Christian Living

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General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Career by the Book

Chapter 12: Income and Lifestyle


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:

·   Three major Christian responses to lifestyle.

·   Five principles of a biblical lifestyle.

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:

·   Incorporate the positive aspects of the lifestyle responses.

·   Adopt a biblical lifestyle for yourself.

Income and Lifestyle

Key Scripture: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).

Lifestyle is a typical way of life that reflects individual desires, tastes, priorities, and, to a great degree, character. The lifestyle of Christians reveals their innermost desires, either for material gain or spiritual wealth. Developing a Christian lifestyle is often difficult because we are pulled in many directions. These tensions become magnified as you assess your own lifestyle, so it may be difficult to evaluate, let alone change, your lifestyle. Yet as Christians it is critical to know what the Bible says about lifestyle. The answers to the following questions should reveal your present attitudes about lifestyle.

  • Is God interested in how I use my possessions?
  • Does God guarantee my prosperity?
  • Do I try to conserve energy and recycle waste?
  • Does God care if I own a Mercedes or a yacht?
  • Do I often overextend my finances with credit cards?
  • Am I conscious of the possessions of my neighbors?
  • Do I support programs that assist the poor and homeless?
  • Do I budget my expenses on a monthly basis?
  • Do I buy only designer labels and name brands?

Although there are no simple answers to the question of lifestyle, three Christian responses have developed in the West - prosperity theology, the Franciscan response, and the capitalist defenders. These offer very different perspectives on this problem.

Prosperity Theology

As children of a loving Heavenly Father, we believe that God desires to bless us. Jesus declared that He came so that we might have abundant life (John 10:10). The apostle Paul promised the Philippians, "God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). Although God's blessings are often material, His primary blessings are spiritual. Wealth itself is not inherently evil; yet in some prosperity teaching, material gain has overshadowed spiritual maturity.

Prosperity theology ("health-and-wealth" or "name-it-and-claim-it") has become the answer for many Christians who ask, "How can I succeed in my personal life and in the workplace?" Although this teaching appears biblical, a close examination reveals that it is filled with partial truths. It is an appealing theology because it unwittingly appeals to human greed, a temptation Jesus specifically warned against (Luke 12:15). God has specifically commanded us not to strive after riches. Yet prosperity teaching portrays the Christian life as one of unequivocal blessing from a beneficent Heavenly "Daddy."

Many people in the related positive thinking movement embrace values similar to those of prosperity proponents. One prominent multilevel marketing company encourages its sales people to dream of cars, houses, and yachts. They are told to put pictures of furs, motor homes, and airplanes on their refrigerators. The visualization of such objects is the first step in obtaining them. In actuality, the company is cultivating a lust for more material things. Scripture clearly condemns the desire for material possessions, since people are prone toward greed (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

The Franciscan Response

The Franciscan response is probably the major influence on Christian thinking about lifestyle. Named after Francis of Assisi, this response reflects the simple lifestyle of the gentle saint. Reminiscent of Jesus' life on earth, the Franciscan response is believed by many to be the only biblical approach to lifestyle. It raises the consciousness of Western Christians in particular, challenging them to a simple, practical faith. Unfortunately, this response fails in its analysis of the world's problems, especially in the area of poverty. The reasons given for poverty and the solutions for ending it are far too simplistic to be feasible.

The Capitalist Defenders

The capitalist defenders promote a healthy free-enterprise system. They are purveyors of the American dream "If you work hard, you will succeed" and "America is the land of equal opportunity!" But capitalist defenders, perhaps because of their idealism, lack organization and a clear plan of action. Because of its orientation toward success, this view fails to address the problems of the poor and disadvantaged. Furthermore, perhaps because the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian values, capitalist defenders have blurred the distinction between capitalism and Christianity.

Lifestyle Principles

After reviewing some of the basic elements of prosperity theology, the Franciscan response, and the capitalist defenders, it becomes evident that another, more practical theology is needed. Perhaps the most important question you can ask as a Christian is, "How can my family and I live in a way that is pleasing to God?" The answer to this question rests on five principles:

Acknowledge that God has given us the means to provide for our needs. God designed creation to provide food for Adam and Eve as well as for their descendants. Therefore, the first principle is that God has provided all of His creation to meet basic human needs. But throughout history, people and civilizations have enjoyed considerably more than the basics. As a culture advances and grows more sophisticated, however, its level of needs naturally rises. Past luxuries become present necessities. God has promised to supply your essential needs of food, clothing, and shelter (Matt. 6:25-34). But He may not feel that you "need" designer clothing and a foreign sports car. Therefore, you should not put claims on God, demanding that He move you higher up the ladder of success. Although He loves you and wants to bless you, He is not obligated to bless you financially.

Realize that workers should benefit from the fruit of their labor. While God is not obligated to bless you, He has gifted you with talents and abilities so that you might enjoy your work, be productive - and reap the rewards! Although God frowns on selfish motivations, He anticipates that workers will have a legitimate self-interest in their motivations. A healthy self-interest precedes wholesome self-esteem, which, in turn, encourages the development of other healthy attitudes.

