Economics 101 & Theology 101

Living for Christ by Thinking Economically About Our Work

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What does it look like to live fully for Christ? My IFWE colleague and theologian Hugh Whelchel has laid out three principles related to how we do this within a biblical view of work:

  1. We must rediscover that our primary call is to follow Jesus, and that this call encompasses the whole of our lives.
  2. We must understand the mission that we have been called to do in this world and how work fits into that. Life without work is meaningless, but work is not the meaning of life.
  3. We must realize that the purpose of our work is to have a positive impact on culture and be a light in a dark world.

As an economist, my aim is to help Christians think about these biblical principles through the lens of economics. Such knowledge empowers us to fully integrate our lives in the way God has called us. In other words, economic thinking helps us understand cause and effect and the costs associated with our actions. I would go so far as to say that being better economists helps us to be better stewards, in the fullest, most life-altering version of stewardship.

The Power of Personal Choices

God has created us as individuals who make personal choices. Those choices have vast implications for the rest of the world. Not long ago, I talked about the concept called methodological individualism. It’s the concept that only individuals can choose. Companies don’t choose, governments don’t choose, and churches don’t choose—individuals choose. So, if we take our vocational calling seriously, each choice we make must be made with purpose and efficiency rather than whimsy.

I am more convinced than ever before that this calling involves embracing your comparative advantage—what you do best. Knowing your gifts and focusing on them is important for faithful stewardship. It allows us to specialize, especially with regard to things we produce and sell through our labor (our work). This specialization frees us from having to be good at everything and allows us to trade with others.

Eternal Impact on a Local, Everyday Level

Knowing how you can best serve others through your work is not only a call from Christ, but it’s the best way to “reweave shalom.” It’s the way we love, serve, and help others. It’s about how you get up each day and what choices you will make that day. You may not be able to understand how your current role is helping build the kingdom of God, but even the little things you do can have eternal significance.

In other words, it’s personal. We are responsible each day for changing the culture and living out the mission of Christ. The greatest tool God has given you do this is through your work. Dr. Glenn Sunshine has previously explained on this blog the concepts of moral proximity and subsidiarity. Subsidiarity implies that we are responsible first and foremost on the most local level possible for helping others. How do we do this? We do this through our work.

And you don’t have to be a nurse to have a job that helps others. I get questions like this all the time. Teachers, nurses, and firefighters help save lives in a direct way, but what about computer programmers and economics teachers? By focusing on our gifts and being obedient, not only will God use us in ways that we would never anticipate, but by competing with others to provide our services, we lower prices. When we lower prices through competition, we give people access and choices. This is a powerful way to serve others.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have revolutionized the computer industry. So much so that even those with the lowest incomes in the United States have some computer access. Computer access gives you choices, connection to job opportunities, and the ability to learn and enhance your skills. When the first computers arrived, only the richest could afford them. But by competing to serve customers, the prices have lowered over time and lives have been transformed. Think of how many people can read scripture online and have access to biblical teaching tools for free or at a nominal cost because of entrepreneurial thinking that was focused on serving others.

As Christians, we must take our calling seriously, using our work to live out our calling for Christ to impact the world. We must not look first to the church to do this, but to ourselves. God has given us great power in the work of our hands to change the world. We just have to do it.

Editor’s note: Learn more about how economics can help us be good stewards in Be Fruitful and Multiply: How Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.

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