For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
– Philippians 3:18-20
The desire for more is one of the fundamental principles of culture in Babylon. There is always something more to buy or some new experience to enjoy. Magazines, films, television programs and websites show us the lifestyles of the rich and famous, while advertisements whisper, “You deserve it,” and, “You’re worth it, too.” Our economy is based on growth, and – even if we know better intellectually – we expect that our standard of living will steadily improve. If our wages don’t allow us to purchase everything on the ever-growing list of necessities or to hold onto our standard of living, the kind souls over at Visa or MasterCard or the payday loan shop are happy to lend us some money to make it over the hump – for a fee, of course.
And, to be honest, we are not wrong for wanting more. Our productivity has risen. Corporate profits have risen. So why have real wages been flat or falling for decades? Because the money we work for, the bounty we have labored to produce, goes to the executives and the investors, not to the workers. Even if we are among the fortunate ones whose jobs haven’t been destroyed by outsourcing or automation, we still may face a yawning gap between the life we have and the life our hard work should, in a fair system, provide.
It is right to be angry about that and to work to change it, but it is wrong to think that having more will lead to fulfillment or that holiness and obedience to God can be set aside until we have “made it” financially. They cannot.
In the early church, poverty was the norm, not the exception. Believers shared what they had with one another and with non-believers even though most of them had barely enough to survive. They weren’t at risk of having wi-fi cut off; they were at risk of starvation. In that atmosphere of near-deprivation, affluent brothers and sisters subsidized poor ones and those traveling in ministry. Everyone was expected to share what they could. If there wasn’t enough to go around, everyone went without until there was. They didn’t say, “I’ll give once I’m on my feet” or “I’ll contribute once my debts are all paid” or “I’ll share what I have left over after me and mine are taken care of.” Early believers gave out of their substance, not out of their abundance. So why is it so hard for us – and I’m speaking of myself first and foremost – to give even out of our excess?
Could it be that we have such an inflated idea of what is essential that we don’t even understand that so many of us have more than enough? Tasty pastries and cereals for breakfast aren’t essential, not when bread and oatmeal are so inexpensive and nourishing. Meat doesn’t need to be eaten daily, especially when eggs and yogurt are so healthful and available. New books and recreation materials for ourselves and our children are a treat, not a necessity, especially with more libraries making a wide range of e-books available and resources on recycling and upcycling becoming more and more common. A quality sewing machine, like my trusty Janome, can be purchased for under $200 and save thousands of dollars in the long run. Clothing can be purchased a few times a year – even less often for adults – and is often available secondhand. Bottled water should almost never be purchased. There are so many ways to save money and resources nearly painlessly. These and similar techniques probably won’t make you rich, but they will free up resources to be used for the good of others and the building up of the Church. I believe that God desires each of us, no matter our financial condition, to participate in that sacred work.
We need to think critically and creatively about how to minimize and avoid debt, how to support our friends and family financially through networking and conscious consumption, redeem and support those trying to escape poverty and need, and – most of all – how to seek fulfillment in Christ rather than in material things. I would love to do some of that thinking together. If you have tips for life hacks or topics you’d like me to explore in this vein, please share in the comments.