Monday, June 20, 2011

Should We Sneer At Cow-Creamers? - The Bible on Bargaining

“Bad, bad,” says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts. (Proverbs 20:14)
At first glance this verse appears to be simply a statement of fact: this is the way bargaining works. But is there more to it than that? Proverbs is filled with factual statements, but in every instance the fact is accompanied by a moral - something that sheds new light on the things we regularly encounter in life.

Those of us who pinch pennies and enjoy purchasing things for the best possible price can probably identify with the tactics used by the buyer in this verse. As Dave Ramsey advises, don’t let your emotional attachment to the item become obvious to the seller; once they know you’ve “bought,” they have the upper hand, so your best bet is to maintain your distance (emotionally) and in no way communicate that you really, really want what they’re selling. You might even go so far as to “sneer at the cow-creamer,” to quote Wodehouse.

Another scenario: Susie has no idea what her piano is really worth. She put it up for sale with the motivation of finding a good home for the instrument and making a few bucks off the sale to help with her move. Are you obligated to tell her that the piano is really worth x and that her price is absurdly low? Or can you simply pay what she’s asking and leave in a good mood?

Matthew Henry made this comment about Proverbs 20:14:
Men use arts to get a good bargain, and to buy cheap; whereas a man ought to be ashamed of a fraud and a lie.

The Bible commends frugality many times over, but it also cautions us against some common pitfalls for those who pursue frugality with the wrong motivations.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have... (Hebrews 13:5a)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. (1 Timothy 6:10a)
As we saw in the example of Ananias and Sapphira, “the love of money” doesn’t always manifest itself in coveting what we don’t have, but also in selfishly hoarding what we do have. Be careful that you aren’t pursuing frugality out of an unbiblical love of money.

What We Can Learn From the World

On the other hand, there are some things which we can learn from the world about how to manage money and be shrewd with our resources. In Luke 16, Jesus relates the story of the dishonest manager. For the sake of brevity, I won’t include it here, but read it over and see if it doesn’t strike you as odd how “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:8a)

Christ clarifies the meaning of the parable to his disciples by noting that, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8b) Again, Matthew Henry offers some helpful commentary on this passage:
The lord referred to in this parable commended not the fraud, but the policy of the steward. In that respect alone is it so noticed. Worldly men, in the choice of their object, are foolish; but in their activity, and perseverance, they are often wiser than believers. The unjust steward is not set before us as an example in cheating his master, or to justify any dishonesty, but to point out the careful ways of worldly men. It would be well if the children of light would learn wisdom from the men of the world, and would as earnestly pursue their better object.

The true riches signify spiritual blessings; and if a man spends upon himself, or hoards up what God has trusted to him, as to outward things, what evidence can he have, that he is an heir of God through Christ?
In Conclusion

I’m convinced that the key to a Scriptural understanding of bargaining is the principle of “faithfulness.”
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (Luke 16:10)
One who is faithful will:
  • Make good use of the resources he is given by God, no matter how little or how much (Matthew 25:14-30)
  • Will keep himself free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Will not be afraid of money; it is the gift of God (2 Chronicles 1:11)
  • Will be afraid of the effects money can have (Luke 18:24)
  • Will not lie or defraud others in an attempt to keep more of his wealth
So, returning to the original verse from Proverbs, “‘Bad, bad,’ says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.”, what can we conclude?
  1. Be shrewd, but don’t lie.
  2. By all means, shop for deals!
  3. Make sure your motivations are in line with Scripture.
  4. Don’t be naive. Make sure the seller is asking a fair price (remember the sons of this world are often more shrewd than we are).
  5. Surrender your resources to Christ, and don’t hoard wealth.
  6. Seek spiritual riches first.

No comments: