The Apostle Paul had an interesting desire for every Christian (even those he had not met) that he both prayed for, and labored (struggled) to see come to pass. He wanted everyone joined together in real life among God’s family so they will grow and mature into all He desires.
Colossians 2:1-3 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, (2) that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together (to join or put together in one) in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, (3) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
In Paul’s heart this wasn’t optional but at the center of God’s design for every Christian. Why was Paul so emphatic about this? It was the “mystery” Christ revealed to him and he spent his life laboring to see it come to pass for everyone.
Ephesians 2:13-22 …(19)…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (20) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, (21) in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (22) In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Ephesians 3:3-14… (6) This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus …to me grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (9) and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, (10) so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…(11) This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord… (14) For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.
Consumerism works against it
Western consumerism tends to directly work against this aspect of God’s design. I remember a marketing campaign for multiple services that a church put forth in advertising it’s three services, “Because Christians should have choices.” I have seen other churches over the years launch marketing campaigns for their openings with letters, phone calls, and post cards appealing to this same consumerist nature. These things can be good in getting the word out about a new church. The problem comes with the subtle but often clear message, we will give you what you may want. One church offered, “energetic music with fresh hot Starbucks coffee waiting for you at the front door!”
God’s purpose through Christ isn’t about Christians as consumers getting what they want. It is about God’s design and getting what we need that should reign supreme. If people live as consumer Christians they will attempt to turn the God of mercy into a god who lives at their mercy. His only aim will be to satisfy their personal desires.
There are three key values in western consumerism that can bleed over into the culture of God’s people. Most retail outlets fighting for market shares are aware of these and utilize them to sell more stuff.
- Individual freedom of choice reigns supreme. Anything that seems to work against wants and choices is evil.
- The customer is boss. Things are seen as good or bad based on how it satisfies the customer.
- We must continue to stir up wants that become needs so consuming will continue. In the business world it is about the continued creation of, and altering of new products then advertising the need for them.
Often the idea of “church shopping” is based on a consumerist mindset. While there is a need when relocating to a new town to find the place God wants you to be a consumer mindset isn’t always the best motivation. I remember reading a story about a Bible college instructor informing a Latin American graduate student about the idea of “church shopping.” The student’s reaction was one of surprise, shock, and disbelief. “What about loyalty and tradition?” He was identifying other things that should come to bear besides what’s in the best interest of the individual.
Consumerism Meets Family
Real challenges come when the consumerist mindset meets God’s idea of family among His house. We have seen how our culture deals with it in natural family. You simply disconnect, shop for a new one, or do without it. There are countless children, husbands, and wives who have felt the pain of this in their natural families.
That same consumerist mindset leads to family breakdowns in the church. This is why many stay weak and self oriented (which is the opposite of maturity). When challenge to our convenience and immaturity come in the context of real family life many yield to consumerist mindsets. Family is both a great blessing as well as a challenge to our immature self interest.
I once heard a leader commenting on Biblical ideas regarding maturing in God’s family from passages like Acts 2:41-47, 4:32-37, and Psalms 92:12-14 The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. (13) Planted (to root or plant) in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. (14) They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green,
“We share our hearts with one another. We share our stuff with one another. We take responsibility for one another. We stay, embrace the pain of challenge, and grow up with one another. People who stay grow, people who run with consumerist mindsets repeat the same relational dysfunctions with other people and other churches down the line.”
We must always keep God’s design for His family before us to challenge immaturity and help us grow.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; (15) and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
1 John 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
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