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Economics for Everybody, Part 2

An Interview with R.C. Sproul Jr.

Dr. R.C. Sproul and Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. discuss ways we as Christians can begin to make genuine, beneficial change in our current economic crisis.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Theory of Value

  2. article

    Money From Nothing

  3. blog-post

    Tough Economic Times

The Theory of Value

Prior to the use of currency, men and women bartered to obtain the goods they needed. If one man made shoes and another raised chickens, a pair of shoes could be traded for a certain number of chickens and vice versa. In this case it is clear that both parties profited from the exchange, the hungry cobbler received food to eat and the farmer with cold feet received shoes to wear.

Today we use money to facilitate trade, and rarely do we think the purchaser profits from an economic transaction. Clearly, the shoe salesman profits if he sells a pair of shoes to me for ten dollars if it cost him five dollars to make them. Yet I profit as well. The value I put on having shoes is higher than the value I put on keeping ten dollars in my pocket. In fact, I value the shoes he sells at fifteen dollars, so they are a bargain to me at ten. If the salesman charges sixteen dollars, I do not purchase the shoes since I do not profit if the value I place on them is lower than the price he charges me.

All of this illustrates the subjective theory of value, which recognizes that the price I am willing to pay for a specific good or service is different than the price others are willing to pay for the same good or service. In a coercion-free market where contracts are honored, people get a fair trade if they are able to purchase a good at a price equal to or below what they think it is worth. Thomas Aquinas notes that all this trading and exchanging of our talents and goods meets the needs of others and fulfills one of the Lord’s designs for us.

The subjective theory of value is an economic reality on the human level, but from God’s perspective we must value Him most of all (Ex. 20:3). Therefore, we must prize His glory and the extension of His kingdom more than anything else (Isa. 48:11). Yet subjective value can play a role here as well. For example, the value I place on one-on-one ministry may be so high that I forego monetary wealth and become a full-time missionary. Someone else might highly value giving large sums of money to a multitude of outreaches and seek a profession that pays very well. Both of these love God’s ends most of all, but the ways they value the means to achieve these ends differs.

Money From Nothing

R.C. Sproul Jr.

I’m connected to royalty. Granted, it’s a rather thin point of union. In less than six degrees, though through enough marriage links that there is no legal tie, I am connected with the king of the tropical island, Yap. Yap is best known not for its sandy beaches nor its pineapple harvest, but for its money. They do not traffic there in sea shells. Neither is their money pure gold. Instead their coinage is great wheel-shaped stones that are hollow in the middle, some as tall as a coconut tree. What can we learn from this about the people of Yap? First, that they are not given to hasty exchanges. It takes a commitment to trade goods and services for stones. As cumbersome as barter can be, it’s likely more easy than rolling a ton of rock down to the local bank. Second, while neither thieves nor robbers are apt to make off with the booty, it is likewise likely that there isn’t a great deal of foreign trade. That is, not many outside of Yap would want this money.

You can discern a great deal about a given people by studying their money. These United States, for roughly three fourths of our history, used gold for money. And we prospered like no other country before us. Granted, as the years went on, the connection between paper dollars and the gold that was supposed to be behind them grew more and more tenuous. Nevertheless, we used to be able to say that this thing or that was “solid as a dollar.” What we meant was that it was as solid as the gold behind a dollar. It could be counted on.

It was Nixon who fully and finally made the greenback truly a green back, that is, backed only by the ink with which it was printed. Since that time, our money has been as dishonest and unstable as we are. Now our money is debt backed by debt. Federal Reserve notes are not worth the paper they’re printed on. In more recent years we’ve gone high tech in our dishonesty. Paper “money” represents a tiny portion of the “money” we use every day. Instead our money today consists in the ethereal world of cyberspace as a simple collection of zeroes and ones, all of which in the end is worth nothing but zeroes.

In a perverse way, our folly makes perfect sense. That is, our understanding of wealth and money matches up nicely with how we view the whole universe. We live in a culture that believes it lives in a universe that just popped into existence. Why should not the god of our age, the state, pop more wealth into existence? If everything came from nothing, why not just make more? The tables turn on us, however, when we realize that’s exactly what we have — nothing — and mountains of it.

