Yesterday, we looked at the first of the “sales strategies” Paul uses in this passage to persuade his audience to trust him and his message. (You’ll need to read it first, if you’re just joining us.) Today, we look at the second strategy: the idea of scarcity – whether it be scarcity in time (limited time offers), product (until stocks last), or information.
This works well in sales. For example, Robert Cialdini* tells the story of an experiment performed by a beef wholesaler in the US. If he told customers about an impending shortage of Australian beef, he doubled sales. If he also told them that the news about the shortage was from their “exclusive sources,” the orders increased sevenfold.
Scripture does this, too. (Just not in a deceptive way!) For example, in Hebrews, where the example of the wilderness generation who missed out on God’s “rest” is used to encourage the audience not to miss out themselves (Heb 4:1) – and they need to take up this limited-time offer while it is still “today” (Heb 3:13; 4:7). Or that the road to life is through the “narrow gate” and “only a few find it” (Mt 7:13-14). Or the parables that stress the suddenness of Christ’s return, and the finality of its consequences (e.g. Mt 25:1-13).
Here in Colossians, however, Paul highlights the previous scarcity of knowledge about God’s plan of salvation:
Colossians 1:25-27 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.(See a similar strategy in 1 Pet 1:10-12; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 3:7-13.)
This is like the toy that everyone wants for Christmas, but the stores have sold out, except you’ve been told about the one store that still has it! What everyone else is scrambling around for in the dark, you now have access to! What a privilege! What an honour!
Why, then, would you want to put that privileged position at risk by checking out all of the “plan B” presents that everyone else has had to settle for? Or to put it in terms familiar from our past two weeks looking at Colossians: why would you even think about incorporating the philosophies of this age when we already have Jesus? Everything the rest of the world is looking for (as we saw last week) is found in Jesus:
Colossians 2:2-3 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Who needs the off-brand ripoff when we have the real thing?
Now in case the whole “scarcity” thing is freaking you out a bit, remember that it’s about the scarcity of knowledge in the previous eras of salvation history. Now, it’s a different story. To follow the analogy through to its logical conclusion: once we, God’s people, have found the store with the stock, instead of keeping this “mystery” to ourselves, we go around telling everyone where the store is:
Colossians 1:27 To them [i.e. God’s people] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
We’re not just the recipients of previously scarce knowledge; now we’ve been chosen to be the “exclusive source” of that knowledge for others. After all, God’s choosing of people is always against a backdrop of the bigger picture, right from when Abraham was blessed to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth (Gen 12:1-3).
Appreciate your privileged position in God’s plan, having the mystery of God revealed to you. And then: don’t hoard it; share it.
*Robert B. Cialdini, “The Science of Persuasion,” Scientific American (Feb 2001), p.80.