Lecture 1 (15 min video)
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I’m R.C. Sproul Jr. and as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a profound interest in economics and in the Bible. In my circumstances now, I’m not just a person interested in these things, but I’m also a husband and a father. Now the reality is that how my family handles economics is not fundamentally different from the world around us. That we, economics, distinguish between the big picture economics and little picture economics. economics and what they often miss is that the principles that apply in the little picture have to apply in the big picture. Now you don’t have to have a large family like my family size to be interested in economics. All you have to desire to do is to do what any scientist does which is to think God’s thoughts after him. Economics is a scientific study of how God ordered the world. Now Now many of us are turned off by economics because it’s often presented in a dismal and dreary kind of mathematical way. But my hope is through this study that we’re going to come to understand some basic biblical economic principles that are going to make us better stewards of all that God has placed in our command.
I want us to not be afraid. In fact, I want us to be excited because we have the opportunity to manifest the glory of God as we study His world in economics.
The first and most basic economic principle that we really need to grasp is simply this. God owns everything. When we open up our Bibles to the very first page, we read these words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now, the church has always taught that God’s creation is ex nihilo, out of nothing. And that means that there isn’t an existing world that God merely reshaped, but rather there was God and nothing else, and God speaks all of reality into existence. Now that means, and this is a demonstration of God’s sovereignty on two spheres. That is, one, it demonstrates His sovereign power. Can you imagine being able to speak and whatever comes out of your mouth happens necessarily? That’s the power that God has. But it also affirms God’s sovereign authority. That because He made it, it’s His to do with as He pleases. He tells us this about man throughout the Scriptures. That He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. That the potter has authority over the clay. God is a God who rules over His creation. Now the creation in God’s mind has a particular goal. That goal first is to make manifest His glory. which means we can learn things about who He is by looking at the creation. We learn that He’s sovereign, as we’ve already covered. We learn that God not only creates the world, but that He governs the world. He exercises providence over the world. And He does this typically in and through what we call natural law, that are not laws of nature separate from God, but it’s what God ordered the world to be like. and a good and godly scientist, his goal is to think God’s thoughts after him. To discover how God has ordered the universe. So God is a God who creates, God is a God who orders, and God is a God who does these things with a purpose in mind.
To manifest his glory, but also in his grace to bless man. Not only does God act with purpose, but he creates us to do the same thing. And those Those purposes include the reflecting of His glory, even as He reflects His own glory and manifests that glory. And those purposes include our acting in our own self-interest, even as He acts in His self-interest. This is what we do when we’re making choices. And if economics is anything, it’s the study of the choices that we make, and the mindset that’s underneath it, and the thinking processes that are going through it. So we need to understand that man is not a victim that’s being bounced to and fro here. Karl Marx says that all economic decisions are the result of economic forces that are outside of our control. But the Bible says that man bears God’s image, and therefore we act with purpose, we act with self-interest, we act rationally, we act reasonably, and when we’re not in sin, we do it all under his sovereign authority and for his glory. Now hear how God speaks to Adam in the garden. Genesis 128 reads, “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
‘” In Genesis chapter 2, verse 15, we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” When God puts us in the garden, we to remember that it’s His garden. Remember, that’s the fundamental principle. God owns all things, which means that our economic activity is all happening in a context of stewardship. The steward is the one who, under the authority of the actual owner, manages the stuff that the owner owns for his good, for his glory, and that’s what we do in the garden. We have to rule under God’s authority. Now again, we have to do this with wisdom even before the fall. Because with wisdom, we have to make choices about the limitations that we’re facing. There are still, even without the fall, only so many hours in the day. There’s only so much we can do. And you can see this manifested in one of the first things that Adam does that is both economic activity, It’s scientific activity. It’s stewardship activity. And that’s when he’s called to name the animals. This is an act of taxonomy where Adam has to look at the creation, look at what God has made, and notice connections, notice similarities.
This one has a backbone. That one has a backbone. That one has a backbone. This one has four feet. That one has feathers. This one lives in the water and on the ground. He has to take in, again, the order of God’s creation, and then impose order on the creation in the act of naming. This is a scientific enterprise. This is a dominion exercise. This is a stewardship exercise. That’s not ultimately that different from how we work in our labor today. We’re making choices. We’re trying to understand God’s world. We’re trying to order God’s world, to name God’s world, and that’s how we rule over it. Adam not only has limitations in how he uses his time, there’s limitations in terms of space. You can’t plant a row of beans and in the same spot plant tomatoes. And not only can you not do that, but you can’t plant the beans and dig a hole in the ground to mine some sort of precious metal that you might wanna use for something.
There’s always economic choices going on in Adam’s mind. I can do this and there’s opportunities lost. If I choose to do this, I can’t do that. If I choose to do that, I can’t do this. Whether it’s time, whether it’s space, all of these are going to be framed in the context of economic thinking, economic decisions, economic reasoning. We’ve been considering some of what God says in Genesis chapters one and chapter two, but now it might be a good time for us to have a clear and specific definition of what economics is.
