Last month, a minor controversy erupted over a news report that Ed Young, a well-known pastor and author, was living a life of luxury unbeknownst to his church congregation. Young and his church responded by pointing out numerous inaccuracies in the news story—Young is no pauper, but the news report apparently exaggerated some of the numbers to make him look worse. The controversy faded quickly from headlines, and one imagines that life at Young’s church has returned to normal.
True or not, the news story that sparked the controversy highlighted a point of tension that has plagued Christians from the earliest days of the church: does luxury have a place in the Christian life?
“Luxury” carries with it negative connotations for most Christians, and for good reason: Jesus lived a humble life and frequently warned about the dangers of wealth. The Bible offers no hard-and-fast rule about precisely how much wealth one should have, but clearly promotes the spiritual value of moderation, humility, and self-sacrifice.
In the absence of a strict guideline (“Thou shalt have no more than $2,000 in the bank!”), each of us must prayerfully discern the line between “necessity” (money and possessions that we need to live and help those around us) and “luxury” (money and possessions that we accumulate for their own sake, and for our own enjoyment). I regularly ask myself “Am I living a life of service, or a life of luxury?” But one obvious problem is my sinful heart’s amazing ability to continually redefine “luxury” to refer to people who have more than whatever I have at the moment. If I make $25,000 a year, then surely “luxury” is people who make $30,000. But when I get a new job that pays $35,000, then suddenly “luxury” is $40,000. Or people who own two cars instead of my one. Or people who have a Wii and a Playstation, instead of being content with just one videogame console.
How do you determine, in your personal life, what constitutes a Biblically acceptable level of wealth? Here are a few questions to ponder:
Is there a particular income level that you think is simply unethical to exceed? Have you ever passed on (or given away) a raise or other financial windfall because of this? How has your understanding of “luxury” and “necessities” changed over the years? When thinking about buying something new (for example, a car or a video game), how do you determine whether it’s Biblically acceptable, or simply extravagant?