The Biblical Principles of Household Economy
The principles of Biblical economy represent one of the most important educational disciplines. Rev. Rushdoony observed that education primarily involves accomplishment in the liberal arts, the wisdom and skills which support free institutions. Free institutions operate as a foundation for Christ’s Great Commission commandment. Free institutions include free enterprise and the protection of the fruit of that enterprise. God commanded the first man to take dominion over the earth and re-issued the command to Noah after the Great Flood. Christian enterprise equals taking Christian dominion for the Lord. Christian enterprise therefore includes all the economic and political activity of men necessary to bring all thought, word, and deed captive to the obedience of Christ for His glory and the building of His Kingdom among men. Rather than foment revolution which destroys, God requires His people to build and heal, always offering something better than the world gives. Christians work to win men to Christ and His ways, through the influence of friendship manifest in all our works, to the glory of God. God expects His people to live the enterprising adventure of faith. Therefore, the elements of Christian enterprise ought to assume a fundamental position in every Christian curriculum.
The Biblical Basis for the Economy of Difficulty and of Hope
To endeavor successfully in Christian enterprise, we ought to be aware of God’s economic principles.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:17-19)
God’s provision for men under the curse of Genesis 3 is His economy of difficulty. In light of the bruised serpent’s head, it is also God’s economy of hope, a means to encouraging people turn to God for material help and ultimately for salvation.
Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation? The hay appeareth, and the tender grass showeth itself, and herbs of the mountains are gathered. The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens. (Proverbs 27:23-27)
As opposed to prevalent Christian thought today which minimizes the importance of material life, God emphasizes the need for His people to practice good economy. These passages are representative of the Bible’s declarations regarding material economy. In the preparation of a high school economics course of study, I found over 300 references to material economic concerns.
A Philosophical Definition of Economy
From these Scriptures and many others arise Noah Webster’s Christian understanding of economy. From his American Dictionary of the English Language, economy is “Primarily, the management, regulation and government of a family or the concerns of a household.” It is “the management of pecuniary concerns or the expenditure of money. Hence, a frugal and judicious use of money; that management which expends money to advantage, and incurs no waste; frugality in the necessary expenditure of money.” Interestingly, economy “differs from parsimony, which implies an improper saving of expense.” “Economy includes also a prudent management of all the means by which property is saved or accumulated; a judicious application of time, of labor, and of the instruments of labor.”
Economy is governing the provisional activities of the home
Proverbs 31:11-31 illustrates economy in the activities of the ideal wife and mother. Clearly, the basic principles of economy apply to all. Economy is not primarily macroeconomics but essentially local. In modern times, the family appears essentially as a unit of consumption. Rather, as Webster indicates, true productive economy begins in the home. In times of more economic simplicity, the family farm or business clearly marked the fundamental unit of productive economy. The cooperative efforts of family members produced a mini-federal republic. Despite appearances in our present economic complexity, the family remains the basic unit of productivity in a Biblical worldview. Even great corporations depend upon individuals (and indirectly their families) to build their great corporate endeavors.
The basic principles of economy, found throughout the Scriptures, are conveniently arranged in Proverbs 31:10-31:
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
Economy Spends money to Advantage
First, notice that economy in differs from spoil. The good economy of the virtuous wife means her husband need not depend on the uncertain wealth of spoil in war. He need not wait until someone attacks him so that he may gain from the defense of his home. Neither need he wage an unholy offensive war to take spoil, that is, to perpetrate theft against his neighbor. An economical wife helps her husband remain honest before God. (Note that modern Bible translations generally fail us on this point. They poorly translate the word spoil, substituting the word gain, as if spoil or theft equates to honest profit.)
Rather, righteous gain results from spending “money to advantage.” Good economy results from practicing successful investment. Investment expends resources with the expectation of some gain in the end. To invest successfully, one must produce more than one spends. Note that money in this sense represents the capital value of material resources or of work.
True investment improves raw materials. The virtuous wife seeks wool and flax and works them with her hands until they are a finished product. She turns raw or more primitive resources into clothing of more utility and value. She risks destroying her raw material, or at least wasting her time, for the sake of improving them to advantage or gain.
Such investment represents the hazard of enterprise.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12:24)
This is the economy of Genesis 3. As an aside, this passage clearly speaks to a spiritual application. The Lord’s ways are consistent. Spiritual things involve material life. Material life unfolds in a spiritual context. One cannot properly separate faith in Jesus Christ from any area of life.
