No Free Lunch
It seems to me that people are always poking fun at economists. It is said that on one occasion President Harry Truman asked his advisors to find him a one-armed economist. When they asked him why he wanted a one-armed economist, he said it was because he was looking for an economist who couldn’t say: “Now on the one hand it may be this way, but on the other hand, it may be that way.”
George Bernard Shaw once said: “If you took all the economists in the world and laid them end to end, they would not reach a conclusion!” Yes, people are always poking fun at economists. I do not wish to poke fun at them. Frankly, I am grateful for them. Those who give themselves to the study of economic matters have produced for us a series of great economics principles—principles which are vital to our way of living—principles which govern our life together as a society—principles which even govern our lives as individuals. Yes, those economic principles are invaluable to us. To make the point, I want to hold up before you today one such economic principle. It is a principle which is best summarized in a statement frequently uttered by economists. That statement is this: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” In other words, nothing ever comes for nothing in this life. Nothing ever comes to us at any point along the way for nothing. There is always a cost and that cost must always be paid. Sooner or later, in one way or another, the cost must be paid. That is a great economic principle. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Long, long ago, Paul sat down and wrote his second letter to the Corinthians. I believe he addressed that same economic principle. Understand, please, that Paul was very much concerned about the church in Jerusalem. That church was struggling for its existence. So Paul sent letters to the young churches he had helped to establish in various parts of the then-known world. He encouraged his sisters and brothers in those churches to make a financial commitment to the church at Jerusalem. Paul put the matter quite bluntly; but then, he always did. He said: “The point is this, he who sows sparingly, will reap sparingly, but he who sows bountifully, will reap bountifully.” In other words, nothing ever comes for nothing in this life. There is always a cost that has to be paid. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
I am convinced that this incident recorded for us in II Corinthians exactly parallels where we are and what is happening to us here at the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. I’ll show you what I mean…
First, Paul believed that he was called to build up the Church at Jerusalem.
To be sure, Paul’s witness was directed to the world. His goal in life was to take the Gospel and the Church to the farthest reaches of the earth. But Paul recognized that that larger mission of the Church would only be as strong as the local church, particularly the home church at Jerusalem. It was from that base that the Gospel could be spread, and so Paul felt called to do whatever he could to build up the Church at Jerusalem.
I understand how Paul felt. You see, for nearly seven years now, my consuming call from Jesus Christ has been to build up this church. I have a vision for impacting this city and our nation and even our world for the sake of Jesus Christ, yes, but I am very much aware that such visions depend upon the strength of this church. That is why God will never let me rest until we have built in this place a church so strong, so dynamic, so faithful, and so committed that this church shall become a beacon of the Gospel, shining to the city, to our nation, and yes, even to the far reaches of this world.
For these last years we have moved ahead in pursuit of that goal, step by costly step, securing the property on this entire city block so that this church will never be forced to move from the heart of the city. All of that has been but preparation—preparation for fantastic dreams yet to be fulfilled. The last step in preparation was the purchase of the property immediately adjacent to this sanctuary—property which we now know as Carolyn Wine Hall.
Some people have asked why we took that step. Two reasons. One reason is that we desperately need space for the dramatically increasing ministry of this great church. In just one example, our Counseling Center is in great demand. We have three counselors working full-time. We need two more immediately. We have no space for them. We are going to move the Counseling Center to Carolyn Wine Hall, and probably the Gathering ministry as well. As a result of those moves, which will allow growth for those two ministries, we will free up badly needed Sunday School classrooms to relieve some of our overcrowding.
Secondly, the additional property will allow us someday to expand this sanctuary. Let me tell you my dream. This sanctuary is a magnificently beautiful place. More than that, it is a spiritual reservoir for thousands of Christians. I love this place. Week after week, I pour out my life’s blood from this pulpit. As long as I am your minister, we will never tear this building down. I will never permit us to destroy its exquisite beauty, or to obliterate its spiritual power. However, we are outgrowing it. So let me tell you what I want us to do. I want us to move the side walls straight out, creating more space under this roof. I want us to place an additional section of pews on either side of the main floor so that we have five sections of pews rather than three. With the side walls moved out, I want us then to wrap the balcony around three sides of this sanctuary. And I want us to move the pulpit to the center, so that all worshippers here can see and so that the pulpit and the stained glass window become the focal points. Here’s what will then happen. It will increase our seating by more than a thousand. It will make this room even warmer and more intimate and more people-centered than it is now. And it will retain the outward appearance, the beauty, the integrity, the ambience, and the sanctity of this magnificent structure built to the glory of God. That is why having the property adjacent to this sanctuary is so important.
Paul called the Christians in all of his churches to help build up the Church at Jerusalem. I have been called by Jesus Christ to build up this church, and I call you, my sisters and brothers in the faith, to join me in that great venture. But, you see, nothing ever comes for nothing in this life. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Secondly, Paul knew that there would be some who would not want to pay the price.
Paul knew that there always would be those people who are looking for a free lunch, those people who try to shift the responsibility, those people who won’t shoulder their share of the load. The same thing is true now.
