The Christian economist and scholar Wilhelm Röpke believed that capitalism required virtue. He wrote,
"The market economy, and with social and political freedom, can thrive only as part and under the protection of a bourgeois system. This implies the existence of a society in which certain fundamentals are respected and color the whole network of social relationships: individual effort and responsibility, absolute norms and values, independence based on ownership, prudence and daring, calculating and saving, responsibility for planning one's own life, proper coherence with the community, family feeling, a sense of tradition and the succession of generations combined with an open-minded view of the present and the future, proper tension between individual and community, firm moral discipline, respect for the value of money, the courage to grapple on one's own with life and its uncertainties, a sense of the natural order of things, and a firm scale of values."
I think Röpke was right. The virtues of the market require ultimate virtues. Proverbs backs that up, showing that market virtues are Christian virtues in every sense.
Consider three passages:
"Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it" (Proverbs 13:11; ESV).
"Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich" (Proverbs 21:17; ESV).
"Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished" (Proverbs 28:19-20; ESV).
Proverbs doesn’t condemn anyone for wanting nice things. It assumes you do want better things and tells you how you should pursue acquiring them. It does say that wisdom is of MORE value than gold, but it doesn’t claim that wealth is not a legitimate desire.
The issue is if you can make yourself wait and continue working.
People can say they are willing to work, but when they lose patience with such ways of making a living and cheat or steal to get more, there is a problem. And when people get entranced and waste money and time on get-rich-quick schemes that they should know are unlikely to work, there is a problem. When people spend what little money they have on lottery tickets hoping to escape their present lives, there is a problem.
God expects you to wait awhile to get those riches. You have to be patient and consistent.
Pursuing future goals may seem to be the result from dissatisfaction with the present. To some extent that is probably true. But a goal worth working for usually takes a long time to reach. It is even more difficult because it is sometimes hard to tell if one is making progress. A man hoping to win a wife and start a family or start and grow a business can't expect to follow a predictable schedule. So contentment, rather than being the enemy of pursuing long-term goals, is actually the substance of patient endurance. Rather than grow impatient and discouraged by setbacks, one keeps plodding along towards the goal. One is content to keep working diligently. "A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished" (Proverbs 28:20).
What does this have to do with virtue and spirituality? These Proverbs reflect a deeply a Spiritual issue that comes up again and again in the Bible.
• Adam and Eve are left by themselves for awhile and rather than waiting for God to return they decide to take it upon themselves to elevate themselves by their own actions (Genesis 3).
• Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to get the Law and, rather than waiting for him to return, the people insist on a golden calf (Exodus 32).
• The Israelites demand a king before God thinks they should have one.
• Samuel doesn’t show up when King Saul wants him to, so the king carries out unauthorized sacrifices on his own (1 Samuel 13:8ff).
And there’s much more.
? Think of Abraham and how long he had to wait for the right son.
? Or Isaac praying for twenty years before Rebekkah conceived her twins.
? Or Jacob who was oppressed for years by his uncle
? Or Joseph who suffered in slavery for years, and then suffered in worse slavery, and then gave a message to go to Pharaoh but had to wait two more years before he was elevated.
The New Testament exhorts Christians to follow the example of those heroes of the faith. Thus:
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:10–12; ESV).
Proverbs may simply seem like good sense for living one’s life and dealing with the market economy, but they are also, at the same time, dealing with the essence of faith in God for both this world and the next.