Monday, June 14, 2010


I am an idolator. This painful realization struck me this morning as I read Paul's words to the Colossians. In chapter 3 verse 5 he writes:

Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don't be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry. (NLT)

On a recent business trip I traveled to the large city where our family lived for more than three years. I had several things I wanted to buy there, things that we needed but cannot find in the city where we currently lived. As I visited the various shops where I could find these items, my eyes were regularly captured by numerous other items on display. I do not normally think of myself as an avid consumer, but seeing all the things around me that are not normally available to me drew out of me a strong temptation to spend far more than I could afford. To my shame I displayed exactly the behavior Paul writes about. I had become greedy for the good things of this life.

As I reflected on this verse this morning I saw that many believers, particularly in America, are very good at concerning themselves with the dangers of the temptations listed in the first sentence. But we give scant attention to that second sentence. We may feel that we are not greedy. After all we are not longing for "sinful" pleasures. But notice that Paul doesn't say "Don't be greedy for the sinful pleasures of this life." He says we shouldn't be greedy for the "good things" of this life. Thinking about the things that tempted me on my recent trip, they were all "good things," things that I could easily argue would be useful for us or simply nice to have. They were not immoral or illicit things. (Can a new propane tank be considered immoral?) But my desire for them indicated that my heart was longing for them inordinately and they had become idols to me.

Paul's words in this passage indicate that God views our consumer mentality and consumer lifestyle with the same degree of anger that he directs toward sexual immorality. A friend of mine who travels regularly to east Asia sees this consumerism growing like a weed in that culture as well, with negative impacts on the society. Yet I don't see that most of my fellow believers in the US really recognize the impact this lifestyle has on us. We don't accept it as idolatry and therefore do not regard it seriously. I am not exempt from this. My experience during my recent trip was quite a shocking wake up call for me as I realized how easily my heart can be pulled toward the things of this world, even good and potentially useful things. But I don't want to be an idolator so I pray that God will help me replace the desires for the things of this world with a desire for the things that will last.

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