The Ethic of Simplicity


Flipping through the channels on TV one Sunday I came across a televised preacher. Part of his message was that God intends for Christians to be wealthy. The preacher urged everyone to take out their wallets, hold them up, place a hand over the top and proclaim, “You will be full, full, full!”
It is amazing to me that we can completely miss the ethic of simplicity so clearly marked out in Scripture. When John the Baptist was asked what the real fruit of repentance looked like he said, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share with those who are hungry” Luke 3:11 (NLT). One could not really repent while hoarding clothes or food according to John the Baptist. In fact, in the same passage the tax collectors and soldiers asked him what they should do to show the fruit of repentance. To each he gave financial answers which involved divesting themselves of the quest for money and things.
Jesus was probably even more straightforward than John the Baptist. Here’s a smattering of the places he used the word “possessions:”
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’" Matthew 19:21 (NRSV)

“And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’" Luke 12:15 (NRSV)

“Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven!” Luke 12:33 (NLT)

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” Luke 14:33 (NRSV).
When Zacchaeus promised to give half his possesses to the poor and repay those whom he had defrauded giving them 200% more, Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house” Luke 19:9.
How is it that we have missed this ethic of simplicity, this divestiture of things on earth knowing that our heart and our treasure are bound together? Are some of us who consider ourselves Christian in danger of losing our souls because we have gained the world?
As an American so much of what I am fed by the media (and sometimes Christian teachers) is a hunger for financial independence. I want so much money that I don’t have to rely on anyone. What I am starting to realize is that what I really crave is not just financial independence from others, but financial independence from God. My quest for a big fat bank account, my desire to retire rich, is really an attempt to be free from reliance upon God.
Perhaps the early Christians realized this when they “sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need” Acts 2:44-45 (NLT). And it may be why the writer of Hebrews praises believers because they “cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting” Hebrews 10:34 (NRSV).
The reason we can so easily ignore these verses and preach a gospel of accumulation for personal benefit is because it would be terribly inconvenient for us to take these verses seriously. To do so would be like attempting to force the camel of our wealth through the needle’s eye of simplicity. Here are some hard questions I am asking myself:
  1. Are my possessions free for anyone to use? If so, why are they still in my closet?
  2. How much of my savings is for a future, known need, and how much is simply insulating me from dependence upon God?
  3. Do I have “the plunder of the poor in my home?” (Is. 3:14)
These are painful questions to anwer, but following Jesus means divesting myself of those things which are vulnerable to moth, rust or fire.
Lord, prevent me from being like the rich, young ruler who walked away from these commands grieved, “for he had many possessions.” Teach me, like Zaccaeus, to give away my wealth and repay those I have cheated so that salvation may come to my household as well.

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