This is an annual repost from 2010. I’ve made a few minor edits to the original.
“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, 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. The fact is 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 beings 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 the following 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 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