Economist Unintentionally Discovers 3 Biblical Values for Prosperity

Engaging the Essential Values for Vibrant Personal, Family, Church, and Economic Life

Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist.
Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist. | (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)

A hot political issue this year is the chilled economic picture for many people. The general economy may not be in a recession — but millions of families are suffering from their own private "recessions"!

Growth in the job market in May 2016 was tragically low, and a smaller percentage of adults have jobs now than at any time since 1980. American workers, on average, have not had an increase in their income in nearly two decades! And while the American economy looks bleak, people's prospects in most economies in the world are even more bleak!

Is it time to look for a resource that will make our economies vibrant again?

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When it comes to creating vibrant personal livelihood and economic vitality, economic historian Gerald Sirkin believed that there is one very dependable but depletable resource that most of us have seriously ignored. If all the other personal and material resources were present, according to Sirkin, but "Resource X" was absent, we would certainly fail in our personal business and economic vitality. Dr. Sirkin made this discovery forty years ago this year — but it is just as precious and relevant today!

When he described this essential Resource X, it turns out that it is an intentional mix of three core values of the Judeo-Christian Ethos: justice, care, and faithfulness. While he defended these values well, Dr. Sirkin did so on the basis of historic economic data only — and with no reference to the Scriptures at all!

Nevertheless, his Resource X values are at the very center of Hebrew Prophetic ethics — as in Micah 6:8, Hosea 6:12 and elsewhere. They are also at the very core of Jesus Christ's teaching — highlighted especially in Matthew 23:23 where Jesus strongly teaches "justice, mercy, and faithfulness" as the epitome of value for our personal and organizational behavior. (Some translations read "justice, mercy, and faith" but both the context and the parallel texts in the Prophets make it clear that "faithfulness" is the more accurate translation of the key Greek word "pistis.")

Dr. Sirkin cleverly uses "X" as a generic place-holder, somewhat as the "X" is used in algebra. That works for me. However, I continue to use the "X" in naming these values "Resource X" also because "X" is a splendid ancient symbol for Jesus Christ. The Resource X values remain our Lord Jesus Christ's key values, and they are three repeated themes of his teachings.

Although this Resource X takes years to generate in any significant quantity within any person, organization, or society, it can nevertheless be abused tragically and depleted quickly. Yet there are no natural limits to its quantity! It is a set of ethical values and attitudes that produce the self-discipline necessary for personal wholeness, family joy, relational riches, business and professional vitality, economic vibrancy, and other good results we desire.

As an economic historian, Dr. Sirkin demonstrates with some authority the historical correlation between the strengths of these values in the general population of a particular community or country and the resulting vitality of that community's social health, economic growth and development — as well as business and professional achievement. Moreover, it seems that Dr. Sirkin's remarkable perspective is confirmed in most people's experiences.

Dr. Sirkin's thesis seems plausible enough:

Fairness in personal relationships, decisions, and leadership is an attractive and empowering pattern of behavior wherever we are.

Care for others and mercy when they are in need, and affirmation of community — these all matter for the trust and shared purposes of our lives together on earth.

Faithfulness to our relationships, promises and purposes enhances collaboration and empowers accomplishments — actively expressed in responsibility, accountability, and achievement.

These three values are all certainly marks of personal maturity, and they describe also the kind of people with whom we enjoy working — or would like to be working. If our own personal preferences are a guide to other people's attitudes, a wealth of these three values would greatly enhance personal and economic vitality for individuals, for the Church, and for our communities as a whole as well.

However, we can be more specific: How might these values contribute to personal and economic growth? Let me suggest some ways.

First, in comparison with other communities, a community of people disciplined in fairness and justice naturally achieves higher levels of cooperation because here people more quickly and accurately understand and trust what is expected of them and others. Moreover, people who are just and fair understand each other better, for they speak the "same language" in social interaction.

Do fairness and justice lead to rigid conformity? Not at all!

On the contrary, when people are well disciplined in the habits of honesty and diligence, personal freedom can be expanded. Fair people will be more readily trusted by others — by their customers, their managers, their employees, their government. As this trust is established, customers will more likely be attracted to their business, managers will be able to encourage ingenuity and entrepreneurship, employees may well work with greater commitment and energy, and governments may even be less apt to impose potentially burdensome regulations. Therefore, justice — along with the cooperation and trust that fairness elicits — equips, and literally frees people to use their creative energies in ways that enhance communities and further empowers their economic growth.

Second, care and mercy in our relationships and communities also foster personal, relational, and economic growth. Minimal levels of care provide the bonding glue of society. Without some human commitment to one another's health and welfare, society itself would deteriorate. In addition, both people and business must "do good" for others in order to grow. Potential friends, collaborators, and customers must recognize some genuine value in the goods and services offered, and employees must find significance in their work.

In contrast, the present continuing problems with both unsafe products on the market and employee alienation at work create levels of suspicion and personal apathy that can only inhibit sustained satisfaction and growth. The quality of personal, Church and business activity affects the future of their surrounding society — the society in which that same activity must continue to thrive. Social concern must, therefore, be a strategic interest of people, Churches, communities, and business. Care of people is, consequently, central to personal, Church, community, and business agenda. Doing "good for others" — some level of mercy and care — is essential for vibrant living.

Finally, faithfulness and accountability contribute to personal and economic growth as well. The responsible, efficient use of resources is an obvious requirement for sustained economic growth. Thoughtful choices, careful assessments of markets, controlled inventories, timely training and retraining opportunities, strategic decisions, quality of work life foci, and such like are all accountable choices that can both enable and sustain personal and economic growth.

To put it another way, these core Judeo-Christian values are the primary ecology for the development of vibrant, responsible, and fulfilled people, families, Churches, communities, and business — including stable society, a fabric of mutual care, empowered Church members, thankful neighbors, satisfied customers, contented employees, motivated managers, and much more.

Jesus was right, of course! These three values matter the most — justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Moreover, we are grateful to Dr. Sirkin for giving these splendid values a great name: Resource X. Let us cultivate them in ourselves and our families — and encourage them in others.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. He is a specialist in Biblical hermeneutics and ethics and a life-long advocate of Biblical activism.

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