by John Cobb
Marketing is a difficult term to define. Books have been written, gurus have weighed in, and countless others have offered various opinions. Boiled down, however, one simple definition of marketing is “the attempt to influence the behaviors of others.” In order for an individual to purchase food, products, or services, volunteer, or donate to a particular cause, they must be influenced to behave a certain way.
But this definition creates problems. The practice of influencing people has led to us being bombarded with more than one thousand unique messages per day. Most of these messages tell us what to do, how to behave, what we should buy, as well as what we should eat. Moreover, most of these messages attract our selfishness, focusing on the benefit they will create. How is this ethical? Telling people what to do and how to behave is wrong. Or is it?
About twenty-five years after Christ’s death and resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to a self-centered church in Corinth. The purpose of his letter was to correct the church’s behavior. In the tenth chapter he warns the Corinthians against desiring evil (1 Cor. 10:6), practicing idolatry (v. 7), sexual immorality (v. 8), putting Christ to the test (v. 9), grumbling (v. 10), participating with demons (v. 21), and seeking their own good (v. 24).
Why does Paul take the time in his letter to belabor these points? What was he trying to influence them to do? Furthermore, how was he teaching them to think? The answer to these questions can all be summed up by one phrase: soli Deo gloria. Paul’s solution for the church at Corinth was simple: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (v. 31). One of the key words Paul uses here is “whatever.” He uses the word to be all-inclusive, covering every aspect of our lives. We are called to glorify God in everything.
It is impossible to go through life without influencing others. We must therefore constantly be concerned that our influence be a godly influence. In marketing or in any other practice, if God’s glory is pursued, the selfish reasons for influencing the behaviors of others are eliminated, leaving, then, the influencing of others as a means of spiritual growth.
Where do we go from here? Paul clearly answers this question at the conclusion of the chapter: “Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do — not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (v. 33).