This article was inspired by Rev. Adam J. Copeland writing in Giving magazine – a publication from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center; vol 18. He teaches at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
There is much advice on how to live today. Consider “7 Rules to a Better Life: 1. Never hate 2. Live simply. 3. Expect a little. 4. Give a lot. 5. Always smile. 6. Live with love. 7. Be with God. Most of these rules are clear and concise, but #2 Live simply invites examination.
We can find many sources of advice on choosing clothing, shoes, and jewelry to complement our appearance, plus the vital closet organizers. There is even more advice on simplifying food choices including one such thought: “Potatoes have much more usefulness than caviar.” We have much, much more help offered on dealing with stress, handling expenses and saving money. On a more personal note we find advice on “Quieting mental chatter,” whatever that might entail. Then we can study the thoughts of Ghandi and Thoreau.
Rev. Copeland says, “If only simple living were actually simple.” What should we do with this simple-living paradox, this challenge that for many of us today, living simply takes real work and life experience? Even when we attempt to live simply, we can end up with another experience entirely, and Rev. Copeland turns to Paul and his close relationship with the Philippians as a great example. Nearly 2000 years ago, Paul wrote from his jail cell in Rome to the Philippians in 4:11 saying “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Paul had just received an unexpected gift from the community of the Philippians, with whom he had previously stayed and to whom he had ministered. Most of Paul’s letter was to encourage the Philippians in their faith and living in Christ, saving his thanks for very near the end, and treating their gift with honor and as a symbol of their future partnership.
Paul makes it clear that he knows how to live with little, just as he knew in earlier life what it was like to live with much. He writes in 4:12 “In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” And yet, Paul is grateful, reiterating his thanks three times. Paul didn’t ask for support, since he was accustomed to simple living (for sure, prison is a rather extreme version of simple living). Paul accepted the gift and indicated it would benefit the church and others. Certainly, those who live in poverty do not have life simple or easy. The gospel is clear in its call to care for the poor and needy. We know that poverty is hazardous for individuals, households, and society.
Rev. Copeland writes that while simple living is not so simple, it can lead to generosity in many forms: generous giving of time, generous giving of money, generous giving of love, and eventually, generous thanksgiving. For those of us who have much, living simply can become a call to action responding to God’s good and unexpected gifts to us. As we focus our living out the gospel of Christ we cannot expect that simple living is easy. Together, though, we will find that with God, simple living is faithful.