To the point, John 12:24 identifies the need to walk by faith in all of life. To invest is to risk the permanent loss of raw resources. One could consume the grain and receive a sure, though temporary benefit. On the other hand, one could plant that seed, destroying it for other purpose in the process, with the hope that it may produce some thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold. One must exercise faith to invest, literally at the hazard of life. One may invest time, energy, or materials. God makes no guarantee of success. Indeed, experience teaches that we often lose our investments. Nonetheless, those who trust Christ know He is faithful. If I ask for an egg, I do not receive a scorpion. Therefore, the adventure of investment ought to constitute a way of life for every Christian. Such is the epitome of faith in Christ, practicing obedience to Him in all economic endeavors spiritual or material. God rewards those who undertake good economy and investment for Him: “His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:23).
Contrast true investment with the recent outrageously speculative efforts to find instant wealth in the Internet. At best, the Internet represents a means to market the true production of someone else’s practice of economy. Americans should be very wary of dependence upon mere marketing as the foundation for our national economy. Great merchandizing efforts have produced great wealth, and are necessary as part of a sound economy. Good economy requires getting the goods to their markets. However, as with the ancient Phoenicians and more recently the Dutch, such entire, speculative dependence on others’ productivity does not appear wise.
If anything characterizes the virtuous wife of Proverbs 31, it is diligent work. Work is faithfulness to the mandate of Genesis 3 and the general call of God to walk by faith.
And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. (Mark 4:26-27)
Even in this poor example of work, the Lord rewards the faith of investment. Work is faithfulness. Stealing and gambling are attempts to circumvent the curse and the implied providential blessing of Genesis 3. Therefore, as economy is a family endeavor and every child will soon become a morally independent adult, children must learn that work is a good thing. A school subject is a good thing to learn in itself. It does not need amusement to make it palatable. The word diligence derives from the Latin word diligo, to love. The minute and continued work of diligence characterizes every truly Christian endeavor. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
Laziness, a form of slavish selfishness, destroys capital and is the antithesis of good economy. “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Proverbs 10:4-5). Therefore, we must restrain our selfish and lazy passions. Moreover, “The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh” (Ecclesiastes 4:5). The fool consumes his capital. He consumes more than he produces. The lazy man destroys himself.
Conversely, self-governed diligence, such as the ant exhibits in Proverbs 6:6-8, brings increase and provision when needed. “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want” (Proverbs 21:5). Careful planning corresponds to diligence and economic increase. The shortcuts of the lazy lead to poverty. This is a very important economic consideration!
Children should learn diligence at an early age. Delaying such training makes the job ultimately much more difficult. Parents who allow children to quit before a task is properly completed do him no favor. Regular small tasks which a toddler can reasonably complete, such as putting dishes into the dishwasher, prepare a character for diligence. Similarly, requiring a child to put toys and clothes away neatly leads to habits of diligence.
Learning to Waste Not and Want Not
Webster says economy “incurs no waste.” In any endeavor, spending too much time or ruining raw material means a smaller net gain or a net loss. Accordingly, the Proverbs 31 virtuous wife invested in work skills. Over some period, likely from early childhood, she mastered with excellence her tools and materials to produce more than she spends.
In order to avoid waste, the economy of difficulty and faith requires character and skill. Almost everyone possesses sufficient godly gifts to make a living and contribute to the gospel. Character and skill with one’s gifts result from overcoming the inherent difficulty of accomplishment. Education should train a fundamental resolve and ability to overcome that difficulty. Tasks of graded difficulty appropriate to the student’s present ability forge overcoming faith. Every success of overcoming faith produces an incremental foundation of character for greater accomplishment. Waste occurs during learning because no one is at first very good at any particular endeavor. The investment of learning now provides ready and efficient accomplishment later. This is true education. Our English word school, derived from the Greek schola, means leisure. Leisure does not mean lazy idling. Leisure rather means freedom. School is the time and place where one possesses the freedom to learn. The child need not be perfect in skills, because he does not yet bear the weight of adult responsibility. When young, we enjoy leisure because of the providence of God and our parents’ good economy on our behalf. Such leisure economically provides for the period of the inefficiency of the learning process.
Our virtuous wife is organized. How else could she accomplish so much? One very important way to be productive is to be prepared. Preparation lays a foundation for efficiency. If I must clean and order all my tools before I can use them, and I never otherwise keep them in order, I must first spend time unscrambling my mess before I can be productive. This is wasteful. Alternatively, maintaining a continuous order, having tools in the right place, and a regular work sequence lead to a more efficient accomplishment. Organization corresponds to avoiding waste.
