Eliminating the Unessential

by Chip Brogden

Let me define essential as we consider the 7 Essential Teachings of Jesus. I do not want you to misunderstand essential to mean important, and everything else unimportant.

Everything that Jesus says is important. And everything that Jesus says is anointed and is Life. You do not want to minimize anything that Jesus teaches or says by misunderstanding the word essential.In Matthew 22 the religious folks are coming to Jesus and trying to ask Him doctrinal questions and religious questions. He answers their questions and they do not know what to do. They do not know what to say. It says the multitudes heard Him and they were astonished at His teaching. Then comes a “lawyer” – not an attorney as you would think, but a teacher of the Law of Moses. He is a “religious lawyer,” so to speak.

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 22:34-40)

Consider the word essential. What does it mean, and why is it necessary? Why are we talking about the 7 Essential Teachings of Jesus? The main reason is that I believe Christianity got off track and actually became “Churchianity”: a Church-centered faith instead of a Christ-centered faith. How did that happen? Because we have complicated the simplicity of Christ.

This is why Paul was warning the Corinthians. It is very easy for us to make things religious and complicated. In the process, Paul says, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”[1] This is why we talk about a Christ-centered faith, based on Relationship and motivated by Love; not a Church-centered faith, based on Religion and motivated by Legalism. Legalism and Religion tend to be very complex and very complicated. On the other hand, Love is very simple. And “the simplicity of Christ,” the simplicity of a Christ-centered faith based on Relationship, is very simple. Indeed, what happens is Religion comes in, gets a foothold, and then takes over. Then we find ourselves led astray from the simplicity of Christ.

And who does this? We do it to ourselves, but it is the devil who “deceives the world”[2] and leads us astray. Remember, Paul, to the Corinthians, says, “I am concerned for you, that just as Eve was beguiled by the serpent…” That is what happened when the simplicity of a Christ-centered faith got off track and became a Church-centered faith based on Religion instead of Relationship. I feel that a big part of what I am called to do is to help us to go back to the simplicity of Christ, back to the essentials.

Now, the essentials are about the basics, the fundamentals. We can define essential as the basic, indispensable, or necessary elements; the chief points, the main things. To be consistent with the simplicity of Christ, it means that we preach Jesus. “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”[3] That is a fundamental, basic, indispensable point. Whatever we are teaching or preaching or learning, it must be Christ-centered. That is essential to a Christ-centered faith.

Essentials are about the basics. Other things are nice to have, but not absolutely critical to have. Not indispensable. If you really consider it, most of Religion is based on unnecessary elements. They are dispensable. They are not important (except in the mind of the people who tend to make them important). We must keep in mind the basic essentials, the things that are fundamental, the things that you cannot do without – such as a Christ-centered faith with Christ being the center. Why? Because Christ is the center of God’s Purpose and Plan and Will, the center of the Kingdom of God. Our relationship is to be based on Christ, not based on Church, not even on fellowship with one another. Again, nice to have; but not absolutely essential to have. It is nice to have fellowship, sure; but not absolutely indispensable.

John was alone on the Isle of Patmos. He did not have fellowship with other believers, but he had Christ in the midst of his suffering and in the midst of his exile there. Paul in prison had some fellowship, but he was not able to travel and do the other things he wanted to do. A lot of things that we think are essential are really not essential. They are just nice to have. They are not things that we cannot live without.

There is a correlation to the economy as well, to the standard of living that we have become accustomed to. When things are going well in our life, when the economy is good, and when we have money, we have a job, and we have income, we tend to raise our standard of living. We tend to enjoy ourselves and maybe spend more than we should; but the economy supports it, and our personal finances allow us to spend money on things that are not absolutely necessary, but nice to have. We go on a vacation, subscribe to particular channels on television, go out to eat, do different things, have different things. But here is the point: When things are economically depressed or in a recessionary or inflationary situation, or when you lose your job, all of a sudden you start thinking, “How can I cut back? How can I spend less?” You begin to focus on the essentials. It is not essential that we take a vacation. So, we put that off. It is not essential that we buy a second car, and so we put off that purchase. It is not essential that we go out to eat every week, so we spend that money on groceries instead. We are forced to simplify our finances and to make things less complicated, less complex, and just get back to the basics. You make sure your house payment is made, or your rent payment. Make sure you have groceries, make sure you have gas in the car, etc.

Spiritually speaking, I think that we are (and that we have been) in the same situation. It is a spiritual recession, a spiritual depression, a spiritual inflation! And Religion has created this spiritual depression. It has created this recession in the economy of the Kingdom of God, and we can no longer afford to get lost in the weeds. We cannot afford to invest time, money, energy, or thought into things that are not absolutely essential to a Christ-centered faith.

There are a lot of things that we can have opinions and doctrines and teachings about. We can create denominations and entire groups around a certain thing that is not essential. What are the basic, the indispensable, the necessary, the chief points?

