Three Commandments concerning simplicity (Matthew 6:19-34)

Sermon at Muncie Friends Memorial Meeting

Reading Matthew 6:19-34
19 “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon. 25 Therefore, I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they?

27 “Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? 28 Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin, 29 yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith?

31 “Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day’s own evil is sufficient.” (World English Bible)

Three commandments for simplicity
Some time ago, a friend of mine from back in Kansas asked me to speak at an upcoming retreat. In order to do so, I will board a bus and go back to where I grew up this Thursday. While I was thinking about what to share with you, I realized that I could simply summarize what I wished to share with those Friends back in Kansas. I was told the retreat would focus on Simplicity. I noticed that on several occasions, and in various contexts, we have discussed “Spices” so I feel safe in assuming that everyone is ready to accept a summary of what I plan for next week.

The three messages I plan to bring to this upcoming retreat are what I will call “Commandments for Simplicity”. Each day, I will focus on one advice, hoping that I can help people better practice simplicity. I hope that all of you will find these advices helpful as well. The three commandments I ask you to consider are:

  • Thou shalt have no other God’s before me
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery
  • Thou shalt not envy what is thy neighbors

Thou shalt have no other Gods

People talk as if Simplicity is counter-cultural, but there is a strong secular culture calling for simplicity. It seems that every book talking about how to become successful advises us to become more simple. Simplicity is really just knowing what we are about, and then doing these things. Every self help book that talks about time management really focuses more on how to identify what belongs on our schedule than it does on how to put more on our schedule.

If we want to look for a great model of simplicity, there is no more simple person than a miser. That man or woman who’s one thing is acquiring wealth, but is unwilling to enjoy what he or she has. The person who sacrifices pleasure, family, relationships to have more money — money horded with no reason other than to possess.

The passage we read tells us that no one can serve two masters, giving the example of God and money. We only have the luxury of being ‘complex’ until we make a decision where we cannot rationalize between two different priorities — we must choose one or the other. Internal conflict drives us into simplicity — so, we are able to say that: “he is a family man.” “She is a career woman”, “He is a miser”, “She is power hungry.” The Christian simplicity that Christ calls us to is where one can say “She is a Christian” — meaning that devotion to Christ defines who we are. When we make our decisions, we seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness before other considerations.

Thou shalt not commit adultery

When we hear this commandment, we think of something very specific — but, adultery means something else as well — if something is adulterated, it is supposed to be pure, but it has something else in it. Pure water quenches my thirst, but water adulterated with salt is something which I cannot swallow.

Even though we are simple in our own goals, it is very easy to become adulterated. David actually explained this very well last week on his sermon from the book of James. He spoke of how the Amish will not allow the phone into their home. This is in sharp contrast to how many of us will answer the phone, no matter what else we are doing. We become slaves to the phone, letting someone else decide what is important. If we don’t keep such things under control, no matter how simple we are on the inside — complexity will be imposed upon us.

This is a case where we have to recognize the best, and put it before something that is good. We want to drop everything for those who call us, because we actually do care about others. We care what they think, and we care how they feel. The trouble is that we can place pleasing others before all else — in a way, this is simple, however there are so MANY others that it is both self defeating, and it means that at best, we serve God and ___. This is something, that in the end we cannot do.

Thou shalt not envy

One of the biggest problems that we face is that we want to compete with others. We want a better car than our neighbors, a nicer house. When we ask whether or not we are a moral person, we compare ourselves to someone else. Thou shalt not envy is, unfortunately one of most difficult commands we have. This passage talks a lot about laying up treasures, and one of the biggest motivations for hoarding is not fear but competition. We have this idea that the one who has the most wins.

One thing I found interesting when reading this passage is that it is book-ended. Right before this reading is the Lord’s prayer. Upon completing the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells the disciples that: “If you do not forgive, the Father in heaven will not forgive you.” Right after this passage is the often quoted verse: “Judge not lest you are judged”. It is interesting that Jesus tells us we set the standards for our own judgment — but, it is equally interesting that judging others and hoarding goods are in such close proximity.

I suggest that we judge because we are envious. Just as we want to possess more than our neighbor, we want to be morally better than our neighbor. We judge for the same reason that we hoard — we have fallen to the sin of envy, and we fail to be moral and simple.

Concluding thoughts

It is a good thing to strive for simplicity, as long as we look to God as our one thing. We must be careful to focus on God. We must keep ourselves pure, or as Friends used to advise — “Keep free of entanglements”, and finally we must take care that our motives are about our own relationship to God, and not about our competition with others. I would like to ask you to reflect on these queries:

  • Am I mindful that my chief identity lies in Christ?
  • Am I careful to live my life according to my calling?
  • Do I remember that I do not have to compete for God’s love?
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