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Jerry Bowyer Christian Blog and Commentary

This article provides a biblically rooted view of wealth creation and investing.  It originates from a document written for Ronald Blue & Co. (now Ronald Blue Trust) in helping create their Principles-Based Investing philosophy.  The original document’s primary contributors were Ken Boa and Jerry Bowyer.  The original text has been edited for general audience readership.

What happens when there’s too much focus on consumption or individual needs?

This situation, as we’ll see from two case studies in the Old Testament, tends to lead to the downfall of an economic system.

A Demand-Driven Economy

A focus on individual consumption as a means for driving the economy is the earmark of a demand-driven or “demand-side” economy.

As more and more extrinsic manipulation is required of the production system, the system will struggle to create the means necessary to keep pace with demand. Because consumption supersedes investment, less is available to drive production. Consequently, overall wealth decreases.

Historically speaking, this type of self-centered system has never produced a healthy, prosperous society. Biblically speaking, this is because the root cause of our selfishness is that we have turned away from God as our source and provider; instead, we then are relying on our own abilities or some other provider to determine what our true needs are, and we try to devise systems to attempt to meet those needs in our own strength.

Case Study #1: At the Foot of Sinai

A prime example of this occurs in Exodus 32. There we find the Israelites, having followed Moses to the base of Mount Sinai. Not wanting to carry their concerns directly to God, they ask Moses to speak to Him on their behalf. In a sense, they make an investment in Moses, and then they wait. Up the mountain he goes.

As time passes, the Israelites’ anxiety causes them to grow impatient, eventually deciding that they do not want God’s answer in God’s time. Instead, they would prefer any god, so long as this god would appear to answer quickly.

In their urgency to fulfill their perceived needs immediately, they abandon the God who had delivered them and use their own personal wealth (gained in the process of leaving Egypt under the power of that one true God) to create a golden calf to worship (demand-driven consumption). The results were tragic. More than 3,000 were killed as a result.

Case Study #2: The Era of Israel’s Kings

The era of Israel’s kings is another Old Testament example that sheds light on the consequences of a demand-driven economy.

In this case, the people wanted what everyone else had and neglected the one thing no other nation had: a personal God who served them better than any human king could. Because of God’s benevolence, Israel was a prosperous nation, but the people wanted more. They wanted to be like everyone else. They wanted to dictate what they felt their needs were, and what they felt was needed was a king. God allowed them to have their own way, and this ushered in an era of division, war, and decline.

While Israel certainly enjoyed prosperity under Saul, David, and Solomon, each of these men saw destructive challenges within their reigns. Saul fell to his own jealousy of David. David fell into adultery with Bathsheba. Solomon fell to idolatry, worshiping the various gods of his more than 700 wives who God had warned him not to take.

The overall theme of decline became more evident as Israel divided into two kingdoms under Rehoboam and Jeroboam, creating the nations of Israel and Judah. In the years that followed, the northern kingdom of Israel ceased to exist as prophesied by Isaiah (see Isaiah 7:8). Those who remained of the divided kingdom were eventually exiled. Finally, Jerusalem was breached and destroyed under King Zedekiah, fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah 7:9, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (NIV).

In the end, Israel’s insistence on fulfilling their personal desire for a king, as opposed to trusting in God as their primary relational source of provision, cost them the kingdom. This is always the end of demand-driven economic and governmental models. People have a tendency toward greed, which means wanting more of what God can provide as fast as it can be obtained.

Self-gratification, overspending, and perceived needs constitute the driving force. Overconsumption is inevitably encouraged as the remedy for ever-increasing perceived needs. Investment (both relational and economic) is reduced, and production slows as a consequence.

Summary

Because many demand-driven models often (as seen in the era of Israel’s kings) include heavy reliance on the government, there is great expense to fund bigger armies and larger palaces with the resulting higher taxes. This reduces capital available for reinvestment into production. The result is a contraction of economic opportunities and a reduction in created wealth.

We’ll talk more about the government’s proper role (from a biblical viewpoint) in an economy in the next post.

This article provides a biblically rooted view of wealth creation and investing.  It originates from a document written for Ronald Blue & Co. (now Ronald Blue Trust) in helping create their Principles-Based Investing philosophy.  The original document’s primary contributors were Ken Boa and Jerry Bowyer.  The original text has been edited for general audience readership.

Part 2 discussed the world’s first economic model, established by God in the Garden of Eden, as well as the economy after sin entered the world. Skipping ahead several centuries, King Solomon, a man renowned for both his wealth and his wisdom, spoke openly about the need for shrewd investment.

For example, Solomon wrote, “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days, you may receive a return” (Ecclesiastes 11:1 NIV). He knew there was wealth-generating potential in assets like grain. He further understood that investment is not a plan in and of itself, but, rather, a component of a greater overall plan. Solomon certainly had enough land available to him that he could have comfortably planted all his seed, yet he shipped some to other lands, investing with the intent of receiving a greater return.

Solomon even understood the value of diversification as a means of balancing risk. He says as much in the following verse: “Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land” (Ecclesiastes 11:2).

