Free. It’s a word everyone loves to hear. From “buy one, get one free” specials at a supermarket, to the ads that play on our TV and computer screens, the claim that something is ‘free‘ often draws us in.

However, economist Anne Bradley says the concept of ‘free stuff’ doesn’t reflect reality.

“What economics tells us is that nothing is really ever free. Even if it doesn’t have a price, we still have to use our time to go get it or to make it. What that implies for stewardship is that we have to really count the cost of every single decision that we make.”

“We want things to be free so badly because, deep down, we know that it really isn’t… we live in a world of scarcity. I think the danger or trap is that if we start thinking that things are free, then we start being more reckless about our consumption of them and the time that we dedicate to them.”

This intersects with the notion of good stewardship, or the process of wisely managing the resources God has entrusted to our care. That includes not just our money, but our time and energy.

“From a biblical perspective, we know that God has given us each day as a gift, and every part of that day matters to him. That doesn’t mean you can’t check in on Facebook, or go do things that are very fun, that’s part of life and part of what God wants for us. But if we spend all of our time doing just the fun things or avoiding work, then I think we’re not doing what God has called us to do.”

Another principle of good stewardship is investing our gifts in such a way that we create an increase.

“We have to be very mindful of our resources…because we are asked to use our talents (that God has given us) to create more than what we were born into. This is why we spend a lot of time reading, learning, building our skills/techniques, all of that is for a reason.  I think it’s a misnomer or mistake, particularly in Christian circles, to think that none of the work we do here matters–if I’m an accountant, or software engineer, or a janitor, I’m just kind of trying to make money for my family and when I go to heaven, none of this is ever going to have mattered.  That’s not true.”

“We’re created in God’s image. He’s a master Creator, we’re sub-creators, and all the work that He’s called us to has a purpose…That is very empowering and exciting, but it puts big demands on us: we are to do everything with integrity and excellence and know that it matters to God and don’t squander our time our talents.”

Anne Bradley is the Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, where she develops and commissions research toward a systematic biblical theology of economic freedom.

Stewardship and no free lunch with Anne Bradley