If God expects simplicity from us, what does that tell us about God? Scripture actually offers a rather simplistic theological explanation. When Moses gives the 10 commandments, and tells the people of Israel: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image… you shall not bow down to them or serve them” the explanation given is that God is jealous. (Exodus 20:4-6). Charles Spurgeon actually gave a sermon on God’s Jealousy where he spoke of the areas where God is jealous — specifically, the areas of deity and sovereignty.
Unfortunately קנא (the Hebrew word translated jealous) is somewhat uncommon, and thus “Jealous” might not be the best translation. While the translators who created the NET Bible retained the traditional translation of “jealous” they included a translators note that says: “the word describes a passionate intensity to protect or defend something that is jeopardized” (NET note #14 on Exodus 20)
God’s call to simplicity (no other master) is tied to this jealousy or protectiveness. If this is protectiveness, what is God protecting us from? In the end, the Sermon on the Mount points out that all of us, when forced to make a choice, are simple. Complexity only remains until it is time to demonstrate what the priority is. When we are called to simplicity we are protected from the turmoil caused when complexity collapses and we are forced to make these hard choices.
When our priorities are resolved, by force, we see much of our lives torn apart by broken commitments. As complexity collapses, relationships relationships fail, people are forced to choose which bills to pay, and what to put off for later. The forces that drive us back to simplicity are very destructive. If we treat this as a passionate desire for God to protect us, perhaps God is protecting us from ourselves, encouraging us not to over-reach and hurt ourselves doing so.
Another possibility is that simplicity gives room for obedience. If we believe that vocation exists, then we should live in a way that allows us to obey God’s calling in our lives. When we over-commit our lives, then we do not have room for obedience. Simplicity could, in that case, be an response of obedience to the concept that God calls us.
I believe that this shows an example of how God relates to humanity. In the end, God expects us to be human. Simplicity is not about being more Godlike, but about living better as humans. Simplicity protects the individual, keeping the individual from destroying his or her life while waiting to learn priorities. Simplicity, when setting right priorities, also protects the community, as complexity gives opportunities for behavior that harms society.