Last Sunday, in my sermon based on Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard Workers from Matthew 20:1-16, I talked about the destructive way in which we compare ourselves to other people. I said:
If you spend your life comparing yourself to others, I promise you this: You’ll never measure up. You’ll never know peace. You’ll never be satisfied. For example, if you spend your life comparing yourself to other people, you’ll never make enough money. You’ll never have as nice a house as you want. Your children will never be as successful as you want them to be. You’ll never drive as nice a car as you want. You’ll never be popular enough. You’ll never be pretty enough. You’ll never be appreciated enough. You’ll never get the recognition that you believe your work deserves.
Oh… And, by the way, if you spend your life comparing yourself to other people, you’ll never be “blessed by God” enough. And you’ll resent God a little because he’ll seem to bless other people more than you. And it’s not because God actually does bless other people more than you—but it will seem that way.
Our problem isn’t with God. Through Christ, God has given us everything that we need to be truly happy. Whether we see it that way or not depends on us. How can we be grateful for what we have instead of envious of what we don’t have.
Our challenge is made many times harder because of where we live. In his book The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Reflections on Money, Sex & Power, Richard Foster writes that we’re bombarded by hundreds (or was it thousands?) of advertising and marketing messages each day. He encourages us to disrespect these messages by laughing at them.
Regardless, without God’s grace to stay focused on our goal, we are hopelessly overmatched. Think about it: Our economy depends, in large part, on convincing us that we don’t have enough; that we don’t measure up; that we need this object, service, person, or food item to be truly fulfilled. It would be laughable if it weren’t so spiritually deadly to us.
Honestly… Just yesterday, I heard a fast-food radio commercial promoting some pile of hot garbage that a restaurant chain wants us to buy. This product had no redeeming nutritional value. Its production represents the worst aspects of industrial agriculture. It does nothing but feed our unhealthy attachment to food and contribute to the problem of obesity.
To make matters worse, its main selling point is that this food will make us so full that we can’t finish it! In the commercial, the voice actor “eating” the food is struggling to finish it. He has to coach himself: “You can do this!”
How is hearing this message good for us? How does this commercial not promote the sin of gluttony? Why doesn’t Focus on the Family, for instance, which gets so easily offended by so many things in our culture, not get worked up about the sinfulness of ads like these?
Be that as it may, Roger Olson explores a possible Christian response to sinful marketing in this post. You don’t have to agree with him to appreciate that he’s raising the issue.
By the way, I understand my own complicity here: I’m as addicted to things as the next guy. The first step is to admit you have a problem, right?
Here’s a fast-food ad from my childhood.