Should Christians Flaunt Their Prosperity?

by Kevin on March 7, 2012

If you’re a Christian and you’re reading this post from the vantage point of a Western culture and value system, you may find this post a bit…offensive. If you do, I’d love to entertain your comments below—perhaps I’m wrong in my thinking and in what I’m presenting here.

In Western culture, perhaps even in most cultures, it’s typical that as people become more prosperous, their lives begin to reflect that growing wealth. Larger homes in new locations, more expensive cars, higher end clothing and entertainment and maybe second homes and country club memberships are badges of accomplishment that are worn proudly.

If you’re a non-Christian, that may be as it should be. But what if you are a Christian and you’ve grown in wealth and prosperity—should you follow that same path?

Somehow, I think it’s different for the believer.

Is prosperity a sin?

I don’t believe that prosperity is in any way a sin. Wealth can be used to accomplish great things in so many ways. And apart from the accumulation of wealth itself, I think we all have an obligation to do the best work we can at what ever it is we do. Often, that work—done extraordinarily well—will result in wealth, and that looks a lot more like a blessing than a sin! Think of it as being blessed while being a blessing.

We have scriptural evidence to back this up. James tells us…

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”—James 1:17

As to work, Paul tells us in Colossians…

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”—Colossians 3:23

Clearly, there’s no provision either for being unproductive or intentionally poor—the money and talent we possess should be welcomed as the blessings they are.

But what we do with prosperity may be another story…

Being prosperous is not a sin but flaunting it or using it to separate ourselves from others may be. Looking at spending from a Biblical perspective, are we investing in the Kingdom or are we investing in consumption?

One of the factors that makes this analysis so difficult is that the concept that consumption expands as prosperity grows is a cultural norm—we may not even perceive that we’re doing it. Luxury cars, country club memberships, the arms race for the latest cool gadget, and the in-your-face lifestyles are driven by secular consumption patterns. It’s what happens when we go with the flow.

What does Scripture say about prosperity and how it is to be used?

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’—Colossians 3:1-2

Paul is pointing us away from the preoccupation with the accumulation of things—the human default setting—and toward the heavenly realm.

Jesus is even more specific in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”—Matthew 6:19-21

The Bible is clear on how we’re to handle prosperity, but how does that look in the present age?

McMansions, gated communities and “good” neighborhoods

Housing is one very large example. As a way of celebrating prosperity, people often trade up to a larger home every few years as their wealth grows. It’s completely normal in our culture and has manifested itself in the form of the McMansion—a cliché for over-sized homes mass produced for the newly prosperous looking to trade up in large numbers. I don’t mean to attack this progression, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re a Christian.

One of the justifications cited in the need to move to a larger home is often the pursuit of a “better neighborhood”. Now this term can mean different things to different people, but it often does have everything to do with people. We might say the reason is that we’re looking for a safer area or better schools, but there’s a thin line between those qualities and “wealthier”, as in a preference to live in an area populated by wealthier people.

This is the way of the world, but should a Christian show a preference for living among other wealthy people? Is that where God wants us to be? The following verse should give us pause.

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”—Luke 14:11

Are we exalting ourselves with larger homes?

The extreme version of the quest for a better neighborhood is the gated community. What is the purpose of the gates and of the walls that surround the neighborhood? Are they for protection—or are they about something else? And exactly who is it that the walls are supposed to keep out? Statistics don’t support the gated-community-equals-less-crime claims—sometimes they even attract more crime.

As Christians I think we should be asking these questions. Could it be that the gates and walls serve as a socially acceptable fortress designed to keep out the very people Jesus would have us embrace? It’s something to think about.

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”—Luke 14:13-14

No where is such hospitality more well received than when it’s provided in your own home. Are gates and walls conducive to this?

I give my 10% faithfully—the rest is mine…

There’s evidence supporting that charitable giving declines as income rises. If this is true it’s a disturbing trend. If anything, generosity should increase with income.

Because much is made of the tithe (the giving of 10% of income to the Church) in Christian circles, it has the potential to function as a ceiling on giving. But Jesus tells us something very different.

“Much will be required from everyone to whom much has been given. But even more will be demanded from the one to whom much has been entrusted.”—Luke 12:48

Yes, prosperity is a blessing and a gift, but it can also be a burden if we don’t manage it properly. An expanded lifestyle with larger homes, second homes, higher priced cars and all the trappings of the good life could be an obstacle to our faith walk.

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” –Matthew 19:23-24

I don’t think that verse means that we move farther from God the more prosperous we become, but I do think that it warns us of that potential and it also implies a much greater responsibility.

Wealth isn’t a sin—it’s a blessing. But what we do it…that’s the question.

What do you think about how a Christian should handle prosperity? Should we follow the secular flow, or should we be doing something else?

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