A Prelude to Understanding Money
Among its necessary functions, sound money must be a measure of value, standard of value, and store of value. This begs the question though, "What is value?" At a basic level, the perceived value of something can change frequently relative to circumstances. For example, if I have not drank anything in two days, then a gallon of water will be very valuable to me. However, on a typical day, much more than a gallon of water goes over me in the shower without me ever even thinking about it. The daily change in the price of a stock is another example. For my purposes here, I want look beyond the fluctuating perceptions of material things. What I am shooting for here is the definition of economic value at a truly foundational level. This is what I am calling True Economic Value. Interestingly, the Spirit-led process of formulating my understanding of this value led to a startling discovery: "understanding True Economic Value uncovers how money should function."
Value In The Individual
When we work a job or run a business we do not produce money. We either carry out some sort of service, produce a product, or some combination thereof. In a free economy, something of value generally results, otherwise, the worker is fired or the business goes bankrupt. Simple enough.
There are, however, people who work for money, without regard to the value of what their work actually produces. (Some people even think they are worth a minimum of $15 per hour just because they are hired to do anything at all and they go out into the street to demand it!) Similarly motivated, there is a crop of people who think that if they have a certain degree, accreditation, or title, that they are automatically worth a certain amount of money, without regard to the actual skill or experience they bring to a position. You see, all these people look beyond the actual value of themselves and what they are producing to the money. In other words, they disconnect themselves from the value of their character and the economic importance of what they are producing to the money they desire. God is not a consideration. There is another spiritual force driving their motivation.
There is a better way to think about ourselves and our work. Consider these verses from Proverbs:
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. (3:13-18)
We are told here that this wisdom and understanding is a tree of life that produces fruit better than silver or gold. In other words, the type of person who possesses this wisdom and understanding has an underlying, fundamental value that is of incomparable superiority to physical wealth.
Where then do we find this wisdom and understanding? Job told us centuries before King Solomon wrote Proverbs:
"But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, 'It is not in me,' and the sea says, 'It is not in me." It cannot be bought for gold, and silver cannot be weighed as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.
"From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. ...
"God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. ... And he said to man, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.'"" (28:12-21, 23-24, 28)
"The fear of the Lord" is the real, valuable wisdom. This means reverential love and respect for the Lord, like the devotion of a faithful servant to a just, honorable, and glorious king.
To have real, valuable understanding one must "turn away from evil." This is one of those beautiful Biblical revelations that is so deep that I fear trying to explain it. In fact, I think the explanation is better left to those who choose to experience it for themselves. It is the experience that leads one to truly comprehend what this means.
It is noteworthy that when one finds the Scriptures discussing "wisdom" and "understanding" that material wealth and possessions—gold, precious jewels, and so on—always seem to be lurking in the nearby passages. It is as if these things are always nearby, trying to deceive and distract from the real wealth, so much so that Holy Spirit has to constantly put them in their place. As always, Jesus pinpointed the issue:
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Luke 16:13)
Jesus just gave us our starting point—to love and be devoted to God above all else. Those who proceed through this narrow passageway discover a place where the Holy Spirit is constantly ushering them into the specific life they have been handcrafted for. Not only do those in this minority group have godly characters, but they have developed their God-given talents to the point where they possess a certain level of excellence and skill that makes them extremely valuable.
Loving God, having a godly character, and properly using the talents He has given is still not enough. The individual must be able to distribute this same type of love to others. This secondary love is especially valuable in the workplace. What good is the most talented worker or entrepreneur if he can't get along with others? In fact, if he can replicate his own internal success his economic value really takes off.
True Economic Value begins in the individual through their relationship with God and with others. The Hebrew Law, and then Jesus Himself, laid it out clearly for us. One day, a Jewish lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Here is what He said:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40; emphasis mine)
This is being led by the Spirit. I set out to discuss the Biblical view on money and here I am: "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." In other words, these two commandments are pretty much the most important thing in the whole Bible. The proper understanding of anything, even economics and money, starts with knowing Jesus Christ.
The Lesson of True Economic Value
The best example of True Economic Value in demonstration is the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. In my book, The Truth On Investing: From the Darkness of the Crowd to the Light, I went into great detail on the Biblical account of Joseph. Here is a key excerpt that relates to our current topic:
Joseph's diligence in laboring for Potiphar day after day reveals the secret of compounding in the kingdom of God. The investment potential of an individual is measured by the depth of his character. Joseph was a slave who owned nothing, yet his net worth continued to soar. Instead of trying to run off and seek his own will, he remained loyal to the voice of God, and in so doing continually found grace in which to serve Him. He became so valuable and trustworthy that Potiphar put him in charge of everything he owned and did not even have to think twice about it. A bold love for God became the capital gains he realized as his value compounded. He would let nothing stand in the way of glorifying God.
What then is the concise lesson of my explanation of True Economic Value and the life of Joseph? It is for the individual to recognize that he is the investment of God and he should seek to become indispensable. Doing so will cause the opportunities to come to him as the giftings of God flourish in his life. This is the real foundation for enduring wealth accumulation.
Connecting True Economic Value and Money
An individual does not have economic value because they simply believe in Jesus Christ. I could have a gold mine with an exceptional grade of 50 grams per ton and 10 million tons of proven reserves, but if I never put a shovel in the ground it is not going to do me any good. True Economic Value is brought to the surface through the exercise of wisdom, study, work, and experience. Also, this value creation process requires time. If an attempt is made to shortcut the time element, then economic value will not be generated in a sustainable fashion. The character of the individual will be lacking. Any attempt to short circuit this process will ultimately result in economic failure.
To finish this letter, and prepare for those to come, I want to connect this to money. It is easy for any form of money to satisfy the requirement of being a medium of exchange and a measure of value, but to be a standard and a store of value is altogether different. A standard of value requires the actual money itself to be inherently valuable and not just a temporary store of value because a particular government can be trusted for a finite period of time.
Before I write this important concluding point, I must acknowledge the influencing work of George Gilder. While reading his recently published book, The 21st Century Case For Gold: A New Information Theory Of Money, where he discussed the importance of the time element in money, all my Biblically oriented thoughts on the topic were suddenly brought into alignment. It was as if I had been missing one puzzle piece, and once I found it, I was then able to see the whole picture clearly.
Finally, here is where we connect economic value and money.
wisdom/understanding + study/work + experience/timE = economic value
silver/gold (in ground) + mining/refining + timE = money (standard of value)
Do you see the significance of this comparison? Economic value is realized in our lives when the wisdom of God is brought to the surface (revealed) through a difficult and laborious process over time. Money (precious metals) that is a standard of value is brought about the same way. Why? Same Creator. He who formed you in your mother's womb also formed gold and silver and placed them in the earth.
True Economic Value in an individual and precious metals as a true monetary standard of value are both hard to come by. It is exactly this quality that makes them valuable. True Economic Value is hard to find in an individual. It requires a disciple of Jesus Christ who studies and/or works hard and carries with him valuable experience learned through the trials of his faith and profession. Likewise, precious metals beneath the ground require geological skill, intensive capital investment and planning, lots of drilling, and a long period of time to extract and refine profitably.
The right foundation for understanding Biblical economics, money, and wealth has now been laid. We will build upon it in future posts in this teaching series.