Most business professionals of all spiritual orientations understand the many blessings that come from a thriving business community. And a large business community it is—the Census Bureau recently published their Statistics of U.S. Businesses which reports a total count of 7.4 million U.S. business firms employing about 116 million people. [i]
These businesses are contributing to an improved quality of life for their tens of millions of employees and their employees’ families. When ethical businesses thrive, everyone wins. Jobs are created, paychecks flow, and communities prosper. Wages are spent, taxes are paid, and society advances. It’s a beautiful thing.
American economist, Milton Friedman, expresses it this way, “So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.”
But, what does the Bible have to say to the Christian about all this unleashed goodness that comes from their business efforts?
For starters God doesn’t have a problem with businesses (and individuals) realizing a profit so long as it is rightly earned and honorably used. The Book of Proverbs tells us: “Diligent hands bring wealth.” (10:4); “All hard work brings a profit.” (14:23); and “The plans of the diligent lead to profit.” (21:5).
The profit God speaks of in these verses is the overall gain resulting from the work at hand. It’s the far-reaching impact of the individual’s or organization’s good endeavors. It includes but is not limited to pecuniary gain.
For example, a construction firm gets paid for building a house which becomes the home and safe haven for a growing family. The pharmacy profits from selling the right medication to a sick person who is ultimately made well; the auto shop repairs a car for a price and the car’s owner now has reliable transportation to run errands and commute to work. Money changes hands and lives are made better by the goods and services that have been provided. This is what God means by profit.
Jeff Van Duzer in his book, Why Business Matters to God, zeros in on two biblically-grounded benefits from business that are separate from the singular element of monetary reward. Jeff writes:
“From this I would conclude that at this time in history, there are two legitimate, first-order, intrinsic purposes of business: as stewards of God’s creation, business leaders should manage their businesses (1) to provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish, and (2) to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity. One goal for the Christian businessperson who is stewarding God’s business is focused outward— providing goods and services that enhance the quality of life. One goal focuses inward— creating opportunities for individuals within the company to express their vocation in the performance of God- glorifying work.” [ii]
Consider the biblical roots of the following two benefits:
Businesses provide goods and services that enable our communities to flourish.
The Garden of Eden was perfect but it wasn’t finished. God designed us to work with each other in the administration and advancement of his creation. As God’s image-bearers, we use and develop the things he created and we do this in ways that honor him.
As early in the Bible as Genesis 4 mankind had joined together to build cities, raise livestock, make and play musical instruments, and forge tools from bronze and iron (Genesis 4:17-22). This is what we have been doing as human beings since the beginning, i.e., inventing, building, and producing goods and services that improve the quality of life for all of us.
Note: For all its goodness there are abuses that result from our free market system. Genesis 3 makes it clear that we live in a fallen world and consequently every person and their institutions are tainted by sin, not just those in the business community. The key for today’s Christian business professional is to emulate Christ while pressing forward in the spirit of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure … think about such things.” Honor Christ with your business decisions, do what’s right, and leave the rest to him.
Businesses provide opportunities for us to achieve our goals through God-glorifying work.
Why are so many of us working? Because God designed the world to run this way (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15). Human work is a high calling from God and it is good.
God uses our work to provide us with our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) which is the many necessities of life, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Whether we actually grow the food, build the shelter and make the clothes, or our labor provides the income to buy these things, God is the source of the talents and resources used to acquire these blessings.
Even Jesus worked in his community like the rest of us. In Mark 6:3 his former neighbors refer to him as the “carpenter.” Jesus learned a skill, picked up tools, and worked alongside others. In doing this, he validated the dignity and the necessity of honorable work. Jesus worked as an example for us to follow.
And finally, at various seasons in our lives God can give us just enough or much more than enough, either way Jeremiah 29:11 holds true: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
[i] U.S. Census Bureau, Statistics of U.S. Businesses, 01/23/2015 (census.gov).
[ii] Van Duzer, Jeff, Why Business Matters to God: And What Still Needs to Be Fixed, InterVarsity Press, 2010.
This article by Patrick Layhee was first published in The Kingdom Economy blog at The Center for Christianity in Business at Houston Baptist University (hbu.edu).