In the book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely discusses the problems that come from mixing social norms with market norms. As humans, he said, we make some decisions in purely financial terms—How much is this activity worth? Does the benefit justify the cost?—but we make other decisions in terms of relationships. Applying a market lens to a relationship is demeaning and offensive. For example, you would not offer to pay your mother-in-law for cooking a Thanksgiving feast. Similarly, he related that a group of attorneys were unwilling to provide legal advice to a poor, elderly individual for $30 an hour, but they were more than happy to do so for free. Removing money from the equation changed it from a business decision to an interpersonal one.
Perhaps this same dynamic was in play when Naaman, the leader of the Syrian army, offered to compensate Elisha for healing him from leprosy. “Take a blessing of thy servant,” Naaman said (2 Kings 5:15).
How much is such a miracle worth? If it’s priceless, then isn’t a monetary reward of any size inappropriate? Elisha gave a principled response: “As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none” (2 Kings 5:16). His response also reflects the fact that he did not deserve credit for the miracle. Recognizing this, Naaman shifted his focus to the true Healer, promising to serve the God of Israel from that time forth (2 Kings 5:17).
But Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, saw a missed opportunity. A wealthy man was offering gifts, and Elisha was unwilling to accept them? How did that make sense? Gehazi decided to take matters into his own hands.
Catching up with Naaman’s party as they returned to Syria, Gehazi claimed that Elisha had changed his mind. He requested silver and clothing on behalf of two unnamed friends. Naaman gladly donated those items. But Elisha was unhappy with Gehazi’s actions. “Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?” he asked (2 Kings 5:26).
Money doesn’t belong in some of our interactions. After a detailed discussion of the monetary system of the Nephites, Mormon tells us that one of the lawyers, Zeezrom, whose “sole purpose” was to “get gain,” made the following offer to Amulek: “Behold, here are six onties of silver, and all these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being” (Alma 11:22).
Are religious convictions a marketable commodity? Of course not, which is why Amulek replied forcefully, “O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me?” Then, he added that Zeezrom also believed in God, “but thou lovest that lucre more than him” (Alma 11:23-24). An obsessive focus on the market norm had consumed Zeezrom’s decisions, suffocating his relationship with his Creator.
In subsequent generations, it became routine to allow money to influence important decisions. Mormon tells us that judges would let “the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money” (Helaman 7:5), which was explicitly forbidden under the law of Moses. (See Exodus 23:8, Deuteronomy 16:19.) A group of judges openly attempted to buy a confession from Nephi. (See Helaman 9:20.)
One of Moroni’s final admonitions to us is to “touch not the evil gift” (Moroni 10:30). Some gifts, although freely given, have hidden, non-monetary costs which far exceed their value.
Even in a business deal, maximizing your personal return is not the only consideration. Elder Richard J. Maynes was offered a dishonest business deal as a young man. His father said to him, “Listen, Rick, once you take a bribe or compromise your integrity, it is very difficult to ever get it back. Don’t ever do it, not even once” (“Earning the Trust of the Lord and Your Family,” General Conference, October 2017).
Today, I will remember that some things are more important than money. I will avoid accepting inappropriate rewards, and I will not allow financial considerations to interfere with priceless relationships or to corrupt my integrity.