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TALK ON SIMPLICITY FOR MEN—2/18/2005

 

            I am just swamped.”  “Man, I am I buried.”  “I am so far behind, I’m not sure I will ever catch up.”  “My schedule is wall to wall for the next two weeks.”  “I barely had time to go to the bathroom, today.”  Those comments and a hundred others like them are tragically and all too frequently heard in Christ’s church today.  Even worse is the fact that behind those comments are men (that is my audience) who have at some level been neglecting their families, their physical, emotional and mental health and doubtless several possible opportunities to minister for Christ.  Those harried comments are often made by people with furrowed brows and anxious countenances who are indistinguishable from people who don’t know Christ and who are bound for hell. 

            Perhaps worst of all, when these comments are made in church today, the response of those who hear them is often something like, “Ol’ Jim is sure a hard worker, isn’t he?” Or, “Man, that Bob is a machine---I can’t believe his stamina—he’s like the “Energizer Bunny.”  Keeping a hectic schedule and frenetic pace that cuts you off from living out biblical, kingdom priorities—rather than eliciting comments of great concern and perhaps even rebuke--instead attract words and attitudes of praise and admiration from fellow believers.  I can think of few areas where the church has been more conformed to the world than in this admiration of this insanity.  Richard Foster is right when he says says, “Covetousness we call ambition… [and] Greed we call industry.”

            That’s the world’s twisted perception and the church has fallen right into line with it.  Countless men who are professed evangelicals are habitually putting in insane hours at work to get a promotion or because they are “indispensable” (I believe it was DeGaule who said “The graveyards are filled with indispensable men.”) We must be clear that if they are habitually stealing time that should be spend with God and family and church they are NOT worthy of admiration because they are ambitious—whatever that means.  They are covetous—they want something they don’t have—a position, a title, authority, a pay raise—they want something they don’t have and which God has not given them.  That is not ambition, it is covetousness, which Paul in Ephesians 5:3 says, “should not even be named among you” and which Colossians 3:5 calls idolatry. These men may even say that they are sacrificing their schedules for their families or even God but their actions speak louder than their words—they are coveting and it is an idolatrous worship of whatever it is they are sacrificing for.

            This is a HUGE problem in the North American church today because although there are limited seasons in our lives where a jam packed schedule may indeed be the Lord’s will for us, it is certainly NOT his will for us to spend our time in ways that do not conform to the priorities of the kingdom.  Exasperation, exhaustion and frustration over busyness should have no place in the life of a man who claims to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, who, during his entire earthly life (when his mission was no less than the redemption of God’s people) was never—not once--in a hurry or anxious.  If we are living under the life-choking, joy-sapping, marriage-weakening, family-threatening tyranny of the urgent, we are living in rebellion against God who calls all who are weary and heavy laden to come to Christ and find rest in him.  We must not buy into the lie that this kind of life is one controlled by the Spirit of God.  It is not—it is fueled by adrenaline and caffeine and selfish desires.

            We are sinning because we have allowed busyness to drain away our joy which Paul commands us to have—“Rejoice in the Lord, Always, again I say, rejoice.”  You simply will not have joy with any regularity if you are perpetually buried beneath a mountain of busyness.  One man in church after another has made these lie-based, worldly-driven decisions about how to run their lives, only to retire with less money than they anticipated,  less time to spend it and having grown children who don’t follow hard after Christ.  They live out their last years with lingering sense of regret over the irreversible fact that they gave their best time and best energies NOT to Christ and his kingdom but to the company store that, within days or weeks after their departure, had wiped out most of the evidence that they had ever even been there and had found someone else to do their old job as well or better than they did it.

