At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

Markets – A Call to Serve One Another?

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Economist Thomas Sowell opens a chapter of his classic Basic Economics with an insightful quote from Will Rogers:

You couldn’t live a day without depending on everyone.

Will was neither an economist nor theologian, but he hit the nail squarely on the head. In a modern world, we could not live a day without depending on millions of strangers for everything we do throughout our waking hours.

This is one way  markets bring us together to serve one another. Sometimes that service is one-on-one. More often it is anonymous.

1 Peter 4:10 tell us,

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

We are called by God to steward our specific gifts to serve others. Those gifts are manifested uniquely in each of us. Think about the links in the chain pictured above. What is their purpose?

They are each performing a necessary function to do what chains do: connect or anchor two things together. It is unclear by looking at the above picture which chain is contributing the most, but it is clear that each link is necessary for the overall goal.

One link by itself is meaningless; it can’t possibly accomplish the task.

Similarly, markets bring us together for the goal of serving the common good. In a market setting, it may be easier to see who is making a greater economic contribution to the common good. Remember, though, that even the lowly and seemingly ordinary jobs have purpose and  great meaning in God’s eyes.

Think about all the work going on behind the scenes that contributes to the success of a business:

  • A janitor cleans the building and waxes the floors, contributing to a safe, healthy, and welcoming workplace.
  • A construction worker creates the space in which people work.
  •  A waitress working at a restaurant across the street serves employees meals, contributing to their well-being.

All of these people were given those gifts by God to serve in special and unique ways. God expects each of us to steward our special gifts with meaning and purpose.

As a mother to a preschooler, the cultural narrative about how to raise “successful” children is a much different story than the biblical narrative. Culture tells us that fame, money and high levels of education should be the goals we set for our children. As a new-ish parent, it is difficult to avoid getting sucked in to that narrative.

But as a child of God, and now parent to one who I am trying to raise into a child of God, the story we tell our son is a much different one.

If you are called to clean floors, do it with excellence. If you are called to write tedious computer programs do it with diligence. If you are called to be a parent and spouse, do it with grace.

These are the biblical goals of serving others through our work. God has made us uniquely, and as such we will serve others in very different ways.

We must focus on our gifts to make a contribution to the world through Christ. This requires humility. Know where you excel, and admit where you are not-so-good. This focus gives us clarity. It allows us to take things off the table, because if our gifts are not in a certain area, we are not likely being called by God to work there.

Focusing on our gifts and comparative advantage allows us to specialize in what we do well. This brings joy and fulfillment. It also allows us to serve others better.

Through the market we are enabled to bring our gifts to others, those we know and the many we don’t know. This is part of the miracle of the market process, and I think God knew that we could never figure out how to best serve others without it. It is one of his many gifts to us.

Our gift to others and our faithfulness to Christ will result in hearing him say “Well Done.”  I want to be the best economist and wife and mother I can possibly be, because this is how God has created me to serve others.

How has he created you to serve the world? Leave your comments here

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