EPHESIANS 13: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Church planting has taught me many faith lessons. One unexpected (yet delicious) lesson I have learned is how to accept a free lunch. Church planting meant two things. First, it was all about networking and that meant I was constantly having coffee or lunch with people sharing the vision, asking support and seeking partnerships. Second, when we started I had left my other job and was unemployed, and so I couldn’t really afford all these lunch and coffee meetings. Fortunately, most of the people I was meeting with understood my predicament and everyone was always picking up the bill.

In the past I had refused, insisted I pay or at least for my own. Or I’d say, “I’ll get it next time.” Yet, after a few years of planting and many more meals I have finally learned to just say, “Thank you for the meal.” This seemingly trivial story actually gets to the core of the gospel and one of the most important lessons every Christian must learn.

Are we able to receive a free gift that we didn’t earn and instead of insisting on paying it back just say, “Thank you”? 

We are allergic to grace. We always feel the need to somehow have a part in securing the goods we receive.

It’s all about pride and idolatry. We are too proud to beg and we worship at the altar of self-sufficiency. Humble dependency is the enemy.

By the way, I have noticed the more politically conservative you are, the tougher it probably is to learn this lesson. Conservatives despise a “free handout” more than most.

I have some sobering news for such a person: The gospel is the biggest free handout in the history of the world. You did nothing to earn it. In fact, you made a bunch of poor decisions, and those decisions have landed you in a place of spiritual destitution, and you have exhausted all your other options. You’re a spiritual beggar at the intersection of Grace St. and Faith Ave., holding a sign and just praying for the right Person to come along.

“A Christian is just one beggar telling other beggars where they found the bread of life.”

So, I have a new practice I’ve started when I’m eating out with others. First, if they offer to pick up the tab I happily oblige and just say “Thanks.” When I feel the impulse to object or fight over the bill, I remember that I am a Christian and Christians of all people on the planet should know how to accept a free gift without a fuss.

Secondly, when I offer to pick up the tab and they resist, or put up a fight, or insist on paying for their own, I take the next few minutes to remind them of the heart of the gospel. If I know the person well enough, I will get very blunt and simply say, “Look, if you cannot accept my offer of a free gift, you have not learned the most basic lesson of Christianity. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, you must learn how to humbly receive a free gift.”

It’s a powerful lesson they’ll probably never forget — more memorable than a hundred sermons on the topic. Now every time they are out with a coworker and the server asks, “Do you want this all on one check or separate checks?” they are suddenly thinking about the gospel of Jesus Christ, what Jesus would do, and how to both extend and receive a free gift without a fuss.

So, our scripture today reminds us that Christ purchased us far more than a free lunch, but it is not less than that either. So, if I can paraphrase for a moment:

“God purchased your salvation at a great price by his grace when you believed. And you can’t insist on picking up the tab yourself; it is a free lunch from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it”

Next time someone offers to buy you lunch, just smile, swallow your pride, remember your salvation, and just say, “Thank you very much!”

Have a great meal!

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