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Can Christians Buy Expensive Things?

A couple of years ago, I started reading more books on personal finance. I didn’t plan to. It sort of just happened. With two kids, I want to be as financially faithful as I can and learn from a wide range of sources. Money provides options, such as purchasing expensive items. Is it biblically permissible for Christians to buy expensive things? 

Can Christians Buy Expensive Things?

The answer is yes. God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Of course, the word “expensive” is subjective. A college student may think $500 is expensive, whereas a retired person who saved for decades may not notice that amount leave his bank account. When I say “expensive,” I mean purchases that are expensive in relation to your net worth, or purchases that are culturally recognized as luxurious or outlandish, such as large-sized boats, vacation homes, or a brand-new BMW. Again, subjective. But you can figure it out. 

My answer needs nuance. Besides answering the question in the affirmative, if I were to unpack this answer in a more sophisticated manner, I’d say something like this: Yes, it may be ethically permissible for you to buy expensive things as long as you: (1) Pursue godliness; (2) Give regularly to God’s kingdom purposes; (3) Share with others; (4) Devote yourself to good works (motivated by 1 Timothy 6:17-19). 

Is it Okay for Christians to Buy Expensive Things? 

1. Godliness 

If you’re not pursuing godliness through active local church involvement and grace-driven spiritual disciplines, then getting lots of money to buy expensive things may be the worst thing that happens to you because too much money and material possessions without godly character can draw your heart away from the Lord. 

On the other side, I don’t get concerned when Christians who take holiness seriously buy a five-bedroom home or a Tesla because I know they love the Lord more than material possessions.  They are mature in Christ. They can own expensive things without expensive things owning them. 

Still, Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Your heart follows your money. So if you buy expensive things too often, then your heart may slowly become too attached to them, even if you do have regular quiet time with the Lord. It seems prudent to suggest buying expensive things is ethically permissible, but it is probably not ideal to buy expensive things too frequently.

2. Give 

I recount the story of a seminary professor who pastored an upper-class congregation. He’d often get a variation of this question: “Should I tithe out of my gross income or net income?” His reply was blunt: “You should aspire to become the kind of Christian who doesn’t ask that kind of question.” 

His point, and the New Testament’s point, I think, is that financial giving to your local church and God’s kingdom purposes should not be restricted to a certain number in every season of life, but should be characterized by generosity and willingness. We pray, read Scripture, consider what we own, consider the needs around us, and give faithfully, regularly, and sacrificially to God’s kingdom purposes. 

Done for the right reasons, giving your (temporary) wealth builds (permanent) treasure in heaven. Let me remind you of Jim Elliot’s famous quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” You don’t want to pass on this opportunity.

Giving your money to God’s kingdom purposes is a testimony to God that you love God more than money. It’s an act of worship. We’re saying, “Here, Lord. I love you more than this paper. You are the true source of my provision.” The best way to ensure money doesn’t become an idol in your life is by giving some of it away. 

3. Generous 

You can own expensive things, just make sure others get to enjoy them too. 

The early church ensured there were no needs among them (Acts 2:42-44). And Paul says, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). The immediate context for those who preach, but from this text, we learn the principle of sharing. Can you host a poor person in your big, nice house? Can you take that lonely person in your church on your boat? Can you allow your pastor and his wife to stay in your vacation home for a week for free? 

Share your stuff with others. If you can’t, that’s a sign material possessions may be an idol in your life.

4. Good works 

If you want to make an evangelical nervous, mention the idea of good works. Good works are not the basis of salvation, but the evidence of salvation. It’s a neglected doctrine in our evangelical and Protestant churches. Study James, or the book of Titus especially, and you’ll find many references to doing good works. 

Of every category on this list, good works might surprise you. But it’s the one that ties everything together. 

Who could forget John Piper’s sea shells illustration, when he publicly rebukes a couple who desired to spend their retirement collecting sea shells. It’s not wrong to collect sea shells, though. A grandparent can enjoy collecting sea shells on the beach with his or her grandchild. It is wrong, however, to dedicate your life exclusively to leisurely activities and not to good works.

Once I was on a plane traveling from Florida to the Midwest, and my neighbor on the plane told me her boyfriend from a different state was moving to Florida, and they were going to spend their lives sailing. She was 50 or so, and I’m assuming financially independent. I don’t remember for how long, but it seemed like this would be a main pursuit for the rest of her life. 

From a Christian perspective, you can go sailing, go to Italy, and take a year-long sabbatical for a restricted period, but not for the rest of your life. At some point, you have to get off the boat, return from Italy, and finish the Sabbatical. It’s time to start doing good works again. 

As long as you’re breathing, God has good works for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).  The Christian in this life should never completely and entirely be absorbed in leisurely activities. 

One of my go-to passages on money is 1 Timothy: 6:17-19. Paul teaches that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” As long as you are pursuing godliness, giving money away for God’s kingdom purposes, sharing your material possessions with others, and committing your life to good works, it seems you are a candidate to occasionally enjoy desired luxuries.

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