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The Biblical Case for Entrepreneurship

Those who consider the entrepreneurial vocation a necessary evil should realize that Scripture lends ample support to entrepreneurial activity. In Matthew 25:14­30, we find Jesus' parable of the talents. As with all parables, its meaning is multi-layered. Its eternal meaning relates to how we use God's gift of grace. With regard to the material world, it is a story about capital, investment, entrepreneurship, and the proper use of economic resources.

I do not pretend to build an entire ethic for capitalism from this parable. Yet one of its critical lessons is this: It is not immoral to profit from our resources, wit, and labor. Writing for an entirely different audience and context, Austrian economist Israel Kirzner employs the concept of entrepreneurial alertness to show the significance of cultivating one's natural ability, time, and resources. Building on the work of Ludwig von Mises, Kirzner acknowledges that by seeking new opportunities and engaging in goal-directed activity, entrepreneurs strive “to pursue goals efficiently, once ends and means are clearly identified, but also with the drive and alertness needed to identify which ends to strive for and which means are available.”

Without overstating the similarity between Kirzner's concept and the parable of the talents, there seems to be a natural connection between the discovery of entrepreneurial opportunities and the master's admonition in Matthew 25 to be watchful of his return and to be caretakers of his property. Thus, with respect to profit, the only alternative is loss, which, in the case of the third servant, constitutes poor stewardship. However, the voluntary surrender of wealth, such as in almsgiving or in its more radical form of renouncing the right to ownership of property (as in the traditional vow of poverty taken by members of certain religious orders), should not be confused with economic loss. In the former case, a legitimate good is foregone in exchange for another to which one has been uniquely called. In the latter case, to fail deliberately in an economic endeavor, or to do so as a result of sloth, is to show disrespect for God's gift and for one's responsibility as a steward.

Nevertheless, we must distinguish properly between the moral obligation to be economically creative and productive, on the one hand, and to employ one's talents and resources prudently and magnanimously, on the other. It is clear from the parable of the talents and the cultural mandate in Genesis 1 that in subduing the earth, people need to be attentive to the possibilities for change, development, and investment. Furthermore, because humans are created in the image of God and have been endowed with reason and free will, human actions necessarily involve a creative dimension. Thus, in the case of the third servant who placed his single talent into the ground, it was the non-use of his ability to remain alert to future possibilities that led to his being severely chastised.

In the book of Genesis, we read that God gave the earth with all its resources to Adam and Eve. They were to mix their labor with the raw material of creation to produce usable goods for their family. Similarly, the master in the parable of the talents expected his servants to use the resources at their disposal to increase the value of his holdings. Through this parable, God commands us to use our talents productively; we are exhorted to work, to be creative, and to reject idleness.