“The customer is king” is one of the great statements of faith of our age. It means that I am the boss and I must have what I want.
We live in a consumer society. If that’s not the most obvious statement I have made in a blog post, it must be right up there in the top one.
In a consumer society, everything is about getting the best deal. This might be common sense when it comes to purchasing a fridge or a night in the Hilton. Unfortunately consumerism does not begin and end at what might traditionally have been regarded as business transactions. Consumerism carries over a ‘best deal’ mentality into every area of life. And whether we like it or not it can affect our faith.
It did just that in Malachi’s day. Worship had become “second rate” in the eyes of the people, and they were neglecting worship because it wasn’t up to their standard:
“But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ 13 And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty. Malachi 1.12-13
The irony is that they were the very people who had defiled the Lord’s table!
Often we pick and choose churches that cater, not just to our needs, but also to our personal preferences. I’ve even known Christians who get their worship ‘fix’ at one church and slink back to another in the expectation that they will receive top quality pastoral care on demand. Best of big church, best of small church. And no felt responsibility to give to either. Spiritual consumerism. Perhaps such people have found a Trip Adviser for churches and are making their choices on that basis!!
That’s an extreme. But perhaps not as uncommon as you might think.
Sometimes it’s more subtle. We sign up for a course or to help at an event. The time approaches and we don’t feel like going. So we don’t show up. Just like a cooling off period when you take out an insurance contract!
If this was peculiar to one church or denomination or stream, it would be serious enough, but consumerism rears its ugly head in every corner of the kingdom. A consumer mentality, then, is a fourth temptation in a mediocre age.
Before I leave the subject of consumerism behind, I should say that I have never found spiritual consumers happy people. The grass is always greener somewhere else, or should I say the end of rainbow is forever just behind the next hedge.
A fifth temptation in a mediocre age is to replace ethical standards with shallow religious emotions.
If you ‘do’ social media, you could be forgiven for thinking that an incredible number of people who engage in the dark arts of Twitter or Facebook are offended about something or other. Passion, outrage, anger and offence are vented all around us. We live in an emotionally charged age.
People in Malachi’s day knew all about emotion. They could weep passionately in the worship service, but it made no impact whatsoever in the way they lived their lives, especially in their marriage relationships:
Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favour on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Malachi 2.13-14
There is a challenge here for those of us in the pentecostal / charismatic world. Our style – rightly – acknowledges the importance of emotion. But one of the temptations of our era is to settle for an emotional experience without any change of lifestyle.
Emotion does not always lead to action. If it did the pentecostal / charismatic church in the U.K. would be unstoppable!
A sixth temptation in a mediocre age follows directly from number five. It is to do with emphasising the pleasure of marriage at the cost of the purpose of marriage.
You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. Malachi 2.14-16
Genesis clearly indicates that pleasure is an aspect of marriage (Genesis 2.23-25). But marriage is about much more than an individual having his or her felt needs met. It has a much wider purpose.
Marriage is about friendship. The word translated partner (14) is elsewhere translated companion. Friendship is a great basis for any marriage!
It’s also about children (Genesis 1.28), although for some that might not be medically possible.
In her commentary on Malachi, Joyce Baldwin says: “The family was intended to be the school in which God’s way of life was practised and learned”. What a vision of the family!
Marriage is also about thriving in life. The first couple were called to subdue the earth. They were to do that as a team, not just as individuals (Genesis 1.26, 28).
For Christian families today the promise is that through Christ we can reign in life (Romans 5.17). We are priests and kings (Revelation 1.6 NKJV). As Andrew Murray (Bible teacher, not the tennis player) explained, priests have influence with God, kings have influence with people.
In a mediocre age, God calls us to be different. In a mediocre age the Bible sets out for us a vision of excellence, godly excellence. We won’t be different if we don’t see different. Let’s fix our focus on God’s ways and face down the temptations of the era in which we live.