I have a problem with being willing to spend money…at least when it is on things I don’t deem necessary. I also have a knack for finding free things and making them ‘fit’ whatever gap I am trying to fill. I have a never ending list of stories about fun things I’ve found over the years and ‘projects’ I have finished for pennies on the dollar. I want to tell you the story of how Jesus is redeeming my cheap attitude, some of the lessons I’ve learned and how I believe He wants to use it in my life in the future.
For as long as I can remember I’ve kept the strangest things and used them to accomplish tasks around the house. I don’t horde, at least I don’t mind throwing things away. I do keep a lot of stuff, though. I also pick up a lot of things. I can find 2×4’s and all types of car parts on the side of the road. I love Goodwill and similar such stores and wear their wares on almost a daily basis. When Laura and I were first married, I did all the shopping. We never enjoyed a static diet because I would only buy what was on sale, and only at discount stores at that! I’ve always driven older cars (very old) and supplied them with parts that I source cheaply. We live in an old house largely furnished with pieces I’ve found cheap or free. This is supposed to be a confession and part of it is for me to say I take pride in my cheap lifestyle. Enter the purpose of this article.
There is a time when cheap crosses the line to scrooge. It is too easy for me to take and very difficult for me to give. This is called greed. It is hard for me to spend money on most anything. I have an attitude that is always looking for a deal and this can be a serious handicap when it comes to my reputation and the Gospel. I can easily gain the reputation of a mule trader or a deal maker. This kind of reputation can supersede the name of sacrificial servant if I am not careful. Part of my cheap-ness is my personality and can be fun. Another part of it can be sin. Cheating and cheap are closely related. When I get a deal at the cost of a relationship, it is sin. When I refuse to pay for what I should in order to save a few dollars, it is sin. When I hedge on generosity in order to save, it is sin. I can be cheap, but I must not allow it to speak louder than God’s Spirit or the voice of His Word in my life.
Paul talked about this in his letter to the Church at Philippi. He says in chapter 3 verses 7-9, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” He says his worth is found in Christ, not in all of the things he’s collected or accomplished. His goal is to gain Christ and be found in him. In order to accomplish his goal, he counts all things he’s accumulated as trash as compared with Jesus. Jesus is the only ‘prize’ that matters. No certificate, family name, or in my case found object is even close to the value Jesus brings to our lives. When we boast about what we’ve become or accomplished, the only boast that counts is the one that is found in Jesus.
I have to be very careful with my cheap personality. Sometimes it can be fun to source and restore an old car or piece of furniture. Sometimes there can be joy in cheap fun. But sometimes, when it comes at the cost of something greater, we should spend, give or share the money and go on down the road.
I believe this is what Jesus is talking about in his conversation with the rich young ruler. Mark tells us he looked at the man and loved him. I don’t believe he told him to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor to ostracize him or make him mad. I believe Jesus saw that money had gripped his heart. His money, or ability to do whatever he wanted whenever he pleased, was keeping him from submitting to Jesus as Lord. Money was his god and he had to surrender it. Immediately following his conversation with the young man, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!”
We all know money isn’t a requirement for Heaven. We can’t buy our way in. But it can keep us out. At the root of my cheapness is a desire to make and keep as much money as possible. For me, repentance is giving away as much and as often as possible. I have a hunch that if your struggle is similar to mine, your repentance will resemble mine as well.
We Americans are known for our stuff. If this is a big enough deal for Jesus to address it as often as He did, let’s not just assume that it won’t be a problem for us, too. What does it look like for you to set aside your stuff for the sake of the Gospel? Maybe we need to have a big garage sale where everything is marked “Free!”