When the iPhone was first introduced in June, 2007, it sold for $599. Ten weeks later the price was $399. But that didn’t matter to a group of consumers known as “early adopters.” For them, it’s all about the pride of ownership, the panache that goes with being the first one on the block with the tech icon’s newest gadget.
"If they told me at the outset the iPhone would be $200 cheaper the next day," one customer explained, "I would have thought about it for a second—and still bought it. It was $600, and that was the price I was willing to pay for it." In the words of another satisfied iPhone owner, "Even if it works one day, it's worth it."
For many, it's the not the technology itself but the distinction of ownership that matters. One iPhone owner admitted to buying a Nintendo Wii game system for $150 above the retail price, once he realized how scarce the systems were. He wasn't interested in playing it; he simply wanted to own it.
As Brandon O’Brien, assistant editor of Preaching Today, said, “That’s life in the land of plenty. We aren’t satisfied with owning a new thing. We want to own it first. We no longer want to keep up with the Joneses. We want to be the Joneses.”
No offense to all of you iPhone aficionados, but isn’t there something a bit off about that attitude? As Black Friday approaches, maybe we should reflect on that for a minute and then listen to the words of Jesus on money and possessions.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for your selves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
What Jesus Was Not Saying
If all we do is look at this teaching on the surface we could come away with the wrong idea. Is Jesus saying, “Forfeit all your Social Security, turn over your 401k to the church, get rid of all your retirement investments, sell your cars and stop eating at restaurants?” No.
We often read a scripture like this and think: “That’s impossible. Jesus is just not realistic. You have to save and store up to take care of your needs.” But that’s a surface reading of the text. Jesus is talking about why we’re here: to serve and worship God. Not to get caught up worshipping the things God provides. America is a place of incalculable material abundance. But we can have material abundance and still suffocate in a spiritual vacuum.
What Scripture Teaches About Money & Possessions
The Bible requires a man to provide for his relatives (1Tim 5:8); encourages us to enjoy the good things the Creator has given us (1Tim 4:3-4; 6:17); it also encourages us to work and provide for the future (Prov. 6:6-8). Therefore, God is not against money, possessions, or saving for the future.
In fact, John Wesley, a key preacher in one of America’s great spiritual awakenings and founder of the Methodist Church, believed in the production of wealth. He put it this way, “work as hard as you can, to make all the money that you can, and spend as little as you can, in order to give away all that you can.”
What Jesus Is Speaking Against
Jesus is not against money, he’s against greed. Jesus is not against possessions, he’s against covetousness. Jesus is not against the enjoyment of good things, he’s against the worship of things. Jesus is warning us not about the earning of money for good purposes. He’s warning us about greed, covetousness, and the worship of things, and by implication, the rampant materialism that characterizes so much of American life.
Much of our economy is designed around stimulating or creating within us a sense of need for things that aren’t necessities, generating covetousness, and greed, and idolatry. Business schools, for example, require their students to take courses in marketing. In the early days marketers advertised products that met needs. The ads were fairly straightforward. One doesn’t have to work very hard to sell a hammer to a carpenter. But it takes great creativity to sell him hair spray and a blow dryer. The advertiser has to make the carpenter think that these are grooming essentials. How do they do that? They know what makes us tick. They know what scares us, what moves us, what our unspoken longings and insecurities are. They use that insight, gained at the cost of multiple millions of dollars in research, to make us think we need all kinds of stuff!
I remember a boat commercial that emphasized not the color or technical specifications of the boat, but the relationship between a dad and his daughter. The tag line was: “Because my wedding will be sooner than you think.” Madison Avenue has learned to tap the oil fields of the human soul. They know that I don’t need a new boat. They’re telling me I need a boat to be a father who never loses touch with his daughters.
I have nothing against boats. But I know they won’t last. They won’t give me what I really need. It’s like the great theologian and sometime actress Jamie Lee Curtis said in an interview, “The biggest lesson is that nothing on the exterior will make me feel better. It may seem that way for a short time, but those feelings of inadequacy will surface as soon as that new purse (jeep, boat, whatever) is no longer new.”
So would Jesus buy an iPhone on Black Friday? I don’t know. But I do think he would remind us, as we hit the stores and internet in the coming weeks that, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”