            At this point, I need to come clean.  I am at this moment in sin in this area.  I didn’t agree to speak on this just to help you, but in part because I knew this topic would force me to think biblically about my own life.  I say that so that you know that I am very much a fellow struggler here and am preaching as much or more to myself as I am to any of you.  One challenge to thinking biblically about this topic is that this particular issue of simplicity is not explicitly treated very much in scripture.  The bible was written in pre-industrial times.  It was written within an agrarian culture and although the men worked very hard, they generally only worked as long as the sun was up.  There was no organized volleyball or baseball or basketball or ballet or music lessons for their kids to be involved with. There were no cars so no parent ever had to assume the time draining role of taxi driver and the lack of rapid transportation greatly reduced a host of time-sapping diversions.  If you were going somewhere, you walked and probably used that time to build relationships.  Food wasn’t simply fuel—meals were viewed as times of fellowship among believers. 

            There isn’t much in the bible explicitly on the importance of living in simplicity because life was intrinsically much simpler for most people.  If you were a Jew you had a Sabbath every seventh day where you rested and spent meaningful time just being with your family and friends.  The rapid, frenetic, pace of today with our stress on more and more productivity was simply not part of the ancient world.  Most of what accounts for the extreme pace of our lives and our lack of simplicity can be summed up in one word—affluence.  By affluence I mean not only an abundance of money but also technology and other things that so easily conspire to keep us busy.  The advent of electricity opened the door for 14 or 16 hour work days because you can’t be very productive when it’s dark.  For people who are not affluent, simplicity is in most cases by necessity much more a way of life.

            Affluence enables us to live in houses where we each member of the family has a separate room instead of all the family going down to bed together huddled together on a floor.  Affluence enables us the option to put our four year old into a “squirt” hockey league and in that moment sentence your family to hundreds of hours driving to and from and attending hockey games, flooding outdoor rinks and spending perhaps thousands of dollars of God’s money on athletic equipment over the next 15 years.  Affluence allows us to buy our kids cars so that they can be as mobile as we are and learn early on what it is to live a life with very few restrictions.  Affluence allows us to purchase televisions and other media receivers which can suck the life out of us if they are not careful.  Affluence allows us to buy clothes solely for their fashionableness.  Affluence allows us to buy things and engage in hobbies that can easily become idols for us.  Affluence allows us to own things that allegedly save time but in most cases do not.  Our affluence can also be used for good things—like financing the world missions movement, but there are reasons why Jesus calls money “unrighteous mammon.”  That is, it can easily corrupt us.

            Because simplicity and affluence are so closely linked, let’s turn to Matthew chapter six to draw out biblical principles on simplifying our lives.  We begin with Jesus’ teaching in verse 19.  Jesus says, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,  23but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.  25"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  28And why are you anxious about clothing? Con sider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,  29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

            I want to do a survey of this text to help us see the very clear line of Christ’s thinking here.  First, he begins with a command that will overarch everything else he says. In verse 19-21 he says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Jesus is saying that there are two types of treasures—one that is native to this earth and will not last and one that is native to heaven and which will last.  His command is—put your best energy—your best time, your talents into piling up for yourselves treasures in heaven.  In other words—make your priority things that will bless God—which are done for his glory and not things that will bring you immediate diversion or pleasure.   That command directs the rest of the passage.

            In verses 21-24 Jesus makes three statements expressing truth about treasures.  These are axioms—we don’t get to vote on them, they are simply part and parcel of the way God designed this world and us.  The first axiom is in the second half of verse 21 where Jesus says, “For where your treasure is there your heart shall be also.”  The first truth about our treasures is simply whatever we treasure is what we give our hearts to.  The reason a person is willing to work a 70 hour work week is because he has given his heart to something related to his work.  It may be the work itself which he may find very stimulating—it may be the reward of being respected by his boss and coworkers—it may be the promise of advancement—it may be the fact that it enables him to earn enough money to pay the mortgage on a $250,000 home in Duluth—it may be that this is simply expected of them and they are afraid of being fired.  It may be any of those kinds of things but if a person is regularly pumping 65-70 hours a week into their job—you can bet they have significant treasure in their job which is a violation of Christ’s command to not accumulate earthly treasure. 

