"Therefore, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians, 6:10).
Goodness seems to be a diminishing quality in people. Looking at the news, headlines, and overall behavior in the world and the family of God is unsettling. Indeed, over the last few years, we have been caught up in a whirlwind of harsh and brutal behavior, as seen in prejudice and bigotry. But I have also seen believers, Gods people, demonstrate a lack of compassion and empathy. 2 Timothy 3 states unequivocally that in the last day's people will change, speaking of God's people, many will become lovers of self, unkind, unforgiving, having a form of godliness but no power. Are we there?
As we confront this topic, I wish to first turn to a Jewish illustration on Goodness, as it reveals two kinds of people. There is the "good guest" and the "bad guest." It's a simple analogy that brings to the forefront how goodness touches every aspect of our life, the guest, and the host. The "good guest" says, "look at what the host has done for me. Look at how much he has served me, and how much he has troubled himself for my sake." The "bad guest," says, "what did I take from him already? He was going through all this trouble anyway on behalf of his wife and children, so it was no great sacrifice on his part." We can see, the "good guest" has an open mind as well as deep insight. He realizes that the host was preparing for himself and his family anyway, but he appreciates that the host opened his home for him. The "good guest" praised his host's kindness, so it engenders an emotional closeness between the two. The point is, we either respond to others with a good heart or a bad one.
Making no pretense here, we as the people of God are the ones that bring good things out of the good stored up in our hearts. The evil man can only bring evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. One of the cardinal signs of our times catapulting the recession of this virtue of "goodness" is selfishness, because our culture is obsessed with self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction, and self-aggrandizement. For the family of God, this is a severe problem when it roots itself in one's life because selfishness is the increasing presence of self. Selfishness erodes and crowds out goodness by its very nature. It never counts what one has because it is always in need of more like the bad guest from our story. For some, one million is not enough while a hundred million is not enough, and yet for others, one billion is unsatisfactory.
What optimizes our selfish culture today, is the "selfie" phenomenon, or the "selfie" generation. A self-portrait photograph is taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone—and a selfie stick. Then these self-portraits are shared on social media sites such as Facebook®, Google®, Instagram®, Snapchat®, Tumblr®, and Twitter®. Of course, they are always flattering and made to appear casual and natural. But imagine before the era of social media sending all your friends a beautiful 8 x 10 glossy of yourself! Who would consider such a thing?
Further compounding the problem today is society's materialism, along with the mania for fame. All of this is not without its impact on God's people. Television programming is predominantly focusing on the rich and the famous. Reality shows are centered on perhaps 1% of the population, so 99% of the people are bombarded daily with valuations of a world that's not real. The irony of this cycle can foster a feeling of insignificance when our lives are grander and more valuable than anything in the world. Ironically, the pursuit of "more" comes at the cost of an emotional disease that's spreading like wildfire, "selfishness." Our Lord's message does the opposite. People's lives are enlarged through fellowship, sacrifice, and generosity.
How does materialism enter into the family of God?
Well, materialism may be a corporate as well as an individual struggle. For the church, overt materialism may not plague her in the traditional sense. However, when she begins to possess fear over her material needs as any individual might, it can become a form of materialism. She can begin to hoard wealth for fear of loss. Instead of living by faith, she is sustained by capital reserves and investments. When she is never satisfied with what she has, it is parallel to any single individual that is never happy with what they have. Again, enough is never enough!
It should also be noted that materialism has little to do with how much money we have, the house we live in, or the cars we drive. Materialism is an attitude toward money that is often rooted in fear, gluttony, and unthankfulness. DID YOU KNOW THAT A WEALTHY PERSON CAN HAVE A SPIRIT OF POVERTY, WHILE A POOR PERSON CAN HAVE A SPIRIT OF ABUNDANCE? For instance, the wealthy person gives out of their perceived shortage, while the poor person gives out their perceived abundance. While the latter never count their deficiency, the former is always calculating how to amass more. (Read Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4 for further insight).
Paul writes to the Philippians of what I call a holy conflict in a believer's life. He states, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Paul is caught between two places, just as we are in this temporal world. On the one, we desire to depart to be with our Lord. But we also know that there is a fruit of our labor that benefits many. This not only consoled Paul, he put all things behind him for the sake of knowing Jesus. It seems in his life that all of his worldly pursuits were dwarfed by the goal of pressing towards the mark of his higher calling.
WHAT IS THE MARK THAT YOU ARE WORKING TOWARDS IN YOUR DAILY LIFE ?
I have a picture in my head of Paul running ahead of the masses, continually encouraging them to follow in his steps, so they grow closer to the life available in Jesus. But something does pull us away from it, and society plays a significant role in it. It is the obsession for material things and a higher status or station, over and above what God has given to each of us. Toward this principle, I've learned an essential formula that will mitigate the obsession that has swallowed up so many in foolishness:
Less is best!
Smaller is bigger!
Simplicity is more powerful!
Find contentment in the station that your Creator gave you!
The following words are nothing less than a summation of this:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy and, where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and, where thieves do not break in or steal."
At the time and place of the giving of the Law only 50 days following Israel's departure from Egypt, Sinai was the place where Israel indeed became a nation. But something there teaches us a lesson about materialism. The question can be asked: Why does God choose to make his covenant with the Jewish people in a barren place known to be hostile to life? After all, Sinai was known to be one of the most desolate places on earth. Why didn't God choose a more hospitable setting where He would be able to display the myriad of wonders that He created? Why not choose a setting of natural abundance to make His covenant with the Jewish people? Perhaps, God chose Sinai not to distract the early people of God by natural abundance. God wanted their full attention as they gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai without distraction. Let's explore this further.
One: The lure of the world can undermine God's central message; this was critical to the Jewish people's survival as it is for God's people today. God is most important, not the abundance of the natural world.
Two: When there was nothing in the natural to worship or admire as at Sinai, no risk was posed to compete with God's devotion. It was only God, the Jewish people, and everything else was secondary. These two points can mitigate the influence of today's materialism significantly. Make no mistake. We must break down the rampant selfishness and materialism of our culture that persistently contends with God's devotion. But the people of God need a Sinai experience. Our Church today needs a Sinai experience.