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The Mediocrity Of Materialism


"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us". (2 Corinthians 4:7)  These words are relevant for today's western church that's becoming more addicted than ever to the mediocrity of material prosperity.        


The treasure Paul is speaking of here is obviously Jesus.  The jars of clay are those who have given themselves to Jesus who are collectively known as the church.  Jars of clay in Paul's day weren't gold plated ornaments sitting on mantels looking pretty and doing nothing but showing off one's prosperity.  They were rustic, unimpressive, and were known to leak at times.  Their lot in life was to function as a container that would hold something more valuable than themselves.     


Paul is saying that Jesus, who resides in us, is more important than us.  The specific reason he states for us being unimpressive jars of clay is to show a clear distinction between us and Jesus.  He's impressive.  We're not.  Our tendency is to blur this distinction by making ourselves look impressive by adorning ourselves with prosperous looking façades.  Whether as individuals or the church, these façades only cover the reality of who we really are.  In the long run, these façades of material prosperity causes us to compete with Jesus for preeminence. 


When asked by Oprah about the prosperity gospel he preaches, Joel Osteen answered,  "… I can't be a blessing if I'm poor, broke, and depressed".   Osteen's assertion that poor people are depressed is an over-generalization that isn't always true.  He, and those like him, say that people will only be attracted to Jesus or church when they see wealthy Christians and wealthy churches.  Paul is saying just the opposite here.   


If we're merely gold plated ornament sitting on shelves doing nothing but looking pretty, we're not being the rustic, unimpressive, but functional, jars of clay we're meant to be.  We're addicts to the mediocrity of materialism.  It's mediocre at best because it waters down the gospel of Jesus that Paul refutes throughout 2 Corinthians.      


Osteen told Oprah that those of us in the poorer sector of society "just haven't broken through" to prosperity.  The implication is that we've somehow missed God's plan for us.  Would somebody please tell Paul this.  He was seldom materially prosperous, but he was always in God's will.  Prosperity, or the lack thereof, has no relevance to being in or out of God's will.    


The point to 2 Corinthians 4:7 is simple.  Jesus is the important one, not us.  People should be impressed with Jesus, not with our fancy façades.  If we plant the prosperity gospel, we'll reap gold plated empty people sitting in pews looking pretty.  If we plant the cross of Christ that He asks us to carry, we'll reap unimpressive but functional people who get board sitting in the pew looking not so pretty.  We'd rather be working at  carrying around our treasure for all to see.   


If you think I've got this all wrong, here's what Jesus says about church that boasts of material prosperity. (Revelation 3: 14-22)  It's "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked".  That doesn't sound all that prosperous to me.  Can people actually find the real Jesus in such a church.   


I suggest we adopt Paul's words to Timothy as a foundation in this matter.  "… if we have food and clothing we will be content …" (1 Timothy 6:8)         


For more of Joel Osteen's interview with Oprah, click the following link.   



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