At Work & Theology 101

Strengths or Weaknesses: Which Need More Attention?

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It was a short list, just a few “plumbing” things that needed to be fixed before the closing on our house. “I can do that; no need to call a plumber,” I said to my wife.

A week later, the bill from the plumber was over $900…obviously, plumbing is not my comparative advantage.

Why does comparative advantage even matter? Because it’s an important tool for thinking biblically about everyday life decisions.

Comparative Advantage in the Bible

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that we were not made to do everything by ourselves.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body (1 Cor. 12:15-20).

We are not independent or completely dependent. We are interdependent.

Paul’s beautiful illustration of the human body establishes a foundational principle that we are each uniquely created with different combinations of gifts and talents, both spiritual and material. These gifts and talents are what economists call “comparative advantage.”

God intends for us to use our gifts and talents to glorify him, serve the common good, and further his kingdom in all we do in our churches, our families, our communities, and at our jobs.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (1 Pet. 4:10).

Comparative Advantage At Work

So how does comparative advantage actually work? Anne Bradley explains that your comparative advantage has to with “opportunity cost,” which is the value of what it is we give up associated with producing a good or service. She explains how comparative advantage works on a practical level:

We should focus on producing things at which we are lower-cost producers than others. We tend to be lower-cost producers when we focus on our specific gifts and talents—like Michael Jordan as a basketball player. Unlike Michael Jordan and basketball, this is usually a relative comparison, so we must understand the gifts of those with whom we work to best harness and unleash our productivity.

A proper understanding of our comparative advantage can help us to serve the common good more effectively and counter some of the misconceptions we have about work:

  • Comparative advantage means it’s better to capitalize on your strengths than spend time trying to improve on your weaknesses.
  • Comparative advantage means we work better if we focus on what we do best, and work with others who are also focusing on what they do best.
  • Comparative advantage is the reason diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams.
  • Knowing your comparative advantage does NOT mean always committing to doing just one thing.
  • Comparative advantage helps us understand why we can do what we do best, even though there are others who can do it better.

Comparative advantage is not just a boring economic concept, it is an incredibly powerful tool for helping us understand the world and making better decisions—like calling the plumber first.

That reminds me, I have one more thing to fix around the house…

Editor’s note: Learn more about what the Bible and economics teach us about how to make wise everyday decisions in Be Fruitful and Multiply: Why Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.

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