We seem to have a curiously ambiguous attitude toward business. We like the benefits that business brings us, but we’re suspicious of successful business. We reason that if a business is very successful, then it must be because it is exploiting someone, somewhere; we make heroes out of successful entrepreneurs, but we are quick to find fault with them. Presented in a certain light, business can seem like the antithesis of spirituality. So, let’s take a closer look at what the Bible has to say: is it possible to be a good Christian and run a successful business?
The Bible has much to say about money and business and why should we be surprised by this? Scripture is God’s instruction about how we should conduct ourselves on this Earth and business has always been a vital part of our social behavior. Business is simply a sophisticated form of bartering and we have been exchanging goods and services ever since we first began to live together in social groups. There is evidence that organizations that operated as rudimentary companies, with contracts and the corporate ownership of property, existed in India and China as long as 3,000 years ago. God put us upon this Earth to have stewardship over His creation: responsible business is stewardship.
‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and keep it.’ Genesis 2:5
The Old Testament, in particular, has much to say about the practicalities of running a responsible business and a key concept that is emphasized again and again is that of honesty.
‘A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.’ Proverbs 11:1
The concept of ‘fair trade’ is not a modern idea; it is a command from God. Scripture is full of advice concerning how a business should be run; today we might call it ‘corporate social responsibility.’ The Bible instructs that workers should be treated fairly, paid promptly and that the poor should be cared for.
‘You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until morning.’ Leviticus 19:13
‘And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.’ Leviticus 19:10
Responsible business is a Christian duty, but there is nothing wrong about running a successful business and there is nothing wrong about making an honest profit, as long as we do not become so immersed in our business affairs that we forget in whose service we are working.
‘But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today. All of our skills and special talents that we use in our businesses are all given to us by God.’ Deuteronomy 8:18
When Jesus told the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) he made it abundantly clear that ‘sloth’ will be punished by God. We are put on this Earth to use our God-given talents and the narrative that Jesus uses to make this point is that of financial investment. Business is a sphere in which we exercise our talents and those who devote their talents to Christian business, in the service of the Lord, will be rewarded. There is, however, a crucial proviso:
‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul.’ Mark 8:36
And if you are concerned that your business is not in the service of God and your fellow man, then look to the scripture and pray to God for guidance.
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Luke 6:31