Consume or contribute?
Have you ever gone shopping to get just a couple of items and ended up buying a lot more than you intended? I know I have. When we do that, we’ve fallen victim to a phenomenon called the Gruen Transfer. (Yes, this is what the popular ABC TV show is named after.)
The essence of the Gruen Transfer is that the shopping centre hits our senses with a combination of its layout, music playing in the background, colourful displays and other such tactics, with the aim of changing our thoughts and emotions about why we’re there. The hope is we’ll be induced to purchase more than we’d planned.
If this sort of hidden persuasion were found only in shopping centres, there wouldn’t be a lot of harm done. However, the phenomenon is more endemic than that. We live in a world that works hard to sweep us up into a desire for more and more things; to turn on our consumption engines and shift our gears into accumulation mode.
Through advertising, peer pressure and other means, the world tells us we never have enough, that there’s always something more to grasp or to strive for. And we believe it, so we become dissatisfied and we get caught up in the process. Even the wealthy typically don’t believe they have enough.
What I just oultined isn’t a new process. In chapter 12 of his letter to the Church in Rome, Paul urged Christians not to let the world squeeze them into its own mould (as JB Phillips described Romans 12:2). We who have received the mercies of God are called upon to be renewed in our minds, with attitudes grounded in grace and humility, not greed and hubris.
We have two choices…
Paul speaks in two ways about how our minds can be renewed in relation to wealth.
The first is in the context of our gifting (12:3-8). God has given all of us different spiritual gifts, which we’re urged to use to the fullest of our abilities. One gift is that of being a financial contributor (v 8); someone who responds to needs and helps to meet them. Such people are instructed to give generously.
The second context is a wonderful passage (12:9-21) about Christian love — its high character and its practical nature. One practical expression of love is to contribute to the needs of others and to search for opportunities to show hospitality (v 13).
We have two choices with our money. We can consume or we can contribute. There’s a place for both; the issue is proportion.
In the Old Testament the guideline was that 10 per cent was to be used in contributing to the needs of the priests, plus offerings above that as needs arose and people had ability. In the New Testament, giving is more open than that system, with instruction simply to be generous and not to be greedy.
The key point is that we have to fight against all of the world’s means of persuasion, which strive to make us excessively favour consumption over contribution. We need to be intentional about the proportion — and also consciously plan to be a contributor, to whatever extent we prayerfully decide is right.
Some are gifted to be a contributor to a greater extent than others, but Christian love calls on all of us to have generous hearts. That way we will be, as Paul put it, ‘living sacrifices’ (12:1); that way, we will make our money matter.
Executive Director, Uniting Financial Services