As a boy I loved to trade baseball and football cards with my friends. We would meet on Saturday morning, go to the local supermarket, buy a few packs, open them up and then decide what we wanted to keep and what we wanted to trade. Of course, what you could get from your friends always depended on what you had. If I got a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card or Brett Favre special edition then I could get something in return. But if all I had was a lame 15 year veteran who had never really done much then I was stuck.
I was talking to a friend last week and we were discussing how we treat our wives and God and it became clear that even as grown men we still like to trade. But now instead of trading cards we are trading good deeds for good deeds. I will do this for you, if you will do this for me. We give so we can get. The more I thought about this the uglier it became. I realized that as Christians we often approach life like we are trading cards (or whatever girls traded when they were young). Here are some ways we do this:
I never traded a card if I did not think I was getting something better in return. Parents can adopt this same mindset. They do not give for the sake of the child, but for the sake of the parent. This can work a thousand different ways, but here are some examples. I bought you those clothes so now you must show me respect. I spent time playing a game with you, so now you should happily do your chores. I spent my time and money to educate you, so now you must get a job that I approve of. We can do this with spanking as well. Spanking can become a way of getting from the child instead of giving to the child. We are trading some swats for what we want. Now obviously all of these things, buying clothes, playing games, etc. are good things and we should do them. But there is often a spirit behind them that does not reflect the love of God towards us. The things we do become hooks in our child to bind them to us instead of training for our child to be free to follow God. The parents do not spend their life giving. They spend their life trading.
Spouses do the same thing in marriage. The wife cooks all day and thinks her husband should now be nice to her because of her labor in the kitchen. The husband treats his wife to a nice dinner on Friday night so he can watch football on Sunday afternoon. The wife submits to her husband in one easy area so she won’t have to in another more difficult area. The husband is kind in public so he can be a jerk in private. The possibilities are endless. Just like the parents the spouses here are trading, not giving.
Our Walk with God
And of course, we can do this with God as well. We barter with God. God if I pray every day then I expect my life to be easier. If I show up at church every week then I won’t get fired or fall into financial ruin. If I clean up my life then you will bring a wife/husband. If I read my Bible every day then I will not get cancer or my child won’t die in a car wreck. If I preach faithfully then my church will grow by leaps and bounds. If I start obeying here then I expect you to bless me over here. And on and on it goes. We are trading with God. We are not giving. We are treating God like a vending machine where if we put in so much time or obedience then he will dispense blessings.
We can do this with our fellow church members as well or for me I can do it with my flock.
One final point here: these trades are usually unspoken. We would never say I am playing with my child so they will do their chores well. Or I will be nice to my wife so she will let me spend some extra money next week. So the words are rarely spoken, but that doesn’t mean the trade is not happening.
Dangers with this Mindset
First, we begin to look at people based on what they can give us. You don’t trade with people who have nothing to offer. Unless the person has something worth trading they are of little value to us. At best we put up with them and at worse we totally reject them.
Second, we are frequently disappointed when God, our children, or our spouses do not deliver on their part of the trade. People who live this way are bitter because they thought they were trading for $50.00 rookie card and got a 2 cent card instead.
Third, we can assume that others are treating us the same way. We look at a kindness done to us and we assume the other person wants to trade with us. So we try to give back to them in some way. And this cuts out true thanksgiving. True thanksgiving comes when something is given, not when something is traded for.
Fourth, our children will learn to function this way. They will drink from our well and learn to be kind to those from whom they can get something in return.
Fifth, we misunderstand God’s grace in our lives. If we think that God is in the bartering business we are blind to our own sinfulness and God’s goodness to us. God was not kind to us because of what we could give back to him. We can offer him nothing that he does not already have.
Sixth, we obscure God’s grace to those around us. When we trade with those around us we are not treating them as God treats us. We are like a carnival mirror giving a distorted picture of who God really is.
Well there is the diagnosis. Tomorrow I will talk about obedience and blessing and will also suggest some ways to cure this particular disease.