Generally speaking, my view of spiritual reality is that we have erred because we have been led astray from the simplicity of Christ. The way back is to strip away those non-essentials and get back to the things that are important. Get back to the things that are basic and fundamental and simple. And get those things in place first before we branch off into these other elements.

When it comes to teaching, we know that Jesus is the Master Teacher. With any teaching, or with any form of communication, you stand a better chance of success if you simplify your message. If your message is complex and complicated it will be difficult to understand, and therefore it will have little impact. That is true of any communication, true of any teaching. To have any kind of influence with people you have to make things simple. It is not that people are dumb, it is just that they are overwhelmed. Too much information, too many inputs, too many opinions, too many voices, too many books, too many sermons. These all tend to make things very complex, very complicated. And this is why people get stressed out. They do not know what to do. It is necessary to bring things down to a very simple and basic level.

People who are striving for something more “advanced,” something more complex, or something deeper, delude themselves to think that spiritual growth is about adding to what they already know. And really the opposite is the case…

Spiritual growth is not
adding to what you already know;
it is eliminating the unessential.

Spiritual growth is getting rid of things that you do not need so you can focus on the things that are vital and important.

Remember when Jesus spoke to Martha and to Mary? Martha complained about Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha! You are concerned, vexed, troubled, stressed out, worried over many things; but only one thing is needed.”[4] I am discussing 7 Essential Teachings of Jesus, and Jesus says only one thing is needed! He reduces it all the way down to one thing! And basically, that one thing is Christ Himself. That is what it is all about. The simplicity of Christ is your personal relationship with Him, which is based on a love relationship. It does not get any simpler than that.

Jesus, the Master Teacher, is trying to cut through the complexity of Religion, trying to get through to all the Marthas of this world who are worried and troubled and vexed and concerned over many things when only one thing is needed. He is trying to convey this with different examples and provide the essential truths. The story of Mary and Martha is one example of simplicity.

Matthew 22 (what we just read) gives us another example. Here are the Pharisees, the experts in the Law. There are 613 commandments that they have to keep up with, 613 mitzvot, the commandments that make up the Law of Moses. They are trying to keep track of 613 commandments, and they ask Jesus, tempting Him (or testing Him), “Which is the greatest out of 613?” And Jesus says, “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind; this is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second one is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.” And then He says, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” In other words: “Here is what is essential, Pharisees! Not the 613 mitzvot, but two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. And if you will fulfill those two things, you will have fulfilled all the Law and all the Prophets.”

You see? They rejected that because they made the mistake of thinking that there must be more to it than that! “We are responsible for 613 mitzvot!”  Jesus says, “No; on the contrary, the more you try to focus on the 613, the more likely it is that you will be led astray from the simplicity of the two greatest commandments! Love God, and love your neighbor. The rest will take care of itself.”

We need to get away from all that other stuff, away from the complexity of Religion, and get down to these basic truths. And that is what I am striving to do here with the 7 Essential Teachings of Jesus. The problem with the Pharisees – and the same problem with all religious folks – is they neglect the essentials. They focus on the non-essentials. They forget the most important things and they make mountains out of molehills; or, as Jesus said, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel”[5] and “You see the speck in your brother’s eye and overlook the log in your own eye.”[6] They take something that is not important, and they make that the supreme thing that they want to talk about, argue over, and defend. But it is a manifestation of Religion to make things more complicated than they should be. All of this distracts us from the simplicity of Christ. This is why the Pharisees could not understand or accept what Jesus was telling them. They neglected the essentials and they focused on the non-essentials.

Let me give you another example. We call it “majoring in the minors.” And this is Jesus speaking in Matthew 23:23. He says, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithes of mint and anise and cumin…” They are tithing on their spices, on their seasonings! “I’m giving a tenth of my salt to the Lord! I’m giving a tenth of my mint to the Lord!” Do you have salt and pepper? You need to give 10% of that salt and pepper to the Lord! And 10% of all of your canned goods, too? I do not know. But it is so ridiculous! Jesus says, “You pay tithe of mint and annis and cumin. And while you’re tithing on your seasonings, you have neglected the weightier matters of the Law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone.”

In their focus on the stupid little details they overlooked what Jesus calls the weightier matters, the essential things that are indispensable. God does not care if you pay a tithe on your seasonings. What He cares about is that you exercise justice and mercy and faith! This is where religious people get off track. They want to focus on tithes, external appearances, what they can or cannot do, and then that becomes what you should and should not do. They are focusing on all the wrong things. They forget about the weightier matters of the Law, the essential elements of a Christ-centered faith, to the point that we do not have a Christ-centered faith anymore. In Organized Religion we have a Church-centered faith.

[1] 2 Cor. 11:3.

[2] Rev. 12:9.

[3] Col. 1:28.

[4] Lk. 10:41, 42.

[5] Mt. 23:24.

[6] Mt. 7:3-5.

About the Author

CHIP BROGDEN is a best-selling author, teacher, and former pastor. His writings and teachings reach more than 135 nations with a simple, consistent, Christ-centered message focusing on relationship, not religion. Learn more »


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