I live in Huntsville, Alabama, in a $9,000 home on a decent-size corner lot in a simple little neighborhood. I would guess that it takes me almost an hour to mow my lawn. Often, neighbors will stop by my house and offer to do some work. I remember one particular day not long after I had bought the house. Someone knocked on my door and said they could really use some money. They would be willing to mow my lawn for 7, even 5 dollars. Could they mow my lawn?
So, what should I do? What would you do if it happened to you? Would you accept the offer or not? Why or why not? One of the influencers in the decision you will make is something you can’t really even see. It’s called “culture.” Culture, loosely speaking, is “how things are done around here.” This lawnmowing question impacts your money or assets, or economics. You live in a country that has an economic system—how money is made and earned, how goods and value are exchanged, how employment and markets work. In the U.S., that system has a name; it’s called capitalism. Again, it is a fancy word for “how money and employment and buying and selling work around here.”
Here is what is almost always true about our culture. We tend to think of “how we do things around here” as the normal way or the right way…every bit of it. So, we end up making a lot of decisions based simply on how things are done around here. Here is how capital and money and negotiation works. We don’t think twice.
We don’t think twice.
And that is a problem, at least for those of us who have decided to follow Jesus. Stay with me. When we choose to become followers of Him and entrust our very lives to him, we become part of the kingdom of Heaven. And in the kingdom of heaven, there is “a way things are done around here.” And the ways of God’s kingdom do not always fit the ways of our home country. This is what repeatedly got Jesus in trouble with religious and political leaders. The way he said things ought to be sometimes conflicted with the way things were done in that country in that time. The same is true today.
Let’s go back to my doorstep where a neighbor is offering to mow my lawn for $5. When he made his offer, here was my first thought. That’s awesome. You have to understand that I am a deal guy. Ask me about my eBay sales. Find a $75 drum, and sell it for $2,000. Awesome. Negotiate a really good price, the lower the better. Everything about this lawn offer is great. Someone is freely offering to mow my lawn for $5. Free enterprise. No coercion going on here. Just supply and demand, baby. I get my lawn mowed, and I get a killer deal. He gets some money, which he needs. That’s how markets work. Everyone wins.
My excitement fits everything I know about how money works around here. You look out for the deal that is best for you. By the way, a core tenant of capitalism is the motivation of self-interest. (The international monetary fund website list it as one of the pillars of capitalism.) We are highly motivated when something benefits us. So, of course, you look for a great deal for you. The market sets the price; this guy has established his market price. What more is there to think about? Fire up that lawnmower, and I’ll go get the $5.
We don’t think twice.
Oh, but followers of Jesus must think twice. The second thought must be: how are things done in the kingdom of heaven? So, how do money and negotiations work in the kingdom of heaven? Here are some thoughts from the Bible that God has brought to my mind:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:3-5, The Bible, NIV)
Jesus said that the second greatest command in all the Bible is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11, NIV)
Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. (Deuteronomy 24:14, NIV)
I had to think twice.
On “second thought,” I could not possibly hire that man for $5, because that’s not how it’s done in the kingdom of heaven. I cannot take advantage of desperate people. Only a desperate person will offer to mow my lawn for $5. God pressed into my heart the truth that desperate people are not truly free. They are forced to take the only option there is, if there is one at all. All across the world, people accept a pitiful wage because it is the only option they have…and the employer knows that, taking “advantage of the hired man who is poor and needy. Accepting $5 to mow my lawn fits free enterprise, but not fair enterprise. I cannot simply think free; I must think fair.
I am an online re-seller and I negotiate purchases all the time. It dawned on me that in every negotiation I engage, I am unconsciously assessing how “desperate” the seller is. The more desperate they are, the better deal I will get. I cannot, however, do that with vulnerable or desperate people. Sometimes, I am working with an estate sale company or a well-off person looking to unload some stuff. Their only desperation is to move stuff, to clear up space. The dollar amount means nothing to them. We both win. I’ll find my great deals there, but I cannot—as a follower of Jesus—find my great deals with the vulnerable and desperate. I have a new appreciation for the word “killer deal.” Someone else is getting killed in the deal. Tragically, I have in the past exploited the desperate. I can no longer do that.
The Bible never condemns self-interest. It’s natural to think about your needs and those of your family. The heart of our sin, however, is dominant self-interest. Jesus lived out just the opposite: dominant other-interest. I have to look into the eyes of the man wanting to mow my lawn and ask, “what does he need?” Not just: “what can I save?” How would I want to be treated if I were in his threadbare shoes?
I ended up giving him the killer deal. And we both won.