When it comes to Christians doing business there inevitably, at some time or another, arises a conflict of interests, things that disturb the conscience, is this right or is it wrong. The conscience interrogates itself, tearing the Christian apart with inner turmoil. There is always the lingering doubts, did I do it God’s way? Am I being true to my faith? How will I be judged as a result of my actions? Will others see me as a hypocrite?
In today’s cut-throat world of business where the line between right and wrong is thinly drawn, one wonders if it is at all possible for a Christian to be a good businessperson without the compromising of faith and morals. The tactics employed by the world make almost anything legal, but for the Christian this has only made decision-making more difficult. What was dishonest and dirty and unacceptable only a few years ago has become praiseworthy today. Just take a look at the language being used today and the movies being shown, what was distasteful and improper has now become the norm and it is in this world that we as Christians have to make a living without compromising our values.
A young man just entering the business world once said to me that he could not do business without taking of his Christian jacket. The implication in these words was that he could not do business without cheating, lying or stealing. If, during the course of your life, you have seen a mentor or someone you respect doing business (and I use the word with reservation here) by cheating, or lying, or stealing, then the natural thing is for you to think it is quite alright to use the same methods. I used the word ‘business’ with reservation in the previous sentence because I do not believe cheating, lying and stealing is business. These things are an affront to the majority of businesspeople, these things are sin. I want to clarify here, that making a profit is not sin for it is written:
Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. (Isa 48:17)
The Lord will not teach us to sin. The bible is full of people, holy and righteous people of God who earned their keep doing business and making a profit. Abraham was a successful farmer, soldier and businessman. So too was Job. Solomon sent ships to trade and barter in foreign lands even importing chariots from Egypt, Israel’s traditional enemy. Business should not be left in the hands of the ungodly few, but all can, and should, participate.
When Elisha multiplied the oil of the widow and all the containers were full we read what he said to her:
Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest.(2Kings 4:7)
In other words make money and retire.
In the New Testament we read of Matthew and Zacchaeus both successful tax collectors and Paul a maker and seller of tents. Then there is also Lydia a seller of purple cloth.
Tax collecting was a type of franchise purchased from the Roman authorities but most tax collectors in Jesus’ time were viewed as dishonest ‘cheats’ by the public at large, but this had more to do with the way in which the business of tax collecting was conducted rather than the business itself. Jesus who spoke to and visited with tax collectors had no condemnation for their business, in fact He commended Zacchaeus for his decision to be honest in his dealings. Tax collecting was a necessary occupation, much as soldiering and politicking was.
If we read Proverbs 31, one of the things that make a wife virtuous is her ability to do business.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. (Pro.31:16)
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. (Pro.31:24)
When it comes to business and profit, it is not so much the ‘what’ (yes, there are certain businesses that have to be avoided) but the ‘how’ that causes concern. Living in the grey area between right and wrong is not good enough, we need to be firm in our choice to be a Christian irrespective of the implications it may have for business. God, in His wisdom, has given us guidelines in His Word, on how we are to do business, what businesses need to be avoided and what the consequences will be if we transgress His law.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal.5:19-21)
Anything that encourages any of the above must be avoided at all costs. In his prayer for a successful life, Jabez prayed:
And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that You would bless me indeed, and make my border larger, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, so that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he asked. (1Chron.4:10)
Jabez asked that God keep him from evil so that he would not cause grief to others, and God did what he asked.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (Mat.18:5-7)
In your business dealings let no harm come to any child or any person for that matter, for you will be held accountable.
In Habakkuk there is a list of things that could get in the way of a godly business, things that need to be avoided, even if it means passing up a good deal.
Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people. (Hab.2:5)
No greater trap exists for a businessman than pride. Pride led to the downfall of the prince of angels. It led to the downfall of King Saul and Nebuchadnezzar, it clouds judgment and smothers wisdom, leaving you vulnerable and at the mercy of the enemy.
Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!(Hab.2:6)
Alongside pride, we can place unpaid debts as another reason for the downfall of businesspeople. ‘Clay’ refers to pledges or promises to pay debts and I.o.u.’s which in those days were written on clay, and ‘thick clay’ refers to an abundance of debts that pile up and are not paid.
Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! (Hab.2:9)
Next to unpaid debts comes greed, a drive to gain as much as possible so that one may, through wealth, gain a position of power. Wealth becomes the source of security, as Proverbs 18:11 says: Wealth becomes his city behind the walls of which he will feel safe. As Christian businesspeople, our security is in the Lord.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe. (Prov.18:10)
Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity! (Hab.2:12)
After greed comes disregard for others. Building a business on the blood of others will have consequences. Your methods will determine your outcome. Jesus warned:
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. (Matt.26:52)
There is always somebody stronger or more ruthless than you. Your approach to business will determine their approach to you.
Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness! (Hab.2:15)
To mislead and to cheat speaks of thievery not business. To force people into situations, whether by alcohol or coercion or blackmail, speaks of one who is unable to do what is right, unable to be a businessperson. ‘Help one another’ we are told by Paul the apostle, and He will help you.
Opportunities abound, we must just be on the lookout for them. Do your business within God’s parameters, and He will send people to you, those needing your help and those who can help you. Certainly within most congregations are people who can and will help you. Just keep your focus on God. He is the one who ‘teaches us to profit’, who blesses and rewards.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Gal. 6:7)
The rewards you reap will depend on you.