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The love of money

Last week we were joined by our friend Braden to chat about the Chartered Financial Analyst program, ethics in finance and considerations for the Christian contemplating a career in finance (check out the episode if you haven’t listened yet).


I'm not an expert on finance and money, but I have:

  • earned an MBA in finance;

  • earned the Chartered Financial Analyst credential;

  • taught the Chartered Financial Analyst content to finance professionals;

  • operated a small Chartered Financial Analyst exam preparation business;

  • invested in dozens of start-up companies; and

  • tried (and failed) to raise tens of millions of dollars for an investment fund.


And I have served professionally as a(n):

  • Analyst (for a real estate investment firm);

  • Senior Investment Analyst (for a portfolio management firm);

  • Director of Private Equity;

  • Managing Director of Venture Capital;

  • Vice President of Finance (for a technology firm); and

  • advisor to multiple start-up companies.


So I know just enough to be dangerous.


The issue of finance and (versus?) faith is, in my professional and personal experience, both complex and misunderstood. I make no attempt here to tackle this cavernous topic. However, I draw the reader's attention to two facts. First, in recent decades many Christians have become dangerously comfortable blending faith in Christ with financial prosperity as evidenced by the "prosperity gospel" movement (i.e., a group of ideas popular among charismatic evangelicals that equate Christian faith with material and financial success). Second, Scripture warns repeatedly and firmly about the danger of placing undue emphasis and reliance on money. For example...


Our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus said, according to the Gospel of Luke (16:13):


"No servant can serve two masters. For you will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."


Further, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark (10:23-27):


"Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded on hearing his words, but Jesus insisted: “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more greatly astonished, and they said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. For God all things are possible.”"


And in the Bible's First Epistle to Timothy (6:9-10) we read:


"[T]hose who want riches fall into temptations and are trapped into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all evils, and in their desire for it some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many serious wounds."


The "prosperity gospel" nonsense, which Msgr. M. Francis Mannion has rightly explained leads to a belief that "those who are poor and struggle with poverty must be sinners and lack God's blessing", coupled with the passages from Scripture above should make the Christian pause and reflect on his or her relationship with money.


I confess that for most of my professional life I have had a dangerous level of comfort with money, and I have often bordered on making it an idol. I don't know that I ever (would have admitted to having) had a "love of money" but I certainly was much too reliant on and desirous of it. And I still succumb to the allure of money and the appeal of material wealth. I'm embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until recently that I committed to formally tithing (i.e., giving 10% of my pre-tax income to the Church), as in prior years I regularly performed mental gymnastics to justify giving money to other worthy causes as if those donations count toward my 10% target rather than be in addition to it. Per the teachings of the Catholic Church, almsgiving (i.e., donating to the poor and performing other acts of charity) is "a witness to fraternal charity" and "a work of justice pleasing to God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2462). And, as C. S. Lewis wrote in his masterpiece Mere Christianity:


"I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc. is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."


I most certainly could not have said until quite recently that there are things I should like to do and cannot do because my charitable expenditure excludes them. God willing, I will live from here on out such that I can say that.


Why discuss this?


Because Coffee, Commerce & Catechesis is all about how Christianity and secular culture collide. This includes our relationship as Christians with money in a consumerist and materialistic secular culture which is driven by and dependent upon the global system of finance. Even those of us who understand money and the financial system relatively well struggle with this. Which leads me to the point of this blog post: a basic lesson for Christians related to finance.


There are two distinct concepts that regularly get confused: price and value.


Price is what something costs. Value is what something is worth.


In finance, we look for differences between price and value. This is when investment opportunities exist. It allows us to say something (e.g., a house or a business) is over-valued (and thus we should sell it) or under-valued (and thus we should buy it). If price and value are equal then we say something is fairly valued (and thus we should keep it if we own it).


So here is the lesson: most things of real value are priceless. That is, they are so valuable that no price matches their worth.


As Peter D. Kaufman once said:


"We tend to take every precaution to safeguard our material possessions because we know what they cost. But at the same time we neglect things which are much more precious because they don’t come with price tags attached: The real value of things like our eyesight or relationships or freedom can be hidden to us, because money is not changing hands."


Kaufman's examples are useful. But his focus is earthly, finite and fleeting. We Christians must consider more than that. Not only are some things (e.g., human life) of inestimable value but some things are eternal. As St. John Vianney said:


"To make us appreciate more keenly the necessity to turn our eyes to eternal blessings, God has filled our hearts with desires so vast and so magnificent that nothing in creation is capable of satisfying them. Thus it is that in the hope of finding some pleasure, we attach ourselves to created objects and that we have no sooner possessed and sampled that which we have so ardently desired than we turn to something else, hoping to find what we wanted. We are, then, through our own experience, constrained to admit that it is but useless for us to want to derive our happiness here below from transient things. If we hope to have any consolation in this world, it will only be by despising the things which are passing and which have no lasting value and in striving towards the noble and happy end for which God has created us. Do you want to be happy, my friends? Fix your eyes on Heaven; it is there that your hearts will find that which will satisfy them completely."


May we Christians remember when managing our money and participating in finance that these actions lead only to temporary and passing things. Let us not lose ourselves in our culture's mess of prices and pursuits of earthly value by remembering the lessons of our Lord, the admonitions of Scripture and the fact that most things of real value are priceless.


Join us on the podcast this week as we're joined by our friend Angelo Nwigwe to chat about the balance between faith and career, a topic tied to the one we've been discussing in this blog post! We hope you'll tune in.


God bless,


Travis


Trinity Church Wall Street

A picture I took in 2022 at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City during a visit with my father. Located just seconds away from the New York Stock Exchange.

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