True Minimalism

1 Timothy 5.6

She who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.

“Materialism is the other person’s disease,” quips sociologist Juliet Schor. Over 80% of Americans believe people are too materialistic. Yet Schor’s research shows that drastically fewer people believe this is a problem for themselves, their own family, or friends.

Recent research has revealed the words of 1 Timothy 5 — dying while living — to be an apt metaphor for the effects of materialism. A longitudinal study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found a bi-directional relationship with materialism and loneliness; “Materialism fosters social isolation which in turn reinforces materialism.” The Guardian reported on a similar study:
“People in a controlled experiment who were repeatedly exposed to images of luxury goods, to messages that cast them as consumers rather than citizens and to words associated with materialism (such as buy, status, asset and expensive), experienced immediate but temporary increases in material aspirations, anxiety and depression. They also became more competitive and more selfish, had a reduced sense of social responsibility and were less inclined to join in demanding social activities.”

Research and Scripture agree on the problem, but diverge on what will adequately solve it. The words in 1 Timothy are given less as critique than exhortation. Though originally responding to a specific group of widows, we find pictured a thriving life of faith: “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.”

Contrast this with a recent article that admitted, “if you have more stuff than you do space to easily store it, your life will be spent a slave to your possessions.” The author’s proposed solution was this: “Deliberately choose a life with less.”
Cleaning out, consuming less, and resisting the myth that a larger home solves storage problems are all helpful (and necessary) steps in this process. But it is possible to do all this and still be materialistic — living under what researchers define as “a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project”

The challenge in 1 Timothy 5 is to have such preoccupation with Christ that everything else becomes secondary. Possessions and wealth become tools for Christian service by removing their power over us as their bottom line transfers from our identity to Christ’s glory.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 8 (Listen – 5:18)
1 Timothy 5 (Listen – 3:22)

Precision in Praise

1 Timothy 4.13
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

It’s easy to be far more specific in criticism than in praise. We tend to get by with generic sentiments of affirmation — “good job,” or “nice work.” But for negative feedback we choose our words carefully, providing examples and details.

This same dynamic extends into Christian circles in regards to theology. Responses to theological disagreements — or even ambiguous language around theology — are extensive. Conversations delve into the minute, response posts are written, even books get published to ameliorate theological angst. In contrast, orthodoxy and clarity often yield nods of approval with the occasional, “she got it right on that one.”
Devoting ourselves to reading Scripture and taking in Christian teaching is far easier in an insight-hungry culture than living a life of gospel-centered exhortation.

The word “exhortation” in 1 Timothy comes from a powerhouse of a Greek word — paraklesis. Though paraklesis is used to talk about appeal and earnestness (twice each), the other 26 times that it occurs in the New Testament it means comfort, encouragement, even consolation.

The desire of the early church was to command a strong knowledge of Scripture to comfort, encourage, and console people in a broken world. In other words, the most crystallized presentations of Scripture and theology weren’t used for tearing down, but for building up.

Nowhere do we see this more clearly than when Paul walks into Athens. Though profoundly disturbed by their idolatry, he reasoned, empathized, and even praised their spirituality (all of which was directed toward paganism!).
For Peter, as for Paul, Christian servanthood means being at the disposal of others, as Christ was for us, in order to win others to him for the long view, rather than demanding one’s rights for individual fulfillment and personal adornment in the short view. — Royce Gordon Gruenler

Paul encouraged the Athenians toward the gospel. His only rebuke, which came after he established relational credibility through commitment and investment, was that generic spirituality fell short of the glory of God.

Relational depth and Scriptural precision in exhortation laid the foundation the Athenians needed in order to be confronted by the implications of the gospel — namely, that they too were broken, prideful, and in need of a savior.

Evangelism stalls when we do not thoroughly apply the words of comfort, encouragement, and consolation God has entrusted to his Church through the Scriptures. It is wisdom which makes the most of every opportunity with those outside the church by filling each conversation with grace.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 7 (Listen – 3:55)
1 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:05)

Weaponized Shame :: The Weekend Reading List

Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval. — Jon Ronson

The full removal of evil in our world is one of the breathless longings of Christianity. We hopefully await a time where death, cancer, genocide, abuse, and countless other atrocities are vanquished. And though we count on this, it can be difficult to picture life without the petty evils that accost us daily.

We don’t even think of things like stress and life’s regular anxieties and discouragements as stemming from evil — perhaps because we try to individualize evil and these are systemic forces that plague us all. Though we have sinned, we are also all victims of a broken world.

Shame and bullying, which in the past were among the ongoing pains of our world, have taken on a force of their own through the internet. Far too many people — some who have done legitimate wrong others who were simply imprudent or taken out of context — have had their lives destroyed by a maelstrom of anonymous digital hate. In extreme cases people have lost jobs, struggled with depression and PTSD, and had to leave their home after their addresses were posted online and linked to death threats.

We once glorified Twitter as a great global town square, a shining agora where everyone could come together to converse. But I’ve never been to a town square where people can shove, push, taunt, bully, shout, harass, threaten, stalk, creep, and mob you.

Twitter could have been a town square. But now it’s more like a drunken, heaving mosh pit. — Umair Haque
Though this disproportionately affects children and students, the modern digital age has made it something nearly all of us can suffer from as victims — or participate in as perpetrators.
A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry. How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars. We’re in a dangerous cycle. The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it, and the more numb we get, the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off of the back of someone else’s suffering. With every click, we make a choice. — Monica Lewinsky

In her TED talk, “The Price of Shame,” Monika Lewinsky opens up about the profound toll public shaming can take on a person, “In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity. I lost almost everything, and I almost lost my life… The public humiliation was excruciating. Life was almost unbearable.”

Lewinsky’s talk focuses outside the guilt of her actions on the weight of public shaming — our active roll in disintegrating another human being through quips and clicks. “It was easy to forget that ‘that woman’ was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.”

In a Medium post this month Umair Haque, who writes on economics and technology for the Harvard Business Review, chronicles the way technology has weaponized our ability to harm one another:
The social web became a nasty, brutish place… What really happens on Twitter these days? People have self-sorted into cliques, little in-groups, tribes. The purpose of tribes is to defend their beliefs, their ways, their customs, their culture — their ways of seeing the world… and if you dare not to bow down before it…or worse still to challenge it…well, then the faithful will do what they must to defend their gods. They will declare a crusade against you.

We are at the beginning of a large cultural conversation about shame, guilt, bullying, and behavior in the public square. Christians have the opportunity live as salt and light in a bland, rotting, and dark digital world. What we click, how we respond — if we we respond at all — shares a testimony to the world.

Nietzsche warned, “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one.” Though the gospel takes it one step further: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In this‚ in what we post, and click, and share — we join Christ in bringing heaven to earth now.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 4 (Listen – 6:17)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:59)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 5 (Listen – 5:13) 1 Timothy 2 (Listen – 1:38)
2 Kings 6 (Listen – 5:05) 1 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:10)

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