I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t responsibly prepare for the future. And I could probably make a strong case about how the New Testament was written in a different time and place where the economy was primitive and unlike our own complex system. Or that we need to balance this teaching with others that implore us to care for our families and loved ones (1 Timothy 5:8). But the fact remains—the culture in which we live heavily influences the way we read and respond to God’s Word. And one of the most consistent and dominant messages of culture is that you need a lot more than what you currently have, and once you get it you will finally be happy.
If you’re like me, you are probably thinking, “I know that my happiness only comes from the Lord, so thank goodness I’m inoculated against that false message from culture.” I’ve yet to meet a wealthy Christian who believes a designer watch on his wrist will make him happy. But I’ve met more than one Christian with a designer watch. Madison Avenue doesn’t care if we believe the message or not. Only that we act on it. And it shouldn’t surprise us that we do. The false message from our “culture of more” is not only insidious and subtle, but relentless. Companies spend billions of dollars to generate desire. You listen to that message and see it on flashy billboards on the morning drive. If you read Fortune, Inc., Entrepreneur, Travel, or other periodicals that know you can buy just about anything, you can’t escape that message of more. Your iPhone, iPad, and laptop quickly learn enough about you to target that message even more specifically to your desires.
Even if we are immune to those efforts to generate desire, there’s yet another way that our culture shapes our thinking, and that’s through our friends. This happens at every socioeconomic level, and it goes like this: You pull into the church parking lot and notice that one of your good friends from your small group is driving a new car. And it’s gorgeous. You congratulate him and he shows you its features, and you’re happy for him, and you’re just two buddies appreciating a new car. But on your way home from church, you’re thinking it might be time to buy a new car. And not just another new car, but a bit of an upgrade. Your current ride is fine. Until you see your buddy’s new car.
When this happens to me, it’s not a matter of coveting or trying to keep up with the neighbors. When they buy a nicer car, vacation at a better resort, send their kid to a prestigious college, it’s only natural to at least kick the tires, so to speak. Why wouldn’t I want my son to get a great education? Or to treat my family to a fabulous vacation?
Again, there’s nothing wrong with nice things and experiences. If you drive a Lexus, vacation on Lake Como, or drop your kid off at Harvard, you’re not a bad person. All of us must choose how to negotiate a culture that dangles bigger and better in front of us wherever we turn. What many of us in this conversation are learning, however, is that while having more is not in and of itself wrong, the message behind it is. How you survive in this culture hinges on your expectations. In other words, what really constitutes “the good life”?
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