel because there is not much left after we get the necessities of life – but these include the latest i-phone or TV or electronic gadget, or sport or leisure product, or clothes, or because we need to buy that coffee or our lunch at work or go out for tea on a regular basis or buy take away because we are so busy.



Christians are more likely to come to church thinking about what they will get out of it, rather than coming with a servant attitude.



More and more Christian women have returned to the paid workforce, and more and more men are working longer hours. Is it really about making ends meet or is it the desire for the things extra money can buy and for the thinking that material things will make a family more secure, and are the most important thing to give children.



So, how are we to be counter-culture to this shopping centre culture? In the time I have left I want to point you to Scripture, just one of the many, many passages in the bible which address this issue of materialism for God’s people.



In response groups you will reflect briefly on another passage, 1 Timothy 6:6-20 and see this same emphasis in those verses.



Interestingly all the passages say essentially the same things - warning of the danger of materialism, and then challenging God’s people with the same principles of attitude and action.



Put simply your attitude to money and possessions, what you do with your money or what you desire to do with it will either make or break your happiness forever.   




1. Make God your treasure. (Matt 6:19-24 ) This is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus spells out the standards of his kingdom. All of life is to be lived in the Light of being the people of King Jesus.



In verse 19-34 he spells out the kingdom attitude to wealth and possessions. The general principle is made clear by three pictures or metaphors in verses 19-24.



Make God your treasure, verses19-21. What we delight in or value or treasure actually governs our lives: It fills our minds and drives us to organise our time and resources and efforts to make sure we enjoy it as much as we can and as often as we can.



Have eyes only for God, verse 22-23. The good eye is the one constantly fixed on God and heaven. When this happens the whole person is full of light. It is a known fact that we move towards what we focus on, and when we are focused on God and his amazing grace to us, then we will already know happiness and not be seduced by the offer of happiness through acquiring what the world offers as happiness.



Recognise you can only have one true master, verse 24. We might think we can serve two masters equally, but in reality we make a choice based on preference and delight. What or whom we want to serve most; what or whom we think offers us most will get our allegiance, and there are only two choices – God and what mammon or the world offers.



2. Trusting him practically for your happiness & security. Therefore, verses 25-34, is Jesus spelling out the obvious outworking of this thinking in practical trust of God’s provision of everything we need for our unique identity, happiness and security.



Verse 33. The person who treasures the Lord and who is determined to find their identity, value, happiness and security in obedience and service of him, will get all that and more from a good and generous God who delights to care for and spoil his children.



One of the realities of our consumerist society is anxiety, worry, and all sorts of related illnesses. And when boiled down it is about money and wealth for the future and security.



 We can’t have it both ways, or hedge our bets. Either our treasure, delight and allegiance is in the things of this earth, the pursuit of which takes the vast bulk of our time, money, and effort. OR our treasure is with God to whom we gladly give the vast bulk of our time, money and effort in service and worship.   



Friends in this light we can see how pathetic we are at times. We want to say we serve God and chase after the so-called treasures of money, possessions and the delight of being a buyer.



We talk casually about heaven but strive to accumulate things with a tireless passion. When our Lord and our non-Christian friends look at us they see people who are more consumer-like than Christ-like.



Friends, Christ calls us to be distinctive in the way we live. In this area he calls us to think and act differently from the brainwashed consumers around us.



And be careful lest you think this means giving up the pursuit of riches and gain. Jesus calls us to gather up true riches and live for true gain by making Christ our treasure. If we want real happiness and if we are passionate about gaining it, then we will not settle for the insecure things of this world, but will look for the heavenly treasure of friendship with Jesus.













Last Updated on Saturday, 21 April 2012 18:42  

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