Regarding choosing a financial lifestyle that is honoring to God, I received a blog comment from a reader, asking:
Do you believe that everyone should live modestly? (Would that be $30,000 per year, or $50,000, or $100,000, or...?)
How do you measure this? Should everyone have the same amount, or are some called to wealth and others not?
When it comes to our attitude toward wealth, Jesus gave commands. When it comes to our specific possessions and lifestyle, he gave us principles. Jesus did not hand us a precise checklist of what we can and cannot own, and how we can or cannot spend money. Jesus did not say just one thing about money and possessions. He said many things. They were not random clashing noises, but carefully composed melody and harmony to which we must listen as we develop our lifestyles.
On the one hand Christ said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Matt. 6:19). On the other hand Paul gave these instructions to a pastor: "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
Paul did not say, "Command those who are rich to stop being rich." The implication is that there is a legitimate diversity in the amount of money and possessions owned by Christians. Of course, there is no room for opulence and waste. There is no room for making wealth a source of security, nor for a lack of generosity or hospitality.
Paul left a door open for a Christian to be "rich in this present world"—but only if he carefully follows the accompanying guidelines related to his attitude toward and his use of that wealth. The rich are not told they must take a vow of poverty. But they are told, essentially, to take a vow of generosity. They are to be rich in good deeds, quick to share, quick to part with their assets for kingdom causes—and in doing so they will lay up treasures in heaven.
But who are these "rich," and how rich are they? The answer is that almost everyone who reads this will be rich, both by first-century standards and by global standards today. Statistically, if you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house that keeps the weather out, and own a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15% of the world's wealthy.
If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies (fishing, hunting, skiing, astronomy, coin collecting, painting), a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the world's wealthy.
Hence, when we speak of the rich we are not talking about "them" but "us." Those we think of as rich today are really the super-rich, the mega-wealthy. But it is we, the rich, to whom Paul is speaking. The allowance of "rich Christians" by 1 Timothy 6:17 immediately follows a sobering warning of what awaits those who desire to get rich (1 Timothy 6:11). If we are rich, and we are, we need not conclude we are necessarily living in sin. But we must carefully adhere to Paul's instructions of what our attitudes and actions are to be.
Nevertheless, the door remains open to legitimate differences in the amount of wealth we own. When Peter pressed Jesus concerning the Lord's plans for John, Christ responded, "What is that to you? You follow me" (John 21:22).
His emphasis was on the word "you." Each of us has a call of God. We should not be preoccupied with God's dealing with others, nor should we make unhealthy comparisons with our own situation. There are some things that no Christian should do, such as hoard, live in opulence, or fail to give generously. But there are other things some Christians can rightly do that others cannot or choose not to, such as own land, a home, a car, a business, or go on a certain vacation.
Just because they have different lifestyles, one kind of disciple is no more spiritual than the other. Mary of Bethany, arguably the most devoted of all Christ’s disciples, lived in a large house with considerable possessions, which she and her family regularly made available to the twelve. Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, “left all” to follow Christ.
How much money and possessions can we safely keep? Enough to care for our basic needs and some basic wants, but not so much that we are distracted from our basic purpose, or that large amounts of money are kept from higher kingdom causes. Not so much that we become proud and independent of the Lord (Deut. 8:13-14), or are distracted from our purpose, or insulated from our sense of need to depend on God to provide (Matt. 6:26-29).
Those who want to get rich set themselves up for spiritual disaster. Those who happen to be rich, simply as a result of circumstances, hard work, or wisdom, have done nothing wrong. They need not feel guilty unless they do not make their riches generously available to the work of God, or their lifestyles are self-centered and excessive.
The complete article "Choosing a God-Honoring Lifestyle" is available on EPM's website.
You can read more on "Handling Our Money and Possessions" in Money, Possessions and Eternity.