Before Buying

July 31, 2008

What would you say about a man who invested well, expanded his holdings, took early retirement, and was well-positioned to enjoy his profit for many years to come?  Many of us would say: “What a wise man!  What was his secret?  I wish that were me!”  But listen to what God would say about this man: “Fool!”

The fact that we would be led to admire, even envy, a man whom God considers a fool proves a couple of points.  First, it proves that Jesus is a great storyteller.  (You can skim Jesus’ story here.)  Second, it proves that we’re more worldly than we might have thought.  Our view of what is truly valuable smells more of earth than of heaven.  Most of us need to grapple with Jesus’ words:

One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions….  [The fool] is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:15, 21).

Does this mean I shouldn’t buy a new video camera?  Or what about a new guitar?  I’d really like to do some stone work in my backyard too.  Would that be foolish of me?  How do I discern whether I’m being greedy or simply enjoying good gifts from God?  

Unfortunately — and fortunately — Jesus hasn’t given us a greed chart.  If he had, decisions might be easier, but I’d be serving as the chief priest of the Pharisees right now.  As it is, in the absence of a Filthy Lucre Reference Guide, I have to stay close to Jesus, weighing the motives of my heart, examining carefully my life under God.  I think that’s the idea. 

Here are some questions to help you discern your heart as you attempt to navigate our consumer culture in a Christianly way:

  1. Do I need it, or do I want it?  (No use lying to ourselves.)
  2. If I want it rather than need it (as with most things), why do I want it?  To make me happy?  To make me look good?  To give me influence over others?  To give me security? 
  3. Can I give God thanks for it?
  4. Can I enjoy it for God’s sake and not as an end in itself?
  5. Would I be devastated if it were depleted or damaged or stolen?
  6. Could I readily share it with others?
  7. Would it be more likely to distract me or encourage me in my love of God and neighbor?
  8. Would it tempt me to decrease my giving to kingdom causes (i.e., the church, the poor, etc.)? 

Don’t do the two-step around questions like these.  Jesus means for you to wrestle.  “Take care,” he warned, “and be on your guard against all covetousness” (Luke 12:15).

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