What Does God Think About the Percentage Budget?

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When I first wrote about the graduated tithe, someone commented that God already has a graduated tithe system where we give 10% of our income.  As our income increases, so does our giving.  Also, as our income decreases, so does our giving.

But, what say you?

The percentage budget says:

  • Your cost of living should increase as your salary increases.
  • Your percentage of giving should never increase beyond …
  • God is satisfied with a set standard percent of our income.

Would it be more appropriate to say I live on “x” dollars, and if God blesses me above that amount then I’ll give a larger percent because I already have enough?

Should how much you spend on a car be determined by your income?

The man who makes $12,000 buys a $1,200 car.  The man who makes $120,000 buys a $12,000 car.  The man who makes $1.2 million buys a $120,000 car.

Are all these equally responsible in the eyes of God?  Have they all practiced an equal measure of stewardship?

The man who makes $12,000 pays $600 for a week vacation.  The man who makes $120,000 spends $6,000 for a week vacation.  The man who makes $1.2 million spends $60,000 for a week vacation.

Does that matter to God?  Does God simply look at the percentage of our income?

I’ve heard it said many times that everything is right and wrong in relation to what you earn.  Is that true?

If I make and live off $50,000 and then I get a new job at $150,000, does it honor God for me to increase my living in line with that raise?  Or does that show I have no self control?  Does that reveal a continual lust for more?  If my living increases then the only boundary I have in my life is my income.

To be clear, I’m not talking about financial principles here.  Financially, it makes perfect sense that as long as you’re spending less than you earn everything is A-OK.  I’m talking about the spiritual impact.  Does God want us to set a line where we say surely this is enough?  Does God ever expect us to say, “Lord, you have blessed me in abundance and I can no longer spend to your level of blessing.”

Be careful how you answer because I think how you answer this question determines where you fall on the discussion of Dave Ramsey’s new house.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be thinking out loud and getting feedback from you on the topic of Christian discipleship and finances.  Why?  Because I’m in the process of writing a book that will likely be released in the next month, and I want you to help me mentally tie up all the loose ends.

Photo by Jekert Gwapo



  1. says

    Well, I think you’re on the right track with these question, Craig, but you probably already knew that. :) We’re so quick to dismiss our (or someone else’s) actions because we want to use a relative standard as in Dave Ramsey’s house for example. But your questions cut to the heart of the problem – our lack of self-control and unselfishness. We want to think we deserve something because we’ve worked hard for it or that we should use God’s blessings for our own extravagant enjoyment. I think God’s reasons for blessing us have little to do with luxury and extravagance.

    I’m often reminded of 1 John 3:16-18 (NIV):

    (16) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (17) If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (18) Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

    Laying down our lives for our brothers doesn’t leave much room for opulence, extravagance, or luxurious living when our brothers are in need…

    • says

      You’re cutting to the heart of the issue – “we should use God’s blessings for our own extravagant enjoyment”. The question is – why does God bless us? I think it does involve helping others.

    • says

      It really is a matter of the heart, our relationship to God, our relationship to others, and our relationship to things, isn’t it?

      Trouble comes when we set ourselves up as judge. One man’s opulence is another man’s necessity. You know the argument: A) I take my private jet liner to work. B) That’s way over spending. I take my car to work. C) A car? How frivolous; I bike to work. D) You spend money on a bike? Better to give that to the poor and walk to work. E) Work? Who does that. I live like the birds.

      I recently read a description of someone’s lifestyle. It seemed awfully excessive. A mansion with more rooms than any reasonable person would have. A private gym with track and tennis courts. Multiple private chefs. A dining hall to seat hundreds. Two private jets – limos – staff – servants, the whole bit. Turns out the person was the President of the USA.

      The point of the story was many times our lifestyle is related to our calling.

      Paul, you hit the nail on the head. Love is the key point. “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

      It’s real easy to judge another’s lifestyle. It’s much harder to judge my own. That said, I don’t believe the Scriptures teach or God asks us (in general) to live in privation.

      One last thought. (generalizing here) I think sometimes we Western Christians can go on too much of a guilt trip with our money. We don’t even enjoy what we have. We see cultures where the general standard of living is not as high. We think of ourselves as rich and have something (like money) to offer those poor people. We don’t realize that we are the ones in desperate need. We have so little of what makes life rich (other than money) that we are outwardly rich and inwardly poor. That is a tragedy.

      “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked–I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”

      • says

        Forgot to answer the question. :-) I don’t think God thinks anything about percentage budgets or not percentage budgets. I think he wants my heart. If he has my heart, he has my money too.

