One of the main misunderstandings about the marketplace is that it's all about money. Christians have a sneaking suspicion that money is dirty and sinful; that it ought to be handled infrequently and with gloves on. They think they're quoting the Bible when they say, "Money is the root of all evil." In fact, the Bible says, "Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Tim. 6:10). Too many people think "Marketplace Christian" is the same as "carnal Christian" - an excuse to glorify money while giving it a thin, biblical veneer.
In fact, money is neither good nor evil. It's a morally neutral tool, an ingenious invention that allows for efficiency in markets. Money only becomes evil when our hearts wrongly attach to it, as the scripture above indicates. To fully appreciate marketplace Christianity, every believer must understand money from a truly biblical perspective. They must see it as a tool given by God, something to be used but not glorified, appreciated but not elevated. They must understand how it derives its value, and how it is best used.
Money has two basic functions, the first being to help markets run efficiently. If the world had only two people, a sheepherder and a grain farmer, money would not be needed. They would simply trade between themselves at an agreed exchange rate of wheat per sheep. This rate would fluctuate depending on the relative supply and demand of both commodities. But add a cow herder, a vegetable farmer, a carpenter, a blacksmith and a clothing maker, and suddenly there are simply too many exchange rates to keep track of. Money simplifies those exchanges and creates an efficient market.
Money's second purpose is to store value. If a farmer sells all his excess grain, but doesn't immediately need to buy sheep, he can "store" the proceeds from his harvest as money, which is far less perishable.
My basic definition of money is this: Money is the right to the goods and services of others.
Why money is valuable
Money is valuable and should be deeply appreciated for what it represents - the combined labor and love of a chain of servants. A friend of mine once visited a coffee-processing factory. As the proprietor was giving a group of investors a tour, he discovered a lone coffee bean on the floor. He picked up the bean, carefully washed it off, and returned it to its bin. One of the investors chided him for wasting his time with one bean when there were millions more. The proprietor replied, "If you knew what went into that bean, you would do the same."
When I heard that story, I thought about what went into producing that bean. I thought of the mountainside in the jungles in Colombia where God made a special place that grows the best coffee in the world. I thought about the farmer who cared for and groomed the coffee plants and protected them from pests, who carefully and lovingly handpicked every bean from the tree at just the right time and who carried them down the mountain and laid them in rows to dry. I thought about the farmer's grandfather, who cleared the land and selected the best coffee plants, carefully nurturing them and passing them on to his sons. I thought about the coffee buyer who learned the skill of selecting just the right beans to make the kind of brew he desired. I thought about the coffee bean roaster, the blend-master, the café owner, and the barista who all added their own unique and careful touch.
When you think of it that way, one coffee bean has much more valuable than would appear, and so does most every commodity. Every coffee bean, every garment, every dollar put into an offering bucket represents the combined labor of a hundred servants. It represents the forgone desires of some precious soul who could have done something else with his or her time and labor. As Christians we must see money for what it represents - an unbroken chain of love, leading back to the Father.
Wealth and riches
The scriptures speak extensively of money, riches and wealth, three related but distinct concepts. I define riches as an abundance of money and possessions. Wealth is slightly different - it is the ability to create riches by controlling the means of production. The Bible often associates wealth with land and flocks, which in a modern economy equates to business, which is the modern means of production. If money were water, then riches would be a bucket of water, and wealth a river of water. Or in terms of cash, riches are a pile of cash, and wealth is cash flow. Riches are limited and can be depleted by loss or consumption. Wealth, on the other hand, creates a steady flow of income.
Abram had both riches and wealth, gold and silver and vast flocks and fields (Gen. 13:2). He may have come from a wealthy family, but undoubtedly most of his gold and silver was obtained in trade for his production.
Wealth is others-oriented. Abram's household supported more than three hundred trained men (Gen. 14:14), and probably a far larger number when women and children are included. These were his "employees" who worked the fields and tended the flocks, and were provided for in return.
Wealth gives us the ability to provide for others without depleting our resources. For example, if a needy family had arrived on Abram's doorstep, he could have taken care of them by putting them to work in his fields. But instead of costing Abram, they would have actually expanded his production capabilities.
Wealth also gives us the ability to create a spiritual oasis. Abram likely hired into his household many refugees seeking to escape the depravity of nearby Sodom and Gomorrah. In Abram's house they would have found a functioning marketplace and a spiritual oasis. This is why I encourage people to start or buy businesses. By owning a business, we control the means of production and create wealth; we can hire good people, and provide for them; we can care for customers by producing goods and services for them; and we can create spiritual oases amongst our employees.
