Excerpt from Freedom of Simplicity

The most radi­ant pas­sage on Chris­t­ian sim­plic­i­ty in all the Bible must be Matthew 6. It sim­ply sparkles with joy and trust. Ear­li­er, Jesus announced that the king­dom of God had burst upon the human scene. Hence we can live in a new, glo­ri­ous inner lib­er­ty of alms-giv­ing, pray­ing, and fast­ing with­out any need for human approval. We can obey the tren­chant com­mand, Do not lay up for your­selves trea­sures on earth” (Matt. 6:19). We can live lives focused upon stock­pil­ing trea­sures in heav­en” (Matt. 6:20). We can be scan­dalous­ly free from anx­i­ety, because we are under the watch­ful eye of him who rich­ly cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. No longer do we need to bear on our backs the soul-crush­ing gen­tile bur­den of the world of tomor­row. With focused eye and cen­tered heart we can freely seek first his king­dom and his right­eous­ness,” know­ing that all things need­ful will be pro­vid­ed (Matt. 6:33).

Jesus teach­es us with a neg­a­tive and a pos­i­tive com­mand: Do not lay up for your­selves trea­sures on earth,” but do lay up for your­selves trea­sures in heav­en” (Matt. 6:19). The trea­sures” in view here are not just great rich­es, but all those things that we trust in and cling to. My boys, for exam­ple, when they were young, had some very spe­cial trea­sures. When I looked into what those objects were, I was fre­quent­ly amazed, for they may have been only some shiny stones, or an odd-look­ing stick, or a pile of rub­ber bands. But for my chil­dren these were cov­et­ed trea­sures. Jesus is warn­ing us that, no mat­ter what our earth­ly trea­sures may be, we have to be very care­ful about hold­ing too tight­ly to them, because they are bound to dis­ap­point us and to keep us from liv­ing in the king­dom of God in the free­dom and pow­er we desire. He knows that we have an almost com­pul­sive need to secure our­selves by means of earth­ly things but tells us not to do that, and pro­ceeds to give three rea­sons why we should not amass earth­ly trea­sure but should store up heav­en­ly treasure. 

The first rea­son is that this world is a very uncer­tain place (Matt. 6:19 — 20). There sim­ply is no hidin’ place down here.” Now, these days we may not have a prob­lem with moths and rust cor­rupt­ing our trea­sure, but it is cer­tain­ly dif­fi­cult to find a situa­tion where infla­tion does not break in and steal” it. Jesus is forc­ing us to see that, regard­less of how secure our trea­sure may be, it will ulti­mate­ly fail us. 

The sec­ond rea­son Jesus points to is the fact that what­ev­er we fix as our trea­sure will take over our whole life: For where your trea­sure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). He was not say­ing that the heart should or should not be where the trea­sure is, but that it will be. 

There is no option in this mat­ter: our whole mind will be fixed around our trea­sure. When Jesus said that no one can serve two mas­ters,” he did not mean that it was unwise to serve two mas­ters, but that it was impos­si­ble. If our trea­sure is in our bank account, or an edu­ca­tion­al diplo­ma, or any oth­er earth­ly thing, our mind will not be on God. 

Jesus illus­trates this fact in the most pro­found way: The light of the body is the eye: if there­fore thine eye be sin­gle, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matt. 6:22, KJV). If all with­in us is honed down to the sin­gle trea­sure of Christ and his king­dom, then we are liv­ing in the light of simplicity.The ancient term sin­gle eye” has a rich con­no­ta­tion that our Eng­lish has dif­fi­cul­ty cap­tur­ing. It refers both to a sin­gle aim in life and to a gen­er­ous, unselfish spirit.The two ideas have such a close con­nec­tion in the Hebrew mind that they can be expressed in a sin­gle phrase. Sin­gleness of pur­pose toward God and gen­eros­i­ty of spir­it are twins. The sin­gle eye is con­trast­ed with the evil eye,” which is a Semit­ic expres­sion for a cov­etous nature.2

Jesus lived in this sin­gle­ness of pur­pose with God so per­fect­ly that he could say with­out embell­ish­ment that he did noth­ing of his own accord (John 5:19). His words were the words of the Father; his deeds, the deeds of the Father. And, aston­ish­ing­ly, he calls us in our own small way to enter this uni­ty of pur­pose. He invites us to the life of the sin­gle eye” through which the entire per­son­al­i­ty is bathed in light and uni­ty. With our eye focused on Christ the Cen­ter, we are to live with glad and gen­er­ous hearts. This is simplicity. 

The third rea­son Jesus gives for not lay­ing up trea­sure on earth is that pro­vi­sion has already been made. The birds of the air and the lilies of the field all wit­ness to an order in the king­dom of God, in which ade­quate pro­vi­sion is made for every­one and every­thing. God pro­vides for us accord­ing to our needs, just as he does for the plant and the ani­mal life. 

Jesus is not telling us to refrain from mak­ing pro­vi­sion. We miss the point of the teach­ing if, when the fam­i­ly gath­ers for sup­per, we announce, Now, the Bible says to take no thought for sup­per, and so we haven’t.” No, we work, but we work in faith, not in the anx­ious con­cern of dis­trust. On a prac­ti­cal lev­el it is at this point that the nag­ging prob­lem of faith ver­sus works” is resolved. We live cen­tered in trust and faith, and all our action and work aris­es out of that cen­ter. It is not fear and anx­i­ety over tomor­row that prompt us to work, but obe­di­ence to the divine com­mand. We make pro­vi­sion as it seems right and good (just as the birds do), but what comes to us is not so much the result of our labor as it is the gra­cious gift of God. We live the care­free life of uncon­cern for pos­ses­sions in the midst of our work. 

When this spir­it of trust per­vades all of our efforts, we under­stand the unwis­dom of bor­row­ing evil from tomor­row. No longer dis­tract­ed by con­cerns for tomor­row, we seek first Christ’s king­dom and his right­eous­ness. The focus of our thought, speech, and action is Christ the Center.

Excerpt­ed from Free­dom of Sim­plic­i­ty: Find­ing Har­mo­ny in a Com­plex World by Richard Fos­ter (Grand Rapids: Zon­der­van, 2005), pp. 40 – 43.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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