I love attending conferences and I don’t care how many people know it. Conferences get a bad wrap for a variety of reasons. The most substantial critique examines how they may fester the celebrity culture in Evangelicalism. Although speakers play some role into what conferences I attend, it has more to do with everyone else who attends. I attend for the relational fellowship. Because of that I prioritize meeting with people over teaching sessions sometimes.
I had missed a few of the Together for the Gospel sessions this year knowing I could catch them later on MP3 or video. I found out later that they would only be available for free for a limited time and then there would be a charge. Honestly, I grumbled. Looking back I regret that. We’re spoiled. With sites like Mongerism.com and DesiringGod.org giving away more content than I could consume in an entire lifetime we expect all of our digital content to be free.
Why can’t everything be free?
It’s a question I gave very little thought to until recently. Last fall I independently published my first book A Household Gospel. I’ve sold more than I expected, but less than I’d like (Writers can we be honest? We don’t write so that no one will read what we write. We work hard, write well, and put the best work out there so people will read and hopefully be helped. And God says that’s good).
Part of the wall I’ve hit is the expectation that the book (even the paperback) will be free or heavily, deeply discounted. I’ve not been a miser either. I’ve offered a very generous discount for churches who might like to buy more than a single copy. But when the discount offered doesn’t meet the expectation I rarely hear back.
So why can’t everything be free?
That’s something Christians should think hard about. I hope to help you do that and not so you will buy my book, but so you might find something or someone you can get behind and support. This year I’ve chosen to support a site I love Christ and Pop Culture. I'm a member for $5 a month. It’s a small investment, but it tells the people who work hard at CaPC that I value what they create and value their imago Dei. I also pay for Spotify monthly but also regularly purchase albums that are awesome. A simple way to tell those musicians their work is worthwhile. Without further ado: three reasons why everything can’t be free.
1. Nothing is free.
I know. I know. Cliché. Maybe. You may be thinking the gospel is free and yes in one sense it is free for us. But it cost Jesus his life. It cost perfect fellowship within the Trinity. I prefer calling the gospel a gracious gift, instead of a free gift.
So you may receive something that you don’t have to pay for, but somebody paid for it. Chances are the person who created it paid for it. They invested hours and hours of time in creating that whatever-it-is—the book, blog, food, or MP3. Or they are taking the hit by giving it away for free. In essence, you’re asking the creator to not only pay in the creative talents invested, but also to take the hit on the back end as well.
2. “Don’t muzzle the ox” (Deut. 25:4, 1 Tim. 5:18).
You may read through Deuteronomy and think Um yeah that’s great. Don’t muzzle the ox then Paul uses Deuteronomy 25:4 when reminding Timothy that those who work should be compensated accordingly. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever take a free sample or a free book. I review a lot of books here and many of them I receive for free, but I am returning something to the publishers who provided the books—a fair, honest review of the product and word of mouth marketing on social media.
I say that so you don’t think, “I will never take a free book,“ or “I will never let someone pay for my meal.” The Spirit gives us a principle here that we should be mindful of as we interact with each other. Our general mindset should be appreciation for the hard work of others and a heart of generosity and willingness to compensate for that hard work. Be thankful for the gracious gifts of others, and be gracious in valuing the work of others especially creative work.
3. Valuing the creations of image bearers glorifies God.
As we value the creation of image bearers, we are valuing God as the ultimate Creator and glorifying him. When our typically mindset is “Ugh they’re not giving away those conference MP3s away for free,” or “They declined my book review request. Geesh.” We’re saying what these image bearers have created doesn’t have value and is not worth glorifying God for.
Let’s rejoice with those who create awesome books, blogs, technology, tv, and music. Let’s do that with an eye to glorifying God for what has been created. One way we can do that is by understanding how common grace transforms everything in this world. That’s why we can enjoy books, music, movies, and technology created by non-Christians. Everything they create has God’s fingerprints all over it.
So find someone making something that’s awesome and pay for it. And when you pay for it, thank God for the image bearer reflecting him and glorify him for his creativity in creating people.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and a contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the assistant editor at CBMW Men’s Channel. He regularly writes for a variety of publications. Mathew offers freelance editing and book formatting.