The Sin of Luxury

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” So wrote Henry David Thoreau in his classic book Walden; and his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his own journal, “Our expense is almost all for conformity. It is for cake that we all run in debt.” Let’s seek to answer some questions about luxury.

What is luxury? The work “luxury” comes from a Latin word that means “excessive.” It originally referred to plants that grow abundantly (our English word “luxurious”), but then it came to refer to people who have an abundance of money, time, and comfort, which they use for themselves as they live in aimless leisure. Whenever you are offered “deluxe service,” that’s the same Latin word: service above and beyond what you really need.

It isn’t a sin to be rich or to have the comforts of life, if this is God’s will for you. Abraham and David were wealthy men. Yet they used what they had for God’s glory. In the eyes of people in the Third World, most of the citizens of the Western world, including the poor, are very wealthy. What the Western world considers necessities are luxuries to the citizens of other nations: things like thermostat-controlled heat and air conditioning, refrigerators, automobiles, adequate medical care, telephones, and abundantly available electricity and fuel.

Luxury doesn’t mean owning abundant possessions so much as allowing possessions to own us. To live in luxury is to use what we have only for our own enjoyment and to ignore the needs of others. It means being irresponsible in the way we use our wealth, wasting it on futile pleasures instead of using it for the good of others and the glory of God. A sign in an exclusive clothing store read, “If you must ask the price of our garments, you can’t afford them.” People who live in luxury don’t bother to ask the prices. They don’t care how much they spend so long as they get what they want.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

%d bloggers like this: