During dinner at a local pizza restaurant, my mom sent me to order an extra salad and drink. I was 14 at the time. The man at the counter filled up a bowl of salad and set the drink on a tray. I gave him the money and was on my way. Money transactions always made me a little nervous, but I was proud of myself for having successfully completed the mission. When I returned to our table, I noticed I hadn’t paid for the drink. The receipt only listed a salad. Instinctively, I returned to the counter and explained to the man that I still owed him some change.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”
But it wasn’t okay to me. I wanted to do the right thing.
“I’m serious,” I said. The guy seemed surprised that I was insisting on paying the extra dollar or two when presented with the chance for a free drink. My parents had always taught my brothers and me the importance of honesty and integrity. For example, penny on the floor of a grocery store wasn’t the same as a penny in the parking lot. A grocery store is private property, so the penny should be turned in at the cashier.
My friends thought we were over-the-top. Who does that? Who returns a measly penny to the register? Anyone could have dropped it, right? One time, I was out with a friend’s family. There was a mix-up in the exchange of money at a fast-food restaurant, and we ended up with six burritos when we had paid for only five. One of the kids noticed the discrepancy on the receipt.
“Hey, awesome; free food!” was the response of everyone in the family.
I was shocked. It’s not “free food.” The business had paid for it. There’s no such thing as “free” anything. Over the years, it’s become abundantly clear that few people view the world the way I was taught to. But as Christians, are we not called to have that high standard? How can we say we believe in God and love and holiness and goodness for all if we don’t even bother to consider the subtle, yet serious difference one burrito could make in society? Even more important than the possible economic impact of such selfishness is the impact it has on one’s soul.
A little dishonestly here, a little entitlement there, and pretty soon we think the whole world owes us something.
Throughout Ephesians 4 and 5, Christians are commanded to “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes (4:23),” to “not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live (4:30),” to “imitate God, therefore, in everything you do (5:1),” and to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord (5:10).”
Pocketing a stray penny, downloading a song or two illegally, and letting out the occasional bit of gossip… those are okay things to do, right? Not if we’re letting God renew our thoughts and attitudes. What pleases the Lord, anyway?
“We urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you…. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, not anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” (I Thessalonians 4:1,7-8)
If we are holy, we are choosing to be separate from the world; and being separate from the world means loving, following, and obeying the God Who created the world. What joy it is to be under His command!
Does God have too many rules? Does He seem to be controlling and mean? Is it ridiculous to refuse to accept something for which you haven’t paid?
I’ve thought back on the situation in the restaurant many times. My desire to pay for the beverage came from my raising. I won’t deny that. But I realize now that my raising wasn’t just a result of my parents’ opinions on the way to live. Suppose the guy behind the counter was somehow changed? Suppose we all made an effort to live lives so radically honest, so beautifully giving and pure that people actually were influenced for the better. After all, “our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.” (I Thessalonians 2:4)