I heard with disgust this week of yet another celebrity spending an exorbitant amount of money on a wedding, this time $7 million. While that is only a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $34 – $70 million spent for Prince William and Kate Middleton to wed last year, it is still grotesquely obscene in my opinion to waste so much on so few for so short a time. In fact, I even find the average wedding cost of $28,427 to also be absurd.
This post, however, is not a rant about wedding costs. I could just as easily be talking about buying very expensive cars, homes far larger than is needed or a host of other items. The things purchased are not the point. My point is about wise, responsible use of resources, and nobody can convince me that such extravagance is ever appropriate regardless of the occasion or who is involved.
Some will surely retort, “But it’s my money and I can spend it however I want!” That, my friends, is where I beg to differ.
I realize that not everyone reading this post shares my Christian beliefs, so understand that my objection stems from my faith and my understanding of biblical stewardship. All that we are and all that we have belongs to God. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). We do not own anything – a point proven when we breathe our last breath and see just how much we get to take with us to the life to come (zero). We are stewards of what is entrusted to us for as long as God gives us life and breath, and it is our responsibility to manage what he has entrusted to us responsibly.
There are just too many needs in the world for those who have much to recklessly spend what they wrongly consider to be “their” money any way they wish. There are untold numbers of people with no homes, no food, inadequate opportunities for work, little education, and other life-limiting circumstances that can be changed if others will only do so. And, for my fellow Christians concerned about the spread of the gospel, that isn’t going to happen if we spend extravagantly on ourselves.
This is not about the world’s 1 percenters being bad or evil because they have achieved great financial success. It is about the responsibility of each of us to be a steward of what God has given us, regardless of how large or small that amount may be. (By the way, if you live in the United States, you’re pretty much in the world’s top 1% economically, so stop pointing the finger at the top 1% of that top 1% since you’re in the world’s top 1% yourself.)
My views on this are not politically motivated and, in fact, I am a very conservative person with strong Libertarian leanings politically. For me to in any way suggest that what people earn is not their own seems to go against the grain of my political core. The difference, however, is that there is a huge distinction between (a) the government taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have nots,” and (b) individuals voluntarily sacrificing their own opportunities for extravagance in order to extend a helping hand to others and make a positive difference in the world. The latter is what I believe people with a healthy, biblical sense of stewardship will willingly do in a desire to love God and other people more than themselves.
It’s been almost a year and a half since I went to China and experienced the joy of worshiping with fellow believers who do not earn in a lifetime what I earn in a year. Yet, they were incredibly generous, gracious and giving, going out of their way to prepare wonderful meals for us and hosting us in ways far better than we deserved. I recall the impact of being able to distribute Bibles to fellow believers there who would otherwise never be able to afford one. I was humbled when told that the average Bible would be shared by five people and would likely be instrumental in three of those five coming to the faith. The cost of those Bibles? About $2-3 each.
So when I see a wedding that costs $7 million, I translate that in my mind to about 3 million Bibles shared by 15 million people with maybe 9 million coming to faith from the impact of God’s Word. On the scale of my mind I see an extravagant event on one side of the scale (whether it’s a $7 million wedding or buying a $5 cup of coffee) and an eternal change in someone’s life on the other side of the scale, and I can’t help but mourn at the loss of potentially life-changing good that could be done if and when we value others more than ourselves.
I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone. I have my own ways I spend money that I could easily do without – from eating out to my tech toys to driving to work when I could take the bus, etc. Growing in my understanding of stewardship is an ongoing challenge. For example, last year after the China trip, I cut back our cable subscription to the bare minimum $15/month package that gets us 21 channels. I could do without that, too, of course, if I chose. I stopped buying $100 pairs of running shoes in favor of $30 pairs from Walmart that last just as long and feel every bit as comfortable. Between my wife’s 1996 van and my 2001 car, we’re approaching 400,000 miles between them. We’re not model stewards by any stretch, but at least we’re aware of the biblical model and attempt to live reasonably as people who believe that “our possessions” really aren’t ours – they are God’s, and we are to manage them responsibly while giving generously and sacrificially to others and for the work of God’s kingdom.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11b-13). It seems to me that the mistaken culture of greed, hoarding and extravagance must be called out, not because it is uneven distribution or because everyone is entitled to equal amounts of possessions (they aren’t), but because a lifestyle of extravagance and self-centeredness is unscriptural.
“But it’s my money and I can spend it however I want!” No, it isn’t yours or mine. It is God’s. You and I are stewards of it for a short while, and we will all give an account to him one day for how we managed it.