Saving, Capital, and Tools
“She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.” Our virtuous wife has saved enough to capitalize her new ventures. Investment requires raw materials, tools, and additional labor. The lack of these can hinder future economic efforts. How did she accomplish such savings? She practiced all of the above to produce more than she consumed. She was diligent. She invested in skills. She avoided waste. However, she must also have practiced delayed gratification. Investment means avoiding consumption now so that plenty results later. Restraint of desire brings more capital to build an ever-greater economic base.
Expectation and desire heavily influence the raising of capital. Raised expectation and desire lower satisfaction because one never gets enough. Greed destroys productivity because one focuses on consumption rather than production. On the other hand, the lowered expectation and desire of contentment bring greater satisfaction because whatever increase occurs is accepted with thanksgiving.
Tools are critical. The distaff and spindle, the loom, and even the candle multiply the efforts of our virtuous wife. The Bible takes for granted the use of all kinds of tools, particularly those used in agriculture, war, and music. We should be note that references to tools are positive or negative, depending on their use for God’s glory or evil. Where men rebel against God, He removes the effective use of tools (Isaiah 28:24-27). Tools are a blessing of God. Economist Dr. Charles Hull Wolfe of Restore the Republic identified a little economic equation which others have extensively borrowed:
Raw material + Labor x Tools = Productivity1
The investment in making tools can leverage labor many, many times over. Since tool making constitutes a risk in itself, it highlights the need for capital. The production of tools multiplies productivity. For a given amount of capital, the investment in tools seems very worthwhile. In this regard, we cannot overemphasize the importance of both capital and tools. We long required students in our schools to use fountain pens. Besides several other virtues, the pens gave children an opportunity to learn to handle, maintain, and appreciate a fine instrument.
While productivity is important, remember that capital growth is exponential; seeking quick wealth usually leads to dangerous speculation—gambling—where great loss is as likely as great gain. There is no sign of anxiety or impatience in the virtuous wife.
For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth (Zechariah 4:10). And,
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? (Matthew 24:45).
Growth takes time. Here is the idea of compound interest! Our liberty and prosperity is found in obedience and faith.
Some Final Thoughts and Recommendations
As our virtuous wife works, “she perceives and considers.” In other words, she applies intelligence to her work. Economy requires intelligence and wisdom. Intelligence and wisdom are also economic commodities, gained by economic application of one’s mind, learning one’s lessons early and well.
She is generous. Webster notes that good economy does not equal parsimony or stinginess. Greediness and stinginess are not elements of Biblical economy. Contrary to liberal myth, the generous investment required of and the philanthropy typical of capitalism exclude parsimony and greed. In other words, good economy does not mean being cheap. Stinginess lacks faith because it inhibits investment! God distributes gifts (and therefore wealth) individually as He wills. To most, God assigns the production of wealth. To some, He assigns certain ministries which require external support. The church ministry is one such. Educational work is another. These works, while not materially productive in themselves, provide an intellectual and character foundation for liberty and wealth. Accordingly, under the Mosaic Law, the Levites administered the tithe collected locally. In turn, the Levites tithed to support the centralized priesthood. Today there remains inequity between those who collect wealth and those who sacrifice to serve God. The one is supposed to serve the other, as wealth ought to be capital for the Kingdom. Moreover, generosity toward the needy is a basic element of Biblical faith ( e.g., Isaiah 58). How can God reward avarice? As opposed to the false generosity of today’s liberalism, parents must teach their children wise and godly generosity.
Some final recommendations: Practice good economy in the order and government of the home as preparation for increasing wealth outside the home. Include children in learning and practicing good economy. Give everyone household responsibilities to fulfill; do not indulge the children. Teach a habit for regularity in assigned work and attention to detail. Discover personal gifts through an application to education as a life-long pursuit. Work hard to accomplish the best possible with the gifts and interests God has granted. Make excellence, because of the excellence of Christ in us, our ultimate goal. Choose an area of industry which matches personal gifts to contribute toward fulfilling a societal need. Make the investments necessary to fill that need such that you may enjoy some return from your investment. Be diligent and persevering. Walk by faith. Never give up on the Lord. Never lean on your own understanding. Start small and let growth be organic. (Do not try to make a killing [Pr. 23:4, 5]). Beware of the temptations of wealth. Heed all God's warnings over the deceit of riches. Do a word study in Proverbs of the word rich and related words.
God will reward family economic enterprise undertaken by faith and with His glory as our purpose.
1. Charles Hull Wolfe, “The Principle Approach to American Christian Economics” in A Guide to American Christian Education for the Home and School (Camarillo, CA: American Christian History Institute: 1987), p. 400.
Topics: Biblical Law, Economics, Family & Marriage