The following is an excerpt from the book Christ-Centered Contentment.
Lifestyles of the rich and famous
“There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12)
While it might pain us to admit this, the Bible does not speak highly of luxurious living. It fails to find the awe and wonder of so many TV shows that follow the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It doesn’t seem to praise what we might call—“living high on the hog”. Solomon’s description of his quest for wisdom in Ecclesiastes sounds almost as if it could be an excerpt from a Hollywood tabloid:
“I collected for myself silver and gold…I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men--many concubines. Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me…All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure…Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” (Eccl. 2:8-11)
Gold, girls, glory, and gluttony—it sounds straight off the billboard charts. Admittedly or not, this is the life so many Americans aspire to attain (perhaps on a smaller scale than Solomon, but pursuing it nonetheless). Fortunately for Solomon: “My wisdom also stood by me.” (Eccl. 2:9) Because of this, he was able to see that there was no profit to such a lifestyle. The message of our culture—that more money, power, sex, and self-indulgence is everything—is a lie. It is striving after wind. Opulence is not the answer to our emptiness.
In order to understand this properly, we must ask the question “Why?” To condemn luxury or living well in and of themselves would miss the point entirely. We must look at the passages that criticize extravagant living and dig into the deeper issues hiding behind such a lifestyle. This will enable us to live wisely.
The simplest place to breech this subject is gluttony. The Bible clearly argues that over-indulgence has consequences:
“The glutton will come to poverty.” (Prov. 23:21)
“He who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father.” (Prov. 28:7)
“Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, that you not have it in excess and vomit it.” (Prov. 25:16)
The scriptures describe excessive indulgence with words like: humiliation and poverty. This is the opposite of what the world teaches. We are told to live it up because life is short. The Bible says otherwise.
Proverbs 25:16 clearly is not a verse anyone is going to have cross-stitched and hanging in their hallway, but it illustrates an important concept. Honey was a luxury item in Solomon’s day, and this verse shows us that enjoying nice things only becomes detrimental in excess. Eating what you need provides enjoyment, but eating too much will bring anything from discomfort to sickness. The following proverbs parallel this principle well:
“He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” (Prov. 21:17)
“There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” (Prov. 21:20)
It is not the teaching of scripture that pleasure or treasure are evil. Instead, it argues that a man who is overcome by his love of these things will be destroyed. There are good things to enjoy in the house of the wise, but they do not devour all they have. This should leave us with a simple question.
Is all luxury bad?
The natural response to questions of gluttony and self-indulgence is something to the effect of: “Is all luxury bad?” It is an understandable inquiry that must be addressed in order to properly comprehend the call of Biblical lifestyle.
I will state it as plainly as I can: The Bible does not say that enjoying riches or material things is evil in and of itself. This is asceticism. We are Christians not masochists. The case must be made that a God who created a Garden of Eden, a “land flowing with milk and honey”, all the beauty and richness of our planet, and a heaven with streets of gold does not place the root of pleasure in self-denial:
“God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” (1 Tim. 6:17)
“It is the blessing of the LORD that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it.” (Prov. 10:22)
God does not forbid pleasure. He created “all things to enjoy.” The key to understanding this is found in self-discipline not self-denial. How to hold all these concepts in balance and practically live out a Biblical lifestyle is found in the following chapter.
One final argument against an anti-luxury existence is beauty. I remember sitting at a meeting that was, shall we say, less than invigorating. There were fresh cut flowers in the center of the table. They were totally unnecessary and served no purpose whatsoever other than being pleasing to the eye. I started thinking about the significance of the flowers on the table (or lack thereof), and then moved on to consider that God created flowers and covered the earth with them. There is something about the wonder of God that is evident in the beauty and extravagance of His creation. The Lord most certainly gave us more than the bare bones of a subsistent existence. We begin to lose something in our perception of God when we forsake all luxury and lavishness. If we take this argument to its logical extent, then we must get rid of music, art, laughter, beauty, color, and on, and on. Don’t get me wrong, you have to balance this paragraph with the rest of this chapter, but in a sense: Life becomes a little less beautiful when we start to think that God purposes us to desire nothing but the mundane necessities of daily survival. Though difficult to wrap our minds around (and somewhat of a tongue twister!), we should never forget the aesthetic argument against asceticism.
Hiding in the shadows
The most important approach to interpreting the scripture’s instruction on luxurious living correctly is to ask the question “Why?” In several of the passages that discuss this concept there is sin hiding in the shadows of self-indulgence. There is usually a reason for such extravagance. An obsession with luxury is almost always described as a symptom of a much greater evil. For example, when James addresses the rich and says: “You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter,” (James 5:5) we cannot neglect the previous verses. James noted that these men had stored up treasure on earth, withheld pay, and put to death the righteous. They manipulated and mistreated others in order to maximize personal gain. Another example of this can be found in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man’s “joyously living in splendor every day,” (Luke 16:19) was a sign of much deeper wrongs.
The verses below illustrate how an obsession with luxury can be telling of much deeper conditions of the heart.
Loving pleasure, money, and self instead of God:
“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Tim. 3:1-4)
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)
Worries of the world and wealth choke the word:
“The worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Matt. 13:22)
“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith.” (1 Tim. 6:9-10)
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income.” (Eccl. 5:10)
“The treacherous will be caught by their own greed.” (Prov. 11:6)
“Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house [the Lord’s house] lies desolate?” (Hag. 1:4)
In light of these passages, we can better understand Christ’s simple statement: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) There is nothing wrong with enjoying things in this world, but we must remember that we have a tendency to seek so much enjoyment in this life that we forget about the next. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If a person is obsessed with wealth and living well, one must question whether he loves the world more than God.
American Christians, myself included, tend to want to “have our cake and eat it too”. We desire to love God fully, that is, as long as it does not disrupt our lifestyle or cause any sort of sacrifice. This can be seen in how few Christians give as the Bible instructs. In the most prosperous nation in the history of the world, contributions are few and far between and seldomly generous. To make matters worse, most of this stinginess is due to the fact that we simply are more inclined to spend our money on our own enjoyment than invest in God's kingdom. We want to live for God as long as it doesn’t cost us anything. This is not the call of Christ. We must begin to seriously ask ourselves what is hiding in the shadows of our desires and begin rethinking our approach to lifestyle.
Conclusion: Where do we go from here?
“You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Ps. 16:11)
“This stinks!” is a common reaction to the message of this chapter, though we might not admit it. We feel as if our hopes and dreams have been taken away, or at best, been covered with a sense of guilt for trying to enjoy ourselves on this side of heaven. This is nothing more than the enemy’s ploy to rob us of finding joy in the only place it can be found.
If you come away from this chapter thinking that you are no longer able to enjoy a trip to the tropics, a premium cup of coffee, a nice meal out, or an extra bedroom in your house, you have missed the point. We are not condemned to matinee movies, porridge, and sweat pants. Instead, we must approach our luxuries with a proper perspective. We must begin to honestly ask ourselves questions like these:
- Am I obsessed with luxury?
- In what areas am I tempted towards excess?
- What is hiding behind my desires?
- Do I own possessions or do possessions own me?
- Does it pain me to think of living more simply?
- Do I have an eternal or earthly perspective?
- Do I live for heaven or earth?
- Where am I storing up treasure?
As we begin to do this, we do not distance ourselves from a life of enjoying good things but instead move ever closer to real enjoyment, fulfillment, and satisfaction. The scripture points us toward the fullness of joy and pleasure forever. The Bible does not take enjoyment away from us—it makes known to us the path to find it.