Investment requires that an individual forego a present consumption opportunity in favor of potential future reward. By providing grain (or capital) in this way, investors promote a new cycle of production. With the increase in production comes the creation of new wealth, providing additional resources for either consumption or additional investment.

Jesus on Investing

Jesus advocates this wisdom himself in a familiar story told in Matthew 25. A wealthy man leaving on a journey entrusts various sums of money to three of his servants. Upon his return, he is pleased to discover that two of the servants had obediently put the money to good use and gained double the amount they’d been given. However, the man was greatly displeased to find that one of the servants had merely stashed the money away in a hiding place, content to return to his master the very same amount he had received. He claims to have been afraid of risk. His master, though, sees something different as the root cause. He calls the servant “wicked” and “lazy” (verse 26).

Jesus’ stories (or parables) used commonly understood practices and scenarios of the day to highlight spiritual truths. While some of the nuances of this parable may be (and are) debated, one fact is clear: If one is given something of value to steward, the reasonable, acceptable, and prudent thing to do is to put it to work—even if this involves some risk—with the expectation of earning a return on it over time.

Jesus’ use of this example shows that investing with risk for an expected return was not only an understood practice of the time, but the right thing to do. It seems safe to conclude, therefore, that investment with the expectation of a return commensurate with the associated risk is a biblical premise.

Investing for the Needs of Others

Furthermore, a focus on investment and the needs of others is a God-centered approach. The writer of Proverbs tells us, “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous” (13:22 NIV). We have every reason to believe that this verse came from the pen of King Solomon, who “was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth” (2 Chronicles 9:22). The proverb indicates that, while storing up wealth was something done by both the righteous and the wicked, the purpose of that process was important to the Lord.

In Proverbs 21:17, Solomon deals very matter-of-factly with those bent on self-indulgence: “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.”

In other words, a society that tends to focus greater attention on investment than on personal consumption tends to be a more prosperous society in the long run. This is true whether that investment is aimed toward meeting the needs of others (through charity), through reinvestment in production or market investments (which, in turn, create wealth), or through savings.

This focus on creation of wealth through investment (as opposed to the reduction of wealth caused by over-consumption), when combined with an attention to the needs of others, allows for a greater ability to meet those needs and a fulfillment of the creative capacity inherently placed within humans as they were made in the image of our Creator.

The Acts 2 Model (& Why It’s Not Socialism)

The apostle Paul would echo this sentiment in the New Testament, saying:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3–4).

Short only of the perfectly balanced system found in the Garden, this approach to considering the needs of others as paramount led to the environment in which the gospel found its greatest traction. We find a glimpse of this environment in Acts 2:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:44–45)

For this situation to occur, those who had the land and possessions to sell would first have had to acquire them at some time in the past, making an investment with an eye toward financial gain in the future. Then, these same people would have to be open to the prompting of God, that their gain should be used for the benefit of others. If faith-based investors followed this concept, we would see a fulfillment of Jesus’ command to avoid storing up treasures here on earth and, instead, to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21).

A society that views the needs of others as a primary concern, coupled with the correct identification of God as the source of its provision, will additionally find the benefit of a reduced reliance on the government to be its provider. This reduced governmental reliance tends to limit the size of governmental systems, decrease the tax burden, and liberate additional capital for investment.

The model we find in Acts 2 has been mislabeled “communist” or even “socialist” by some, and it is easy to see why. After all, the text does say that all things were held in common. However, this sharing was not legislated or mandated by the government. This is key, because a lack of reliance on the state as the source of provision is what differentiates the economics of an independent, free state from the “communist” or “socialist” state models.

Furthermore, as we see in Acts 5, people retained ownership of their property until voluntarily, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they gave that property to the church (see Acts 5:4, for example).

This willingness to listen and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit as it pertains to meeting the needs of others is what prevents free states from collapsing altogether.

But what happens when prosperity combines with selfishness and an over-emphasis on individual needs? A demand-driven economy results—which tends to lead to its decline and downfall. More on that in part 4.

This article provides a biblically rooted view of wealth creation and investing.  It originates from a document written for Ronald Blue & Co. (now Ronald Blue Trust) in helping create their Principles-Based Investing philosophy.  The original document’s primary contributors were Ken Boa and Jerry Bowyer.  The original text has been edited for general audience readership.

“Before we can even ask how things might go wrong, we must first explain how they could ever go right.”

These words from Friederich August Hayek, the Australian-born economist who won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1974, set us on our path. To understand how economics may become warped, we must first examine economics in its original, pristine form. This, of course, requires us to return to the starting point of all things: God Himself.

What role did God play in the creation of economics, and what was His original intent?

The Garden’s Economic Model

To begin with, God provides the root of creation and the starting point for all models. The very first sentence in our Bibles says, “In the beginning, God created … .” In the verses that follow, we read an explanation of God’s creation and organization of various resources. As the narrative continues, God provides an oft-overlooked hint at his economy: He introduces an object with the ability to reproduce itself—a fruit with seed in it (see Genesis 1:1–12).

