Last week I asked if there is a distinctly Christian business ethic. My response to my question is, yes… and no. Yes, in that there is a way Christians in business ought to conduct themselves. But no in that Christians can’t separate out their business “life” as something different from the rest of their life. There is only one life, one ethic, one way of following Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t give us directions for being in business, or how to be a Christian athlete, or a Christian student. Jesus just tells us about the kingdom of God and asks us to live into the kingdom by following him.
There are many things we could say about living into the kingdom of God and following Jesus. But, very simply put, we are to love God and love our neighbor. And if we ask who is our neighbor, the answer is the same as it was in Jesus’ day.See Luke 10:25-37.
This includes our enemies.
“…Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48 )
What does it mean to love someone? Love isn’t simply a warm, positive regard for someone. Love is a verb. An action word. Love is an action which works toward the flourishing, the well being of others. By the grace of God, we have the ability to work for the well being of others. Paul, writing about spiritual gifts, points out that the gifts are given “for the common good” ( 1 Corinthians 12:7, but read all of 12 and 13 to fully appreciate Paul’s point).
The question is, can one follow Jesus – work for the flourishing of others- and be “successful” in business?
If one owns a small business, one’s focus could be on quality goods, good service and a fair price- doing one’s work well without the need to try to disparage or hurt other businesses. But what if the other business doesn’t play by the same rules? Does one take the “high road” all the way to bankruptcy? What if Wal-Mart or Barnes and Noble or any other national chain comes to town with its large volume purchasing advantage and national advertising advantage?
If one works for a large national company can one influence the corporate culture for good? Of course the degree of one’s influence depends on if one is the CEO or a stock person. Irregardless, one can manage one’s own behaviors. And who knows what influence one may have as one tries to act faithfully at work? Mentoring relationships, formal and informal, matter.
Faith grows and the world changes by small increments. Like a mustard seed. Or the leaven in bread.
It is not easy to bring one’s Christian faith into the workplace. None of us do it perfectly. Sometimes we have very difficult choices to make. But nothing lies outside God’s ability to redeem- not even businesses and social structures. Christians in the business world are called, I think, to be a part of that process of redemption. Not that we accomplish it. That is God’s work. We are called to participate in that redeeming work of God, even in the business world.
I would like to hear from you. What have your experiences in the workplace been? Where has it been difficult or even impossible? Where have you discovered God at work in the workplace?
I began ”Conversation in Faith” in mid February 2008. Who knew, we’d be here in February 2012! Thank you all for reading!