Consumerism: It’s not about the poor

*This is the third in my series looking at why consumerism is an issue for Christians – intro, part 1*

The words ‘remember the poor’ ring loud in the Bible (Gal 2:10) and in recent years have had plenty of resonance in the movement of churches I belong to. The Lausanne Paper: An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Life-style which is stirring me greatly at the moment says,

“We are shocked by the poverty of millions, and disturbed by the injustices which cause it.” One quarter of the world’s population enjoys unparalleled prosperity, while another quarter endures grinding poverty. This gross disparity is an intolerable injustice,—we refuse to acquiesce in it.”

I agree with that but the reason why Christians in the the rich nations of the world should be far more concerned about consumerism than they currently are, is not because of the poor.

The poor would undoubtedly benefit if we raised our game in the area of simplicity, generosity and contentment (the three key ingredients to challenging consumerism and essentials in Christian discipleship). If we reject consumerism and live more simply, then very simply we will have more to give both to relieve the poor and to reach the lost.

Poverty remains a scandalous stain in the world and every child dying of malaria or hunger or thirst is a victory for injustice that should never have been allowed. God’s response to the breaking of His heart over the plight of the poor is to send His people. But we still do not respond to consumerism because of the poor.

The poor will thank you or they might rob you (both have happened to me), they will absorb all your energies and after ‘you have given all you have’ (1 Cor 13:3) and committed all life into meeting the needs of the poor, needy and oppressed and even after my body is burned or in the ground, the poor will remain (Matt 26:11). In some ways caring for the poor can feel like Canute urging the tide to turn around, although the principle of the Starfish remains true.

The Lausanne Paper also says,

“Our Christian obedience demands a simple life-style, irrespective of the needs of others.”

So just as the environment would flourish not suffer (Rom 8:19-21) because of the lives of the people of God, the same is true for the poor. But our lives are not based on these as ends in themselves or as foundations on which to build. Instead the foundation is ‘Christian obedience’, as Lausanne says,

“Jesus our Lord summons us to holiness, humility, simplicity and contentment.”

And this is the key for me, we live simply, we give generously and our hearts are content because of Jesus, for Jesus, to follow Jesus and become like Jesus. Here’s the Lausanne paper again,

“He [Jesus] calls all his followers to an inner freedom from the seduction of riches (for it is impossible to serve God and money) and to sacrificial generosity (“to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share”-] Timothy 6:18). Indeed, the motivation and model for Christian generosity are nothing less than the example of Jesus Christ himself, who, though rich, became poor that through his poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). It was a costly, purposeful self-sacrifice,- we mean to seek his grace to follow him.”

Can you argue with that?

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