This establishes a pattern repeated throughout the rest of the creation narrative. God blesses His creations by assigning them the dual role of reproduction and distribution with the goal of filling the sea, the skies, and the land (Genesis 1:22–24). Ultimately, God creates human beings. Unique to this creation is the reflection of the Creator himself: “In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (verse 27b). To this unique creation, God gives a unique command: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (verse 28).

Having established a model for production and distribution, God reveals His model for consumption:

I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. (Genesis 1:29–30)

Six days of creation yield the Garden’s Economic Model:

  • Man was expected to work.
  • Work enables the earth to bring forth fruit according to the seed placed within it (production).
  • Creatures reproduce according to their own kind, filling the earth (distribution).
  • These creatures take, as their food, that which the earth produces (consumption).
  • A unique creation reflective of the Creator commands man to exercise dominion over everything else that was created (stewardship).

The opening text ends with the statement, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” All of the objects God created were good. So also were the models God had created. Here was a balanced economy. Production was in balance with investment. Seed continued to reproduce, maintaining adequate supply to balance out the demands of consumption. The addition of oversight (Genesis 2:15) assured that the system would remain balanced.

Our God-Given Creativity

It is additionally important for us to recognize that, because God is creative in His character and nature, humans, having been made in the image of God, will likewise be creative in character and nature. From the very outset of human history, God granted humans a certain level of creative license. That is to say, while each of the other creations was solely responsible for reproducing according to its own kind, humans were given the task of managing and, to some extent, expanding the economy, increasing production through work and the careful oversight of the other creations, effectively taking on the creative element of God’s character with the capacity to modify the economy.

As British essayist Dorothy Sayers wrote:[1]

Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.

To ignore the existence of God when formulating economic concepts is to neglect the creative resemblance and creative capacity that humans share with their Creator. Those who fail to consider that humanity’s creative ability comes directly from humanity’s Creator tend to underestimate the importance of the wealth creation process itself in modern society, as evidenced by those still struggling to understand the wealth explosion of the last two or three centuries. In a similar vein, after the Fall, like all parts of God’s creation, people’s creative ability can be (and certainly are) misused for their own gain and to the detriment of other citizens.

What the Bible Does & Doesn’t Say about Economics

In summary, the Bible says that mankind has the resources of the earth with which to work and create wealth. As a measure of stored value, money exists for the bartering of goods and services. It appears that the Bible encourages a consistently valued currency. The Bible also encourages savings and investment of the money earned. Finally, government is established by God for the protection of the citizens and, by inference, of the commerce that takes place within its borders.

Admittedly, the Bible does not specifically address the complexities of the economic factors that fuel our economy today. But even though the Bible does not comment on housing starts and bank lending rates, principles of wealth creation can be developed, and investors can reason from these biblical principles and apply them to the current economic events to seek knowledge and wisdom for decision making.

The Economy Before and After the Fall

Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were tasked with the management of the Garden of Eden, the subduing of the earth and the filling of it. They had a responsibility to perform “work,” and their tasks were blessed by God.

After the fall, however, pain and frustration became associated with these same tasks. Eve is told in Genesis 3:16, “With painful labor you will give birth to children.” Adam is told: “Through painful toil you will eat food from [the ground] all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you. . … By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (3:17b–19a).

Finally, God moves Adam and Eve out of the Garden and closes the door on its economic structure, banishing humanity into a new model of sustenance. The principle-centered economic model makes its first shift from the Garden to modern day.

In the Garden, there had been balance, with God as the ultimate source of provision and the earth the tool through which He provided. Now work is toilsome, painful, and frustrating. Before, God had created all that was needed, and there was wholesome balance. Now, there is the potential for scarcity and lack. To not work meant to not eat. While God remained (and still remains) the ultimate source, after the Fall, Adam’s actions more directly factored into Adam’s supply. In this post-Fall economic model, our decisions affect our provision.

In order for Adam to secure resources for his consumption, in order to secure a surplus beyond that consumption for investment (i.e., seeding a field), Adam would have to experience the sweat of his brow. Herein we learn the principle that wealth is created through the medium of work.

Adam faced one of the classic decision-making dilemmas facing investors today: investment vs. consumption. That which he ate (consumed) could not be replanted (invested). On the other hand, if he were only to produce enough to cover his consumption, there would be nothing left to invest in future production.

Growing Options: Invest, Give, Tax

As society continued to evolve, the economic options available grew beyond the two available to Adam.

  • In Genesis 4:4, Abel introduced a new component: that of honoring God with offerings (charity).
  • Taxes to civil authorities and governments appear in Genesis 47 (to Pharaoh) and in 1 Samuel 8:14 (to Israel’s kings).
  • Moses introduced the temple tax as an obligation to the Israelites for the upkeep of the temple (Exodus 30:11–16).

The three areas these options represent—investing, charity, and taxation—are potential avenues down which our resources can still flow today. Some are based on belief systems, and some are mandated by law. However, all can be reasonably stated as non-personal consumption. As such, they are payments to the government or to the church, or investments in future productivity.

In the next part in this series, we’ll discuss a biblical view of investment, consumption, and how to weigh the two.

In chapter 2 of Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (1941), available at https://www.worldinvisible.com/library/dlsayers/mindofmaker/mind.c.htm.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash-Jakub-Gorajek

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