We in the church have drunk too deep of the “wisdom” of the world. We not only join in the feeding frenzy at the trough of the nanny state, but we spend our hours bickering over this or that policy proposal. If we are Democrats, then we hate the previous president who created money from nothing. If we are Republicans, we hate the current president for doing the same. We watch the headlines, putting our fingers to the wind, and sell each other on sundry schemes for profiting on the coming economic meltdown.

What we’re supposed to be doing, however, is seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. What we’re supposed to be doing is simple enough — we’re supposed to be working. We’re supposed to be faithfully exercising dominion, bringing all things under subjection, ruling over all things. We’re not supposed to chase lying money but to do honest work. The wisest man, outside of our Lord, who ever lived told us: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments always be white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Eccl. 9:7–9a). This is honest living.

There is nothing new under the sun. The world around us, as it always does, is self-destructing. It is has built its culture on sand. And as the foundations of the city of man begin to crack, our hearts are troubled because we have forgotten where our citizenship lies. By all means we ought to pray for the peace of Babylon. By all means we ought to be a prophetic voice to the world around us. But, in the end, we do all of this from a position of peace. We are not only a people of unfathomable wealth but are immutably so. Our treasure is in heaven where it cannot be devalued. We have been given the pearl of great price, which is worth more than all the wealth in the world, whether it be measured by round, hollow stones or by trillions of dollars. Our wealth is not backed by the Federal Reserve. It is not backed by gold. Our currency is the Rock of Offense.

We are all connected to royalty, immediately. We are the bride of the King. His kingdom knows no end. And we reign with Him, seated in the heavenly realms.

Tough Economic Times

R.C. Sproul Jr.

Given tough economics times and Wall Street’s screaming roller coaster ride, what ought Christians to do?

There is certainly a biblical injunction that we discern the times. God calls us to do this, however, not so we will know the right move to make at the right time, but so that we will remember what the right move always was. Circumstances don’t change our calling, though they can wake us up to our calling. Such is the case here.

Christians should do what Christians are always called to do. First, we should be looking to our own sin. Why is it that Christians are up in arms politically during a time of shocking deficits, high unemployment and a moribund real estate market, but have been comparatively content over almost forty years of abortion on demand? What does that say about us and our priorities?

The obvious answer is this- money is an idol to us. We think because money seems to be even more important to Gordon Gekko, or Donald Trump, that we are therefore free from seeing it as an idol. We think that having less than somebody else is proof we’re not greedy. But when what we have, whether large or small, is threatened by hard times we find out what a priority wealth is to us.

Money becomes an idol less when we simply want more, and more when we look to it as God. To the Gordon Gekkos of the world, money is their reason for being, and in that way is a god. To us, however, it is our security, and therefore is a god.

It is a good and wise thing to consume less than you produce, to save and invest. And it hurts when our savings take a hit from inflation, and our investments suddenly drop in value. But in good times and bad we are to remember that Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” When James warns us against thinking we can simply plan our future profits- "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow (James 4: 13-14) he is not only talking about travel plans. A perfectly fitting application in our day might be, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will invest in our 401k, buy and sell, and make a profit.’” Sufficient unto the day is the bread thereunto. And He is our provider, not Morgan Stanley.

What we need to do then is to ask God to provide for us, and to trust that He will. His provision may not match our daydreams. It may not match what we think of as normal. But He will provide. What we need to do is to not spend more than we make. What we need to do is pay, joyfully, our tithes, if only as a confession that we do indeed trust Him to provide our daily bread. What we need to do is to love our neighbor, not ask the state to tax him to finance our plans. What we need to do is go to bed confident that we are living a godly life, while praying for the peace of Babylon. What we need to do is what we have always needed to do.

God is, as always, sending judgment to a nation that thinks it can forget Him, that thinks it can borrow its way to prosperity. That judgment will touch and is touching our lives. But we are safe in the palm of the scarred hand of Jesus. His wrath is not aimed at us for that was spent 2000 years ago. Whatever is coming it will not undo His promises to us. Invest in the gold streets of the New Heavens and the New Earth, where neither rust, nor moth nor thieves, not politicians can enter. Not only is it the safest investment you can make, but it will also have the greatest return.

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