This post is Part 4 in a 6-part blog series on Minimalism and Faith. (If you missed the first post, you can find it here.) Values are the things that are most important to us. They are important because they guide our actions. In this way, values are intimately connected with our actions and behaviors. If you know a person’s values, you know what to expect from them.
The values of Christians are all over the place. In the U.S. today, sometimes it seems like a person’s political values (e.g., liberal or conservative) are a stronger predictor of their actual behavior than their religious values. You can attend a conservative church one Sunday, and a liberal church the next Sunday, and it can be tough to see much common ground.
There’s also an undercurrent of American cultural values that seem to overshadow religious values. For example, individualism has become rampant in American society over the past several decades. Fifty years ago, we joined bowling leagues; now, we go bowling alone. Social media has increased our superficial sense of connectedness, but decreased our ability to develop deep, heart-level connections with other people. And there’s an underlying value of materialism and the “American dream.” Bigger is better. How much is enough? Just a little more.
The More Important Matters
In this increasingly cluttered map of values in the United States, what should our values be as Christians? Does Jesus offer any guide? In one passage where Jesus confronts the Pharisees, he describes his most important values clearly: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).
Justice, mercy, and faithfulness. I think these three values do a good job of summarizing what Jesus was all about.
Justice. Justice was important to the heart of God, and we see a focus on justice throughout the Old Testament, the life and teachings of Jesus, and in the early church. Justice involves giving people equal opportunity and fair treatment, irrespective of how they look or their cultural background. Justice is especially important for those who are less fortunate and can’t stick up for themselves.
Mercy. Mercy is a core characteristic of who God is, and we see this embodied in the life of Jesus. Jesus didn’t treat others as they deserved to be treated; instead, he gave love and forgiveness freely, even to the point of laying down his own life. The core Christian message is that we don’t have to be judged according to our sinful actions; instead we are freely loved and forgiven by God.
Faithfulness. God sticks with us. We first see this in the Old Testament, in God’s covenant with the nation of Israel. Even though the Israelites struggled to obey God, God is faithful, sticking with them through the ups and downs. In the same way, God is faithful to us today, promising to never leave us nor forsake us.
Values are important because they guide our behavior. Our values are the guiding principles for how we organize and run our life. Whenever we have to make a decision, big or small, we can go back to our values, and check how our proposed course of action lines up (or doesn’t). We choose our values, and it is perhaps the most important decision we make. It’s a good idea to consider how our values line up with the values of Jesus.