What's the deal with more?
Circumstances typically activate our response systems. The various noises, motions, alarms, joys, sorrows, and exertions around us register in our neural synapses and communicate data to our physical, emotional, and spiritual systems. Learning to live above or beyond our circumstances is generally acknowledged as a discipline of Christian growth. When the Apostle Paul wrote about contentment, it was the basic assumption that his personal situation didn't define his needs. He wrote---
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to
be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every
circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and
Philippians 4: 11-12, ESV
What registers with me most about these verses is the Apostle's personal discipline to remain content "In any and every circumstance...". The realities of faith and life had taught Paul to be content "in whatever situation" he faced. And, that one truth may be the appropriate starting point in understanding our compulsions about "more". Paul didn't need more because he had learned to be content when being brought low by life circumstances or abounding in them. It was something he learned.
It's not a mystery of the Kingdom, that disciples are learners. (Go here for the Biblehub version of Strong's Concordance #3101, mathetes). It may, however, be one of the more ignored elements of our disciple making commission. Today we have a reduced discipleship makeover long on gathering information, facts, historical data, and Bible knowledge with the learning buttons deactivated or on pause. And, contentment may be one of those neglected lesson plans. So, the connected consumer world invades our homes with the ingenious bait of more, more, more. The deal about more, more, more these days is that our connected consumer culture has convinced us that more, more, more is consistent with many Christian ideals. What in the world? A couple of things---
1. The American and Christian work ethic.
So, call me anything, but not a slacker. Our cherished work ethic has deep biblical roots and we tend to look down on people who have the resources for work but don't. There are hundreds of Scripture references that challenge laziness or over-dependence on others. The Apostle Paul reminded readers of his work habits and gave them instruction about imitating them---
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep
away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition
that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because
we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying
for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to
any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an
example to imitate.
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-9, ESV
The more, more, more spirit of connected consumerism elevates this work ethic to a place of domination in many lives.
2. The compulsion about providing for our families.
Providing for our families is certainly a strong expectation of spiritual leaders. The Apostle Paul wrote about it as well---
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his
household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8, ESV
Being manic about our work ethic, and embracing the connected consumer culture, adds a note of obsessive compulsion to our definition of what actually constitutes providing for our relatives or households. More, more, more is the deal for most of us.
3. The consumer definition of success.
Then, there's the American Dream, the historical legend that with hard work and a dream we humans can accomplish anything. And, success, in this American Dream is the accumulation of wealth, fame, a good reputation, and more of just about everything. Biblical success involves many attributes. Most are encompassed in a basic promise Jesus gave his disciples. He told them, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33, ESV). The degree that we seek God and his righteousness is a summation of biblical concepts of success. It clearly is not about more, more, more. There is also the constant challenge of pleasing God and not men (see Galatians 1:10, and others) that shifts our grasp of success. Pleasing God is the main thing.
4. The Christian emphasis of more.
Many Christians are frustrated by the contemporary church's compulsion about more. More time at church, more prayer, more service, more fellowship, more witness, more Bible study, more financial support, more relationships, more discipleship, ad infinitum.
Somewhere in the mix of Bible teaching topics the ideals of less, weakness, mustard seeds, and being as innocent as children has slipped to the back pages of instruction. We're obsessed with more, bigger, stronger, greater, best, nicer, and other expressions of largess. You know, the water may have gotten in the boat.
Forgive me, there's more. Now, more, more, more has come to church. And, the blessings of contentment are in the small print of what it means to be a believer in this connected consumer culture.
So, what is contentment? That is the topic for Friday. Hope you'll check it out.
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