Query: Do you maintain a simple lifestyle, living within your means, practicing personal honesty and integrity consistent with Christian standards?
What is simplicity? Really, what is the nature of it? Not actions or expressions of simplicity…but the root inside. I really struggled with the idea of simplicity this week. I can tell you how I practice simplicity: live within your means; don’t be extravagant. But why do I pursue these things? Where do they come from?
I had to do some reading. And what I discovered is these acts of simplicity arise from integrity. Simplicity and integrity are two sides of the same coin. To the point: we practice simplicity because we want to honestly pursue the simple, genuine life of Jesus.
Here’s the other nuance of simplicity. Have you ever heard someone being called ‘simple-minded’? It usually means we are calling someone stupid. When someone is being simple-minded, they are not factoring in all the rich complexities of the situation. And in a very real sense, Friends want to stress being simple-minded or single-minded about living out Christ.
We testify that the root/source of the Quaker practice of simplicity and integrity is that Jesus Christ dwells and rules in us and we are striving to live as he did. We live out Jesus by acting as he would.
When Quakerism first began there were two distinct uses of simplicity: practicing plainness and refusing oaths. Plain speech, hat removal, and plain dress.
Early Friends began calling all people ‘thee.’ Why? Because in their culture, if you were referring to someone considered superior you would say ‘you’ and if someone was an equal or inferior you would say ‘thee.’
Quakers read in the Bible that in God’s eyes everyone is equal, there is no greater or lesser person. So why would they go along in their culture’s distinction of some people being superior and some inferior? They wanted to express God’s simplicity that we are all, simply, equal.
It is the same with the hat removal. People of a lower class were to remove their hats out of respect for someone of a higher class or position. The only time Quaker men doffed their hats was before God in worship. (If you want to practice this today and experience what Quakers received in response so long ago, refuse to remove your hat at the next sporting event when the national anthem is played.)
Quakers read in the Bible that God is the one we owe our respect to—He is the one who is greater. They wanted to demonstrate to their culture that not only is everyone equal before God, but that God is worthy of our respect. He is the only one I bow down to.
Early Friends did not emphasize a particular dress code. Margaret Fell strongly argued against having a uniform (think Mennonite or Amish). But Quakers wanted to show simplicity in how we dressed. They believed that we shouldn’t use jewelry or clothes to draw attention to ourselves.
Quakers read in the Bible that Jesus didn’t wear fancy clothes…he was modest. The Bible actually talked about pride and clothing being linked together. God wants us to be focused on more important issues than dressing up for Him or others.
The Early Friends didn’t do oaths. This was hard…many times they went to jail for this. Why? They believed God requires our conversations with others to be simply honest. They read in the Bible that we are to let our yes be good enough and let our no be good enough. Don’t swear an oath. It means you are now especially telling the truth under these circumstances. Tell the truth all the time!
In the following generations of Friends, there were other distinct expressions: fair prices and abolition. The Quakers simply read and simply followed the Holy Spirit speaking to them and the Bible they read. Quaker businessmen stopped bartering. Why try and get a higher price from one customer than another? Let’s set a fair price that is equal for the buyer and that is modest for the seller. And if we are all equal why in the world are we enslaving another person? Simple integrity. Simple justice.
There are so many other examples of simplicity I could give. We are a people rich with it. Why is that so? We listen to the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives. We allow God to shape the story of our lives. We testify that the source of simplicity and integrity is Jesus Christ dwelling and ruling in us. We strive to live as he would in our time.
Do you maintain a simple lifestyle, living within your means, practicing personal honesty and integrity consistent with Christian standards? How is the Spirit of Jesus Christ leading you in this?
Last week I talked about my friend Jared’s realization that peace-making, in the manner of Jesus, is a core marker of a disciple of Jesus. The Holy Spirit revealed this to him when he was a soldier. And pursuing simplicity cost him.
Here is a modern-day, real-life example of simplicity—of simple intergrity. Jared heard Spirit speaking into his life; Jared delved into the Scriptures. Jared allowed Jesus to reshape him to be more of a genuine, simpler Christ-follower.
Here is something true about simplicity: you will never, fully arrive. The pursuit and practice of simplicity is lifelong. The pursuit and practice of integrity is lifelong. The pursuit and practice of justice is lifelong. The pursuit and practice of Christ is lifelong.
Simplicity entails a cost. You can see it in the life of Jesus, in the Early Friends, and in Jared’s life. But there is also a gain. Leaving behind the things of this world for the things of the Kingdom is, ultimately, priceless.
Today I hope and pray that you heard God speaking into your life: calling you to the simple ways of Jesus.
Lord, give us your ears to hear, your eyes to see, and your hands and feet to do. May it be so through the power of the Father, Son, and Spirit—one God, forever and ever. Amen.