Category Archives: Bible Study

Consumerism, The Stumbling Block of a Generation

The post below used to be an annual re-post from the original made in 2010.  It’s still relevant and remains largely unchanged, with a few minor edits.

1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.  You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:1-5

 

Today consumers nationwide are partaking in what has affectionately become known as “Black Friday”, a national marketing campaign in which “big business” lowers prices and quantities to increase demand, and subsequently profits, all in the name of “holiday shopping”.  Next week, many of these same buyers will move their shopping frenzy to the internet for the online equivalent known as “Cyber Monday.”  What’s alarming is the captivity which the desires of people’s hearts claim over them during these mass marketing events as buying and spending become as addictive as any drug.  How far we have come from the simple prayer of “Give us this day our daily bread” to give me this, that, and the other and make it two of everything.  As a society we have moved further and further from the purchases of necessity and the reliance upon God to fulfilling the desires of our hearts with wants, demands, abundance and the “Have it your way” mentality.

Even though I don’t participate in “Black Friday”, I can be just as guilty of this attitude.  Now I realize that many purchases during these events, and more specifically this time of year, are made with “gift-giving” in mind, so I’m not attempting to drive you to guilt simply for shopping for loved-ones, but at some point we must stop and ask, does the recipient of the gift really need what we are buying or has the entire gift-buying/giving process become a product of the consumerism mindset?

If you’re unsure, ask yourself what would happen if you purchased no gifts for anyone, but instead made them something or provided your time towards a service for them?  Would you likely be labeled a scrooge or miser perhaps?  The fact is that we buy and give out of compulsion to conform to what society says we are “supposed to do” and worry about how someone might feel if we do not comply.  This time of year is filled  with mass consumption from the gifts to Santa to trees and candy.  Many of today’s retailer’s use this commercialism for major profit, reporting sometimes as much as 1/3 of their annual earnings during the “Christmas Season.”

No doubt some will debate this point with me, likely even labeling me a “grinch”, but before you do consider this, the spirit of consumerism is no more than a cleverly devised plan of Satan through the instrument of deceitful men in order to distract the masses from God.  Think this isn’t the case?

In the 1920’s a man by the name of Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, used the propaganda methods employed during the first World War combined with the knowledge of his uncle’s ideas about human being’s behavior to show American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires.  Bernays’ strategies laid the groundwork for new political ideas to control the masses and ultimately helped transform America from a nation of producers to a nation of consumers.  This approach led to “The Century of Self” and started the “all-consuming self, which dominates our world today.”

You may be asking how this brief lesson in history on consumerism combined with consumer events such as “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” have any relevance on how Christians are to live within a biblical worldview.  Read carefully our subject passage above from James and note the destructive forces that gluttonous desires have on the hearts of men.

James states in verse 5 that those who live in “luxury and in self-indulgence” have “fattened [their] hearts in a day of slaughter” a strong condemnation against modern consumerism.  Note also the warning Jesus provides in describing those who place emphasis on treasures of the heart, 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21.

Jesus is saying that what we value most in life will capture our hearts.  His admonishment is for an eternal perspective and to focus on heavenly treasure, which comes only through a relationship with Him.  Quite simply there is no Biblical basis or “liberty in Christ” that supports the overabundance of material possessions for believers here on earth.  In fact, it is to the contrary.

Puritan Thomas Manton in his excellent commentary on James offers some instructive insights to the passage from above.  Manton refers to the rich people mentioned in James 5:1 as “worldly rich people, drowned in pleasures, puffed up with pride.”  He warns that “it is hard to possess riches without sin” and says “do not covet riches so much or please yourselves in the enjoyment of them; but look at your hearts with all the more care.”  Thomas Manton reminds us of Proverbs 30:8-9, 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches;  feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

To James 5:5 Manton adds

“they were reluctant in giving to the poor but easily and liberally spent their money on pleasures and gratifications of the flesh.  Worldly desires, though they argue every inch with grace, easily give way to corruptions.  To live always at the full is mere wanton luxury.  God gave wealth for another purpose than to spend it on pleasures.”  Finally, he advises that with our material blessings we “1. Prize them less; when you possess them, do not let them possess you. 2. Do more good. 3. Seek God all the more earnestly for grace. When you are full, you need it much.”

Consumerism reigns supreme in this country year round reaching its apex during the Christmas season and as such has become the stumbling block to the Gospel for the majority of people born in the last 100 years.

