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A decade later, I still remember one of my professors in college telling the class that he thought Christians should not own luxurious things unless they were necessary to do the work God had called them to do. He gave the example of a guitar—it is not a sin for a Christian to have a guitar, but unless he needs an $800 guitar to lead worship in church, he should get the most affordable one possible. This example struck me as imminently reasonable, but many disagreed.

After a decade of living in the luxurious West, this manner of thinking has fled from me, only to be brought under my nose like smelling salt in the book of Revelation. It seems to me, and I may be wrong, that John of the Apocalypse has a very low view of luxury. Could the Bible be telling us that living rich (not being rich) is a sin?

In Revelation, the epitome of evil is Babylon, and one of the hallmarks of Babylon is luxury. Thus, the punishment of Babylon is to be commensurate with her luxurious living: “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning'” (Revelation 18:7a, ESV. See 18:9). Why do people mourn the punishment of Babylon? Because they will no longer make money from her (18:11).

After describing punishment for luxurious living, John gives a very long list of goods. Almost every item on the list is a luxurious one (e.g., “gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk,” 18:12). The capstone of this list of luxury is clearly something that should not be bought or sold: “slaves, that is, human souls” (18:13).  

Why does John not just say, “The merchants wept because no one bought their goods”? Why does he take the time to make this long list? I cannot think of any reason other than a repulsion for luxury. One might argue that John was repulsed by luxurious living because it was done to glorify the sexual and idolatrous sin of Babylon. I agree with that. But that does not mean John would be happy to hear about Christians living in mansions, or multiple homes, or having multiple cars, or thousand-dollar watches. Opulence and luxury belong to God. The Temple was to be a luxurious place. When homes are opulent, and the Temple suffers, the prophets judge the people: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house [the Temple] lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4, ESV).

For much of church history, wealth was regarded as something to avoid. The church considered it biblical wisdom: “Give me neither poverty nor riches” (Prov 30:8b). Augustine’s mentor said, “We consider only those things useful that lead us toward the goal of eternal life, and not those that merely provide temporary enjoyment. We do not see any inherent value in the opportunities and in earthly riches; instead, we regard them as hindrances if not set aside and burdens when possessed.” (Ambrose, “On the Duties of the Clergy” p. 6 – updated for today’s reader).

Have wealthy Christians lost this? Have we subtly been slipping back into the silks of Babylon, living in luxury as we eat expensive foods, wear costly clothes, drive luxurious cars, and take fancy vacations? What would the Apostle John say about the Church today—would it be the pure and blameless bride of Christ, or would it look like Babylon to him?

This was originally posted on The Fight of Faith. 


Hi Rob.  Lots of good stuff there, and an evergreen warning.  I think the challenge is severalfold:


  1. Defining luxury or riches.  As a sliding scale, it's hard to pin down.  You talk about "expensive foods".  Is McDonald's expensive?  Well, yes, much more expensive than eating a simple sandwich at home.  What defines a "luxury" car?  The poles are plain, but the in-between ground is hard to pin down.  In the Reformed tradition we have typically rejected asceticism.  But anything beyond asceticism could be potentially described as luxury.  Can't any vacation or hobby really be described at some level as a luxury?
  2. Applying this to ourselves mainly, and not projecting on others.  The easy tendency is to dismiss our own choices and look over at the richer person and judge their choices.  This is likely true of all sin - we prefer not to judge ourselves against the perfect God-man, but rather in comparison to our (we think) more sinful neighbor.  

In light of these challenges, I think it best that we speak more about the condition of our hearts, where we find our comfort and security, and whether we practice hospitality and generosity rather than seeking to parse the morality of any particular item like an $800 guitar.  I shoot an $800 shotgun when I hunt ducks.  Could I have a $350 shotgun?  Certainly.  But I don't, for a number of reasons that could be examined.  Do I think that is sinful?  Not at all.  In contrast, if I brought you to my home and showed off my extensive collection of never-used expensive guns, expressing my pride and security that I find in that collection (while also demonstrating a lack of care or generosity for those in need), I think I would be giving evidence of the sort of opulence and luxury condemned in Scripture.  In the end, it is likely that we are all doing some level of self-justification for our choices, as that is indeed the nature of our sinful hearts.  May God grant us the will and wisdom examine our hearts and choices regularly.  