        I could live with a percentage budget or on a minimum fixed lifestyle giving the rest to the poor and still keep my heart from God. If I give my heart to God and focus on that, the details seem to take care of themselves.

        • says

          While I agree that this is a matter of the heart we are told by Scriptures that we can judge our heart condition by our actions. Thus, if I give my heart to God (which I have) then I’ll inevitably be forced to ask the question - how should this impact my giving? At that point I must decide – will I give God something and if yes, how much? I think the decisions we make when we ask how much tells a lot about the condition of our heart. I do think decisions I make at that point can please or disappoint God – even if I’ve given him my heart.
          Just to be clear I’m not talking about doing this to judge the actions of others, but to judge our own actions.
          What say you?

      • says

        I agree about the guilt trip part, Kevin. I often find myself questioning how much I’ve actually given over to God after looking at all the relative “luxuries” I still enjoy. But I was encouraged recently by later verses in 1 John 3 – verses 19 & 20 (NIV):

        (19) This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence (20) whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hears, and he knows everything.

        Or in the NLT:

        (19) Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. (20) Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.

        When I start to feel that guilt trip, I set my heart at rest because I know I do have pity on the poor and I do try to help them. So even though I feel guilty, I think God still sees the compassion in my heart and knows that while I still have a long way to go I do want to serve Him and love others.

        That said, I don’t use that to justify myself or to cut myself some slack. I just see it as a sign that yes, God’s love is working in me even if I’m not 100% there yet. I can then rest from that feeling of guilt while still pushing myself to give more (love & money).

        • says

          Great stuff.

          Even when we’re faithless (without trust) he remains faithful because he cannot deny himself. Being love incarnate, he wills our best and in the appropriate way and time (as only the omniscient and omnipotent one could) lets us know about our departing a relationship of trust, not in a way we humans tend to do it, but in a restorative way. This, of course, causes our love to abound toward him more and more.

          Once you learn of the God who IS, how could you not continue to be moved from glory to glory? He is so lovely. Unfortunately, we seldom hear about the God who IS, even in Christian churches.

          And with that, I have completely departed from the topic. Sorry for the thread creep.

  2. says

    This discussion reminds me of a post you did some months back comparing two retirement lifestyles: saving perpetually versus the ebb and flow of waves coming in and out. Help me out here, but what I remember is that one can set a certain standard of living (or limit retirement savings to a set amount) and be willing to give everything that he accumulates above that set standard (ebb and flow). That is what I would like to do, although I will admit: it is very easy to simply bump up one’s standard of living when more income happens.

    • says

      I am indeed an advocate of setting a certain standard of living and living on that amount regardless of your income. Yes, I did write a post about that. I agree that as income increases it is hard not to justify extra spending. I guess extra spending is OK as long as it is reasonable.

  3. JMD says

    Thanks Craig…thought provoking as usual. These have been issues I have been wrestling with for a couple of years now. It comes down to the perpetual question of “how much is enough?” Just because I can afford something doesn’t mean it is the best stewardship of the money that I have been blessed with.

    I am in the place of learning to be content with far less. Keeping my eyes on Jesus and trying to walk close to Him. There really doesn’t seem to be much time leftover to plan another purchase.


    • says

      I love the way you’re thinking. Being content with less is so important.
      My favorite line – “there really doesn’t seem to be much time leftover to plan another purchase”.

  4. GHolmes says

    I believe percentages are a good guideline along this path of being good stewards. Paying 8% of income for food on an individual making $50k may be reasonable in USA but 8% for food on an income of 120k may be way to high. To answer your question, No I don’t think everything is relational to income, the relation should be with our God the Father and Jesus Christ. My struggle with coveting, Jesus knows, so I cant justify my purchases just based on income. I should not judge my fellow brothers and sisters with their lifestyle choices because of my battle with covetousness.

    • says

      You make a good observation when you say that the percentage budget is a “good guideline”. Eventually, some of us will get to a point when the percentage is no longer the right spending guide. Thanks for the feedback.

  5. says

    Although your questions make me think, I believe I honor God by the way I live not how I spend my money. If I live responsibly, taking care of my family and adhering to good principles and values, I think I am doing what I should.

  6. says

    Good discussion.

    Also, the parable of the rich fool is a good example of the attitude that Jesus is guarding against…assuming that abundance is for me instead of increasing my standard of giving.

    One last point…I think that PRE-MAKING the decision to live at a particular lifestyle regardless of the ebb and flow of income is a key….it’s harder to make those decisions in the midst of increasing blessing.

    • says

      I 100,000% agree about PRE-MAKING the decision. The flesh is hard to monitor when you’re in the game so you need a giving plan before the flood of prosperity comes.

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