By Ryan Connor
Instead of satisfying us, the things we buy can leave us simply frustrated or even afraid. A Christian’s first weapon against consumerism is deciding which master he or she will serve.
Are you worried about your life? We Americans are an anxious people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports anxiety disorders to be the most common mental illness in the United States.
From a biblical worldview, anxiety disorders are ultimately a result of the curse God placed upon all of creation (Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:20, 21). A genuine anxiety disorder is a sickness, simply a malfunction of biology, and ought to be treated as such. Nevertheless, there is a form of anxiety and worry that is sinful. Its remedy requires faith and repentance.
Fears and worries have plagued humankind ever since Adam and Eve fell through sin and were driven from the Garden of Eden. The broken relationship between God and his image-bearers was characterized by fear and shame. Adam said, “I was afraid . . . and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10)1. As a result, this fear and shame-based brokenness continues throughout human history.
In the middle of it all, Jesus enters our broken world and declares: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Anxiety and fear are antithetical to the gospel of Christ. The gospel says God’s righteous anger was satisfied at the cross of Christ, and that Jesus is the “propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2; Romans 5:8, 9). Praise God! Unlike pagans who fear “angry gods,” Christians find comfort and security in knowing the love and grace of God.
The gospel of consumerism tells a different story. It is the story of a self-absorbed obsession with the acquisition of consumer goods (i.e., stuff). The gospel of consumerism says that security and the good life come from getting more stuff. More precisely, consumerism delights in the ability to have whatever we want, whenever we want it. Beyond basic needs, consumerism tells us we must have the latest and greatest, the new and improved. Consumerism declares that something is seriously wrong when we are prevented from getting more stuff.
The not-so-good-news of consumerism is that it comes with a hefty dose of fear and anxiety. After all, what happens when the paycheck is spent, the savings is gone, and the credit cards are maxed out? Suddenly, the good life promised by the gospel of consumerism vanishes.
“Do Not Be Anxious”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls his followers to life in the kingdom of Heaven—a life free of worry and anxiety. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). In the kingdom of God, anxious thought is replaced with faith in God and purpose and meaning in life. Jesus says there is more to life than our stuff.
Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol reaches a climax when Ebenezer Scrooge sees himself in the future, dying alone and uncared for by anyone. As a result of that experience, he is transformed from a miserable miser to a generous man full of joy. He realizes there is more to life than his stuff.
Ironically, the name Ebenezer comes from the Bible and means, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12, NIV). In view of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus, we who are redeemed by his blood move forward with confidence, not fear. And we may confidently trust God for all our needs, now and forever.
Jesus Points to God’s Providence
In his letter to the Romans, Paul insists that the created order makes clear the eternal power and divine nature of God (1:20). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists we can clearly see the providence of God at work in creation. “Look at the birds of the air. . . . Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). “Consider the lilies of the field. . . . Will he not much more clothe you?” (vv. 28, 30). In the kingdom of Heaven, anxiety and worry are displaced by the care and keeping of our loving God.
Now, Jesus is not advocating carelessness and irresponsibility. As John Wesley rightly put it, “Our Lord does not require that we would be utterly without a thought to the concerns of this life. A giddy, careless temper is far removed from the whole religion of Jesus Christ.”2 Jesus is not undoing the need for work and prudent concern about food and clothing. The issue is the worry and anxiety about these things that flows from a lack of trust in God’s providence.
Jesus Points to the Futility of Worry
Worry and anxiety get us nowhere. Being anxious about our height will not make us grow taller. Worrying about death will not add a single hour to our lives (Matthew 6:27). In fact, worrying usually makes things worse and wastes valuable energy that might be used for God’s good purposes. In other words, we become spiritually paralyzed by worry.
We see this happen today whenever followers of Jesus become so consumed with worries about the economy, government, or world affairs that they become discouraged—or, worse, they become a discouragement to others by their constant fretting. We see this spiritual paralysis in the lives of Christians who are crushed by debt and financial strain incurred in the anxious pursuit of the American dream.
How can disciples focused on material things be salt and light in a culture of consumerism? When we are caught up in the preoccupation of acquiring more and more things—and often things we really do not need—we will foster an anxious thought life that can end only in futility.
Jesus Points to a Singleness of Mind
Jesus’ instructions against worrying about the needs of life come as a conclusion to his instructions about possessing a singleness of mind. In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus contrasts treasures on earth versus treasure in Heaven, a healthy eye full of light versus a bad eye full of darkness, and serving God versus serving money. The contrast shows that your heart cannot be on the earth and in Heaven at the same time. Neither can your eye be focused on the good and the bad at the same time. Ultimately, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters!”
As long as we are double-minded, having our hearts split between Heaven and earth, and our eyes seeing double as we try to hold both good and bad in view, we will be spiritually paralyzed. In the final contrast, Jesus makes it clear we will eventually have to choose between Heaven and earth, light and darkness, God and money: “For either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
The contrast Jesus makes is essentially a contrast between the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdoms of this world—between the true and living God and the idolatry of material consumption.
Jesus makes one last contrast and points his disciples in another direction. He says,
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:31-33).
Worry and anxiety stand in contrast with seeking God’s kingdom. It is a matter of priorities. Give the kingdom of God first place in your life and you will eliminate the anxious thought and worry that spiritually paralyzes you and inevitably leads to idolatry. Choose Heaven, light, and God, and the promise of true and lasting security—in this life and in the life to come.
1Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible, unless otherwise indicated.
2John Wesley, The Sermon on the Mount (Alachua: Bridge-Logos), 233.
Ryan Connor serves as lead pastor with Amity (Oregon) Christian Church. Hear him at “Beyond the Standard,” January 9 at 11 a.m. EST: www.blogtalkradio.com/standardpublishing.