Below is a summary of the article, Simple Living and Christian Stewardship. The article was printed in Giving magazine – a publication from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center; vol 18. Reading the full article is highly recommended and is available through one of KLC Mission Support Team members (Clayton Anderson, Rick Vandermay, Ron Kleven, Mike Ironside and PJane). This review is written by Clayton Anderson.
Simple Living and Christian Stewardship
By Professor M. Douglas Meeks at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School
Religions and philosophies around the world say – simple life is the key to happiness. All agree that the simple life means freedom. You must be free to live simply – and living simply makes you free. How is this freedom gained? We must learn to free our time, attention, and devotion from thoughts about possessions, unbridled consumption, immersion in our work, and to false obligations in wrong relationships. Here are two challenging questions – Why are we so poor at giving? – and – Why do we have such a scarcity of devotion that could hold our lives together?
1 Timothy 6:18-19 The followers of Jesus are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
This verse uses the language of economic life to speak of Christian living. We see the contrast between what we usually expect in everyday economic life with “the life that really is life.” We recognize the pursuit of wealth by “storing up treasure” and the search for profit. Professor Meeks says “Who really can doubt that accumulating wealth is key to a secure future? Those who follow Jesus Christ will doubt this. The standards of being rich and storing up treasure cause us to mismeasure our lives. They lead us into unfreedom. How, then, should we take hold of the life that is really life?”
Is the secret of simple living as straightforward as just giving up something? That is, renunciation turns into denunciation as the epitome of simplicity. These actions do not work completely with Christian stewardship and finding the secret of the simple life. Jesus commands us “Seek you first the kingdom of God.” Rather than denying something, stewardship is for serving the kingdom of God, and the reign of God’s righteousness, even God’s power of life over death in all its forms. The freedom of the simple life is for the love of God and neighbor.
Professor Meeks concludes the article by looking at four freedoms:
Freedom from Possessions
The danger of storing up possessions is that we end up being possessed by our possessions. What does Jesus say? To the rich young ruler he says sell all you have and give to the poor. Jesus says “Follow me into the neighborhood of the neighbor, and take no money, no purse, no second cloak; eat what is set before you. It gets even more radical: Leave behind mother and father, spouse and children. The simple life, then, is no longer being bound by anything or any relationship except the rule of God’s righteousness.
Can we ever be completely free? If you are striving “first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness – all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). Thus, the simple life is not bereft of things and relationships, but it means having them in a radically different relationship. Everything I have is meant for loving God and neighbor.
Freedom from Over-consumption
Mere renunciation is not what Jesus expects. Sacrifice is not an end in itself. Rather, the aim of Christian life is the mutual sharing of the feast. The richness of the simplicity of the eucharist is the model for all our consumption and, just so, is the epitome of the life that is really life.
Freedom from Enslavement by Work
The simple life of a Christian is certainly not meant to be free of work: it rather aims at liberated work for the life of the community. There is no simplicity in competition, compulsion, and being absorbed in our work. The simple life thrives on satisfaction from relationships rather than from career. It thrives on good works aimed at deepening the lives of others.
Freedom from Debt
As we are in debt, we don’t give our time, attention, devotion and money. Radical stewardship means being freed from debt. We pray forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, or trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, or our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness of debt in all its senses is the most radical work of the simple life that is Christian stewardship. The simple life, in the end, is an astounding gift of God that makes us rejoice without ceasing.