Christian do not let the world distract you with her flashy lights, her savory ads, low prices, and next “big thing”.  It’s ok to give gifts to one another as long as it’s done so within reason, but ask yourself am I contributing to the vicious man-centered cycle of consumerism? Or am I looking for opportunities to glorify God and show the love of Christ to those whom the Lord has surrounded me with and ultimately share the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, with someone who has not yet received that gift.  The “good news of great joy” of which the angel speaks at the time of Christ’s birth in Luke 2:10 has nothing to do with any material gifts that fade away, but instead the amazing, awesome perfect gift that is Jesus Christ and the eternal life given to all those who repent and put their trust in Him.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

Is Affliction Discipline or Judgment?

 

In the book of Job, one of the primary faults of both Job and his poor counseling friends was their inability to understand how divine affliction can be justly administered to the righteous.  On the one hand, the friends failed to reconcile this with the justice of God, while on the other hand, Job failed to reconcile this with the goodness of God.  The argument of the former was that God afflicts the unrighteous, so Job must by necessary consequence be unrighteous.  The argument of the latter was that God arbitrarily afflicts both the righteous and the unrighteous because He’s basically a big meanie who borders on being unjust.  The friends of Job were certain that his affliction was the product of divine retribution correlated to sin, consequently they viewed Job as being in the cross-hairs of God’s punishment.  Job continually maintained his innocence, but didn’t have a category, other than the capriciousness of God, for why he was being afflicted.

Thankfully, Scripture is not silent on the issue of whether Christians are either under divine discipline or divine judgment, so we’re not left wondering or debating the issue.  In the Book of Hebrews, chapter 12, we have a verse that speaks precisely to the heart of this very issue.  I’ve included the surrounding verses for context

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Briefly, the author of this passage exhorts believers to persevere on their pilgrimage to holiness, fighting against sin, and embracing the discipline that comes from the hand of the Lord.  In doing so, he supports his statement by citing an Old Testament passage (Prov. 3:11-12), which is the modus operandi of the author.  With this citation, and his own discourse, he uses the word discipline (Grk. paideia) 8 times (note the underlined use above is supplied by the translation).

In it’s first entry on this word, Thayer’s lexicon defines it as,

the whole training and education of children – which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment.”

The use of this particular word helps the author support his example of the relationship of a father to his children with respect to discipline.  Here, he creates a parallel of the earthly relationship of father to children in order to relate to the heavenly relationship of God the Father with His own children.  In doing so he firmly roots the source of discipline as love, the motivation as the believer’s good, and the goal as holiness.

A.W. Pink in his brief, but helpful book titled Comfort for the Christian elaborates on this word by preferring the translation, “son-training.” He writes

“Unhappily there is no word in the English language which is capable of doing justice to the Greek term here.  ‘Paideia’ which is rendered ‘chastening’ [KJV; ESV discipline] is only another form of ‘paidion’ which signifies ‘young children,’ being the tender word that was employed by the Saviour in John 21:5 and Hebrews 2:13.  One can see at a glance the direct connection which exists between the words ‘disciple’ and ‘discipline’.  Son-training would be better.  It has reference to God’s education, nurture and discipline of His children.  It is the Father’s wise and loving correction which is in view.”

Considering this in relation to the affliction that Job experienced we are, more easily than he and his friends, able to reconcile his righteousness with his suffering concluding that it was for training of a son, not punishment of an enemy.  In fleshing out this distinction between divine discipline and divine punishment further, Pink makes a threefold distinction.  First, he notes the character of God, acting in the former as a Father and the latter as a Judge.  Next, he draws a distinction between the recipients, sons for discipline and enemies for punishment.  Finally, the distinction in design, one is retributive, the other remedial.  “One flowing from His anger, the other from His love.”  Recall in the Book of Job that the entire argumentation of the friends was the misapplication of divine retribution.

God has reserved His divine punishment, or wrath, for those who have not repented and trusted in Christ for salvation.  God’s children are no longer under His wrath, no longer capable of receiving divine punishment, as that was exhausted for them in Christ’s death on the cross.  There is, however, divine discipline or chastisement, reserved exclusively for His children, from His love and for their good.  Turning one final time to Pink, he observes in the cases of David, Job, Abraham, and Paul four distinct purposes for this divine discipline.  For David, his affliction was retributive, or punishment for the sins he had committed.  Keep in mind however that this retribution is not condemning, not judgment, and not sourced from wrath.  It too is driven from God’s love for David’s good, as we may now see in Psalm 51 among others.  Turning to Job, A.W. Pink categorizes his affliction as “corrective” or we might say refining, as it exposed the indwelling sin of Job’s heart, namely pride.  With Abraham, we have and educative use of affliction for the purpose of “developing spiritual graces.”  Finally, with Paul and his thorn in the flesh, Pink describes this as “preventative against pride.”

