TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].
Is it selfish to buy things to make my house more beautiful?
Thank you for the heart behind this question. Your desire for an unselfish, cross-shaped life is admirable, and such humility is a prelude to many divine blessings (Prov. 15:33; James 4:6–10; 1 Pet. 5:5–7).
I understand your hesitancy. When your financial resources could be used to fund mission work or care for the poor, it can feel self-centered to buy a rug for the living room or a painting for the wall. Let me offer another perspective.
Full disclosure: I’m married to a visual artist and her paintings and writings inform these reflections.
God Makes Things Beautiful
We worship the Lord who makes all things beautiful, from the lush beauty of the original creation to the jewel-encrusted new creation coming when our Lord returns (Gen. 1; Rev. 21). The Lord takes pleasure in his gorgeous works.
We worship the Lord who makes all things beautiful, from the lush beauty of the original creation to the jewel-encrusted new creation.
Beauty was also part of the Lord’s plan for ancient Israel, as they experienced liberation from Egypt and moved toward the promised land. The first shared activity for the freed slaves was the construction of the tabernacle—a community art project! Read Exodus 25–36, especially 31:1–11 and 35:30–36:7. Notice the care and colors, creativity and skill deployed for this display of the divine presence. The first “filling of the Spirit” in Scripture is found in Bezalel and his team.
Beware the Idol of Beauty
Of course, beauty can become an idol, and the Israelites were warned against constructing anything that would turn their hearts away from the one Lord God of Israel. This wasn’t a repudiation of created beauty but a warning that our God cannot be reduced to anything made by our hands (Isa. 44; Rom. 1:18–32). Even the early church faced this challenge (I John 5:21).
It’s possible for us to fall into this as well. If you decorate with a self-centered extravagance—a constant focus on how things appear or a driving need to have the latest decor—then it’s time to examine your heart. Your ambition for beauty shouldn’t take God’s place in your affections. It will never bear the weight of making you happy.
Instead, your desire for beauty should grow out of your love for God and neighbor. But it isn’t easy—Christians have been wrestling with this for centuries.
With the coming of Jesus, God’s people felt liberated to celebrate and communicate the gospel with art. From the first symbols of worship to the detail in medieval manuscripts to the explosion of artistic expression in the last 500 years, beauty has been intertwined with Christian spirituality.
Over the past 1,900 years, there have been conflicts in the church over artistic expressions connected to worship. Iconodules in all traditions believe icons and other forms of visual representation of the Christian message help with devotion, especially for the illiterate. Iconoclasts see idolatry and superstition overtaking the gospel and argue for minimal adornment.
The reformers were divided here, with Anglican and Lutheran traditions more accommodating of artistic beauty and Anabaptist and Reformed traditions focused on hearing the Word and simplistic architecture and adornment in homes. These conflicts still inform how people see beauty and the arts.
For the past century, appreciation of the fine arts and visual beauty has been growing in gospel-centered churches. In the mid-20th century, Hans Rookmaaker and Francis Schaeffer emphasized the goodness of art and beauty as an expression of the Creator for the broader evangelical world. Today, artists such as Makoto Fujimura bring their creativity and insights to God’s people, with beauty as part of a trifecta (beauty, goodness, and truth) of divine revelation.
But what does that mean for your living room?
Decorating as Worship
It’s good to give money to care for the poor and support missions. But as your budget allows, it’s also good to decorate your home as an act of worship. Color and light, imagery and words that evoke wonder and joy, and expressions of culture that draw us to the Creator are all good.
Your desire for beauty should grow out of your love for God and neighbor.
If possible, display original works of art. Your investment in living artists, especially Christians, helps to create and cultivate culture. The art in your home doesn’t all have to be overtly religious or realistic. Abstract and expressionist works can tell a story as profound as a seascape or still life. Family photos, children’s coloring, and other handmade items make a house feel welcoming.
This attentiveness to beauty will enliven your hospitality. Family, friends, and colleagues you host around your table will be inspired and refreshed.
In a world where we’re besieged with apocalyptic fears, constant crises, and artistic license glorifying anything but God, beauty rooted in reverence and gratitude, hope and joy will be a witness used by the Holy Spirit to awaken hunger for the Lord and bring peace to our hearts. Such efforts aren’t a waste of time and money but reflections of our Lord’s goodness for all who experience our homes.