Develop an attitude of contentment, not covetousness. Solving the problem of gain begins with our attitude. Workers often find it difficult to distinguish between healthy self-interest, which leads to contentment, and selfish pride, which degenerates into covetousness. The first step downward to covetousness occurs when we decide that God does not care or that He does not matter. Scripture refutes both of these dangerous attitudes, providing evidence of an omnipotent and caring God who is the source of all contentment (Ps. 147:5; Deut. 7:12).

Pursue a lifestyle of limits, not luxury. All people require certain basic needs to survive - food, clothing, and shelter. But modern needs are often beyond these, being determined by circumstances, situations, and attitudes. Millions of Americans determine their self-worth by comparing themselves with their peers. Because of their need for acceptance, people often overextend themselves and buy expensive items on credit. Thus, many Americans have no concept of a limited lifestyle. Even Christians develop artificial needs, perpetuating the fallacy that the American way is to "keep up with the Joneses."

While their neighbors are racing at full gallop just to keep up with the Joneses, the Joneses have their eyes fixed on the Smiths. Chandler Smith, after having quickly moved up two rungs on the corporate ladder, has purchased an estate in the country and two very expensive cars. Until recently, Zack and Cindy Jones set the pace for their circle of friends. Now they feel pressured to change neighborhoods in order to be accepted into the group congregating around the Smiths. They must also join the Four Oaks Country Club, which recently elected Chandler to the Board of Directors. Since Four Oaks is very prestigious, the Joneses will have to pay considerably more dues than for their present club membership. After discussing the matter at length, Zack confided to Cindy, "Chandler Smith's promotion is going to cost us more than we can ever afford!"

Cultivate habits of generosity, not greed. Perhaps you have become convicted that your lifestyle is more lavish than your giving. A quick review of your checkbook may reveal discrepancies between your economic philosophy and your actual spending. One specific area in which they may disagree is in the area of contributions to the Lord's work. Since God expects believers to give of their resources, your responsibility is simply to determine where. Stewardship can be divided into four general areas:

  • Give to the local church where you are spiritually fed.
  • Give food and clothing to the poor and homeless.
  • Donate time and money to worthwhile causes that God has laid on your heart.
  • Keep part of your contributions available for emergency needs that may arise.

Giving should be a daily, lifelong commitment. If you are giving ten percent this year, perhaps next year you would like to increase your giving to eleven or even twelve percent. Each time you give, your heart will be drawn to the Lord and to those who receive your gifts. 

Life Applications:

A. Many of the early Christians at Corinth were apparently poor, both materially and spiritually. What did Paul say to these believers in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31?    


B. Prosperity teachers say that the Bible is the path to material prosperity and that godliness results in financial gain. What did Paul say in 1 Timothy 6:3-10? 


C. After completing the Further Study, how does the attitude of James compare with the attitudes promoted by prosperity theology?


D. 1. List 15 - 20 items that you believe are absolutely essential expenses for you and your family. These may be tangible goods (e.g., food items or housing) or intangible services (e.g., education or life insurance). Be specific in determining the essential things that you must have in order to live and function realistically in your particular living environment.

2. Place a check by the items that you already or normally have on a regular basis. Place a star by the items you do not have. Looking at the starred items, how does not having these things make you feel about yourself? About God? About the items themselves?

3. Describe your attitude toward your present lifestyle and material possessions.

4. Do you rest in the conviction that God intends to meet your needs? Why or why not?        

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Test your knowledge by taking this short quiz which covers what you just read in chapters 9-12. Select the correct response based on the lessons and concepts.

1. As a Christian, you go to work for the same reason you go to church? to worship and serve Christ.



2. An employer should be concerned with the lives of employees outside of work.



3. Your workstyle is made up of the attitudes you express, the methods you employ, and the __________ you use.



4. A crucial aspect of workstyle is our attitude toward __________.



5. Because God has placed us in our jobs, they have a sense of dignity and __________.



6. Know the __________.



7. Use __________.



8. Examine God's __________.



9. God's desire is that you pursue a vocation utilizing your __________.



10. You will make the greatest contribution when you work in a career that corresponds to the way God has designed you.



11. As a Christian, you __________ anticipate conflict in the world.



12. One aspect of __________ participation in evil is in the misuse of a product.



13. You should act when innocent people are affected by evil.



14. Problems at work would disappear in a Christian environment.



15. Personal __________ is the bedrock from which all of our efforts must spring.



16. Proponents of the __________build a strong case for free enterprise.

Franciscan response

Capitalist defenders

17. God made His creation only to supply the basics for survival.



18. The first step toward __________ is to believe that God doesn't care or that He doesn't matter.



19. Godliness is not a means toward financial gain.



20. __________ economy is buying the least expensive item that will get the job done.



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