The Bible and Economics (6)

                              Scarcity and Ownership (1)

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a television game show in America called “The Price Is Right.” The contestants had to guess the price of some item. The contestant who guessed closest to the right (correct) price won the item. Adam and Eve announced, “The price isn’t right,” meaning it was ethically wrong. “We are illegitimately being kept from enjoying the fruits of God’s labor. We have a right to this fruit.” This is what their actions declared. They imagined that they would not have to pay the announced price.

In response, God cast them out of the garden. He thereby placed new terms of trade on everything inside the garden: Not for Sale at Any Price. As the owner of the world, He placed a new price on the fruit of the earth: The Sweat of Man’s Brow. He cursed man’s labor, making it a burden for him, just as childbirth would be for the woman. Man’s labor in the garden had been no more unpleasant than childbirth would have been for the woman. Now both activities are cursed.[1]

Jesus Himself was not a sinner, but He was affected by the curse. When He came to the Samaritan well, the Bible says that He was “wearied from His journey…” (Jn.4:6).

What does this show us?

All labour is cursed, saint and sinner alike. We may not like it, but we can’t change it. This means we have to be diligent in our labour, seeking to get the most effective outcomes, with a minimum of input.

Why a minimum of input? Because there are a number of things I want to do with my time, and time is limited. The longer I work on Project X, I cannot commence Project Y.

It’s not enough to be working hard, because working hard and working diligently are not the same. I can work hard at cultivating my 100 hectare paddock with a shovel, but it may take me 4 months to do it. Or, I can contract my neighbour to come and do it for me in two days with his machinery, pay him $5,000, and it’s all done in time for the land to be sown with a crop, or pasture.

So diligence in labour involves thinking of all the implications and outcomes when I apply myself to a task, including counting all the costs of time, money and inputs. Jesus spoke about this:

For which of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe him begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’ (Luke 14:28-30).

So the Christian worker is to work diligently, towards a timely conclusion. Solomon explains that

The sluggard does not plough after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing (Prov.20:4).

This means that completing tasks by deadlines really does matter. Paul faced this issue, too. On a missionary journey, he

decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 20:16).

The Christian worker acknowledges that though work is cursed, the sovereign God is on his side. His confidence is that if he is doing the will of God, God will probably bless his work. Isaac, who seems to have known something about farming, worked with this in mind.

Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundred-fold. And the Lord blessed him, and the man became rich until he became very wealthy; for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him (Gen.26:12-14).

Conclusion:

Since the Fall, there have been many more problems with man’s work. It really is more difficult. But we don’t want to let this fact discourage us. What we should do is continue to apply ourselves with diligence to whatever tasks come our way, for the scriptural promise is clear:

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings. He will not stand before obscure men (Prov.22:29).

 

 

[1] Gary North, “Christian Economics in One Lesson,” 2016, ‘Scarcity and Ownership.’

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