Does Less = More?
by Pastor Gene
We all know the feeling. We’re driving down the road and a red ‘dummy’ light illuminates the dashboard. It looks like a child’s drawing of an engine. Fun! So, you call your mechanic; ‘Bring it in,’ he says. Hours later the diagnosis comes: the phenobus has popped out of the whiz-a-ma-gig and, obviously, that means replacing all the fernuthin buttons as well. ‘That’ll be $1,000; you can pick her up next Thursday.’
Oh, joy! It’s at times like this that I wonder: ‘Do I own this car, or does it own me?’
Years ago, our family lived in Thessaloniki, Greece. We were on the mission field working with an Evangelical Church there. We didn’t have a car, a car payment, a mechanic, or a repair bill. What we did have was a very good bus stop right in front of our building, and a very efficient public transportation system that could get us anywhere we wanted to go quickly, and for short money. We’d never thought about it before, but there was a very real freedom that came with not owning a car! Unfortunately, that’s not an option where we live now, a town where bus service is virtually non-existent.
Has Anyone Seen My Heart?
You would have to be a VERY creative writer indeed to argue that our culture is not awash in materialism. In the thinking of many, what you are is what you have. In our world, money can bring status and buy influence, and even generate a respect that is wholly undeserved. But that’s not how it is with the Christian life. In fact, the very essence of Christianity runs completely counter to this way of thinking.
Consider Jesus. He, who possessed all the riches of Heaven as the Second Person of the Trinity, chose to come among us in poverty. His parents offered “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” at His presentation in the Temple – a concession under the Law of Moses for those who could not afford to bring a lamb (Luke 2:24). A more well-to-do family would have certainly brought a more substantial offering.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul reminds us, “that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
So, the Creator decides to enter the world He’d made in the frail form of a human baby and ultimately defeats the devil by becoming one of those whom the Bible describes as “lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:7).
The life He lived among us was a simple, uncluttered life. As far as we know, at the time of His death He owned only the clothes on His back.
And He would say things to His followers that were shocking then, and are flat-out scandalous now! Things like, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.
Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-24).
That last part, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” has become the unofficial slogan of the Christian Minimalist movement – a movement that seeks to remove from one’s life all that is neither useful nor necessary in order to live before God with as few distractions as possible.
Is ‘Christian Minimalism’ Christian?
Do we all have stuff we don’t need? Probably. Do some of these things keep us from seeing God’s work in us as clearly as we should? I’m quite sure they do.
But, is ‘Christian Minimalism’ actually Christian? I think it depends on how we define it. While I do not believe that the Bible ‘commands’ followers of Jesus to surrender ownership of all possessions, I do believe that this movement is refreshing and is driven by healthy biblical principles.
Jesus warned us to be on our guard against “every kind of greed” or covetousness (Luke 12:15). After all, it’s awfully difficult to lure someone who doesn’t ‘want’ anything away from God. And, if “the Lord is my Shepherd,” well … you know the rest (Psalm 23:1).
Jesus told the tragic parable of a man who’d managed to accumulate great wealth but was poor as to the things of God. His life had been characterized by the desire to build bigger barns. At his unexpected death, God called him a “fool” (Luke 12:16-20).
Jesus also warned that we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). The truth is, God won’t put up with competition from money, and money certainly won’t tolerate competition from God!
Paul instructed Timothy to speak directly and forthrightly to the rich: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). If anything characterizes “riches” it’s “uncertainty” – and the Christian life is all about ‘certainty,’ evidence of even the invisible (Hebrews 11:1)!
Paul also encouraged us to live in contentment – even with the most basic of life’s necessities: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:7-10).
Now, please notice that these verses do not forbid wealth or the owning of possessions. They do warn, however, of the dangers and responsibilities that inevitably accompany wealth and possessions. And while it’s not a sin to own things – even many things – God’s servant must never be owned by them. But, sadly, it’s far-too-often the case that we are – and this is not only true of those who possess many things; it’s also true of those who ‘desire’ to.
I think that’s the point of these biblical passages. While they’re not prohibiting possessions, they’re waning us against being possessed.
Simplifying one’s life sounds very biblical to me. So does decluttering one’s life in order to see God more clearly. Having less means having less to worry about – isn’t that true? Removing things from our lives that we don’t really need – and perhaps giving them away to someone who does – sounds like something that would be pleasing to the Father, doesn’t it? After all, Paul encouraged believers to do honest work with their own hands, so that we “may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).
A Matter of Conscience
What I am leery of is law-making.
It’s important to remember that, as with so many things in the Christian life, whether or not I practice minimalism is a matter for me to work out with my Lord. It is a matter of individual conscience (read Romans 14:1-12).
It is not something for one believer to judge in another, but for each of us to judge within ourselves. We’re to follow the Spirit’s leading in all we do. What we should own, what we should keep, and what we should give away to someone in need is for each follower of Jesus to discover with the Lord in prayer.
No Christian should ever move toward a minimalist lifestyle because he or she is compelled to do so by anyone but the Holy Spirit. While there have always been Christians who have chosen to live with less on purpose, there have always been true followers of Jesus who’ve owned many possessions without being owned by them. Some even supported Jesus and His companions financially in their work.
There is no law to be found here. Only an encouragement to look honestly and ask, ‘Is something I possess keeping me from seeing God as clearly as I should?’ ‘Is there some distraction I need to root out of my life?’ The answer to those questions has to be worked out with the One we love and follow.
As for me? I just wish there was a bus stop near my house.
- What do you think of the so-called Christian Minimalism movement?
What appeals to you about it?
What, if anything, troubles you about it?
Do you think its core ideas are consistent with what it means to live as a Christian?
What are your thoughts about possessions? Stock-piling or hoarding? Hanging on to things you don’t need or don’t use?
- What does contentment mean to you?
In what areas do you lack contentment? Why?
What does ‘enough’ look like to you?
Are there areas in your life where you’re a ‘closet’ materialist?
- Does your life feel cluttered or choked by ‘too much’ of anything?
How does this affect your walk with the Lord practically?
- What are some areas that you might be able to simplify and declutter your life?
What’s holding you back from doing so?
- In one of Jesus’ most solemn warnings, He tells us to be on our guard against “every kind of greed” or covetousness (Luke 12:15).
What are some of the “kinds” of greed He might be thinking of?
Can you identify any places where greed or covetousness might be lurking in your life?
Does anything you own ever lead you into sin? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29). Yikes! If that’s the case, what should we do with any possessions that cause us to sin?
- Do you feel that anything you own owns you?
Be honest with yourself. Does anything mean ‘too much’ to you?
What should you do about that?