When Not To Be Minimalist

When not to be minimalistI enjoyed reading Joni Eareckson Tada’s Spectacle of Glory devotional book a couple of years ago. One quote from the book that came back to me many times after reading it was from the August 9 entry, which commented on Ephesians 3:8 about “the unsearchable riches of Christ”:

We can study all we want, but Jesus will always be a greater Savior than what we think He is. He is more ready to forgive than you can imagine asking Him. He is more willing to supply your wants and needs than you are to declare them. He is so much more ready to give than you are to receive. Don’t ever tolerate low thoughts of a barely adequate, minimalist Savior who might “keep you going” but not much more. Jesus has riches to bestow on you right now. He will not only give you heaven above, but heaven-hearted joy in serving Him here on earth.

Lord, my thoughts about You are too small, too lean, too sparse, too thin, too colorless. Paul writes about your unsearchable riches, but on some days, I barely even approach the treasuries. My mind is filled with too many smaller things. I’m in the trees and can’t see the mountains. Lift my gaze to your greatness and majesty today (p. 242, emphasis mine).

The phrase “minimalist Savior” especially jumped out at me, since minimalism is such a byword these days. I don’t want to comment on the current notions of minimalist lifestyles or practices, but I began to think of other ways we should not be minimalists.

In thoughts of our Savior

Joni wasn’t saying Jesus lived extravagantly while on earth. He was born into a poor earthly family. He didn’t own a home as an adult. One former pastor used to say that Jesus was “born from a borrowed womb and buried in a borrowed tomb.”

But, contrary to the “prosperity gospel,” all blessings are not material. God promises to supply our needs, but He doesn’t promise physical riches to His followers. Rather, “according to the riches of his glory” (Ephesians 3:16), He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20. The KJV says “exceedingly abundantly.”)

In prayer

Couched between Ephesians 3:16 and 18, based on those riches of Christ, this is what Paul prays for:

According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Sometimes when I find myself suggesting to God ways that He might answer, I remind myself of this: He can do far more than I can ask or even think, according to Ephesians 3:20.

In worship

In Mark 14, a woman came into the house where Jesus was a dinner guest. John 12:1-8 identifies her as Mary of Bethany, whose brother, Lazarus, Jesus had raised from the dead (Matthew 26:6-13 also records this incident). She “came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.

That might seem weird to us in our time. I went on a bit of a rabbit trail trying to discover what anointing meant and why it was done in that day. The best explanation I found so far is here. Anointing was a mark of respect and also a way of setting apart a prophet, priest, or king. Christ is referred to an anointed in other passages. Perhaps Mary was showing her gratefulness for Jesus having raised her brother. Perhaps she had some of these other aspects in view. But Jesus took her actions as anointing his “body beforehand for burial.” Whether Mary did this unwittingly or whether she caught what so many of the other disciples missed when Jesus foretold His death, I don’t know. Others criticized her actions, pointing out that this expensive ointment could have been sold and given to the poor. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (verse 6). And He promised that “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (verse 9).

A similar incident occurs in Luke 7. We know this is a different situation because the event, timing, host, woman, actions, critics, criticisms, purpose, and response from Jesus are all different. The woman in this case is known as sinful. She wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with the expensive ointment. The host, a Pharisee, criticized Jesus in his heart, saying, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Jesus then told of two debtors. One owed a large amount and one owed a small amount. Both debts were forgiven. Jesus asked which of the debtors would love the lender more. The Pharisee answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt,” (verse 43). Jesus said of the woman, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (verse 47). Her actions were extravagant both because of the cost of the ointment, but also because she loved so much that she risked ridicule and shame from others to show her great love to Him.

Have we thought recently about the greatness of our sins and how much it cost Jesus to forgive them? Have we meditated on His goodness and greatness enough to be overawed?

In giving

We’ve already seen from these two women that their love and worship led to costly actions. Does that mean we need to get some expensive perfume to bring to church or pour out when we read our Bibles? No. But generosity should be part of our character. King David once said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

When Paul sought financial help for needy saints, he told the Corinthians:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

He wasn’t speaking just to the rich Corinthians. He referred earlier to the Macedonians, who first gave themselves to the Lord and then to the apostles, and who begged for the opportunity to give out of their extreme poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).

I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the rich online recently, and a lot of judgment about what they do with their wealth. But we’re not accountable for them. We’re accountable for ourselves. The Macedonians were in extreme poverty yet begged to be allowed to give to help others.Jesus commended a poor widow who only offered two small coins because that was her all (Luke 21:1-4).

Giving abundantly doesn’t necessarily mean we need to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. Jesus only told one man to do that, because he knew that man’s wealth was a problem for him. 1 Corinthians 16:2 tells us to give as God has prospered us.

Sometimes we save to be able to give. Another former pastor once advised his people to have a “benevolence” section in their budget, to put aside a little bit of money every paycheck so that when they become aware of a need, they would have some on hand to give.

We should give wisely, of course. There is a type of giving that enables people to continue on in their sin. Sometimes we have to say no. Sometimes God says no, because what we’re asking isn’t good for us or isn’t the right time.

And we don’t just give money. Our time, schedules, attention, homes, all belong to God, to be used as He directs.

We don’t give for show, as Ananias and Sapphira and the Pharisees did. But we give as God directs out of a grateful heart for what He has given us.

And we can’t outgive God. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

In love

1 Peter 1:22 tells us to “love one another with a pure heart fervently.” Other translations say “deeply” or “earnestly.” Biblical love could take another whole post (or several) to expound upon, but it’s aptly summed up in 1 Corinthians 13. Verses 4-8a say:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends . . .

My heart is full, thinking of God’s great generosity to me, inspired to be generous towards others, overflowing into even more ways to be generous rather than minimalist: thankfulness, praise, patience, and more.

How about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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