by Janeen Lewis
Recently the Travel Channel aired a segment showcasing some of the most luxurious mega-toys in the world: super yachts. With multi-decks, swimming pools, cinemas, state-of-the-art technology, the finest décor and crews trained to pamper, these swanky ships boasted of a splendor far above common life. As the camera panned through the spacious suites, I couldn’t help thinking about the owners of such abundance and wondering if this worldly wealth affected their ability to serve God. As I watched, one thought kept entering my mind: How much stuff is it okay for a Christian to own?
Biblical Wisdom on Wealth
Three of the Ten Commandments speak to materialism. In Exodus 20:3 God says: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:4 warns, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” And Exodus 20:17 tells us not to covet anything that belongs to our neighbor.
Some people live and die for the object of their worship. In today’s fast-paced world, Christians must stop to ask why their lives are often so hectic. Is it because of our devotion to God? Or is it because of our devotion to material possessions? Are we overworked, stressed, and in debt because we love God, or because we are worshipping the stuff money can buy?
When we have many material possessions, it is also tempting to make idols of them. It is easy to look at the owner of the super yacht and think he or she is materialistic. But if we compare our possessions and comforts to those of Old Testament times, most Americans are wealthy. It’s just as easy to make an idol of a Buick as it is a BMW. Vehicles, home decorations, and clothes often become trendy because people look at each other and want what others have. Christians should guard against coveting in this way.
Gross materialism and idolatry lead to distraction from service to God and neglect of our churches and families. In the book of Haggai, exiles from Babylon were slow to rebuild the Lord’s temple because their priorities were not in the right place. “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” reads Haggai 1:4. Because the people were distracted, Haggai warned that no matter how much they had, it would never be enough. “You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it,” he pointed out (v. 6).
Godly People of Wealth
While the Old Testament contains warnings about wealth, many righteous men and women of the Old Testament possessed riches. Though wealthy, they kept their focus on God and sidestepped the trap of materialism. Wealthy Abraham left his home and his lands to go where God told him. Although Job owned a vast amount of land, livestock, and possessions, he is described in Job 1:8 as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” When Job lost all of his material possessions he said, “May the name of the Lord be praised”(v. 21). Proverbs 31 describes the wife of noble character as trading land, selling cloth, purchasing vineyards, caring for her servant girls, and clothing her family in scarlet and purple, colors of royalty. These descriptions suggest that the wife of noble character had financial abundance, but her life was focused on serving and caring for those around her. Psalm 62:10 warns, “Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” The psalmist doesn’t warn people not to have riches, but to be careful that wealth doesn’t cloud the real focus of their lives—to live for God. The sentiment is echoed in the New Testament by Jesus.
Jesus and Wealth
Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Money is a problem when people serve it rather than God. The condition of a Christian’s heart matters most, regardless how much material wealth he or she possess.
Where the Heart Is
John Wesley said, “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.” Christians must be careful not to let riches find a way into their heart and distract their devotion to God.
As stewards of all that God has given us, we are entrusted with possessions, not entitled to them. Often when the Bible talks about riches, it is in reference to spiritual riches. Ephesians 2:7 states, “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Nothing compares to the wealth we have in Christ.
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus tells his followers not to “store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Instead, he says, “store up for yourselves treasure in heaven . . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What Christians devote their time to becomes their treasure.
Guarding Against Greed
In Luke 12:15 Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” One of the best ways to guard against greed is to give. In Acts 20:35, Paul recalls the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” GenerousGiving.com is a website full of stories about people who have decided to give generously. One touching story comes from pizza mogul Tom Monaghan, founder of the Domino’s pizza chain.
Monaghan sold his franchise and took a millionaire’s vow of poverty after realizing his heart was in the wrong place when it came to his possessions. After reading a chapter on pride in C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity (Harper Collins, 2003), Monaghan had a change of heart.
He basically was telling me the reason ‘you have worked so hard and tried to accomplish what you had was to have more—not just more, but more than other people.’ That hit me right between the eyes and I couldn’t sleep that night. I decided I was going to give up the toys and took a millionaire’s vow of poverty.
Monaghan has dedicated his life to giving away everything he has to help as many people as possible come to know Christ.
No matter how few or many possessions we have, the Bible is clear that we should not be overcome by them. Saying it is wrong for a Christian to be rich would be just as wrong as saying poverty makes a Christian pious. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” No matter how much we own, if we focus on loving God with our whole beings, our possessions will dim in comparison to him. Yes, a Christian can own a super yacht, as long as God owns the Christian’s heart.
Janeen Lewis is a freelance writer in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.
Time for a Heart Checkup
Check the spiritual health of your heart by answering the following questions about material possessions:
• If you lost all your possessions today, how would it affect your relationship with God?
• Do you feel overworked and overwhelmed trying to maintain your current lifestyle? Have you talked to God about this?
• What sacrifices are you willing to make in order to give more to God’s work in your church, your community, and the world?
• Are you tempted to feel entitled to nice things because you work hard? If so, how can you remind yourself that God has merely loaned your material possessions to you?
• Does your overall security and happiness depend on how much money is in your bank account?