A Lesson in Economics from a Parable

Timothy Carter

The Parable

In Luke 19:11–30, we are given an account of Jesus teaching as he often did – through a parable. While not His most familiar, this one has many similarities to other parables He taught. In this parable, Jesus speaks of a nobleman who was to travel to a faraway land and be installed as king over his own domain. As the nobleman prepares to leave his country, he instructs ten of his servants to come and gives each of them one mina out of the ten that he has. As he disperses the minas, he instructs the servants to take what they had been given and engage in business until he returns. Upon returning home from his long journey, the nobleman, now a king, calls his servants to him to receive an account of how they had used the mina they had been given. In this act, the king rewards those who have faithfully engaged in business and punishes those who have not.

While the parable of the talents tends to lead us to discuss the various gifts that God has entrusted to us and our call to use them faithfully, this parable, I believe, deals directly with the gospel itself. As we look back over it, we see that the nobleman is a picture of Jesus and what was about to take place. Like the nobleman, Jesus was going to leave his disciples and one day return as the established ruler over all things. In this story, the nobleman leaves each servant the same entrusted treasure and calls each to the same task. Likewise, as Jesus is preparing to leave this earth and ascend to the Father, he also entrusts his disciples with the invaluable treasure of the gospel and commands them to engage in business until he returns. We also know that one day, when Christ returns, he will take account of how his disciples and those who were entrusted with this treasure “engaged in business.”

Economic Actions

What would you say if I told you that at the heart of this parable is also an instructive lesson in economics? And I’m actually not referring to the act of the servants engaging in business with their entrusted minas. While taking their money and engaging in business is an economic act, this goes a little deeper. The economics lesson I want to draw out of this parable begins when the nobleman first entrusts his servants with the minas. Specifically, their first economic act was not to engage in business but to choose to engage in business. You see, before they could do anything with the mina, they had to choose between obeying the nobleman or disobeying the nobleman; this choice was their first economic act. At the core of economics, you will not find a theory of money but a framework for decision-making. Every decision you make is an economic act in which you examine the options before you, and then weigh them against each other and your desired outcome.

In this endeavor, you must look at what you will have to forgo in order to make a specific choice and what you will gain by making that specific choice. When making these decisions, the choice that is made ultimately aligns with what you value most. For instance, if I like strawberry ice cream and have the choice of buying either strawberry or vanilla ice cream, I am going to give up the chance to buy vanilla in order to have the opportunity to buy strawberry because I value strawberry more than I value vanilla. In the parable of the minas, the servants had to make a decision about what they would do with the mina that was entrusted to them. They had to decide whether they valued the desires of the nobleman, who owned the mina, over any other desires they might have. As you work through the parable, you find that there were some servants who valued the desires of the nobleman over all other options and therefore engaged in business until he returned. You will also find that there was one servant who didn’t value the desires of the nobleman over everything else. In fact, this servant valued his own self-worth and security more than the nobleman’s desire to engage in business. The servant claims that because of his fear of the nobleman, he did not choose to engage in business but hid what was entrusted to him. It wasn’t that the servant valued what the nobleman thought; it was merely that he feared what the nobleman might do to him. At the heart of his decision not to engage in business was the desire for self-preservation, not the satisfying desires of the nobleman. Therefore, as the servant weighed his options and made his choice, he revealed what he valued most: his own self-preservation.

Our Mina, Our Decision

Each servant in the parable had a choice, and when they made their choice, they revealed what they valued most. Today, we find ourselves facing many of the same temptations that the servants in the parable faced. We have been entrusted with the great treasure of the gospel and a command to engage in business. It’s not as though the servants in the parable only had to make the decision to engage in business once; it was a decision they had to make every day until the nobleman returned. They had to value the desires of the nobleman over any other desire that would creep up day in and day out. Likewise, every day we have a choice: will we value the desires of Christ over all other desires that life throws at us? There are many today who, like the wicked servant, value other things more than the desires of Christ. Whether it be public acceptance, self-preservation, or anything else, many have demonstrated what they value most. Jesus instructed his disciples that they needed to take up their crosses daily and follow him. Any desire that might compete with their desire to serve Christ faithfully had to be eradicated from their lives.

Today we are faced with an onslaught of attacks to distract us from engaging in the business entrusted to us. Temptations of self-preservation, public acceptance, and the like. The choice in our moment is the same as the servants was in the parable and the same as the disciples at the ascension: do we value the desires of Christ over everything else? Our families need men who value Christ over careers, wealth, fame, and anything else that tempts. Our churches need families that value Christ over school, scholarships, athletics, social groups, and anything else that tempts. Our cities and nation need churches that value Christ’s desires over numbers, public acclaim, budgets, platforms, and anything else that tempts. 

It starts with deciding what you are going to value most. Will it be Christ and what He desires, or something else? It will cost you. Are you willing to lose everything for it? Because that’s what it looks like to value Christ more than anything else. At the core of everything you do is the fundamental choice of what you will value most.

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