Every Sunday afternoon I go through those colorful inserts in the Sunday paper and cut out coupons. We don’t use much processed food beyond condiments and cereals, so I seldom clip the “hundreds of dollars worth” they brag about, but it’s always enough to pay for the paper and pull my shopping trip under budget, sometimes as much as 20%, so it’s well worth the effort.
I regularly shake my head at a lot of the products I see these days. Convenience foods have turned us into helpless klutzes in the kitchen. Even at out of season prices I can buy a large fresh bell pepper and chop it myself into well more than a cupful for about $1, OR I can buy a measly half cup already chopped for $3 and save myself a whopping 2 minutes of chopping time at six times the cost. Wow, she muttered, unimpressed.
Then there is the “fun factor.” For some reason we always need to be entertained. As I flipped through those coupons last week, I came across a full page ad for a new cereal—“Poppin’ Pebbles,” which, I am told, offer “big berry flavor with a fantastic fizz.” Evidently these out-fun the snap, crackle, pop of the old Rice Krispies I grew up with, judging by the amazed look on the child model’s face, her hands splayed over her cheeks in wonderment. Now, I guess, our meals must entertain us before they are worthy to be eaten.
Don’t think for a minute that this doesn’t reflect our spiritual attitudes. “I can hardly listen to that man,” a sister told me once of a brother’s teaching ability. The brother in question had one of the finest Bible minds I ever heard and regularly took a passage I thought I knew inside out and showed me something new in it, usually far deeper than its standard interpretation, one that kept me thinking for days afterward. So what was the problem? He didn’t tell jokes, he didn’t share cute stories or warm, fuzzy poetry. He just talked and you had to do your part and listen.
Do you think they didn’t have those problems in the first century? Pagan religion was exciting. The fire, the spectacle, the pounding rhythms, the garish costumes, not to mention the appeal to sensuality, made it far more appealing to the masses than a quiet service of reverent, joyful a capella singing, prayers, and a simple supper memorializing a sacrifice.
Some of those long ago brethren must have tried to bring in the fun factor. When it came to spiritual gifts, they weren’t satisfied unless they could have the flashy ones. The whole discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 begins with a group who thinks that their gift is the best because of that. They have to be reminded that they all receive those gifts from the same source “as the Spirit wills” not as they will—it has nothing to do with one being better, or more necessary, than the other, or one brother being more important.
They wanted to jazz up their services every chance they got, even speaking in tongues when an interpreter was not present. Paul had to tell them to stop, to “be silent.” It is not about entertainment and glory, he said, it’s about edification (1 Cor 14:26).
What did Paul call these people who wanted flash and show, who wanted entertainment? In verse 14:20 he says that such behavior is childish. In 3:1 he calls them carnal and equates that with spiritual immaturity. Did you notice that breakfast cereal ad I mentioned is directed squarely at children? It is assumed that when you grow up you don’t need such motivation to do what’s good for you, like eat your whole grains, and God assumes that as spiritual adults we will understand the importance of spiritual things.
And what about the friends we try to reach? Do we pander to their baser instincts and expect to create an appreciation for intense Bible study, an ability to stand up to temptation, and a joyful acceptance of persecution? When it’s no longer fun all the time, when it’s hard work and sacrifice, will they quit?
People who want to be entertained are the same ones who want a physical kingdom here on this earth instead of the spiritual one that “is within you,” that is “not of this world.” They are the ones who want a comedian for a preacher instead of a man of God who will teach the Word of God plainly and simply. They want a singing group they can tap their toes to instead of songs they can sing from the heart with others who may be just as tone-deaf as they are. Read the context. “Singing with the spirit” is not about clapping your hands and stomping your feet to the rhythm. It’s about teaching and growing spiritually.
Being a Christian is always joyful, but when I believe that joy is always predicated on entertainment, I am no better than Herod who wanted Jesus to entertain him just hours before his crucifixion. I am no better than the former pagans who tried to bring flashy rituals into the spiritual body of Christ. I am no better than a child who needs coddling in order to behave himself.
Imagine what might have happened if Jesus had needed to be entertained in order to save us.
For it is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of Jehovah; that say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits…And for this cause God sends them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. Isa 30:10,11; 2 Thes 2:11,12.