by Lee Anderson Jr. —
“Is it wrong for a Christian to purchase a $5,000 Rolex?”
That is the question a Christian economics professor posed to my Sunday school class one day. After much discussion, we all concluded there was not enough information given in the question to arrive at a definitive “yes” or “no.” But we certainly had some interesting discussion in getting to that conclusion, and a lot of us had our preconceptions challenged.
When it comes to pursuing our hobbies and personal interests, almost invariably we are forced to engage with the question of money. With very rare exception, almost all hobbies have some measure of monetary cost. As such, if we are going to consider what the Scriptures have to say about hobbies, we must also seek to gain an understanding of what the Bible teaches about money. Ultimately, we want to know, in light of scriptural teaching, is our hobby a responsible and proper use of the financial and material resources God has given us?
That said, it is important to keep this question in perspective. I have heard repeated often that the Bible talks more about money than even heaven and hell. This perspective only holds if one goes strictly by word count (comparing the relative usage of words like “money,” “coin(s),” “wealth(y),” etc. vis-à-vis “heaven” and “hell”). But it does not account for (1) instances of the words used in parables (in which money is used metaphorically to teach a spiritual principle), (2) the volume of space devoted to the respective subjects where the words in question are not used explicitly, or (3) the relative emphasis the subjects receive within the passages that present them. The plain reality is that heaven, hell, and a host of other theological subjects receive much more attention in the Bible than does the topic of money—and they likewise are presented as being of far greater importance than anything having to do with money.
Nevertheless, the Bible does teach about money, and it also gives many principles related to the prudent use of material resources. For the sake of our discussion here, we want to take the most salient of these principles and apply them within the context of hobbies.
The Bible expressly commands we use money and material resources for three purposes. The first is to provide for our families. In fact, the Scriptures give the sternest of warnings about failing to care for those in our immediate family (see 1 Timothy 5:8). If we are in a position such that we have the responsibility of providing for the material needs of our family, we must be sure that whatever resources we devote to our hobbies do not infringe on that responsibility.
Second, the Bible instructs us to pay taxes to the government (Luke 20:25; Romans 13:7). Many of us reluctantly accept government taxes as one of life’s givens, but we must recognize it is also a matter of obedience to God. Suffice it to say, we must responsibly account for the funds we owe to our government before deciding what resources to allocate to our hobbies.
Third, the Bible teaches that we are to give. It is often presumed Christians are to give a tenth of their income (usually to their local church), but a closer examination of Scripture shows this is not the case. Looking at the specific instructions in the Mosaic Law regarding the practice of tithing (see especially Leviticus 27:30–33; Numbers 18:21–32; Deuteronomy 14:22–29), we see that what the Lord required of Israel was far in excess of ten percent. That is understandable, since Israel in the Old Testament era was a theocracy and the tithe was not merely a religious gift but also a civil tax. In any case, the only references to the tithe in the New Testament concern either the practice of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12) or the historical account of Abraham giving a tenth of the spoils of battle to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:4–10). Nowhere in the New Testament is found instructions for the Christian to offer a tithe to the church. However, Scripture does offer clear instruction that the Christian is to give regularly, proportionately, and generously (see especially 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:6–7; cf. Acts 11:29) for the sake of meeting needs in the body of Christ. The fact remains that not all believers will give the same amount, or even the same percentage of their income. The point is that financial commitment to whatever hobbies we pursue should not detract from this principle of giving.1
After accounting for these biblical obligations, we are free to use the remainder of what we have at our discretion (cf. Acts 5:4), including to invest in our hobbies.2 However, even then biblical wisdom must be employed, evaluating our financial choices in light of the principles we have considered in the preceding parts of this series. Returning to our original question, a $5,000 Rolex watch may not be something we would think about, but what about spending $5,000 on a set of golf clubs and other equipment? What about $5,000 worth of parts for building a custom hot rod? That may sound exorbitant, especially if you have never played golf or taken an interest in racing; but that level of financial investment is not unrealistic for many sorts of hobbies, even the ones we tend to think of as “tame.” For example, I have a friend who has a keen interest in stellar photography (quite a wonderful hobby that showcases the beauty of God’s creative work), and $5,000 might cover the cost of a single telescope, to say nothing of specialty lenses, cameras, and other equipment needed for the hobby. Does the high cost mean that he should not pursue it? Obviously, personal convictions (and one’s unique situation in life) factor into such a decision. I might make different decisions about the amount of money I devote to my hobbies than does my Christian friend—and that is alright. Scriptural teaching allows for differences of opinion on the matter, provided we do not violate our own convictions or judge our brethren.3
In the end, though, we must remember that money is only a tool. We use it to provide for our loved ones, to further the preaching of the Gospel, and to invest in those things that bring us real enjoyment within the context of God’s gracious provision for us. But money is of no greater value than the worth of the things we use it for. That fact is all the more reason to think carefully about the things—including hobbies—that we invest in. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:19–21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”4 As such, though it may sound like a cliché, as we pursue our hobbies, let us invest in them discerningly, all the while making sure our hearts are in the right place.
1It is worth clarifying that if a Christian truly believes ten percent is the amount he or she should give to the local church, that is perfectly fine. Some with greater means may desire to give more. Others, perhaps those who have greater financial responsibility to care for family members and comparatively less with which to do so, will give less (in fact, such people may need to receive from the collection of the church rather than contribute to it). In each case, the Christian ought to give as he “as he has purposed in his heart” (2 Corinthians 9:7) without either looking down upon fellow believers who give less or being envious of those able to contribute more.
2Some maintain that there is a fourth area of responsibility concerning the use of monetary resources: the repayment of debt. I agree, although I would contend that most debts we consider necessary (e.g., mortgage, school expenses, car payments) fall under the broader heading of providing for family. Yes, people do take on debt for less essential reasons. However, it is my personal conviction that we should avoid going into debt for frivolous things, as such detracts from the availability of funds to attend to the financial responsibilities the Bible prescribes.
3One thing I think is important to note is that our spending, generally speaking, should be in proportion to the non-financial investment we devote to our hobbies. It is probably unwise to devote large amounts of money to a hobby with which we spend comparably little time or from which we derive only very modest enjoyment. Wisdom dictates that we prioritize our expenditures (even those related to hobbies) in a fashion similar to how we budget our time. Investing large sums of money in a hobby in which we have only a casual interest or intermittent involvement will, more likely than not, prove to be something we regret in the long run.
4All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, is from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. For further helpful discussion on this passage, see D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in volume 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Frank E. Gæbelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 176–77.