Price and Value
A few years ago, I read one of those newspaper fillers they use at the bottom of a column when they have nothing else to say. It was just a few lines that gave the value of a man in chemical terms. According to that little article, presuming that the subject were an average-sized human, the chemicals that comprised his body would be worth $2.19.
I’m sure that over the years inflation has increased the chemical value of the human body. Anyway, I know I would be worth a lot more, since I am well above average size in both height and width. I could argue, then, that my increased volume gives me increased value. But I know that the price of a few handfuls of various chemicals is not the last word in human value—nor is an individual’s true worth based on his or her earning power.
The story is told of a man who asked for work on a farm. The laborer was inexperienced, but the farmer needed help, so he agreed to accept him. The laborer then wanted to know what his wages would be. The farmer told him that he would be paid what he was worth. Oh,” said the would-be farmhand, “I can’t afford to work for only that much!”
If today’s materialistic philosophy has taught us anything, it has demonstrated that price often has little to do with value. An ordinary house in a large city like San Francisco or New York costs as much as a working person earns in eight years. Most working people cannot afford to buy houses. Yet salt, which is essential to life, costs very little at the grocery store. And groceries generally do not cost proportionately as much in this country as they do in other countries.
I’m certain that price must have something to do with value. Yet the value of a given object seems to be not its actual worth, but what people are willing to pay.
It is necessary for the survival of any society that its members agree on value. Take money itself. Generally, it consists of a printed piece of paper. If only the paper and ink had value, then a $1 bill would be worth as much as a $10,000 bill! But our entire monetary system exists because we agree on the value of the number printed on the paper bill. We say that one printed piece of paper is worth what might amount to several months’ work, while another piece of paper is only worth the price of a Sunday newspaper. Again, if the value were only in the paper and ink, that newspaper would turn out to be a real bargain, because the one small piece of paper (the dollar bill) would be purchasing many larger, multicolored sheets of paper that weigh much more.
Value exists because many people agree on the worth of a given item or a given service. It is not based on the transaction of one buyer and one seller who negotiate with one another over one piece of property or one particular service. All society must agree together to determine the value. For example, a haircut might be worth $8.00, or $20.00, or only $5.00, depending on where one had it done. On the other hand, it would never be worth $1,000, because there is no such thing as extraordinary remuneration for ordinary service.
There is, however, something beyond the agreement of society that determines value. If everyone on earth should agree together that waterfalls, mountains and lakes had very little value, no one would care to spend more than $.25 for a mountain. (I would still go out and buy as many mountains as I could, not merely because I like mountains, but something inside tells me that a mountain is worth more than a molehill—whatever the price of a molehill might be!) Inherently, I know that a mountain is worth more than, say, a hamburger, or a ballpoint pen. I can make an inexpensive hamburger from cheap meat scraps, and I could manufacture a flimsy ballpoint pen to be sold at a cheap price, but no one can make a mountain! For that reason, I know that a mountain must have much more value.
And what shall we say about waterfalls? Well, they’re not very practical. You can’t use them for anything, unless, of course, you dam a stream and use it for hydroelectric power. But if it’s only a waterfall, there’s not much one can do with it except enjoy it. Still, if they valued waterfalls at only $.25 each, I would go out and buy a lot of them because I enjoy them so much. Not only that—I’d give them to people all over the world, together with a copy of the 19th Psalm!
“Ridiculous!” you say. “No one would sell a mountain or a waterfall or a lake for a quarter.” I agree. But the point is that some things have intrinsic value that goes beyond what people agree to pay. If you cannot set a $.25 price on a waterfall, neither can you set a $250,000,000 price on that same waterfall. Undoubtedly the land on which some waterfalls are found might well command such a price, but whoever bought it would not be buying the waterfall. God could dry up the river that plunged off of the cataract, and all the purchaser would have would be a steep cliff. You could buy the land, but you could not buy the waterfall. If you were a megabillionaire, you could pump water from the farthest point on earth to pour over that cataract, but you still would not have created a waterfall. You would merely have imitated one, and in case you haven’t noticed, imitations are never as good as the real thing!
Most of us do not have the slightest idea of what we are worth. Actually, our value is not determined by the total sum of our life insurance policies, or our estates, or our earning power, or the net values of the assorted chemicals in our bodies. Our value is determined by the Creator. He alone knows what we’re worth. And from the amount of patience that he has exercised with humanity and from the price that he paid at Calvary for our redemption, I know that we are worth more than we think.
Some time ago, a group that opposes Jewish evangelism tried to sabotage our efforts by publishing an equation intended to discourage our friends and supporters. Dividing the annual budget of the average mission by the number of reported converts, they arrived at an amount they called a “price per soul.” It was their crass way of trying to prove that Jewish evangelism was expensive and accomplished little, and should be abandoned.
Years ago while I was serving with another mission, a Jewish newspaper printed the statement that it cost $10,000 to win each Jewish person to Christ. That would have been amusing, except that some Christians took it seriously. One man who read that statement actually sent the mission a $10,000 check with a letter saying, “Go out and win one for me!”
I wish it were that simple, but it isn’t. I wish we could tell you that we could win someone to the Lord for $10,000, $50,000, $100,000 or even $1,000,000 per person. If that were true, whatever the price might be, I would spend all my time and energy raising funds. But no one can place a price on a human soul, the true value of a person. That is, no one can, except God.
He determined the price, and I can tell you the ratio. It is one Savior for one sinner. I am utterly convinced that if there were only one sinner in the world, God would still send his Son, Yeshua, to endure the pain of being human and the agony of Calvary. Christ died for one and for any who will put their trust in him. God felt we were worth it. His assessment determines our value.
You are worth a great deal to God. Don’t allow yourself to sell out cheap. Just remember what it cost God to redeem you!