Thanks for your thoughtful response, Eric. That's actually why I wrote this. I wanted to study John's view of wealth but figured it would be quicker (after initially not finding any easy-to-find resources) to write a post and get feedback. So, you've helped me a lot here. 

I completely agree with your two points. It's hard to define luxury and not point the finger as a hypocrite. Your solution—let each man search his own conscience—is surely the solution.

But, I think the church could do more to help people search their consciences. It's very possible that I feel justified in using expensive goatskin Bibles (of which I have many) on faulty grounds. Perhaps the Spirit could use the words of other Christians to convict me. I'm describing the tension between Christian liberty and living as part of the body of Christ. In my view, currently, the church has done a good job of telling people Jesus's command to sell all for the poor was hypothetical. But, we haven't done a good job asking the question: "Do we even come close to fulfilling that hypothetical?" I like Bonehoeffer's quip about a son "interpreting" his dad's instruction to clean his room: "My dad told me to clean my room. He knows if my room is clean, I'll be happier. So, he is really after my happiness. Therefore, to best obey my father, I should go outside and play instead because that will make me happy." 

Like you say, if you had an armory of expensive guns, you'd call that into question (I have a safe with guns/rifles in it too). So, we all seem to draw the line at some point. For me, it's Christians who own Rolexes (I've met some in CA). How could a Christian justify buying (not inheriting) a $40k watch? But I'm sure I'm much more generous in where I draw the line for myself than for others. And, like you say, it's not my job to draw the line for other people anyway. That said, I think it's good for the church to talk about the line in clear terms to help us all figure out where it is—a tension to be sure. 

I'm reminded of Billy Graham saying, "How can we say we're brothers and sisters with the starving in Africa when we're driving around in Cadillacs?" 

Certainly, Rob.  I agree wholeheartedly that the Church ought to regularly exhort in this arena, particularly in the N.A. context where luxury abounds and independence/hoarding/selfishness are cultural touchstones.  What will be helpful for us, I think, is when the church leans hard on the principle and leaves the application to the hearer.  We tend to get into trouble when we err in either over-specificity in application or under-emphasis on the principle.  So, the pastor who never works in a plea/call for sacrificial living and rejection of selfish opulence is erring, just as is the pastor who feels it necessary to impugn any congregational members with a lake cabin or more than one car.  Thanks for stimulating us to reflect on these things and the seriousness of the call for us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ.

Excellent distinction, Eric. Thank you for that. I think that's the piece I was missing—we should emphasize the principle but leave the application to the individual. That strikes the right chord because there is no clear biblical line in the sand barring stewardship from opulence. However, thinking about it some more, it'll be hard to emphasize the principle without supplying some concrete examples. Saying, "we shouldn't be opulent," may have very little effect without concrete examples since were all master sin-hiders, myself as the foremost. 

Hi again, Rob.  If absolutely necessary, I think it best that examples be quite general or common to the human experience, so as to avoid the appearance of targeting.  So, if one particular member of the congregation drives a Cadillac Escalade, a pastor (or elders) would be wise not to use that particular example (did I just use that example?!?).

I do wonder if specific examples are necessary to get the point across.  I think that more common language and explanation than "opulence" can be used, and I think the principle can be applied directly to questions of our heart motivation, security, comfort, etc. without using specific examples of things that the pastor judges to be too far - unless of course the pastor wants to use his own judgment of his own life and decisions as an example. This could be thorny too.

No matter how the question of examples is approached, I think we want to approach the overall topic with urgency, seriousness, conviction, and self-examination mixed with grace, humility, pastoral wisdom, and non-judgmentalism.  May God grant us wisdom, humility, and the repentance for the heart-work necessary in this area.  Thanks for the conversation.  May God bless you and keep you.

