22 “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?
For scorners delight in their scorning,
And fools hate knowledge.
15The simple believes every word,
But the prudent considers well his steps.
Simple things in life can be good:
The first sip of coffee in the morning...
The smell of fresh laundry...
The laughter of your children or grandchildren...
There is an ideal in our culture for simple pleasures such as these. In a life that can be complicated and at times overwhelming with its pressures and troubles, you can long for simple things and simpler times.
In some ways simplicity can seem to bring you closer to God. The classic American song, Simple Gifts seems to capture this:
Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight. –Joseph Brackett (1797–1882)
Originally penned by Joseph Brackett, Simple Gifts is a Shaker hymn or “dancing song” that remained unknown outside of the religious Shaker community for 100 years until composer Aaron Copeland adapted the melody for the ballet Appalachian Spring in 1944.
Hailing from the American south, I have always related to the old Lynyrd Skynyrd song, Simple Man. The sound of this song, coming from the radio of an old Ford F-100 pickup while winding down a Georgia or Carolina backroad is part of the sounds of my youth:
Mama told me when I was young
Come sit beside me my only son
And listen closely to what I say
And if you do this it'll help you
Some sunny day…–Ronnie Van Zant, "Simple Man"
The song is a ballad of a son remembering his mother’s wise words not to forsake the simple and good things of life–love, marriage and faith–for the hollow promises of earthly wealth and fast living.
However, simplicity is not always a good thing.
The book of Proverbs certainly upholds the concept of pursuing what is good and honorable in this life but there is a warning about being “simple” in another kind of way:
22 “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?–Proverbs 1:22a
Lady Wisdom cries out her warning to those who have no desire for true wisdom to heed her call, while Dame Folly laughs at the willing one who comes to her with blind allegiance.
In 1:22 Wisdom cries out to “simple ones.” The Hebrew here is פְּתָיִם֮ (petayim) meaning “naive.” When Proverbs is seen as a textbook for the young, it is easy to see the image of one who is inexperienced in life, now suddenly out in the big, wide world–where Dame Folly will soon eat his lunch.
However, the simple-minded are not merely the youth, for this applies to men and women of all ages. You or I can be among the “simple ones.”
What does it mean to be simple minded? No, it is not like the mentally-challenged Lenny, petting the rabbits too hard in “Of Mice and Men.” Nor does this mean to be unsophisticated. I was once part of a wonderful congregation of truly sincere, intelligent and faithful believers. This was a rural community with few who were college educated–but they knew the Bible and they knew their savior and loved one another deeply because of His love for them in His completed work.
To be simple minded means that you are hesitant to think for yourself or are easily led. The simple one sways in the philosophical breeze, is enamored and impressed by the latest trend or fad that has everyone talking–or perhaps is fixed on some past glory whose time has long gone.
For instance, every few years a new idea or strategy arises in the church that becomes the talk of ecclesiastical circles. Often, it is accompanied by a christian author or theologian who is catapulted into the limelight. Books are authored, workshops and seminars are promoted and even logo gear is sold.
Many of these ideas and approaches are good and Godly, but sometimes they can take on an authority of their own–and the simple-minded believer will follow without challenging or even thinking. Paul warned Timothy of this:
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.–II Timothy 4:3-4
Do you get “itchy ears” sometimes? Have you found yourself getting excited about a new idea or getting caught up in a Christian “fad” without thinking about what it all really means or how it truly relates to God’s word?
One recent trend was a national phenomena surrounding the book “The Prayer of Jabez.” This small volume erupted like a volcano onto the Christian scene in the early 2000’s and was soon was a favorite of millions of readers. Loosely based on I Chronicles 4:10 it promoted an approach to prayer that was akin to rubbing a genie’s lamp to obtain blessing from God.
A thinly-disguised health and wealth gospel, the “Prayer of Jabez” took a completely false approach to prayer and God as Heavenly Father–and many believers today may still struggle in their prayer life as a result.
