*First published by The Gospel Coalition Africa (TGC) on 28 July 2021
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Although written long ago, the Bible is still very relevant to the issues that Christians face in business today. Jesus spent much of his time ministering in the marketplace. Most of his disciples were in business: six were fishermen in Galilee and one was a tax man with an office in Capernaum. Many believe that Jesus himself was raised in the family carpentry business. More than half of Jesus’ parables had something to do with business, the workplace, or finance. In Acts, Priscilla and Aquila operated a tent-making business with Paul, and Lydia was a dealer in imported cloth.
God created us to work
In the beginning God placed humans in the garden to work and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). Work was meant to be a joyful experience in which we are fulfilled by using our gifts and skills to benefit other people and God’s creation. “You will enjoy the fruit of your labour. How joyful and prosperous you will be!” (Psalm 128:2). Work also provides food, clothing, and shelter. Paul said pointedly, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
A Kiswahili proverb says, ‘He who gets blisters from the hoe handle will not die of hunger.’
Work also provides money so we can be generous to others. “Use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need” (Ephesians 4:28). God desires for us to use our talents and experiences in our work to bring glory to him. He wants us to be honest and diligent in our business. “Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful” (Deuteronomy 8:18). Business is a calling, just as when individuals are called into ministry.
The purpose of business
One purpose of business is to provide meaningful work. God is a creative and purposeful worker, and we are made in his image. A second is to provide goods and services for the benefit of the community. A third is to provide for the comfort and support of a worker’s family.
To serve and to be profitable
Many say that the purpose of business is to maximise profit, to make as much money as possible. But for the Christian businessperson, that should not be the primary motivation. Of course, a business must make a profit. If there is no profit, it will not be in business for long. But many Christian businesses have found that when they focus on providing the best goods and services and treating their employees well, God blesses them and they do make a good profit.
“But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9–10). Jesus warned, “You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money” (Matthew 6:24). You should think of your business first as a way to serve others. Making money will come second. “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10). Jesus said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (Luke 12:15).
To support ministry
An African man grew up in a non-Christian family. His father forced him to spend time working in the family business: welding steel chairs. At age seventeen, he became a follower of Jesus. Later, his church sent him as a missionary to people of another language. A few churches and individuals sent him money each month, but sometimes he was hungry. But then he started a welding business. Now, when he is short of money, he welds. It is good to have a trade or business skill, even if you are in full-time ministry (see Acts 20:33–35).
It is also good for church members to own businesses or be employed so that they can give of their income to the church, the needy, and the missionaries who spend their time serving God in other nations (Philippians 4:16–17). Some Christian business owners find great meaning in giving some of their wealth to help the poor and build God’s kingdom.
A commitment to Christian character
Christians build a good reputation for their businesses when they follow Biblical ethical principles. “Choose a good reputation over great riches – being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1).
Christians in business must practise honesty and refuse to participate in bribery, kickbacks, over-invoicing, and other corrupt practices. They deliver good value for money. “Do not steal. Do not deceive or cheat one another” (Leviticus 19:11). “The Lord detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights” (Proverbs 11:1). “The wicked take secret bribes to pervert the course of justice” (Proverbs 17:23; see also Exodus 23:8; Leviticus 19:35–36). People should notice that Christian business owners are different because they are not involved in corruption.
Demonstrating servant leadership
One shop in a chain of over twenty stores in the middle belt of Africa desperately needed a paint job. The cashier and the shopkeeper were very surprised when the managing director came down from the office, got in old clothes, and went to work painting. They laughed, “You are not a painter! You are the manager!” Soon the staff knew they were all painters if the shop needed painting. Being a servant, no matter how small the task, shows employees how to put others first by doing whatever is needed to succeed.
A Christian business should be known for integrity. Integrity means practising what you preach. It is about doing what is right rather than what is easy. It is about making business decisions based on the standards and principles of God – righteousness, truth, and honesty. No one can point a finger at such a business and cry out, “Hypocrite!” Christ should be the model for Christian businesses because he was known for his integrity, even among his enemies. “‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know how honest you are’” (Matthew 22:16).
A commitment to Christian calling
Being a fair employer
A Christian business should be committed to helping its employees. A business depends on the creativity and diligence of its employees, so be kind to your employees and pay them well.
“Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:18). “For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4). “Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay” (Leviticus 19:13). “‘I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:5).
Serving the community
A Christian business should be committed to serving its customers. Again, Jesus is our model. “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
A Christian business should also be committed to serving its community. Because of the potential to influence and transform their society, Christians should seek to be in business and to demonstrate Christian values in the marketplace. A Christian business can use some of its profits to help the needy and can train and enable others to start their own businesses. “Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly” (Psalm 112:5). “A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty” (Proverbs 22:16).
A commitment to Christian competence
A Christian business should be committed to excellence because Christians are serving God, and God wants our best. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23). “Lazy people are soon poor – hard workers get rich” (Proverbs 10:4). Because Joseph managed Potiphar’s household with skill and competence, he later was brought out of prison and placed in charge of all of Egypt.
One Nigerian leadership speaker visited a congregation to give a financial management seminar. He found that the whole church had been called to fast for thirty days to receive financial blessing. He said to the pastor, “Your people are tired, they are not able to work well because they are hungry. If they need more money, teach them to be hard and good workers.” Yes, God gives us blessing, but often this blessing is given when we live by God’s principles in doing excellent work.
Are you a good and faithful servant?
In the Parable of the Talents, we see that how we manage our business in this life is a test – if we pass, we will be rewarded. For the servants who had managed their five and two bags of silver well, “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities’” (Matthew 25:21). “And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” (Luke 16:11).
Are you passing the test? Perhaps God has called you to be a farmer, a rancher or shepherd, an entrepreneur, or a lawyer. All areas of business need examples of Christian character, Christian calling, and Christian competence. Christian businesspeople who are committed to Biblical ethics, to their employees, to their customers and community, and to excellence will bring glory to God and have a powerful witness for Christ in the marketplace.