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When Is Enough Enough?
October 23, 1994

LUKE 16:19-25; 1 TIMOTHY 6:6-10, 17-19

A few weeks ago, Jim Marshall took me to the to the fairgrounds to the Community Prayer Breakfast where 700 of us heard Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, speak. He attributed much of our country's current problems on the Supreme Court's 1963 decision to ban prayer from public schools. If you heard my sermon on school prayer, you realize I have the opposite view! But, he gave an excellent talk in which he shared his personal faith. I was particularly interested in his observation of a dramatic change in football players when those who were born after the Great Depression and World War II began playing. These players had never known economic deprivation, or sacrifice. Things were handed to them on a golden platter. They rarely had to work for anything, and it showed in their attitude.

Then, a few days later, I ran across a cartoon in the Christian Century magazine. In the first frame a young man is sitting with the preacher who is dressed in an old-fashioned black suit and a wide brimmed black hat. Both have their backs to the readers. The preacher says to the young man, "Remember, son: I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." In the next frame, the young man responds, "Heavy!" In the next frame, the young man says, "Y'know, preacher, I complained because I had no call waiting until I met a man who had no cellular phone." In the last frame, the preacher says to himself, "I weep for the next generation!" Our kids have a lot. We have a lot. When is enough enough?

I don't know about you, but the story told by Jesus, as recorded by Luke, makes me very uncomfortable. According to the Interpreter's Bible, Albert Schweitzer was also disturbed by this story. The story of the indifferent rich man and Lazarus, the beggar, was the spark that touched off the revolution in Schweitzer's life which sent him to Africa to give his life as a medical missionary.

The rich man ended up in Hades, in torment, dying for a drink of cold water. The homeless beggar, Lazarus, found his reward in Abraham's bosom. The point of the story seems to be the disparity in wealth. Jesus did not say that the rich man was cruel to Lazarus. He did not kick Lazarus. He did not demand that Lazarus move away from his gate. He had no objection to Lazarus eating his leftovers. What seems to be the point of the story is the rich man had too much, Lazarus had too little, and therefore the rich man was tormented in Hades and Lazarus rewarded in heaven.

The rich man had too much. When is enough enough? Our society seems to have difficulty knowing when enough is enough. How many nuclear weapons must we stockpile before we have enough? How many times can we destroy the planet before we have enough? As you know, we moved last year. Moving brings you face to face with the question: when is enough enough? How many pairs of shoes are enough? I couldn't believe how many old shoes I had stockpiled in the back of the closet. How many dresses and suits are enough? How much money is enough? How much savings is enough for retirement and the "last illness?" When is enough enough? Our society has difficulty with this question, believing that more is better.

The author of 1 Timothy delivers serious warnings about the dangers of the more is better mentality. I Timothy 6:9-10. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

How do we know when enough is enough? The author of 1 Timothy gives us two signs. 1) 6:17, As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty. In other words, you've got more than enough, you've got too much when you become haughty. I suspect the rich man's evil lay not so much in his wealth, but in his haughty disregard of the beggar Lazarus. He accepted Lazarus as part of the landscape. He thought it perfectly acceptable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger while he wallowed in luxury. I've heard people actually say, "Homeless people like to live on the streets. They want to be there." Can you hear the rich man say, "Lazarus likes to lie at my gate, begging for leftovers, having the dogs lick his ulcers, the sores on his body."

When you become haughty, when you become callous to human suffering, when you no longer see or respond to human need, when you begin blaming the poor for their poverty, then you've got more than enough; you've got too much! When poverty no longer bothers you, then you've got too much. When you begin to resent those in need, when you resent your tax money going to the disadvantaged, then you've got too much! Isn't it ironical--the more one has, the more one wants, and the more one has, the more anxiety over losing it. Beware, when you become haughty and indifferent, that's the first sign of having too much.

2) 6:17, Command them set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches. You have more than enough, when you set your hope on the accumulation of wealth and material things. When your feeling of security is based on a bank account, or on savings for your final illness, or on an accumulation of things, you've got more than enough; you've got too much. In verse 7, the author reminds us of the truth many of us would like to forget, we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of the world. When you become too attached to things, stocks, bonds, wealth, you will receive a big disappointment in the next life, for none of those things will be there. You might even call it torment; for when you take things away from some people, there is nothing left.

Don't put your hope in things; instead, says the author in verse 17, put your hope on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. In other words, if your hope is not in God, if God is not real to you, if God is not vital in your life, you've got too much. You have been trivialized by wealth.

In order to keep money in proper perspective, in order to use money rather than being used by money, the author gives some very practical advice. Verse 18, Do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. When you are generous and ready to share, when you use your wealth to respond to human need, when you use your money to do God's work, when you give generously as God has given generously to you, then you have enough and not too much. Earn all you can, make every investment count, do your best for your family, for your security, yes; but especially, generously share your resources to do God's work.

A preacher peached a rousing sermon on the evils of materialism. The congregation felt properly guilty. When the chairperson of the Finance Committee greeted the preacher after the service, he said, "That was a good sermon, but I suppose you still want a raise next year!" Zing! When is enough enough? The biblical standard is the tithe, 10%. It's a practical, reasonable method. It's fair; no matter what your wealth or lack of it. When you tithe, you can feel you are doing your share. Your guilt about possibly having too much can be relieved. Tithing is a sign that materialism does not have a strangle hold on you.

When you use your wealth wisely and generously, when you are rich in good deeds, and give liberally and generously, according to 1 Timothy 6:19, you will store up for yourself a good foundation for the future, so that you may take hold of the life which is life indeed. As someone put it, "What I kept, I lost; what I gave, I have."

Enough is enough when you are humble and grateful rather than haughty and indifferent, when you place your hope not in money but in God, and when you are generous with your tithe. And God will bless you with life with a capital L, life which is life indeed.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris