20 March, 2017
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Jesus in the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-21)
What may not come as a surprise is that minimalism is not really a new thing.
The concept of minimalism, of letting go of excess material possessions in order to focus on the important things in life, has taken many forms over the centuries. As The Minimalists themselves point out, because minimalism is a set of values and not a belief system, it can take many forms across different religions and worldviews.
Of course, my own faith in Jesus is no exception. The Bible has a lot to say about wealth and possessions. As you would expect, there have been extremes on both sides of the fence propagated over the centuries. Today, we have greedy TV preachers claiming “God wants you to be rich”, all the way across to the doomsday, “Hide-your-wife-and-kids-they’re-coming-for-us” types. This year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which largely began as a protest against greed and corruption in the Roman Catholic Church.
The same questions are always asked:
“Is money the root of all evil? Does it always corrupt?”
“Is it wrong to be rich? Is it better to be poor?”
Or, one that I wrestled with for a while:
“Should I feel guilty for the society and class I was born into?”
I was blessed to grow up in the Sutherland Shire in Southern Sydney, a largely white, middle class area, one of the wealthiest areas of Sydney, with an extremely high standard of living in comparison to the rest of the world. Although my family faced a lot of financial and personal hardship while I was growing up, some a lot more significant than many of my peers will ever experience, we were still definitely very far from poor.
As a Christian, I want to know, how should I think about wealth and possessions? Is it just a matter of opinion?
Despite what you hear on the news, there are answers to these questions. When it comes to the important things in life, I could care less about opinions; I want to know – what is really true, helpful, and worthwhile listening to? If I’m a follower of Jesus, then it’s God’s word, the Bible. As a Christian, I believe that all truth ultimately comes from God, whether it’s plain facts, or wisdom about how to live the best life we can.
Is consumption the problem?
Many have heard the old saying that “money is the root of all evil.” Actually, this is not at all what the Bible says. Money is not the root of all evil. It’s a misquote. According to the Bible, the root of all evil is actually our own inner nature, our “hearts”.
Jesus said that material things don’t create evil, and neither does consumption:
“It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart… Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and into the sewer… For from within, out of a person’s heart come evil thoughts… greed… envy…pride… all these things come from within, they are what defile you.” (Mark 7:15-23).
Consuming something does not make you a bad person, whether it’s food, clothing, or any other kind of item. Eating food, wearing clothes and purchasing products are all a part of life, and they don’t make you any less spiritual. The real question is, “Why?” This is not always as black and white.
The Bible teaches that money is a tool, and nothing more. What we do with it is what matters. Instead, it gives frequent warnings about the potential for wealth to corrupt our character.
How does wealth corrupt?
The biggest danger for wealth and storing up possessions is that they can become our source of ultimate security. They can become what we put our trust in, or you could say our “faith”, to “deliver us from evil”. They will be our god, our idol. They will protect us from danger. They will keep us safe from our enemies.
No, the Bible warns us not to trust in our possessions for our ultimate security, our identity, or our self-worth. These things can only come from God.
That quote, that money is “the root of all evil” is a misquote from the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy chapter 6. He warns:
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10).
He tells the Christians who are “rich in this world” to be generous. He doesn’t tell them to become poor. Instead, he says: “Teach (them) not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17).
So, no, I should not feel guilty being born into prosperity. Prosperity, wealth, and material goods can all be great blessings, and it is right to enjoy them and thank God for them. They are gifts.
But, this is not a free card to pass go and collect $200. It is also a warning that wealth and possessions can corrupt our souls, and it is a command to be generous, not to hoard.
Instead, ask: What am I going to do with all of my stuff to show that it is not my identity?
Jesus talks a lot about stuff, enough to make me a little uncomfortable:
– “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” (Matt. 6:19)
– “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Luke 12:33)
– He taught a parable about a rich fool who wasted his life gathering possessions, only to lose them in a single night. “Be on your guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (Luke 12:13-21).
– When approached by a rich young man asking about how to get to heaven, he said, “Sell your possessions… and come, follow me.” The man didn’t do it, and Jesus stated, “…only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 19:16-23).
How did I miss this?
I, like most people, have always owned a fair amount of junk. Junk that I didn’t need, barely used, and junk that accumulated. It took up space, and it regularly grew out of control. Despite what I said before, having tremendous excess was always the norm at home. Food gets mouldy and goes in the bin. Possessions, books, trinkets would overflow from the drawers, and get rusty. Clothes would be scattered everywhere.
Then I discovered minimalism, and after removing the excess, donating and giving away stuff, and focusing on what really mattered, I found myself happier, more relaxed, and able to remain focused on what mattered to me. This forced me to ask myself the same question as Joshua Becker, a prominent author on minimalism and Christian pastor in the US:
“How did I miss this?”
In all of the sermons I’ve heard, in all of the Bible passages I’ve read over the years, why did I never take this seriously? Why did I overlook the opportunity to have such a deeper joy in God, and instead let myself remain stressed and tied down to so much junk?
Why did I wilfully overlook all of the numerous passages in the Bible warning us against accumulating possessions?
Maybe it’s because I liked my stuff a little too much.
A Fresh Appreciation
My goal in life is to know God, to know his love, and to pursue his calling for my life. I want to treasure my walk with Jesus above all things, and show the world that he is supremely valuable, and better than anything the world has to offer.
To that end, minimalism has been a refreshing tool. It has helped to remind me of what the Bible already said: that “stuff” can never satisfy, it can never fulfil our craving for acceptance, and it can never define us.
Many people see Minimalism as a fad, and for many it probably is. I asked myself recently, “Was Jesus a minimalist?” No, probably not, because he was poor. He had possessions, he had money, and he used them in the right way, to show that his ultimate treasure was God, and not his possessions. But I guess you could call that a kind of minimalism if you want to.
Minimalism is a countercultural lifestyle that acts as a response to one of the biggest problems of developed countries in the 20th and 21st century, almost entirely unprecedented in the history of the world – mass consumerism. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on advertising, storage, and production of crap that we don’t need. The environment has suffered, our relationships have suffered, and worst of all, our souls have suffered, being pulled away and distracted from listening to God.
The message of the Bible is clear. Everything else will pass away – all of our meaningless pursuits, our trinkets, our obsessions, celebrities, scandals, intrigues, Netflix shows, and our collections. One day, all of these things will be burned away, and all that will be left are our relationships – with God, and with each other.
There is a great quote, which I think is a profoundly Biblical concept, from the Minimalists:
“Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”
I love this quote. It beautifully summarises what it is all about. In fact, the same can be said of God: “Love God and use things, because the opposite never works.”
To that end, let’s use our stuff to show that God is our treasure, and that he is truly the best and most valuable thing we could ever have.
Book recommendation: Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. He said it better 14 years ago.
Grace for Failures is the blog of Carlin Doyle to encourage and inspire people who have gotten life wrong for a long time, and want to try and do things a little differently. Click here for more info, and here for more posts.