Wealth is a blessing from God
All wealth comes from God and belongs to God:
10 For every beast of the forest is Mine,
The cattle on a thousand hills.
Psa. 50:10 (NASB)
Christians should get rid of the idea that wealth equals carnality. The Bible is full of very wealthy believers - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Job, David and Solomon, to name just a few. The scriptures are clear that wealth is a blessing from God:
22 It is the blessing of the LORD that makes rich (wealth),
And He adds no sorrow to it.
Prov. 10:22 (NASB)
12 Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him, 13and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; 14for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. Gen. 26:12-14 (NASB)
1 Praise the LORD!
How blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who greatly delights in His commandments.
2 His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in his house,
And his righteousness endures forever.
Psa. 112:1-3 (NASB)
When God established the covenant with Abraham, He promised He would bless him and make him a great nation. Several hundred years later, God spoke to Moses, saying He was going to bless the Israelites and give them "the power to make wealth," because of the Abrahamic Covenant:
18"But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Deut. 8:18 (NASB)
God is committed to giving His people the power to make wealth, not just for our sakes, but to fulfill the promise made to Abraham. He must bless His people to confirm His covenant with Abraham.
All wealth comes from creating value: Creating value is simply creating something that:
1) never existed before, and
2) which has value to someone else.
Growing a cucumber, fixing a car, cleaning a house, babysitting, and building a home are all ways of creating value. Every normal human being has the capability to create value in some way. Creating value is simply serving. I am always amazed by people who are idle but complain about not having money. I want to tell them, "You have two hands.you have a brain.go do something for someone!" Serving always creates value, and money naturally follows value. It's a simple, logical flow.
In creating value, we have the opportunity to be like God, who is always creating for others. In so doing, we earn the right to receive some value in return. This is how people "care" for one another. If no one ever created value, no one would have anything to eat, have a place to sleep, or clothes to wear. Paul touched on this principle in Ephesians 4:28:
28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. (NASB)
Many people are gripped by a scarcity mentality which says since there is only so much food, clothing and other goods to go around, adding a new person means less for everyone. But this is flawed, ungodly thinking. Each new person brings needs, but also brings the ability to create value for others. For example, when a family joined Abram's household, he fed them, but they actually expanded his productivity by adding new abilities to his "marketplace." Envy is rooted in the scarcity mentality. Envy compares what you have to what they have, and it fails to grasp that every human being has the ability to create unlimited value, according to his skill and creativity.
A business is nothing more than a value-creation organization. Each employee uses his or her special skills to create value for customers. A ministry, too, is a value-creation organization, creating value for its members and for those it serves. God's divine order dictates that if we stop creating value as an organization, we forfeit our right to exist. This is good, since businesses that don't create value are tying up resources but not serving others. It's better for those resources to go to a business that does create value. Likewise, churches that do not create value will fail, freeing up resources for churches that create value.
We can create even more value by enhancing our skills. This option is open to anyone in any field. Going to school for training and education will enable you to serve better. An entrepreneur who goes to business school will have more tools and skills to create value than one who doesn't. A young man who apprentices himself to a master mechanic will pick up skills in a few months that might otherwise have taken years to learn. Each of us should constantly hunt for new skills to add to our value-creation toolbox.
Lee Iacocca is a good example of this. In the 1980s, Chrysler Corporation was on the verge of failure. Iacocca came in and turned the company around, creating billions of dollars in value for the tens of thousands of employees who would have lost their jobs, as well as the thousands of shareholders who would have lost their savings. He was only able to pull off this business "miracle" because he had spent time learning skills throughout his career, and therefore he had more power to create value.
Another way to create value is by being creative. In the 1800s the seeds were removed from cotton by a laborious manual process. Then Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a device that could remove the seeds automatically. Overnight, the work of a hundred people could be done by three people. With one idea, Whitney reduced the cost of cotton production by 97 percent, creating billions of dollars in value for cotton farmers and for clothing buyers who would pay less for cotton clothing.
The poverty spirit
I spent many years in poor areas of Los Angeles and many hours working with people who had grown up in impoverished circumstances. I was continually surprised by the poor choices they made. Some couldn't consistently buy groceries, yet drove elaborately fixed-up automobiles, gambled at the casinos, spent $200 on a pair of sneakers, $50 a month on lottery tickets and $200 a month on cigarettes. These same people viewed money as the solution to every problem; they bought on impulse, were focused on consumption and took great pride in fancy cars, boats, clothing and jewelry. They completely overextended themselves with debt and openly disdained the creditors who took a risk on them. They were in chronic financial crisis because of mismanagement, and yet they considered "work" a dirty word.
I call this poison mentality the poverty spirit. Jesus called it the spirit of mammon (Matt. 6:24). The poverty spirit tells people to pursue money apart from creating value. Gambling, the lottery and theft are efforts to make money without creating value. When we pursue money apart from creating value for others, we claim the right to the goods and services of others, but without offering any goods or services in return - it is taking without giving in return. Paul spoke of the poverty spirit:
9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Tim. 6:9-10 (NASB)
The poverty spirit conspires to trap people in a cycle of poor choices and slavery to money. But it doesn't only afflict poor people. It afflicts the human heart and produces poverty. I have seen very wealthy people with it. Lottery winners, professional athletes and others who come into riches often end up impoverished. As scripture says, An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning
Will not be blessed in the end.
Prov. 20:21 (NASB)
By acting under the poverty spirit, we will "pierce ourselves with many griefs." Some pierce themselves with multi-level and pyramid marketing schemes which masquerade as legitimate businesses. They prey on those with the poverty spirit - they promise riches with little effort. They all tell outrageous stories of easy success and show charts that supposedly demonstrate enormous money-making potential. Amazingly, such schemes find their most fertile ground in the church. Christians seem to think that God will give them money without our having to create value.
Breaking the spirit of poverty is simple: we must stop trying to get something for nothing, and instead create value for other people. The scriptures state it like this:
28He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Eph. 4:28 (NASB)
I grew up in a family that was dirt-poor, but the poverty spirit did not rule us. My parents taught me the value of hard work; I learned that through work we could achieve high goals. Work breaks the poverty spirit. It opens our eyes to God's ordained system of productivity. It teaches us to create value for others, to become producers instead of consumers. It gives us the legitimate right to the goods and services of others. No government or charitable program can succeed unless the spirit of poverty is broken.
Two views of money
There are two views of money: the consumer view and the producer view. The consumer sees money simply as the means to consume. He sees work as a necessary evil. All children have the consumer view. When my young children got a dollar, their eyes filled with thoughts of candy and dime store junk they could buy. The consumer looks at opportunities and at others with a purely selfish perspective: "How can I benefit?"
The producer sees money as a reward for production and serving. Money is a byproduct of serving others. The producer looks at opportunities and at others and says, "How can I serve them?" The consumer looks to take while the producer to give.
Every father and mother must take on the producer view to some degree. As I earn money, I rarely think of the consumption items I can buy, but rather of the needs I can meet in my family and elsewhere.
The entrepreneurial spirit vs. the exploitational spirit
I have had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with some of the best entrepreneurs in the world. Many people believe entrepreneurs are greed-motivated, but that is patently untrue. The most successful entrepreneurs are not driven by greed but by passion for finding and solving the greatest needs. When I teach classes on entrepreneurialism I am often asked how to find a great moneymaking idea. I put it like this: "Find the most people in the most pain, and solve their problem." The essence of the entrepreneurial spirit is meeting others' needs.
The opposite of the entrepreneurial spirit is the exploitational spirit which is more concerned with getting money from a customer (or congregation member) than providing value. People (or businesses, or churches) with the exploitational spirit pursue riches by using a customer to enrich themselves, instead of serving the customer. For example, it seems whenever I rent a video at my local video store, I end up paying more in late fees than it would cost me to buy the videos! I imagine they have an army of analysts in a windowless room somewhere who pour over spreadsheets trying to figure out how to get more money out of their customers. They have mastered the art of putting their hand in my pocket and extracting money.
An entrepreneur had a similar video store experience, but he decided to do something about it, so he started a company called NetFlix. With NetFlix, late fees don't exist. Customers pay $20 a month and watch as many videos as they want. They choose their movies online. The movies come in the mail and each movie comes with a return mailer. When they are finished with it, they just drop it in the mailbox, and the next video on their list automatically comes in the mail. NetFlix has become a Wall Street sensation: in just a few years they have over a million subscribers and a high-flying stock. This is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit overcoming the exploitational spirit.
Businesses with the exploitational spirit can have strong results in the short term, but in the long term they fail or are forced to change. Many great companies were founded with an entrepreneurial spirit, but over time became dominated by an exploitational spirit as the founders' passion was gradually replaced with the desire to boost short-term results.