            The second truth about treasure is in verse 22-23.  Jesus says, “22"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,  23but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”  This teaching may seem a bit confusing to us until we understand the relationship between the heart Jesus spoke of in verse 21 and the eye he mentions here.  The eye is not in scripture solely the organ by which we see things.  The eye reflects the condition of the heart like the mouth does.  We know that our mouth reflect our hearts because in Matthew 12:34 Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” We can pretend to be someone we are not but ultimately our mouth—what we say will give away the condition of our heart.  If we are judgmental—we will speak judgmental words—if we are loving—we will communicate love.  If we are at root profane people, then our mouths will ultimately spew that out.

            The eye also reflects the condition of the heart because our eyes focus on what our hearts value.  If our hearts are filled with lust—our eyes will look at women in lustful ways.  If our hearts are filled with covetousness, then our eyes will focus on the nicer car or bigger house or fancier cell phone.  Jesus is saying that if your eye, which reflects your heart, is healthy—then your whole body—your whole person will be filled with light—spiritual light which speaks of God’s goodness and his holy character.  But if our eye is bad and reflects a heart filled with sin, then spiritual darkness, which speaks of wickedness and even demonically charged desires, will overtake you.  So the truth about treasure in these verses about the eye is simply—the kind of treasures that catch your eye—that attract your attention reveals your spiritual health.  Our treasures are far more revealing about our hearts than what we profess in church on Sunday.  If we get a clear picture of what we treasure, then we will have made a good diagnosis of the condition of our hearts.  If your treasures are in work or your hobbies or families more than they are in God and in things above—then Jesus says you are filled with spiritual darkness—you are an idolater—whether the thing you treasure more than Jesus is something morally reprehensible like pornography or its your children. Your heart is dark if you treasure those earthly things more than heavenly things.  What you profess about God in your prayers and your songs are irrelevant if your treasures—what turns your head and catches your eye are in this world.

          The third truth about treasure is in verse 24 and speaks to how God designed us as humans.  He says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”  Jesus here is simply bearing witness to the fact that we were created to be a race of slaves—we are designed for loving enslavement to our good Master—but make no mistake we are designed to be slaves—that’s our programming—slave programming.  And intrinsic to being a slave—as differentiated from being an employee--is that slaves can only serve one master.  Part of being a slave is to have the capacity to serve only one master.  We cannot do any different.  This truth about treasure is that we can only truly treasure one Master.  We will end up in some way greatly mistreating God if we are allowing ourselves to be enslaved to thing things of this earth.  James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

            If we are enslaved to God, we will not be able, for any length of time, to serve the things of this earth—we are simply not built to serve two masters. Notice it’s only here at the end of these truths about treasures does Jesus narrow his discussion about treasure to the particular treasure called money.  In verse 19 he talks of treasures on earth.  In 24 he talks about two masters.  Now here in verse 24 he applies these truths about treasure to money.  The truths could just as easily been applied to family members or any other thing we can be idolatrous about—status, position, reputation.  He chooses to focus on money probably because so many other idols are dependent upon money for their existence.  As we said earlier, affluence breeds thousands of potential new idols.

            So these three truths about treasure are—whatever we treasure is what we give our hearts to, the kinds of treasures you have reveals your spiritual condition and three, because of who we are as slaves we can only truly treasure one master.  In THAT context, Jesus says in verse 25, “Therefore—(in light of the command to not lay up treasure on earth and these three truths about treasure) I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing.”  What he is saying is, in light of who we are as slaves and the relationship between our hearts and our treasure, don’t be anxious about life and your body.  Don’t miss the connection between this statement and what he has said about our treasures.  Because what we treasure gets our hearts--if our treasure is threatened or is in limited supply, then will be anxious about it.  If our hearts are darkened by having the wrong treasure then we will be anxious about them because that’s what self-dependent dark hearts do—they get worried and anxious.  If the things of this earth become our master, then we will become anxious about them because the things of this earth are by nature perishable and why wouldn’t you be anxious by having as our treasure something or someone who will rot or rust or be eaten by moths? When Jesus says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” he is saying that our life is not rooted in this earth like food is, and our bodies are not temporary like clothing is.

