Many within the Christian faith are familiar with the concept of the Gifts of the Spirit; certain talents or skills that might come to us naturally (though they can be improved with practice), as a gift from God, that provides us with the means to enrich our understanding of spiritual things and strengthen our personal testimony of Jesus Christ. Most Christians will be familiar with a description of these gifts found in the twelfth chapter of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might also be familiar with a similar passage found in the final chapter of the Book of Mormon as well as a more thorough treatment of the concept found in the forty-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
In each of these passages, you find an explanation that different gifts are given to different people, but with the intent that all may profit from them. How does this work? If God gives me a gift, how does He expect you to benefit from it? TRADE! God expects that I will use my gifts for your benefit and that you will use yours for my benefit; that we trade the service of our gifts with one another. Take a look at the various listings of these spiritual gifts. Many of these gifts are obviously designed for their to be a beneficiary of our exercising. The gift of healing is not intended to be used on the holder of the gift, but on those around them who are sick. In the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians, Paul explains how the gift of tongues is used improperly when there is no one to interpret. If no one else can understand the words, who profits from this gift? Paul explains that the bearer of said gift might enjoy a wonderfully spiritual experience, but that is all. Have all been edified? Is that not the intent of the gift gift to begin with?
In economics, there are several ways that we explain the process of wealth creation. We can also apply these concepts to spiritual edification. When two people hold different resources (or spiritual gifts), and they have benefited themselves as much as they possible can through that resource, they might find that they can increase their benefit by trading with each other. The dairy farmer and the wheat farmer might find that if they trade, they might both enjoy buttered bread; a luxury previous afforded to neither one of them. The butter from the dairy farmer’s churn is is more valuable to the wheat farmer, who has naught with which to dress his bread. The bread from the wheat farmers field and mill gains value in the eyes of the dairy farmer who had previously resorted to eating plain butter. By trading resources, the two allocate those resources to where they are more valuable, and both benefit from the trade.
Well, I can practically hear your thoughts right now: “Why doesn’t the wheat farmer just buy himself a cow and the dairy farmer plant a little wheat in the back pasture when it’s not in use?”
Let me introduce you to a little concept economists call comparative advantage. This concept is based on the idea of opportunity cost, or in other words, what options you give up in order to pursue one option. Huh? What? Let’s get back to our two farmers. What does the dairy farmer have to give up in order to start growing his own wheat? What does the wheat farmer have to give up in order to raise his own cows and milking them? For the wheat farmer, the opportunity cost of raising dairy cows is a rather large area of his field and the wheat that it might produce. For the dairy farmer, the opportunity cost of growing his own wheat is having a section of field that can rest from the difficult stresses of being pasture and the reduced output of dairy cows grazed on poor pasture. For each of them, producing both wheat and milk for themselves costs more than simply trading with their neighbor. Instead, they choose to specialize in their field, improve their already superior skill, and continue to trade. I know this concept can be difficult for someone not well versed in economic concepts, so if you are struggling with the concept a little bit, check out these short videos from Professor Art Carden and the folks over at Learn Liberty (video #1, video #2). The videos make it easier to understand and hopefully easier to apply here. Really, it’s okay, take a few minutes and watch the videos. I’ll be right here when you get back.
Good. Now, how do we apply those concepts to the idea that God has given each of us special skills and talents and how He expects us to use them for the benefit of one another? By building in an incentive for ourselves! When we exchange the service of our various gifts and talents, all parties benefit, including ourselves. There is actually a built-in incentive for us to use our spiritual gifts to serve one another!
“To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.”
~ Doctrine & Covenants 46:12