picking up the leftovers

Thrift implies being unwasteful. I find that it is very often helpful to study opposites when trying to understand a thing. Therefore, I decided to look into what it means to be wasteful. What does God have to say about being wasteful?

There are very few references in the Bible about wastefulness. The two that I found put wastefulness in a negative light. In Luke 15:13, the prodigal son is said to have “wasted his substance with riotous living.” (As we will see shortly, prodigal means wasteful!) Then, in Luke 16:1, Jesus begins a parable telling about a rich man whose steward is accused of “wasting his goods.”

To dig more deeply into God’s thinking about wastefulness, we will have to find some synonyms that may lead us to more Scriptural references about this topic.

I went to an online dictionary and found that wasteful means, “given to or characterized by useless consumption or expenditure.” Wow! This immediately brings to mind the Biblical word “gluttony.”  Gluttony doesn’t seem to be a popular word today, though, does it? (I’ll admit it makes me flinch a bit! I’ll address gluttony some more later.) To continue with the dictionary entries for wasteful, we have this: “grossly extravagant.” Implicit in the definition is the idea of scattering or dispersing. Thus, we often refer to litter and trash as waste.

And, what are its synonyms? They include spendthrift, careless, prodigal, dissipative, squandering, lavish, wanton, and wild! And the antonyms: economical, thrifty, unwasteful.

Now we have quite a number of avenues to more fully research the idea of wastefulness as presented in Scripture. Did you notice, for example, that the word “dissipative” is a synonym for “wasteful”? This word is used in the Bible when referring to drunkenness. Check this out in Ephesians 5:18 and Titus 1:6. Can you see how drunkenness is partnered with wastefulness? It wastes money, time, attention, brain cells, relationships, etc. Along these lines, we see in 1 Peter 4:4 that the world will be surprised that we don’t join them in a lifestyle of “excesses of dissipation” and for that the world will “malign” us. Did you see “wild” as a synonym for wasteful? What are wild parties all about if not the dictionary definition of wasteful, that is, “useless consumption or expenditure; grossly extravagant”? Too much food and drink? So, here’s a clear teaching in Scripture about a way in which we should not be wasteful: Don’t get drunk and don’t attend wild parties.

Careless. This synonym of wasteful is also not found many times in Scripture. However, it is used by the prophet Isaiah three times in a row (Is 32:9-11) to refer to women “who are at ease” and “complacent,” and thus unaware of the spiritual deficiencies from which they are suffering. These women hadn’t grown close to God even though they had the Law and the Prophets to guide them to Him. Today, we have the entire Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide us to grow in our knowledge of God. Are we wasteful of this wonderful resource? Are we, like these women, careless with what we have been given?

Very sobering is an admonition found in James 5:5. In speaking to the rich who live in the last days, James states: “You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” Likewise is a warning from Jesus about the end: “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come upon you suddenly like a trap.” What does God think of us practicing wastefulness? We are warned that it will lead to destruction! (It is interesting that the third dictionary definition of wasteful is “devastating or destructive.”)

After Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, his disciples picked up the leftovers when the crowd had finished eating. They picked up twelve baskets full! (See Matthew 14:20 and Mark 6: 42-43.) So, here we have a Scriptural illustration of not being wasteful with food. We aren’t told when or how these leftovers were used but we can assume that the effort to gather them would not have been made if it wasn’t intended that someone use these scraps of food later. It is important to notice that the leftovers were picked up–not eaten right then! This brings us back to the ugly term, glutton. This word is often paired with drunkard, thus revealing its meaning as “one who wastes his means by indulgence” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary) and food is often what the glutton overconsumes. Eating a second helping is not preventing waste! Remember, wasting is uselessly consuming–if we don’t need the calories/nutrients from that second helping, then we are uselessly consuming. Would that I would get this into my head!

To conclude, we can be wasteful in many ways. We can waste ourselves, our time, our money, someone else’s money, our spiritual resources, and even our leftovers! The Scriptures are clear that we must not over-consume. Ephesians 5:5 lets us know that greed should not be in the heart of one who loves God. And isn’t that often a big element of  wastefulness–when we are greedy for more and more for ourselves? And, too, when we waste, are we really showing gratitude for God’s provision?

Has this post opened your eyes to a broader understanding of what it means to be wasteful?

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