Some people try to get a free lunch by trying to get yesterday to pay their bills. Did you hear about the boy in college who sent a telegram home to his father and said: “Dear One, no mon, send some, your son.” The father immediately sent back a wire which said: “Dear Lad, too bad, I’m sad, your Dad.” Well, letting those who came before us pick up the tab for what we enjoy is like trying to get yesterday to pay the bill. And there are those here who suggest that we ought to be content with the buildings which have been handed down to us. They are built. They are beautiful. And they are paid for. We do not need to expand. We don’t need to grow anymore. Well, tell that to God. Don’t you understand that He is the One leading all these people here? Don’t you realize that He is blessing us because we are staying where we are supposed to be and we are doing what we are supposed to do? Read the mail we get from “The Certain Sound” telecast and the TV spots. Talk to the more than 300 visitors who come to this church each Sunday. Talk to our new members. Do you know that some of them are traveling 30-40 miles in order to get to church here? Talk to all of the groups who meet here and who couldn’t function downtown without us. My friends, it won’t work to say that we want to pay our bills by passing them off to yesterday.
Other people say that we ought to pay our bills by passing them off to tomorrow. That is, we ought to just take out big mortgages and let our children and grandchildren pay for them sometime in the future. The most awful illustration of that, of course, is our own national government. We are borrowing money to spend now and pay back later, but it must be paid back. There is no such thing as a free lunch. But as a nation we are spending the money of our
Children—and that is wrong—and we know it. It is just as wrong to do that in the church.
Then there are people who try to pass the bill off to the others around them. They wait for their friends to give. They enjoy all the benefits but give nothing themselves. That is greed—pure and simple—unless, those individuals are giving significantly to some other Christian cause. Paul says that people are free in their own conscience to be led to give where they wish to give. I am calling us to give to the Carolyn Wine Hall Campaign of this church. However, if for some reason you do not wish to give to that particular cause, fine, but I want to suggest that you need to give to some other Christian cause engaged in building the kingdom of God on this earth. It is like it was in the Dark Ages. There were a lot of soldiers, mercenaries, who wanted to become Christians. But when they would go down into the water to be immersed, they would keep the sword hand up out of the water. That was so that after they had been baptized, they could still take up their bloody weapons without having to deal with their consciences or with the Lord. There are some people just like that now. People who want to dedicate all that they have to the Lord, people who want to baptise everything in their lives unto the Lord, except their checks and their wallets.
Paul says: “As you give, so will you receive.” Give a little, get a little. That is the principle. It is very simple. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You just can’t pass it off to yesterday or to tomorrow or to others.
Then Paul declared that those who don’t pay the price miss some wonderful blessings.
He says that they miss the chance of growing in their faith. When Paul spoke here about sowing and reaping, I am sure he was referring back to the verse in Ecclesiastes 1 which said: “Cast your bread upon the waters and it will return to you seven-fold after many days.” That verse came out of Egypt and the Nile River. Where the Nile is in Egypt, the land is fertile. Where the Nile is not, the land is desert. Now in the springtime when it is time to sow your seeds, the Nile floods and inundates the land. So what does the successful farmer do? He gets in his boat and goes out on the water and throws his seed into the water. It looks like an act of foolishness—this casting his bread, his seed on the water. But what happens is that the seed soaks up the water and settles to the bottom. As the water recedes from the flood, the seed is sucked down into the moist, fertile mud and begins to grow. Therefore, when you risk throwing your seed into the water, you gain a glorious harvest. So Paul is saying that when we give, even at some risk, then we are going to experience a tremendous growth in our faith and we are going to receive the wonderful blessing of God in our lives.
So many people miss out on the blessing, and it is such a shame. I heard about a fellow who was a book collector, and he went one day to visit a friend. The friend said: “Too bad you didn’t come yesterday. I found an old Bible up in the attic but I threw it out. It was printed by some guy named “Guten-something-or-other.’ ” The collector cried: “You’re crazy! That was a Gutenberg Bible, one of the first books ever printed. It was probably worth a half-million dollars!” The friend said: “Nah! I probably wouldn’t have gotten a dime for mine. Somebody named Martin Luther had written all over it!” Well, a lot of people miss out on the joy of their own value to God.
They give only a thimble-full of themselves to God, and consequently, they get only a drop of God in return. Paul says here in II Corinthians: “God will provide you with His blessing in abundance…your life will be enriched in every way for your great generosity.”
It is like the well-known minister who was vacationing with his young son at a cabin in the north woods. One day a man came to the cabin and said to this minister: “We have a little church down the road, and we are without a preacher. We wondered if you would come and preach for us this Sunday.” The minister agreed to do it. The next Sunday, he and his little boy arrived at the church and went in. Just inside the door was a wooden box with a slot in the top. The minister quickly pulled a dollar bill out of his wallet and dropped it in the box. The congregation numbered just 14, but the minister gave them a wonderful sermon. After the service, when the minister and his little boy were preparing to leave, the host said to the minister: “Our people are poor, so we don’t take an offering. We just ask them to drop something in the box at the door. Whatever is in the box is yours.” They turned the box over and out fell a one dollar bill. That was all. The minister’s little boy said: “Daddy, if you had put more into it, you would have gotten more out of it!”
Translated, that means that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Or as Paul put it: “As you sow, so shall you reap.” And what else did Paul say?
“God loves a cheerful giver.”