God raises up many faithful, talented and often brilliant men and women who can be inspired by their experience in faith or their education in the Word to share wisdom with the church–but each should be measured as a brother or sister in Christ and not followed blindly.
You must test or at least consider any new church strategy or ministry approach against the Word of God. Instead of being a simple-minded follower, you must “test the spirits” (I John 4:1) and measure what christian authors and theologians say in light of scripture. As John Calvin reveals of this passage in I John:
For though they pretend to believe God's word, yet when they are brought to the test, they close their ears and will not hear, and yet to revere God's word is the only true evidence that we fear him.–John Calvin, Commentary on I John
The simple minded fool is especially loved by Dame Folly for he is often easily led by someone with a strong personality. For every bully there is a simple minded toady who does his bidding.
(Every Christmas, my kids and I enjoy the holiday favorite, “A Christmas Story,” and they laugh gleefully as the bully, Scott Farcus, and his pal, Grover Dill, eventually get their comeuppance.)
Churches are filled with circles of friends and social cliques, like any group of people. A skilled pastor or church leader will often have to carefully navigate these groups where criticism and gossip often thrive.
“Pastor, I’ve been hearing things…”
“Some people are talking…”
“I am only telling you this, and no one else…”
You know by your own experience over the years, that this last comment is almost always a lie.
This murmuring and grumbling (James 5:9) can kill the unity of a church and harm weaker believers. In order for gossip and “talk” to survive it takes simple-minded fools to allow it as they willingly or unwillingly take part.
Are you aware of this dynamic in your church? Have you ever been privy to sensitive information and made to feel uncomfortable because someone “just had to tell you” for your own or the greater good?
Where does it end? The opposite of being “simple” is being “shrewd.” This is the prudent-minded believer and he is a follower of Lady Wisdom:
15 The simple believes every word,
But the prudent considers well his steps.–Proverbs 14:15
What does it mean to be prudent? To be prudent means to think for yourself, to step back from the excited crowd of fellow followers and consider what scripture has to say.
Shrewdness is a quality that is much admired in almost every culture throughout history. A shrewd business owner can be maddening to negotiate against–but his success is well-earned. A shrewd wife and mother can make her house run like a precision clock–or at least directly meet, the daily challenges of life that are thrown against her.
To be prudent is to often stand against the tide of prevailing opinion or to at least be a cautionary voice when needed. For a struggling believer, a shrewd brother or sister in Christ can be a strong support and source of encouragement in time of need.
In order to do this, to be prudent and not simple minded, you must become someone who studies God’s word, becomes a lover of scripture, and the teaching of Jesus. You may not need to enroll in seminary but at least drink deep of the cool clear waters of the Bible and the knowledge that God reveals.
Hand-in-hand with the Word comes prayer. The prudent minded believer is one who talks to the Father daily, seeking His presence in this life and for Him to reveal His will. This prayer is not some name-it-and-claim-it formula but conversation with the One who is the lover of your soul and the author of your salvation.
If you are going to be simple, to seek simplicity as a believer, then seek it in Christ. Seek to simply rely on His word and to wisely seek Him in prayer. Jesus, when the crowds pressed in, when His enemies’ plotting grew deadly, or when the weary miles of life wore Him down, would retreat to simple solitude to seek His Father in prayer:
15 However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. 16 So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.–Luke 5:15-16
It is often in simple solitude or when the voices of others clamoring at you are dimmed that you can simply be with your Father. Like the words of the song In Stillness and Simplicity by Michael Card:
In stillness and simplicity
In the silence of the heart I see
The mystery of eternity
Who lives in side of me
In stillness and simplicity
I hear the Spirit's silent plea
That You, O Lord, are close to me
In stillness and simplicity –Michael Card, "In Stillness and Simplicity"
Dame Folly sits and calls for you to be her simple-minded fool, another follower of the crowd or one unchallenged by difficult thought or decision. Seek instead, the voice of Jesus, as heard through Lady Wisdom, to turn and follow Him on the path of victory that He has already laid.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.