In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith expounds on the importance of self interest. He shows that when an individual pursues self-sufficiency, he indirectly promotes the good of society:
“by pursuing his own interest, [the individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually”
Self-interested competition in the free market, he argued, would tend to benefit society as a whole by keeping prices low, while still building an incentive for a wide variety of goods and services.He said:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
I can hear you ready to object: “Whoa now, Chad, isn’t that selfish? Self-interest?Self-sufficiency?!” That isn’t a Biblical concept.That’s the opposite of the Bible’s teaching.Well, let’s think a little deeper about these issues. If you are depending on someone else to provide for you when you could/should be working yourself, you are the one being selfish. Someone else is required to work while you sit around. You are taking from someone else’s labor when you should be working yourself. That is selfish. That is depending -rather than producing and sustaining. You have become what the Bible calls a sluggard rather than an ant.The ant works hard, provides for its own future, and builds up savings for the future. The sluggard is foolish, naive, and lazy.
Proverbs 6:6-9 6Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise,Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler,8Provides her supplies in the summer, Andgathers her food in the harvest.9How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
According to Biblical psychology, self-sufficiency is the fuel that motivates the human heart. Every human being is hardwired to look out for themselves. It is a theme throughout the Old and New Testament. Jesus told us the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord God,” and the second is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Notice the last part,as yourself. Jesus presumes that we “love ourselves.” We look out for ourselves. We protect ourselves. We provide for ourselves. We are motivated by self-interest. And Jesus even tells us to use this basic foundation of psychology to think about how to love others. He uses the same logic with the Golden rule:
“Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.”
Jesus assumes that we know how we’d want to be provided for, loved on, and taken care of; and we can use that moral law written on our hearts as a basis for how we view others. The moral law of God written on every human being’s heart (Romans 2:15) is a part of the common grace God gives to all of us to function in a broken world. Paul also reminds us that it’s not just the world that’s out of alignment; our hearts are fundamentally cracked as well. So, though we are motivated by self-interest, we must be careful not to “think of ourselves more highly than we ought”. Here in Philippians, Paul also affirms self-interest when he says:
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, butalsoto the interests of others.”
Again, there is that assumption that “we do look out for our own interests.” Paul doesn’t say that it’s aneither-or, it’s aboth-and. Love yourself andlove others.
Since free market capitalism taps into a person’s self-interest, yet requires them to put others’ needs first in order to meet their own needs, both the seller and buyer are blessed.In fact, the early theologians and Puritans called this idea common grace.What is common grace? It’s a way God programmed the universe (believers and nonbelievers) to do the right thing (whether they acknowledge Him or not). Self-interest is an example of common grace.
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