by Brian Carpenter
(This is Part 6 of a series. Click here to begin at Part 1.)
In the quest for the right use of this life and the things of this life, we are often tempted to go to one extreme or the other. We either despise the things of this world and set up for ourselves (and others) a rigid system that says who can have what and how much. Or else we use our liberty as the pretext for the material equivalent of gluttony.
In our day, however, we are far more likely to go to the other extreme. We live in such luxury, and we have grown so used to it, that we no longer consider luxury to be luxury. Our children land in daycare because when we are young and childless we craft lives for ourselves and burden ourselves with debts that cannot be maintained without the influx of two incomes. We do not blink at buying a $35,000 car on credit, with a $600 per month payment. We buy giant 4,000 square-foot McMansions for four or five people to live in. Everyone has their own room, their own bathroom, their own TV and computer and video game console. Everyone has their own phone. And then we wonder why our families aren’t close and don’t really enjoy each other’s company. We dine regularly in restaurants, sampling the cuisines of the world on a regular basis, and we don’t even know how to cook for ourselves.
This was the normal lifestyle for our friends when we—my wife and I—were a childless, two-income family living in Cincinnati. We all lived a life of luxury, but if you asked us if our lives were particularly luxurious, we would have truthfully said no. If you had tried to chide us and get us to examine our conduct from a biblical perspective, we probably would have gotten irritated with you and asserted Christian liberty. But liberty is not a pretext to indulge our natural desires. And if we give our natural desires, any of our natural desires, free reign in our lives, we will soon find that they pass all bounds of temperance and moderation (Rom 13:14.
How, then, should we live? Paul gives us the principle for living in the world in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
Once again, we are back to our old friend, hierarchy. The things of this world were given to us as good things. Their taste, appearance, smell, and texture were given as a gift of God to delight us. Encountering them ought to cause our minds to turn very quickly from the gift to the Giver, and to do so with gratitude. What happens instead? We take them from their God-appointed place and put them where they don’t belong. Thus they become sinful snares to us. Calvin is very helpful:
But what will become of our thanksgiving if we indulge in dainties or wine in such a way that we are too dull to carry out the duties of devotion or our business?" [ever tried to work after having a heavy business lunch? –B]
Where is our acknowledgement of God, if the excesses of our body drive us to the vilest passions and infect our mind with impurity, so that we can no longer distinguish between right and wrong?
Where is our gratitude toward God for clothing if we admire ourselves and despise others because of our own sumptuous apparel?
Where is it if we prepare ourselves for unchastity with the elegance and beauty of our dress?
Where is our acknowledgement of God if our thoughts are fixed on the glamour of our garments? (Calvin, The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, p. 88)
In other words, if our reception and use of the things of this world causes us to turn to them for pleasure and to trust in them to save and preserve us, or it causes us to turn within in self indulgence and magnifying our preening desire to be petted and admired, or it causes us to begin to walk down the pathway of sin ourselves, or it causes us to draw others down the pathway of sin, then these things are sinful for us. God gave them to meet our legitimate needs, and to please us insofar as we can take innocent pleasure both in them and in Him who gave them.
Therefore we use these things carefully and moderately. However, if it would cause your soul pain to lose something, and if you recoil in horror at the thought of having it taken away from you, and if you decide that life would lose much of its savor if you did not have some thing or some experience, then you are using that good thing in an intemperate and thus sinful way. Better to part with it now, willingly, then have God remove it from you in an act of discipline. Or worse, let you follow the natural course upon which your immoderate desire will carry you.
For instance, I know several people who just had to have houses during the housing boom. Now they’ve got houses and they long to be rid of them, and they can’t sell them. They’re stuck in a certain geographical location with no immediate prospects of moving on, and they’re miserable. They’ve had to turn down job opportunities and have lost freedom to move and pursue other options because they are chained to a house. It’s as if the Lord said, "You thought you needed to 'own' a house to be happy. Now you have a house. You’re chained to it. Are you happy?" And the answer is, truly, "No, Lord, I am miserable in my house."
Next week, if God spares us, we will explore further what the Lord has to say concerning these things.
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