Our loving Father knows the right affliction at the right time for each of our spiritual conditions whether it be punishment for sin, corrective or refining for sins which we were unaware, educational – that we might grow in our knowledge of God, or preventative – hedging us in to keep us from sin.  How good it is to meditate on this omniscience of God and know that in His wisdom, from His love, He cares for each of His children not leaving them to wander aimlessly like the sheep we are, but as the Great Shepherd He brings the rod for our own good.   Do not despise this, nor grow weary, but endure dear Christians, “God is treating you as sons.”

The Untamed Tongue

 

In the book of Job, there’s a sub-current theme that has largely gone unnoticed but deserves a closer look.  This theme is developed around the use of words and speech throughout the book, so much so that 22.5% of the Hebrew found in the book is related to key terms for speech.  For comparison, the book of Isaiah uses these same key terms 22.7% of the time, while Deuteronomy and Proverbs are 34.2% and 8.7% respectively. (see Barrick, William, “Messianic Implications in Elihu’s ‘Mediator Speech'”)

While the principal speakers of the book of Job – Bildad, Elihu, Eliphaz, Job, the Narrator, Zophar, and the Almighty God – all use or make reference to words or speeches, by far and away the majority is by Job himself (Note that Satan, Job’s servants, and Job’s wife do not make use of these words).  This should be unsurprising for at least the basic reason that Job is the central figure and does the majority of the speaking, however, the larger meaning likely has more to do with the overall interpretation and understanding of the book as a whole, namely that even righteous Job cannot tame the tongue.

While we are told early on in the book that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”, it is by his own admission that his tongue has tripped him up with respect to speaking about his affliction, its divine purpose and meaning, and more importantly, questioning the very character of God, Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3  

In chapter 4, during the speech of Eliphaz, he reminds Job that in the past, his “words have upheld him who was stumbling” yet as the affliction wears on and indwelling sin continues to be stirred up, Job’s words are unable to be restrained. This affliction, brought about by the hand of God, served to stir up settled sin in the heart of Job, out of which the overflow spilled to his words.

In the Book of James, which some have argued (rightly) is a New Testament commentary on the Book of Job, the Apostle draws the readers attention to the dangers of the untamed tongue, first by way of introduction in chapter 1 and then by way of exposition of this intro in chapter 3. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that James has Job in mind when he mentions this section, particularly as he describes mankind’s ability to tame all sorts of creatures, but not the tongue, For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8  This should especially call to mind the references to the creation of beasts and birds, reptiles and sea creatures, that Yahweh uses in His response to Job in chapters 38-41.

Commenting on this verse in James, Puritan Thomas Manton writes, 

The tongue is barely subdued for any good use.  And in this life God does not give absolute grace to avoid every idle word.  This refutes the idea of the power of free will alone; we cannot tame one part of the body.  Consider the offenses of the tongue and you will see that you must walk humbly with God. (CCC on James, pg. 195)

With Job, we are given evidence and insight into the life of a truly righteous man who reveals that in the midst affliction, even he is unable to tame the unruly tongue that speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Luke 6:45).  Job fell victim to the trappings of the “last word” in an argument and looseness of his words toward Almighty God.  If Job fails in with regard to the untamable tongue, what hope is there for us?

Turning again to Manton we get sound counsel in this regard,

Though we have lost our power, God must not lose his right.  Weakness does not exempt us from duty; we must bridle the tongue, though we cannot do this ourselves.

Even if we cannot bridle it, God can.  The horse does not tame himself, nor the camel himself; man tames the beast, and God tames man.

He then offers two methods for the duty of taming the tongue

  1. Come before God humbly; bewail the depravity of your nature,  manifested in this uncontrolled part of the body.

  2. Come earnestly.

Finally, we may gain superior wisdom from the pen of the divinely inspired Apostle James who writes that we should, “be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  James 1:19

The example of Job and the exhortation from James stand as stark witnesses that the tongue is an untamable viper.  Nevertheless, let us labor in this duty; let us mourn when we fail; let us extend grace to those whose tongues speak with liberality; and let us follow the example of our Lord, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23