I was at the mall today wandering through hoping to happen upon a bargain. I hate paying full price for clothes, to the point where it’s almost like a pet peeve of mine. I’ve generally found that shopping for clothes is either a highly rewarding experience, or highly disappointing. This is because it takes a fair amount of time to sort through the endless droves of not-quites to find the handful of just-rights buried in the deluge of fabrics, styles & prices. For me, at least, finding the “just-rights” entails more than a good fit; I also want something that suits my sense of style, preferences for color, material, cut, & other minutia (like where the pockets are located, or if there even are pockets), in addition to finding the item either on sale or with a hefty discount coupon I am toting due to a recent spam mailing from that particular vendor.
Today, I had not found any such treasures and retreated to the food court to regroup over some kind of tasty dish that my arteries will frown upon. As I entered the maze of tables approaching the wall of artery-offending vendors, I was immediately assailed by a woman working for a bistro that sells Asian-something cuisine.
“Free sample! You come try!” she half yells from well over 40 feet away.
I instinctively look down, attempting to avoid eye contact even though I know she’s staring right at me.
“You like! I promise!” she retorts, unaffected by my attempt to sever the line of communication.
As I walk away, with the lingering sense of many Asians eyes staring intently, even demandingly at my back, I refocus on the fact that I am actually hungry and need to find food of some kind to abate the nagging gnaw in my stomach.
I realize that I actually do want some Asian cuisine which leads me to walk across the entire food court to the far side where another Asian bistro resides. Here, no loud attempt at force-feeding me samples occurs, just the scrumptious smell of tasty dishes wafts up from the heated trays beckoning me to come discover their delight.
What I ultimately realized was happening at the the first Asian bistro is that their offer towards something free wasn’t actually free; it was a sales pitch masked under the guise of something free. This is what I found so repulsive, the disingenuous offer of something free when in fact it was being forced upon me to create a sense of obligation to buy.
Ironically, this is exactly what we do with the gospel. We Christians take God’s message of “good news” (which is what the word gospel means) and we offer it to people under the guise of something free but really all the while trying to create a sense of obligation to buy. What makes it so subtle though is that the obligation isn’t to buy a material good, but rather something intangible and far more powerful – a belief. How many of us have felt this way when having someone approach us to hand out a tract? We instinctively sense that the person isn’t there to really give us something free, but rather is trying to get us to buy into a belief.
Contrast this with Jesus. When he gives, there is no string attached. Take for example Luke 22:50-51 which says “And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” Here Malchus is coming to arrest Jesus along with the high priests. Peter cuts his ear off in an ill-conceived attempt to protect Jesus. Jesus then heals him – no strings attached. You don’t see Jesus saying “Now Malchus, if you weren’t on the wrong team coming here to arrest me then this might not have happened to you. I’ll tell you what, I’ll heal you if you change teams.” Nor does Jesus throw a sales pitch at Malchus after he heals him like “Hey Malchus, now that you’ve seen how awesome I am, make sure to pray a prayer to go to heaven.” Rather, Jesus just gives to Malchus – no string attached – and leaves it at that.
There is something so stunningly beautiful about the way Jesus gives because it captures the very essence of love. In the original Hebrew, the word for “love” is ahava. The root word there is hav which means “to give”. If you place the modifiers back on it the meaning gets changed to “I give”. So in the Hebrew mind, to say that “God is love” is really to say “God is someone who gives of himself”. That has beauty to it – giving of oneself solely for the purpose of giving.
What a far cry from the purportedly “free” item I was offered today.
Perhaps you too have found yourself in a situation where someone claims to be giving to you but something just feels off with it – you leave feeling uncomfortable, used, or manipulated. In such situations, perhaps thinking through the following question will be of help:
“What are you selling?”