So Apple have done their best to drum up the hype with their latest tech offering. I think the weird Martian-like earbuds may have done the trick. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Everyone has developed some kind of relationship with Apple by this stage over the last 10 years or so. There are the Apple fanboys who can’t get enough of their products, queueing outside their stores for hours to salivate over their newest launch. Then there are the technophobes who see little need for any gadget beyond the realm of ‘basic’, and laugh at the obsessions people have with their constantly-used device. And then there are those somewhere in between – maybe you’ve owned an iPod in the past or you’re still hanging on to your iPhone 4 or 5s, cracked screen and all. Wherever you stand, I guarantee there’ll be feelings about this new iPhone 7 – whether it’s jealousy, smug contempt or awe.
But what about how Christians engage with expensive stuff? Does anyone need the latest iPhone?
We all know the answer – no. But hey, most would like one given the chance. The tricky question is: do you need a lot of what you spend your money on? From highlighting your hair to renting a bigger flat, to having a gym membership or Netflix, to wearing All Saints or going to see Beyoncé at Wembley. Do you need any of that? Do you need a car when you could manage with a bike or the bus lane? Does your musical instrument and equipment need to cost £1,000 or more to sound any good, or could you make do with less flashy kit?
The answer to all these is: yes. You could manage or make do without a lot of stuff. And so could I.
You may determine to only buy what you need – but even that is a relative statement. You may determine that you need three pairs of shoes – one for work, one casual and one for sport. Yet a Christian in the developing world might determine that one pair is a luxury. Ditto for number of beds per family.
We all constantly make little, or massive, decisions about the way we decide to distribute our resources. And something that I consider not important – a Starbucks or Netflix habit – may be something you’re unwilling to forgo.
Whatever the differences in what we consider a necessity or a luxury, I don’t think we are all called to “sell [our] possessions and give to the poor”. This dialogue in the gospels between Jesus and the rich young ruler demonstrates rather the importance of not placing value on what we possess above commitment to God and His kingdom. Contrary to popular belief, Christians don’t believe that money per se is the root of all evil; rather “the love of money” is described as this. It’s fair to transfer this to also include love of our possessions. In fact, this love of what is temporary is also listed as a reason for falling away from the faith or causing sorrow. (I’d take that to include ‘unhappiness’, too.)
The fact that “thou shalt not covet” made it into the top 10 Commandments is indicative of both the fact that we struggle with not wanting what others have, but also that there will always be others who have nicer stuff than us – whether it’s shoes, job, hair or holidays. The contentious issues surrounding this specific gadget are also compounded by the used by its manufacturer in faraway factories. Christians can and should campaign for more ethical production via fair conditions and pay for workers in the manufacturing process. The same goes for the production of coffee, clothes and diamond rings. Though I can’t really vouch for other smartphone brands, who don’t necessarily support more ethical practices.
Would Jesus have an iPhone? I doubt it. But then he also never had a mortgage or a pension but most would agree that those are ok. I’d suggest that if the purchase of an iPhone 7 is beyond your financial means or causes a conflict of interest that negatively affects your love and pursuit of God, then it’s certainly best avoided. If you ever sensed God calling you to sell the most expensive thing you own and give the money to the poor, would you be prepared to do it?
As long as my device remains my servant rather than my master, having to respond or obey it’s every ping or notification, I believe it’s possible to strike a balance of using a resource to help me be efficient and productive, rather than letting myself be constantly enthralled or enslaved by it. Admittedly, that’s an ongoing struggle, and I need to constantly assess myself. Do I love my phone too much? I believe it’s crucial to follow one’s convictions and use finances in a way that is consistent with your values and life focus. For some, an iPhone 7 can fit into that context. For others, it’ll be best avoided.
Jesus warns us all, however, about the error of storing up “treasures on earth”. This is the key message, I believe. Whether it’s a house or an iPhone, what do we treasure the most? If we get a pay rise or bonus is our first thought about giving, or on spending? How is our money, our talent, our energy, primarily focused towards that which we can’t see or touch: eternal values such as love, kindness, justice and peace?
“Anything you love more, fear more, serve more, or value more than God is your idol.” Adrian Rogers