The problem at Philippi was that their culture, not the gospel, determined their values in ways they could not readily identify.
The problem in North American is that our culture, not the gospel, determines our values in ways that we struggle to readily identify.
The people of Philippi had partnered with the gospel – and they found themselves in the middle of a difficult tension between their very familiar self-honoring Roman culture and the unfamiliar self-sacrificing gospel culture that Paul was writing about. This new gospel culture was based on the submissive mindset of Jesus and his humility of service and sacrifice to others – quite the contrast to the “It’s all about me” Roman culture that they had grown up in. Paul was calling the church at Philippi to a transformation of their affections and values by letting go of their status and “holding on to the gospel” – a transition from Roman values to gospel values. And it all rests on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But, we don’t live in a Roman colony like Philippi.
We live in a consumeristic society. And, I love it. It’s so convenient. Fire up amazon.com, click, click, and in a couple days the blue truck shows up with my stuff. They even allow me to track the progress – I’m in control of what I want, what I get, and when I get it. They have streamlined the transactional process making it easy for me to get what I want and to be in control of when I get it. And when I no longer want it, they’ve made it super easy for me to return it! What could possibly be the problem?
The problem comes when our consumer mindset shapes our view of how we interact with God.
Left unchecked consumerism becomes the lens through which we understand God. We tend to approach him from a transactional posture. As a consumer, God gives me what I want, when I want it – and if he doesn’t – I’m disappointed. (Insert theological panic here – does God not love me? Does He not know the future? Why am I suffering?). Consumers operate in a transactional mindset. In this mindset, God is to be used, not worshiped. I do this – God gives me that. A + B = C. But, God does not operate from a transactional mindset.
God works from a love mindset.
So, here’s the question: How might the gospel impact our American culture with regard to our near worship of these cultural idols: Sports/ Movies/ Multiculturalism/ Guns/ Alcohol/ Sex/ Independence/ Recreation/ Money/ Knowledge/etc.?
Those things are not wrong in themselves but like anything when through the power of our culture they capture and control our affection and imagination they can inoculate us to the gospel. Then we use God for what He can give us, instead of worshiping him for who He is.
When we, as North Americans embrace the gospel, we find ourselves in every bit of a quandary as the Philippian believers.
Are you worshiping God today for who He is, or using Him for what He can give you?