Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Social Conscience and the Christian, part 1

The Biblical Basis for Living Simply

Yesterday I spoke about Ronald Sider and the Christian’s response to his call for simplicity. Today, I want to discuss the Biblical basis for simple living. That is not to say a person of another faith or no faith cannot live simply; of course they can, but for the Christian, it is important to work out why we do what we do, so that we are ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us why we do it.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good:
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6v8

Note the order of the exhortations in this verse. Doing justly and loving mercy come before walking humbly with God. It is my belief that if we do what is just, we will come to see more and more clearly the injustice around us; we will then understand mercy and have compassion on those who are struggling, whether it be with faith of physical need; when we love mercy, we will see how much mercy God has shown towards us and that will bring about walking humbly with God.

But, you might object, that verse is Old Testament, Old Covenant. We don’t have to live like that today, for we are under grace not law. It is all a matter of the heart – we need the right attitude, nothing more.

Really? Do you really think God has no more interest in the starving of this world than that they have their hearts right? Do you really think that Christians today only have to have a right attitude towards the starving and suffering, and not do anything to help? My guess is that if we have the right attitude, it cannot help but be manifested in the right actions too.

Let me remind you, the ‘rules for living’ we find in the New Testament are much harder to follow than those in the Old. Loving mercy, doing justice and so on are much easier than not hating, for example. Jesus told his audience that ‘you have heard that it was said of old, do not murder’ (that’s the easy bit), ‘but I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment’ (Matthew 5v22). Now not getting angry with one’s brother, that is much harder.

But surely that just proves that there are no hard and fast rules to obey in the New Testament, doesn’t it? We need to have our hearts right and God will accept us. In that case, what did Jesus mean when he said ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me’ (John 14v21) and ‘you are my friends if you do whatever I command you’ (John 15v14) and ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love’ (John 15v10)?

It seems to me that Christians spend more of their time and energy trying to talk their way out of doing as God requires. The church today is encumbered with materialism and we justify it by saying ‘see how God has blessed us’. But we do not realise that riches are a curse, not a blessing:

‘He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver;
Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity…
There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun;
Riches kept for their owner to his hurt.’
(Ecclesiastes 5v10,13).

‘Give me neither poverty nor riches –
Feed me with the food allotted to me [ie sufficient for my needs];
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, Who is the Lord?
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the Name of my God’ (Proverbs 30v8,9)

Why are riches a curse? Because they get in the way of our relationship with God and our duty to our fellow men:

‘No-one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon’. (Matthew 6v24). The word translated ‘mammon’ refers to riches, wealth, money.

Is there an answer to materialism? I believe there is. In Luke 18, Jesus speaks with a young man who comes asking what he needs to do to be saved. Jesus didn’t tell him he needed to get his heart right, He didn’t tell him to ‘ask Jesus into his heart’, He didn’t even tell him he needed to believe. Jesus’ answer was altogether more practical. He said, ‘Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’ (Luke 18v22). The young man went away sorrowful, because he was very rich. On seeing the man sorrowful, Jesus said to His disciples that it was very hard for the rich to get into heaven; it would be easier for a camel to get through the eye of an needle than for a rich man to get to heaven. The disciples were astonished; they had thought that riches were a sign of God’s blessing, yet here was Jesus telling them that this young man’s riches were going to keep him out of heaven!

Oh, you protest, that was just for him. Jesus wasn’t telling us we ought to give up everything to follow Him. Again, we need to have our attitudes right when it comes to our possessions.

Really? Take a look at Luke 12v33. The context for this verse is Jesus teaching His disciples. Remember, Jesus told His disciples to make disciples of every nation ‘teaching them to observe everything I have told you’ (Matthew 28v20). So if Jesus taught His disciples the content of this verse, then it follows that He intended it to be for all Christians in all contexts. So what does the verse say?

Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags that do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Luke 12v33,34).

So now Jesus is not speaking to the rich young ruler, He is not speaking to an individual; He is speaking to His disciples whom he later tells to teach new converts to ‘observe all things that I have commanded you’.

The answer therefore to materialism in the church, is to obey the command of Christ. The answer to materialism in the life of the individual Christian is to obey the command of Christ.

To be continued.....

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