What I can’t understand is why you all have guns. What did a duck ever do to you to deserve being blasted out of the sky? And several guns? Are you expecting Armageddon? 

I’ll take my chances sitting in church next to the guy with the Rolex watch. Unless he’s James Bond I’m safe.

Hi Hetty,

Thanks for engaging.  I can't speak for "you all" about guns, but I can speak a bit about my guns and hunting.  I'd be interested to know if you are a vegan.  If not, I might echo you and wonder aloud just what the chicken, pig, or cow ever did to you for you to have them killed and used for your benefit.  Are you uncomfortable with me killing to eat but comfortable with yourself killing by proxy?  In reality, I don't think that is the right question at all.  I would never posit that a duck, goose, or deer has done anything to me, but I will assert that they have done something for me.  They have provided me and my family with sustenance.

And along the way I have done what is good for my soul: I have entered into nature, felt the harsh elements, immersed myself in the sights, sounds, and smells of creation, praised God for his glory displayed in the Marsh Wren, Sandhill Crane, Burr Oak, and the mosquito, and have respectfully pursued for harvest the birds and animals that God has indeed given to us for food.  Now, this pursuit (with gun or bow) will not be for everyone, and I would not try to talk you into hunting.  But neither is weightlifting, tatting, watching movies, baking, gardening, playing basketball, quilting, etc. meant for everyone.  We gravitate toward the pursuits that are healthy and fulfilling for us.  

I have several guns for several reasons.  The gun one uses for duck hunting is the not the same gun one uses for antelope, which is also not the same gun one uses for rabbits, which is also not the same gun one uses for target shooting, etc.  Different guns for different purposes.  I have no concerns or thoughts about Armageddon.  My guns serve a utilitarian purpose.  

I don't carry a gun to church, but I also don't begrudge those who do.  I've never judged someone by their watch, but I would offer that under the discussion offered by Rob, a reasonably priced gun for personal protection is more morally defensible than a luxurious watch.  

Hopefully this reply sheds a bit of light on a topic perhaps not matching your interests.  Thanks again for engaging.


Well said. As a hunter myself, I concur. The only thing I'd add, Hetty, is that God says, "kill and eat" to Peter (both imperative verbs, Acts 10:13). If killing and eating animals was as bad as you make it sound, God would be to blame as well! Perish the thought! 

Hi again, Hetty.  I ran across a recent article that expands on some of what I was angling at in my response.  It doesn't say everything (nor have I), but it is helpful in providing additional perspective.

More than just meat | Christian Courier

I would also note that while organizations like PETA get a lot of publicity, the North American model of conservation (the most successful in the world) is radically and intentionally driven by hunters, fishers, and trappers - they are the original environmentalists, before it was cool.  Public and conservation land acquisitions and protections are driven largely by (self-voted) taxation on sportsmen (used generically) and by volunteer conservation dollars of sportsmen - we put our money where our mouth is regarding conservation because we have a tie to, appreciation of, bond with, and love for the land and its creatures.  This love is formed, fed, and fueled in our times in the field.  

I'm sorry, I must have misunderstood you.  I thought you were looking for conversation and greater understanding, as you asked a question in response to me.  I don't need reasons and arguments to support what I do, as if to justify my actions as I might if I was proposing to eat children.  If you would yet like conversation at some point, I'm glad to engage further with you.


This reminds me of something I heard somewhere once...

"That perfume could have been sold! And the money given to the poor!"

"There will always be poor."

It's also perhaps worth reminding ourselves that Jesus was contrasting his limited time remaining on earth with the continued presence of those struggling in this broken world, as opposed to suggesting any indifference to the needs of the poor.  The fact that the poor will always be with us is a continual reminder of two things: First, the consequences of sin in this world; and second, the continual call for us to show Christ-like, sacrificial love to our neighbors.

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