When people ask my advice about starting a business, they often say they want to do it part time. Many really want to do something else (like work for a ministry or hang around at the beach) and they see business as a vehicle to fund their true desire. Almost without exception, the conversation begins with money and why they need it. This is the exploitational spirit - it sees business primarily as a means of cashing a check. Such people disrespect what I call the "sanctity of business" which is this:
Business is primarily about serving others, creating value, constantly improving products and services, committing to customers, being there for customers and supporting them long-term. It cannot be successful without intense passion and focus.
The exploitational spirit, on the other hand, tries to make as much money as possible and give as little as possible in return. This approach is doomed, as the Bible says:
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings,
But he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished.
Prov. 28:20 (NASB)
22 A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth
And does not know that want will come upon him.
Prov. 28:22 (NASB)
Entrepreneurs who are committed to customers and passionate about serving them will always drive exploiters out of business. And for people who see business as a way to fund a different passion, I say, don't waste your life on something that is not your passion. Passion is God's voice in your heart, speaking to you about your calling. Psalm 37:4 says if we "delight ourselves in the Lord" that He will "give us the desires of our heart." He will literally fill our hearts with His desires for us. It is best to pursue our true passion and look for God's provision in it. To pursue our passion is to serve God, who is the author of our passion. To do otherwise is to serve money:
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Matt. 6:24 (NIV)
A biblical understanding of work
Perhaps most important is to understand the biblical value of work. As I said, many people I grew up with considered "work" a four-letter word. Yet it's difficult, perhaps impossible, to grasp the value of money until you work. Over the years I have watched the concept of work help my children mature in their understanding of money. As a young girl, my daughter viewed a dollar as a means to buy a new "doodad." But today as a teenager, she earns money by providing child-care in a health club - a challenging job. Now when she considers her purchases, I can see her weighing her desire to have the item against the hours she spent working at the club. Money now represents her time and energy.
For many, perhaps most people, the goal is to graduate from work. In high school I remember telling my friends I wanted to become a millionaire by the time I was 30, then hire someone to "take my ulcers" while I retired on a beach somewhere. But as I thought about it, I realized, what's the point of life without work? Idleness? Pursuit of pleasure? If you don't work, you don't create value, meaning you're taking but not giving. Today my goals have changed. I love work, because I love serving others. I plan on serving in whatever capacity I am able, for as long as I am able. I'm convinced that Christians will never graduate from work. Though it is difficult to prove from the scriptures, I believe even in heaven we will all work - as teachers, librarians, ministers and so on - serving God and serving others. The closest biblical pattern we have is the Garden of Eden, which is a shadow of heavenly paradise. And in the Garden, there was work. We're told,"The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it [tend it, cultivate it] and take care of it" (Gen 2:15 (NIV - amplification added)).
This was not hard, burdensome work, but a means to encounter and have joyful fellowship with God. The Bible goes on to praise work at every turn:
4 Poor is he who works with a negligent hand,
But the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Prov. 10:4 (NASB)
17 He who loves pleasure will become a poor man;
He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.
Prov. 21:17 (NASB)
11 Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles,
But the one who gathers by labor increases it.
Prov. 13:11 (NASB)
Many of Jesus' parables were about work:
the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30);
the parable of the minas (Luke 19:11-27);
the parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-9);
the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6-9).
God Himself is a worker: Jesus described Himself and the Father as the Vinedresser and the Shepherd. He was a worker in Creation; The Cross is called a "work;" Jesus called His earthly ministry His "work;" in heaven, He does the daily "work" of intercession. Does God love His work? Of course! It's an on-going expression of His love for us.
We're told to follow that example and love each other and love God by working. Paul exhorted New Testament Christians:
10For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 2 Thess.. 3:10-12 (NASB)
Paul objected strongly to believers who became consumers and not producers. God's divine order is for everyone to be givers, not takers. Until we learn that lesson, God will resist us, and poverty and lack will be our lot.
Ephesians 4:28 gives five beautiful truths about work:
28He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
1) work is pure, because at its core, work is serving others;
2) work is good and gives satisfaction of a job well-done;
3) work creates value;
4) work is the foundation of giving;
5) giving is the expression of love.
Work was given by God to be the primary activity of man during our earthly journey. Through work, we are transformed in maturity, in life-skills, in leadership and in the many traits discussed in "Ten Kingdom Things Business Does." Through work, we create value for others, enabling us to fulfill the second-greatest commandment, to "love our neighbor," and the greatest commandment, to "love the Lord our God" (Matt. 22:36-40).
In the next chapter we'll see how work gets redefined as worship, and what a powerful thing it is to work as for the Lord.