Consumerism, for the purpose of this article, is a preoccupation with consuming more and more goods, merchandise, and services. Consumerism’s focus is on having the latest, buying the best, and getting the most. It discards last year’s model in favor of the newest, fanciest, and shiniest. It’s the attitude behind the statement “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Consumerism goes beyond maintaining a healthy economy, which depends upon active trade and the production and consumption of new goods, and enters the realm of materialism. Because a consumerist mentality can lead to chronic dissatisfaction and covetousness, Christians should beware its spiritual impact.
Among those who grow up in an affluent society, consumerism is the default attitude of most. While buying and selling have no moral or spiritual implications in themselves, the attitudes behind those activities can. Motives such as greed, envy, and selfishness make buying and selling a consumeristic venture.
The Bible does not use the term consumerism, but it definitely speaks to that type of attitude. Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). An “abundance of possessions” is what consumerism is all about, but those who pursue that path are missing the point of life.
Consumerism brings no security in life. “Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10). The merchandise we amass today can be gone tomorrow. Psalm 119:36 shows us the proper perspective: “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.” Much better than consumerism is godliness, because “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6–8).
A good antidote for consumerism is gratefulness. Grateful people aren’t seeking ways to get more. They are content with what God has provided (Philippians 4:11; Hebrews 13:5). Throughout Scripture, God places a high value on thankfulness (Psalm 136:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Romans 1:21).
Probably the greatest evil of consumerism is that it pulls our focus from Christ and His kingdom to earthly, temporal things. When we are born again into the family of God through faith in Jesus, our focus changes (John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17, 21). We become citizens of another realm. This world and its values no longer dictate our passions. Philippians 3:18–20 contrasts the old way of thinking with the new: “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” A wise Christian will keep a check on his or her heart and guard it against consumerism.
The Lord’s goal for our lives is not that we continually seek more and better, but that we eagerly seek “the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).