At the end of the day, I would define economics this way. Economics is man making choices as to how to best use his limited resources in order to be a good steward before God. Now to be a good steward, you not only have to use those limited resources, but you need to understand the principle of stewardship in terms of law, including economic law.
Now there are similarities between various and sundry scientific laws and economic laws. There are cause and effect that’s going to happen. When you drop something, gravity’s going to make it accelerate at 32 feet per second, assuming no resistance, etc. That’s a scientific law. Force equals mass times acceleration. That’s a scientific law. Well economic laws are similar in that certain decisions are going to bear certain fruits, there’s some complications because we’re talking about human action, people making choices, and that can muddy the waters a little bit. What we’re really talking with in economics is a more deductive approach where we’re building our understanding out of some basic, unproven, but nevertheless necessary assumptions. It’s sort of like geometry. When you study geometry, if you remember that, when you study geometry you start with three basic principles. You have a point, you have a line, you have a plane. And out of those three basic principles, which can’t be proven, you can build triangles, you can build squares, you can build circles. And out of those things, you can build bridges. Now here’s these abstract things that don’t have proofs. And not only that, there aren’t any actual perfect points, perfect lines, perfect circles, perfect planes in nature. But if you want to build a bridge, you need to build it upon the foundation of these geometry principles. Well, the same thing is true in how we understand economics. We have some basic economic rules that we have to understand in order to act with wisdom. Here’s a simple one. If you distort, inflate, or water down your money supply, the old money that was good is going to disappear. It’s going to get hoarded. That’s called in economics Gresham’s Law. money drives out good money. That’s just one example. Another application of these economic laws that are sort of like geometry in our lives is a critical one, is the division of labor. Division of labor, which by the way is reflected in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 with the church being the body of Christ and the hands and the feet and all of that.
In the division of labor, what we see is an increase in productivity when we divide up the work into specific callings. You know, we can call the job at the end of the meal washing the dishes, and when, you know, you have a family the size of mine, that’s a big job. But it’s actually multiple jobs. We’ve gotta clear the dishes, we’ve gotta rinse the dishes, we’ve gotta wash the dishes, we’ve gotta dry the dishes, and then we’ve gotta put the dishes back away. Well, if you have one person doing that job, it can be quite a big job. If you have multiple people doing the jobs, you can end up not only dividing in a nice even way, but you can have a net gain of time.
Now, if you’re smart, and if you have sufficient motivation, you might even bring into the equation something we’ll talk about later, the importance of tools. So again, to be good stewards, we wanna think God’s thoughts after him and understand how he’s ordered the economic world and act in light of those laws in order to make better use of the limited resources that he’s put at our command. There’s a reason why the Bible is quick to show us some of the consequences of our foolish economic decisions, because those economic decisions are always going to impinge on issues of morality.
Happy to confess that the Bible’s not an economic textbook, but because economics deals with human action, deals with the choices that we make, it’s always going to touch on ethical issues. And where else are we going to go but to the Bible to find out how to make wise, God-honoring ethical decisions, how to obey what God commands?
So you’re gonna have the Bible again touching on economic issues because it touches on ethics. It’s gonna touch on ethics because it deals with human behavior. So they all tie together in the end such that we do come and understand that economics is not something that you can rightly understand apart from the word of God.
Which also tells us, by the way, that it equips us for every good work. Our work is a good work, which means the scripture is going to equip us for making wise, God-honoring, obedient economic decisions. So why study economics? Well, at the end of the day, one of our motives is our own obedience. God gave the cultural mandate in the garden, and we’re the children of Adam and Eve, and that mandate abides on us. And so we’re called to submit to that, to obey that, and to do that, we have to understand it, we have to understand some basic economic principles.
But you know, that particular cultural mandate, beginning in Genesis 1 and 2, is more greatly revealed as the scriptures come forth. And so we’re not only gonna understand it better, but we hope we’re gonna understand Old Testament better, we hope we’re going to understand the New Testament better, and we hope we’re going to understand our own place in the history of the world better in understanding these things. We also have this goal. It is a sincere desire of us that out of this study all of us would come to a place of greater prosperity. But in the end even that goal serves a higher goal. If you study economic history and the history of the spread of the gospel what you’ll find is is that when God blesses and prospers a people, they in turn, in obedience to Him, send out the message of the Lordship of Jesus Christ across the globe.
That’s what we wanna see happen. We wanna see other people prosper. We wanna see the whole world prosper by coming to understand what God calls us to do. What we’re doing then in understanding and studying these things is equipping ourselves for the fulfillment of the Great Commission itself. [MUSIC] (film reel clicking) (film reel clicking)