This next installment of our series on the biblical foundations of economic principles touches on a question many Christians wrestle with: should Christians seek wealth and its creation?
Answering this question involves understanding one of the major ways wealth is created – trade, which is principle #4 in our series.
Principle #4: Trade promotes economic growth.
What, if anything, should Christians have to do with trade and wealth creation? The prophet Jeremiah offers us insight on this issue.
Jeremiah 29 contains a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the Israelites living in exile in Babylon. The text of this letter can help us answer the question of whether Christians should seek wealth creation.
Jeremiah 29:4-7 says,
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
The Israelites are in exile, which seems like a hopeless situation. But Jeremiah calls them to strive for life, to build houses, to get married, and encourage their children to get married. He is calling them not just to survive, but to seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon, their city.
To answer the question “should Christians seek wealth creation?” we need to understand what it means to seek and have prosperity.
- Merriam Webster defines prosperity as “the condition of being successful or thriving; especially: economic well-being.”
- The Hebrew word for prosperity used in this passage is shalom. Shalom is the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.
Shalom means universal flourishing and wholeness, a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts are fruitfully employed. Shalom is the full flourishing of human life in all aspects.
The scripture is not saying that God calls all of us to be rich. But Jeremiah is clear that God wants the Israelites to prosper from their condition of exile. This prosperity includes, but is not limited to, material wealth.
This scripture is very telling in another way. When Jeremiah says “if it [the city] prospers, you too will prosper,” he is restating the Cultural Mandate, showing the Israelites what it looks like to take dominion in a place where they don’t have power.
This illustrates what Hugh Whelchel said in a recent blog post: we are created to produce. We don’t produce just to consume; we produce to trade. To understand this concept, we need to understand trade and how it manifests economic growth.
Going back to the garden, God called Adam and Eve to work the garden and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). Taking care of something implies maintaining it. This is what a forest ranger does; he protects the forest’s natural condition. To “work something” implies much more.
When we go to work we don’t just maintain our office space. We are given responsibilities and are called to be creative, innovative and entrepreneurial within the context of our role. This applies across all professions. Thus, work in the modern world is carried out in the context of trade.
We are not alone in the garden anymore. Rather, through markets we exchange our products, skills and labor. We trade them for other things. This not only betters us, but also provides opportunities for others.
Without trade I would not be able to brush my teeth, because I have no idea how to make a toothbrush. Trade makes the toothbrush and countless other things possible for me.
When we all come together through markets to trade, we generate economic growth. We are working the modern garden. We are using our ingenuity to create more than what we were given, and the benefits extend beyond ourselves.
Do you know that in countries with high levels of economic freedom, the poor earn eight times more than the poor in countries with low levels of economic freedom? When we have the freedom to use our gifts and to trade with others we are not the only beneficiaries. This is why Jeremiah called the exiles to prosperity.
We should use the skills and gifts God has given us to advance the prosperity of everyone, including ourselves.
Prosperity will look different for each of us individually. Some will have more wealth than others. God will call some to missions or volunteer work where the money is sparse. But he will equally call some to be CEOs with high incomes.
Wealth creation and economic growth comes through trade, and is a blessing from God generated by the market economy. The key is not to seek riches for their own sake, but to seek peace and prosperity where God has called you, to benefit others through your gifts.
What do you think? Should Christians seek wealth creation?