How Much Is Enough?


If I ever had the opportunity to preach a sermon, I think this just might be the question I would pose. It really feels to me like money and all the issues surrounding it is the greatest hinderence to our americanized Christianity truly being a radical faith that it was intended to be. There are a ton of Bible verses I could point to, but I’ll just use one chunk of a letter from the apostle Paul to Timothy.

7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction…

17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (I Timothy 6)

There are plenty of other verses that would lend support to this, but I can’t escape the simple straightforwardness of this message and that it seems directly applicable to us in the United States. We should be content with “food and clothing” and we should be “rich in good deeds” and “generous and willing to share.” So obvious, and yet, what does that mean for us?

Does food and clothing include shelter? If so what kind? Should we purchase a home? What about a vehicle? Is there a point that we can say “this is enough” and simply stop accumulating wealth and possessions beyond that point? Is there? Is it something we can only decide individually or can a local community church make a collective decision? What about larger bodies?

This is clearly not something I’ve come to a solid answer or decision on, but rather something I’m constantly struggling with and have been continually disappointed that it doesn’t really seem to be brought up in church.

You’ll hear the occasional sermon on financial stewardship, and the pastor might be so daring as to call church goers to give a 10% tithe. And it’s rare, but you might even find a pastor who will point out the scriptures warnings of the dangers of riches and wealth. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon where a pastor will take a stab at defining what “rich” is. No one ever puts a number to it. And we can talk all day about tithing 10%,  but has anyone ever tried to define how much is acceptable or necessary to live on, to spend on ourselves?

These are my questions. I don’t have answers, but I think it’s a conversation worth having. Where do you stand?

16 thoughts on “How Much Is Enough?”

  1. it is an excellent question we all need to ask our self – but we also need to accept that for each of us the answer will be different – what for one is a want is for another a need, and once we begin to try to answer this question for another we quickly fall into judging, another faux pas, another sin.
    one of the problems is that the accumulation of wealth is a challenge and a measuring stick, for some- it is no longer money – it has passed beyond that, and is now a measurement of how good, how successful, how (fill in the blank) I am. For some the money sits quietly – for others the money turns into stuff – fun stuff, stuff to impress, stuff to fill the loneliness and emptiness, stuff to build self esteem and self image. and there is the real problem – to even have this discussion with someone who uses money in this way is near impossible until that person can deal with the self esteem, self image and emptiness in a healthy way – money will be the only pacifier.

  2. I guess it's just you and me chatting. I sort of agree with what you said, but not totally. I think your right on about money simply being a tool and many people use it to deal with deeper heart issues that need to be addressed first. Money itself always is simply a tool, but it's implications are far reaching.

    I don't agree though that by answering this question collectively "we quickly fall into judging". The church in general is all about laying out rights and wrongs, things to do and things not to do (I'm not saying that's always a good thing, but it is what happens).
    Think about the hot button issues like abortion and homosexuality. Most churches go right ahead and answer those questions and they don't accept different answers from others. And yet those same churches never try and answer the money question. Maybe they should take your advice and allow people to have come to different answers, yet still be a part of the same body. On that note, even those that do, or close friends that do have differing opinions on serious topics, are often able to answer the question, firmly but differently, and still leave it as friends and without judging. It's more difficult, but it can definitely be done.
    Or take more casual issues like what type of music to listen to, movies to watch, is swearing okay, etc. The church, or just Christians in general, have always asked these questions, often come to conclusions and then expected conformity by church members (again, I'm not saying that's always a good thing).

    I guess I'm just saying, of all the things to NOT talk about and try and answer, the money one seems like the most crippling to the faith community. It's the one I see most clearly put forth in scripture as something to address and grapple with, yet we spend time condemning 'secular' music and trying to outlaw gay marriage. Just seems backwards that's all.

  3. I agree w/ you on this, Ariah. We definately need to start asking and grappilng with these questions. I think a good place to start, even amongst the wealthiest of us, is to look at our neighbors. We should be living with less and giving much more. Once we have that down, maybe lokk to the next neighborhood in our area. And so on. Eventually, we might be surviving on less than a few dollars a day, but if our giving continued, the rest of the people around the world would be living with so much more.

    Good conversation!! Hope it continues. 🙂


  4. I believe 10 percent should be the minimum Christians give away. Those that make more should constantly be trying to reduce expenses so that more can be given away.

    Right now, my wife and I are living on one mediocre salary, yet can still afford to give away a little more than 10 percent of what we make because we live within our means. We have a savings account, a retirement plan and a healthy chunk of loans to pay off but zero credit card debt and a priority to give not only to our local church but to organizations and neighbors we see in need.

    Call me crazy, but I truly believe the Lord provides when we give our money away. When I do the math and see how much we have given away in the past year versus how much we've made, how much we have in the bank and what all of our bills have been to live in a tiny apartment, share a car and put food on the table I'm blown away.

  5. Good thoughts. I think so often looking at our neighbors is how we set standards, rather then the Bible and what we are being called to.
    It seems Christians always make the claim that Jesus is everything, Jesus is all you need, yet they have the exact same "stuff" all the money, toys, gadgets, etc that everyone else has. Seems it really diminishes any "witness" in my opinion.

