The Value of Money

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Have you ever wondered why someone is willing to give you something of value if you give them a small, old, dirty piece of green paper?  If you think about it for a minute, it is kind of an odd concept.  I mean, why does a dollar bill have the ability to buy me anything?  Why is a piece of paper that has a couple extra zeros worth one hundred times more?

I know there is a whole economics lesson that can be inserted here talking about the Federal Reserve and monetary policy, but I believe the answer is much simpler.  That piece of green paper with a President’s picture has value only because society says it does.  That’s really it.  If enough people decided that our current form of money no longer had any value, then the value would go away and it would simply become a small, old, dirty piece of green paper. So long as society maintains faith in that piece of paper, then it’s true power lies in what it represents.

I was recently reading a Fundamentals of Banking textbook (because I’m a banker, and I’m nerdy like that).  There was a quote in the book that fascinated me.  This quote came from a man named Samuel Baker who lived during the mid to late 1800’s, and I’ll help put it in plain language at the end.

“Money indeed may be considered as the most universal and expressive of all languages.  For gold and silver coins are no more money when not in the actual process of being voluntarily used in purchase…Pounds, schillings, and pence are recognized covenanted tokens, the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual purchasing power, but till in actual use they are only potential money…It is the power and will to apply the symbols that alone gives life to money, and as long as they are in abeyance, then money is in abeyance also; the coins may be kept safe in one’s pocket, but they are as dead as a log till they begin to burn in it…” [1]

In other words, Mr. Baker was elegantly saying that money is nothing but paper and metal.  It has no power by itself.  It simply represents the power and desire we have to purchase something.  Until that money comes out of our pocket and gets used, you might as well have nothing.

As soon as I read that, my mind raced to several Biblical applications, but none stronger than our Christian lives.  Why does wearing the title “Christian” mean anything?  Having that title and claiming to be a Christian does nothing until I am willing to do something with it.

Matthew 5:15 says that you do not “light a lamp and put it under a basket”.  How pointless is that?  You might as well not even have the lamp lit.  Instead, you put in on a lampstand for all in the house to see and benefit from.

It also made me think back to what Jesus said to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:8-9:

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

They wanted to hang their hat on the fact that they could trace their lineage to Abraham.  For that reason, they thought they were something special.  Jesus told them that carrying that distinction meant nothing because even the very stones they walked on could be called up as his descendants.  Instead, they had to actually do something.  They needed to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” instead of trying to rely on something meaningless.

If I have millions of dollars in cash at my house, and I decide to bury it all in jars in my backyard, what benefit is it to me or anyone else.  I can walk up and down the streets of my town claiming to the world that I have more money than anyone else.  However, unless I am willing to pull that money out of the ground and use it, then I will still be eating scraps and wearing rags.  Just as Mr. Baker said, if I’m not willing to pull it out of my pocket and do something with it, then it’s not worth anything.

What are you doing with your Christian life?  Do you proudly look back with fond memories on the day that you became a Christian and decided to dedicate your life to Him?  You should.  But what you have you done since then?  Was that all?  Don’t allow your Christian life to become like money that is buried away, or like a lamp that is put under a basket.  Put it on lampstand.  Allow it to bear fruits worthy of repentance.  That is when the true power of your Christian life will shine.


[1] Samuel Baker (1835-1902), British author.  Thought and Language, Essays on Life, Art and Science, Port Washington: New York, Kennikat Press (1970), reprint of the 1908 edition.