M. Beliefs about economic, relational, and spiritual values
The society counts family, friends, and joy in life as more important than material wealth
Because this book has focused on solving the problem of poverty in poor nations, its emphasis has been on economic issues and growth in material prosperity. But we must also emphasize that financial wellbeing is never presented as the ultimate goal in life, according to the Bible. Other things are more important, especially relationships with family members, friends, and other people, and one’s relationship with God (see the next section).
In the Ten Commandments, the fifth commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12). Here God establishes and protects the importance of maintaining strong relationships that include honor and respect within a family. Other Bible passages give instructions on how to maintain a healthy marriage and how parents should care for and discipline their children (see Eph. 5:22-6:4; Col. 3:18-21).
In addition, Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Therefore, relationships with other people, and particularly relationships with one’s family, are of great importance to God.
This means that a society that genuinely seeks to follow biblical principles will not place material prosperity as the highest goal. While seeking to grow in economic productivity, an ideal economically productive society will continually keep in mind the higher value of positive, healthy interpersonal relationships with others. Without such relationships, what benefit is there in amassing more and more personal wealth? “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Eccl. 5:10).
On the other hand, if a society makes material prosperity its ultimate good, then greed and selfishness, bitterness and frustration will increasingly characterize that society. Family relationships and friendships will be destroyed in the quest for ever more material prosperity. But this relentless quest for wealth can never satisfy, for it will leave a person with no one with whom to enjoy his prosperity.
At this point, we must honestly say that in many poor countries today, this cultural value is already held strongly, more strongly than in some highly individualistic Western societies. People in many poor nations count relationships with family members and friends as extremely important. Our hope is not that they will abandon this value, but that they will maintain it while they also take the other steps described in this book in order to move toward greater economic prosperity.
This is not impossible. There are many thousands of individuals in wealthy countries who are notable exceptions to Western patterns of excessive individualism and whose strong family lives testify to the fact that it is possible even for wealthier people with highly productive jobs to give significant attention to one’s family and friends.