Simplicity is a reoccurring theme in scripture. My personal model of simplicity is found in the sermon on the mount where Jesus tells the listeners: “No one can serve two masters, you cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) Peter builds further on this idea, telling the religious leaders of his time that he must obey God rather than men. Simplicity is knowing who you serve, and being obedient to that.
This kind of simplicity is an important part of the holy story of the Israelites. When the Israelites were in Egypt, there were slaves, and they were surrounded by the gods of the Egyptians. God lead them into the wilderness, and commanded them to have no other gods. When the Israel went into the land of Canaan, they were again surrounded by the gods of the Canaanites and the Philistines.
Throughout the history of Israel, they have been surrounded by other gods, and from time to time they would fall away and worship one or another. They people of Israel would end up worshiping these other gods such as Dagon, the god of a successful grain harvest. Joshua 24 tells the story, as Joshua tells the people of Israel about how God took them out of Egypt, where their ancestors worshiped the gods of the Egyptians, and now after seeing God’s power, and seeing so many peoples falling before them, they were worshiping the gods of the Amorites. Joshua’s advice was: “Choose today who you will worship”, and Joshua chose the God of Israel over the gods of the sky, fertility, and harvests for himself.
Jesus expands on this, equating the accumulation of wealth to the service of another master. The suggestion is that people’s devotion to the bank account becomes a kind of idol worship. A theme in Jesus’ teaching calls us put aside our sense of security found in possessing wealth, recognizing that owning things is not nearly as safe nor secure as we believe it is. The power we assign to wealth is the power of a false god, whether we give the wealth gods names, or ascribe the wealth itself great power, we are worshiping an idol.
Biblical simplicity is then about having no other gods, nor serving any other power, whether political or sociological. It is very difficult to follow this model of simplicity in our culture, just as it was difficult for the people of Israel. Our story is the same, God calls us out of slavery to the false gods, and those who worship them, but we still live in a culture surrounded by them. Giving up these gods makes us alien to the culture we grew up in. Biblical simplicity asks to choose — are we citizens of heaven or of earth?