‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right
Shaker Hymn, Joseph Brackett (1797–1882)
“The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell, and we must keep them doing so”. CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters
“…riches and abundance come hypocritically clad in sheep’s clothing pretending to be security against anxieties, and they become the object of anxiety…” Soren Kierkegard
As I was praying this morning, the Lord brought to mind the fact that the ultimate purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to quiet the shout of the temporal so we can hear the whisper of the eternal. It fades the colors of the here and now so we can see faint outline of the past and future.
What are Simplicity and Frugality?
Foster describes simplicity as an inward reality centered on God which manifests itself in an outward lifestyle of Godliness. Simplicity is related to integrity in that the simple man is consistent within himself and consequently consistent with others.
Willard describes frugality as “abstaining from using money or goods at our disposal in ways that merely gratify our desires or our hunger for status, glamour, or luxury.” Frugality is related to simplicity; with a simple love of Christ in the center of our being, we no longer need things to give us status, glamour or luxury. As a result, debt fades as a problem and slavery to debt is replaced by freedom from things.
Simplicity and Frugality in the Bible
|Elijah fed by the ravens||1 Kings 17:1-6||Avoiding King Ahab, God provided for His prophet.|
|Stewardship||Proverbs 12:27||The diligent man takes care of what the Lord has given him.|
|Inheritance||Proverbs 13:22||The good man stores up enough to leave to his heirs|
|Indulgence||Proverbs 21:17||Indulging expensive appetites leads to poverty|
|Is wealth OK?||Proverbs 21:20||It is not bad to have a few good things, but fools devour everything they possess|
|Debt||Proverbs 22:7||The borrower is the slave to the lender|
|Indulgence||Proverbs 23:20-21||Avoid the self-indulgent|
|Simplicity, frugality and faithfulness to the Lord||Proverbs 30:7-9||Too little and too much material wealth impairs a person’s ability to be faithful to the Lord.|
|Industry, simplicity, and frugality||Proverbs 31:27||The excellent wife is responsible and industrious|
|God rewards our faithfulness||Malachi 3:10||Give the Lord His portion and He will reward you.|
|Every material thing will be lost||Matthew 6:19||Do not accumulate things that can (and will) be taken away.|
|The Father is the source to meet our needs||Matthew 6:31-33||Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteous, and all these things (food, clothing, etc.) will be given to you.|
|Avoiding waste||Matthew 14:20||Jesus’ example of minimizing waste – having the disciples pick up 12 baskets of leftovers after the feeding of the 5000.|
|Avoiding waste||Matthew 15:37||Jesus’ example of minimizing waste – having the disciples pick up 7 baskets of leftovers after the feeding of the 4000.|
|Simple as a child||Matthew 18:2-3||Simplicity does not only refer to possessions but also to having simple faith in the Lord.|
|Not focused on money||Luke 9:58||Son of Man had no place to lay His head|
|Man is more than the sum of his stuff||Luke 12:15||A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.|
|The danger of trusting in material things||Luke 12:20||The rich man, trusting in his many possessions, was unprepared for his imminent disaster.|
|Debt||Romans 13:8||Owe nothing to anyone except love|
|Simplicity of character, integrity||2 Corinthians 1:12||The affairs of Paul and his fellow believers was conducted in simplicity, not duplicity.|
|The idle must work||Ephesians 4:28||He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.|
|The idle must work||2 Thessalonians 3:10||He who does not work, neither let him eat.|
|Simplicity, frugality and power||Philippians 4:12-13||I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity…I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.|
|Simplicity, frugality and faith||Philippians 4:19-21||God will supply our needs according to the abundance of Christ.|
|The purpose of simplicity and frugality||Hebrews 12:1-2||Lay aside every encumbrance to run the race for Christ.|
How to practice simplicity and frugality
O. Hardman, a 19th century Anglican clergyman, wrote:
It is an injury to society as well as an offence against God when men pamper their bodies with rich and dainty foods and seriously diminish their physical and mental powers by excessive use of intoxicants. Luxury in every form is economically bad, it is provocative to the poor who see it flaunted before them, and it is morally degrading to those who indulge in it. The Christian who has the ability to live luxuriously, but fasts from all extravagance, and practices simplicity in his dress, his home, and his whole manner of life, is therefore, rendering good service to society.” (Willard 169)
1. Buy what you need to accomplish your God-given mission in life. Anything else is an encumbrance.
2. Dispose of anything that is causing addiction (a form of idolatry) in you. This may include pornography, video games, computer games, sports, etc.
3. Give things away – as much as you can and as often as you can.
4. Do not believe modern advertising. People are told that they can never have lasting peace and prosperity without the latest product that each advertiser is peddling.
5. Enjoy without owning. We can enjoy books, magazines and videos without owning them at the library. We can enjoy beautiful environments without owning them at parks.
6. Enjoy creation. The greatest things in life are free.
7. Be skeptical about all credit. Debt is bondage.
8. Engage in honest speech and actions.
9. Reject anything that causes others to stumble or causes injustice to them.
10. Lay aside every encumbrance.
What you own owns you. Your stuff needs to be stored, cleaned, maintained, repaired, and eventually disposed of. Every moment you spend taking care of stuff is time you cannot spend doing other things. Everyone needs some stuff, but our needs are likely to be far less than most of us have.
Limitations of simplicity and frugality
Like all of the spiritual disciplines, simplicity and frugality are not ends in themselves but means to the end of becoming more like Jesus Christ. Simplicity for its own sake becomes dead legalism, while frugality for its own sake becomes hoarding. There is no magic in denying oneself unless the focus of that denial is outside of oneself, and the only right and eternal focus is Jesus Christ.
Truly, the purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to diminish the clamor of our day to day lives and open our eyes to the faint outline of eternity. They can be a source of great spiritual power when they improve our focus on Christ, and they can be a source of great spiritual devastation when we focus anywhere else. The greatest saints in history have practiced the spiritual disciplines, including simplicity and frugality, with a focus on Jesus Christ. The greatest sinners in history have also practiced such disciplines, resulting in unmitigated spiritual pride, with a focus on anything else.
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