“It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.” Has anyone ever said that to you?
Didn’t it feel personal anyways?
Money is a personal matter. The American Psychologists association ranks money as the number one stressor among Americans. Money is a leading cause of divorce. Most of us spend at least half of our waking hours trying to earn money for our families.
Money is a central part of our lives. What we do with it determines how we participate in a central part of someone else’s life.
When you go to a grocery store and purchase an avocado for $2, you’re not paying for the intrinsic value of the fruit (vegetable?). You’re paying for the hands that picked it in the avocado (orchards? Ok, where do avocados come from anyway?)
You’re paying for the driver who drove it to the store, the store employee who stocked it and the cashier who rung up your grocery bill. Your $2 impacts each of those people’s lives. Business is very personal.
Because money seems like some nebulous amoral force in the world, it’s easy to dissociate our business and money decisions from the impact that it has on people’s lives. We negotiate hard against the salesman, we search for the greatest deals, buy at the cheapest prices. We try to extract the most value out of our dollars.
Do we ever consider the other side of the table?
The Gospel of Capitalism
Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations and famed godfather of capitalism said it this way, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” To Adam Smith, an “invisible hand” creates efficiency when each person’s selfish ambition pushes against another’s. This is capitalism.
Compare this to Paul’s admonition to the Philippians “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
This main tenet of capitalism is incompatible with the demands of the Gospel.
As Americans, we are in love with capitalism because it has blessed us with a wealth of prosperity, opportunity, and fun. We live in a country where we do the jobs that give us life, we try new things and see if they’ll work and we get financial rewards when they do. These are great things!
However, when we dismiss selfish ambition and vain conceit as “just business” we worship at the altar of capitalism at the expense of Jesus. When we do everything out of self-interest and consider others as ways to meet those interests, as Adam Smith suggests, we do violence to the Gospel in the name of capitalism.
Is there another way?
How do we function in a prosperous culture with a certain economic mechanism but live out the Gospel?
It’s crucial that followers of Jesus recognize that every time a dollar changes hands, someone’s life is impacted.
Where you choose to shop.
What you choose to buy.
How you earn your money.
Where you invest.
What organizations you give to.
Every dollar, every penny, matters.
Capitalism is running amuck. CEOs of fortune 500 companies have seen their salaries balloon in comparison to the average worker over the last 70 years. The world’s billionaires continue to work for more power, more money, less competition. When broken people invent a system and then work that system to its fullest, guess what happens? The system breaks.
Proponents of socialism have captured the imagination of a generation with this dysfunction. The dysfunction is obvious, but rather than address the dysfunction, many Christians shrug, “that’s how capitalism works”.
”It’s just business.”
No system designed by human man is going to be perfect. Every system from capitalism to socialism to feudalism is going to have facets that fall short of the glory of God. However, as believer’s we are tasked with praying the prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:13) To paraphrase James “(prayers) without works” are wishes. (James 2:14)
Followers of Jesus have an opportunity to live in prophetic defiance to the pursuit of self-interest, without throwing the baby out with the bath water. We must recognize the capitalistic system we live in as imperfect and instead of exploiting its imperfections, try and mitigate them. We must consider those on the other side of the table as “better than ourselves” not a means to satisfy our “self-interest”.
But the church seems to preach the gospel of capitalism as much as it preaches the gospel of Jesus.
- We squeeze our staffs for more work for less money.
- We offer the bare minimum leave and health insurance required by law.
- We negotiate hard against people who are barely scratching out a living.
- We cater to consumers and donors instead of building community.
- Our business owners use “the market” to determine adequate pay scales instead of value.
Believers must lead the world in benevolent capitalism.
We have to confess that money is “personal”.
Making your Money Personal
Here’s some ways you might make money personal to you:
- Learn names- Begin to learn the names of the employees in places you frequent. Call the bank teller, barista, waitress and grocery store employee by their names. Realize that the money spent and tips you leave are what provide an income for this person and their family.
- Recognize power- When negotiating a purchase, hiring a contractor or buying a service, recognize who has the power. This doesn’t mean you have to over-pay, but it does mean not squeezing the other side for every penny.
- Shop Local- I know this is a popular thing to “say”, but it’s not really a popular thing to do. Shopping local is inconvenient. Small businesses don’t have the personnel, the systems, the hours or the volume to give you the fastest service, best prices or most convenience. When you choose to shop with small businesses you are contributing money into families that will redeploy wealth into your communities, rather than sending more money to hedge funds and investors that own large portions of the major retailers.
- Be a Gospel Patron- While it’s easier just to stroke a check to your local foodbank or church (and I encourage you to do those things) find at least one person and become their Gospel Patron. It could be a missionary, pastor or non-profit leader. Being involved in the life of a minister of the Gospel and financially supporting them reminds us of the personal nature of money.
Money isn’t “just business”. It’s how we buy the food to put in our mouths, put a roof over our heads and clothe our children. Is there anything more personal than that? As Christian capitalists that live in America, we need to recognize which parts of our culture point towards the Kingdom and which are sinful selfish ambition.
The line isn’t clear from the outside. It’s a matter of the heart. If we strive to remember that it’s never “just business” and think of the humanity on the other side of the table we, as a body of believers, can move the world just a bit closer to “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Want to teach our kids about money from a Biblical worldview? Download my six-lesson money curriculum for kids.