Opportunity Cost: The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.
Did you know that you think about Opportunity Cost hundreds of times a day? In every decision you make your mind quickly processes all the multiple alternatives, and weighs the perceived outcomes of each alternative to decide which one is the best. We do this because in every decision we are always, by definition, giving something up. Sometimes the cost is something minor like giving up Frosted Flakes while choosing Minnie Wheats; and sometimes it is as major as moving your family to Kentucky, giving up family and stability.
Opportunity cost is the reason why making big decisions is so hard. If there was no “loss of potential gain from any other alternative” every decision would be easy. But the problem is that there are so many possibilities. With so many alternatives, and often good alternatives, by default there will always be much to lose when making decisions.
One of the reasons people rejected Jesus was because of Opportunity Cost. I think of the rich man in Matthew 19 who came to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. This was a question that I believe was very sincere. Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments--and the man is not buying the good works salvation Jesus prescribes. “All these I have kept…what do I still lack?” Jesus replies with a very hard saying: “If you want to be perfect, go, and sell all of your possessions and give to the poor…then follow me.”
What sinister words: “follow me.” No longer can the man add something to his life and check off the “eternity box.” Jesus has drawn a line in the sand and the stakes have been raised. There are now only two decisions before the rich man: To follow or not follow. Perhaps the worst and best thing about Jesus is that there is no middle ground with Him; He either takes everything or He has nothing. There is no such thing as someone "kind of" following Jesus.
The rich man realizes that to him the Opportunity Cost of following Jesus is too high. Consider all that he would have to give up! With his riches, comfort, home, pleasures, authority—it would be insanity to leave them all and simply follow Jesus. Because he perceived the alternatives of following Jesus were better than actually following Jesus, he left for home--sad. Because He had great wealth.
That has to be one of the saddest passages in the Bible.
But not everyone chooses so poorly. Jesus tells in Matthew 13 of man who found a hidden treasure in a field. And upon finding it; he sold everything he had in order that He would purchase the field. To many of us the cost of “selling everything we own” seems outrageously high, but I don't think the man thought so. He found it well worth losing that he might find. Jesus also tells of a man who found a pearl of infinite worth. The man weighed the alternatives in his mind and likewise sold everything he had to buy the one small pearl. To him the cost was worth the investment.
There is an irony with Jesus. His call could not be more free; but it is also terribly costly. It is an extreme, radical call; and there is no middle ground with Him. You either follow Him or you do not follow Him. He either has all of you, or He has none of you. You must weigh the options in your mind: he is either insurmountably worth the cost of leaving behind everything and following. Or He is too costly—and you go home like the rich man--sad.