    So I think you've got a good place to start. If our lives don't look radically different then our neighbors, maybe we should re think how we are living/ and spending.

  6. Matt,
    I definitely agree. I think we see the 10% thing in scripture and that's where we settle. But, in some ways I think the percentage thing is goofy. It's relative to what you make, and most of us make far far more then is necessary to survive very well on (compared to the rest of humanity).
    Is there any reason we couldn't discuss and suggest an upper limit? Like, tithe 10%, but there's no reason a family of four should be spending more the $3000 on month to month living expenses (just making up a number here). Why is it not okay to say something like that? Because it doesn't seem like I've ever heard anything like that in any church, small group, or circle of friends I've ever been in.

  7. I think the conversation about money is much different too for those of us who don't have to worry about money. it's nice and easy to be thrifty and lift it up as a virtue when we have thousands of dollars already in the bank, or have a family background of coming with money.

    the "choice" to live simply is much different then 'having' to.

    the question and dialogue becomes very different for those who struggle to make each and everyday or who come from generations of poverty.

    sometimes i feel as wealthy christians this conversation is easy to have, but ends up being much more difficult for others.

  8. Neeraj, I totally agree that this is geared toward those who are wealthy (which I think is most of the audience of this blog, and many of the congregations of the churches I've attended).
    I think the conversation is and would be very different for those who come from generations of poverty. In fact, like you mentioned, I think it's probably much easier for me to live on less, then for someone who has much less to begin with. My intent isn't to set some difficult standard to hold to those who are below or at that line and condemn them if they cross it. Rather, I think it's a discussion those with much more then is necessary to live on, to think critically about how much is enough.

    The only thing I'd question in your comment is that you said you feel "this conversation is easy to have" for wealthy Christians. Whether it's easy or not, my disappointment is that I haven't actually seen the conversation anywhere in Christian circles. And I'm not speaking of holding up thriftiness as a virtue, but rather encouraging radically challenging our current cost of living, or at least the concept that your income dictates your lifestyle. Does that make sense? Have you seen these conversations happening?

  9. Ariah, i feel ya. My husband and I talk about this issue a lot for
    ourselves, and as we struggle with not entering judgment on others
    but also trying to seek Christ's way of living, not that of what
    others say or do…

    Two things we have heard/read and decided to do our best to live by –

    1. If you cannot/are unwilling to share it with someone, you should
    not own it.
    2. It doesn't matter how much you give away, what matters is how much
    you are left with.

    We made a committment early in our marriage that if our salaries
    increased noticeably (ha…we both work for non profits…), our
    standard or mode of living would not. More money = more to give
    away has kind of been our desired mantra. We decided that even if we
    made 6 figures, we would not live in a way that people could tell.

    Of course, this is hard to do, and of course there are all sorts of
    invisble lines we have to draw in that. But I think the issue is one
    of lifestyle. We have learned a lot in the last year about Living
    Simply and about global and local poverty, and the typical American
    lifestyle's contribution to that poverty. We have learned from
    watching The Story Of Stuff (, readings from
    Sojourners and World Vision, etc. It has been a long journey and we
    have moments of resistance for sure.

    There will always be someone richer and someone poorer than everyone,
    so we can't compare to our neighbors. It has to be a lifestyle and a
    heart matter, as well as priorities.

    That's what I have for now. Watch the Story of Stuff. Also Soong-Chan
    Rah's new book the Next Evangelicalism has a chapter on the Western
    White Cultural Captivity of the Church and how our white cultural
    economics mixed with our religion so that the values became
    synonymous……way exposing and interesting. That's why we dont hear
    this from the pulpit.

  10. I really like your comment about being willing to share everything you own. That's an area I've been struggling with lately, and when I find myself mentally listing reasons something should stay mine and only mine, that's when I realize, "OK, I need to go find someone to share this with NOW." I've noticed how much stuff has a hold on me, and I think having a general attitude of collectivity and sharing is much healthier than hoarding.

  11. I've got to hit you with John Wesley, as quoted by Ron Sider in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger:

    “how much should we give? John Wesley gave a startling answer. One of his frequently repeated sermons was on Matthew 6:19-23 ('Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth…' KJV). Christians, Wesley said, should give away all but “the plain necessaries of life” – that is, plain, wholesome food, clean clothes, and enough to carry on one's business. One should earn what one can, justly and honestly. Capital need not be given away. But Wesley wanted all income given to the poor after bare necessities were met. Unfortunately, Wesley discovered, not one person in five hundred in any 'Christian city' obeys Jesus' command. But that simply demonstrates that most professed believers are 'living men but dead Christians.' 'Any “Christian” who takes for himself anything more than the plain necessaries of life,' Wesley insisted, 'lives in an open, habitual denial of the Lord.' He has 'gained riches and hell-fire!'”

    That's a very straightforward way to read Paul's words about "food and clothing." If Wesley's right, then I need to ditch my $10/week discretionary budget.
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