            If you are worrying about food then you are not only showing that your treasure is here but also that you believe our lives are all about the things of this world.  If you anxious about your clothing (and I think by extension your house) then you are not only showing that your treasure is here, but that you believe your body is native only to this world—and it’s not—these bodies will one day be glorified and will live in heaven forever.  Jesus goes on to explain that God is trustworthy—he will provide these things just like he does for the birds and for the lilies.  Then in verse 33 he says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things—things pertaining to this world—food, drink, housing, clothing, reputation, position, salary, car—all that--will be added unto you.”  Jesus is saying make your treasure as God’s slave—focus your eyes on, give your heart to God and things that will advance his kingdom and your own personal righteousness or holiness.  Make those things your treasure and all the other things you need—God will provide because he is faithful to do that.

            Notice, we men should know and believe that all things that are native to this world—our money and homes and families and possessions will come to us as we are seeking God.  We are not to passionately seek after those things—they come to us almost incidentally—as we are seeking first after God.  They are not to be the goal—GOD is the goal—they are not to be the focus of our energy—GOD and his kingdom is the focus.  Notice how God-centered this teaching is.

            I wont ask but if I were to say, “How many of us live like this consistently—making God our chief treasure, our greatest desire, our deepest burden and in the midst of that quest simply trust him to provide for us as we are obedient to him?”  My guess is, not many in this room live like this.  Many do just the opposite.  They focus on—they make their goal what they want or need—THAT is where their heart is—they focus on the things of this world—they live as slaves to their jobs or families or mortgage payments and try them to import Jesus into those areas of enslavement.  They want Jesus to be a big part of their lives and to bless their lives and their pursuits but He is not their treasure—He can’t be because we were wired to have only one true treasure.  And you can tell what your treasures are by what we spend our time and energy on, what catches our eye, what impassions us and what makes us anxious and worried.  If we can talk for hours about our job but when someone asks us how our walk with the Lord is going and all we have for them is a blank stare—it is folly to think Christ is our treasure in spite of what we may sing on Sunday mornings.

            For application, here are some points on this topic of simplification.  First, don’t make your aim to simplify your life but rather to eliminate your idols.  I checked ten bible translations and the word “simplify” is not in any of them but idolatry sure is.  This is not about downsizing or outsourcing or simplifying it’s about repenting of the idols we are serving before a jealous God.  It’s not about reducing our schedules, it’s about doing serious heart work before God, asking Him to reveal to us anything of this world that we are treating as if it’s God.  It’s about asking God to reveal to us what catches our eye and what makes us impassioned or what makes us anxious more than God. It’s about discovering what has our heart besides God—what or who we are enslaved to other than God.  If we ask him, he will show us but if we ask him we owe it to him to actually pay attention when he shows us.

            Second, understand that change only comes to our hearts by way of the cross.  Paul tells us in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  The fruit of repentance that honors God will not come from an evening spent with our wives adjusting our schedules or tweaking our calendars.  It’s not about tweaking or adjusting, it’s about dying to what we want and what our kids and families want and living out what Jesus wants.  In a culture as affluent as ours and a church as conformed to the world as ours some of the measures required to bring our lives into conformity to the scriptures will doubtless be considered extreme—the cross brings us into the value system of heaven by killing off our selfish agendas and that produces a radically different value system from this world.  Also, don’t be surprised if some of the people who will attack you as you repent will be people in your own families and the church.  They may have the same idols you have had and they are convicted by God’s work in you and will perhaps try to throw cold water on you.  Before you make huge changes, it’s a good idea to consult with others you trust in the Lord, but don’t fear taking those faith-driven risks.  They will set you free.

            Third, understand that whatever you do to repent of your schedule-clogging, anxiety-inflicting idolatry will bring joy in this life and the next.  Jesus promises in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”  Anything we give up on the way to seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness will be more than repaid in this life and the next with blessings from God that bring true joy.  Do we believe this?  If we do, if we really do, then it seems the smartest, most joy-inducing, pleasure-producing thing we could do in this regard is to sincerely ask God to show us where we have allowed our lives to become so muddled and complicated through our idolatry to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.  May God give us the grace to do just that for His glory

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