FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am Service, 2000-01-30

Text: Proverbs 22:1

This week our topic is on something that many have been talking about since the regional economic climate started to improve in recent months - the subject of business. Singapore is looking ahead to improvement in sales and commerce and many are now building 'bigger barns' so to speak, to accommodate an anticipated big harvest. Even our Changi airport will soon be undergoing a facelift to get ready for the big harvests of passengers that are expected to come this way soon. 

But those who get deeply involved in the business world today will soon realise that it is not so much a harvest field, but a dense jungle where only the fittest can survive for long! The Christian who enters the world of business will soon find himself at the mercy of the market forces, facing keen competition and many temptations: to cut corners, to resort to the unethical means used by other successful businesses. In Singapore one of the most common malpractices in business is bribery. Many businessmen resort to this to gain quick access for their goods into the market, or for authorities' approvals. Kickbacks are often given to agents for selecting their products for their clients. And even though the penalty for this is high, many still take the risk, because of the great profits it brings in. 

Now, as Christians, our concern in doing business should not be the profits alone, but also that in the process of business we must maintain a good testimony for the Lord. Proverbs 22:1 says: 'A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.' And therefore one of the greatest challenges facing Christians who are in business is the challenge of maintaining strict godly principles, without the fear of losing their business to others who seem to enjoy advantages from their use of unethical means to secure profits. Some will say, 'It is impossible to do business without doing these things!' But this is a misconception. Since biblical times there have been godly people who engaged in business like trading and fishing. For instance, the apostle Paul was doing a tent-making business with his partners, Aquila and Priscilla. Acts 16 tells us about Lydia, one of the first converts at Philippi, who was doing business in a dye extracted from seashells, called purple. 

In modern times there have been many successful Christian businessmen, who prospered without compromising their godly principles. One of them was James C. Penney, one of the most successful American businessman in the last century. His first business venture was a butchershop, but this failed almost immediately after he refused to bribe an important person. Penney lost everything because of this but he learned never to compromise. 

And that became the secret of his success later on, so that by his death in 1971, he left behind a chain of 1,600 stores with annual sales of $4.1 billion. That business empire was built without compromising the Christian principles he had learned from three generations of godly preacher ancestors. He neither smoked nor drank, and he said, 'I believe in adherence to the Golden rule, faith in God and the country' I would rather be known as a Christian than a merchant. 

Another well known example is Robert Laidlaw a businessman in Auckland, New Zealand and the author of the book 'The Reason Why' which is a very useful evangelistic tool even till today. He was widely known as one of New Zealand's most successful and respected businessmen. At the age of 23, he opened a mail order business that grew spectacularly into a retail organization employing a staff of more than 2,700 men and women. The founder of the Farmers' Trading Company, Ltd., Mr. Laidlaw wrote, "The Reason Why" originally for his staff members, giving his explanation and the "reasons" for the Christian faith. 

Thus, we have seen that even though a Christian will definitely face problems in today's business world to keep his hands clean and testimony shining, he can still succeed in business. We are going to consider now four areas of problems for Christian businessmen, and how he should handle them, according to biblical principles. The first is: 

I. Managing Funds 

A. Loans 

It is a common practice to take loans for funds acquisition. But any businessman needs to have funds as his capital in order to start a business. And often he has to take a large loan. As a Christian he should be careful where he borrows from - only from legal sources like a bank or corporate investors. But how much should he borrow? The loan must be affordable. This means that the businessman who takes the loan must have the means to pay off the loan on time. Never take a loan that is larger than you can realistically service. And make sure that your collaterals are solid and safe. 

There are some who take loans that are simply too large for them, and in the end, their earnings do not allow them to service their loans. So they end up being in debt and are also unable to pay off their debt. This would violate the eighth commandment 'Thou shalt not steal' because stealing is defined as 'To deprive someone of the use of something that is rightfully theirs, no matter how small or insignificant that item may be.' Therefore if a businessman takes a loan from others, and does not return it on time, but keeps on delaying, he becomes guilty of stealing. Psalm 37:21 tells us: 'The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.' 

Sometimes a businessman actually has the money to pay off his debts, but he uses it instead to get more gain for himself. This may also happen with the payment of his bills. E.g. a contractor orders building materials like bricks, cement, steel bars and wood to construct a building, but after he is paid for the work, he purposely delays or conveniently forgets to pay the bills to his suppliers. The longer that money remains in his bank account the more interest it accrues for him. That accrued interest is not his to hold on to, and so when he finally repays the loan or pays the bill, he should pay the interest as well. 

The Bible is not against legitimate buying on credit, or paying for something by instalments. But it speaks against being in debt. But what is a debt? A debt exists when payment is past the due date that had been agreed on, for money, goods or services. Why do people want to remain in debt, when they can settle the debt? Sometimes, it is because of a sudden opportunity that comes to make more profit. They decide to take a risk with the funds, thinking that they can multiply the funds for themselves before returning it. This brings us to the second problem that Christian businessmen face in managing funds: 

B. The Taking of Risks 

One of the hardest things to do in business is to know when to take a risk, and when not to take a risk. And often, the highest risk investments often have tantalisingly high potential returns, but require a large investment. But one can lose all that very easily too, because of the high risk. On the other hand it is true that risks must be taken to some extent, or else no business can be done. Any entrepreneur who has a new product or idea to market must be willing to take a great risk. 

If the market responds with people coming in droves to buy his product, (like people are doing for Hello kitty dolls!) his risk has been a worthwhile one. But if after investing much and trying his best to sell his product, he discovers that there is absolutely no demand for it, his business fails and then he has to call it quits and pay his creditors. If businessmen are not careful in the risks they take, they can easily cross the thin line into gambling, - gambling with funds that are their own or funds that are borrowed from others. Gambling is prohibited by God's Word 'Thou shalt not covet'. 

How then can a businessman take a risk without gambling? By making careful calculations and research of the market first. Do not do things on impulse or 'gut feelings.' Check all the factors that can affect the venture, and take only risks that have a good chance of success and that are within your capacity and finances. Most of all, pray for God's wisdom and seek godly counsel and guidance before taking any risk. James 1:5 says 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.' And Proverbs 11:14 tell us: 'Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety'

Let those of us who are in business or aspiring to do business, remember what we have just learned about managing funds - not to be in debt, and not to gamble by taking unnecessary risks. We go on now to look at another area of problems faced by Christian businessmen: The area of 

II. Maintaining Fairness 

A. To clients 

First of all, a Christian businessman must be honest and fair with all his clients or customers. The Lord takes a serious view of any attempt to defraud or cheat others, which amounts to stealing from others. Leviticus 19:35,36 tells us 'Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.' Micah 6:10,11 'Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable? Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?' 

Thus a Christian businessman should not sells defective products, or sell less than what is advertised of the product. Any promises made in a promotion or an advertisement must be kept. And advertisements must never exaggerate the qualities of the product or service offered. 

What about pricing? Pricing is very relative depending on many parameters like overhead expenses, and market forces. However some businessman overprice a product that people need as a necessity (e.g. rice, petrol), in order to make exorbitant profits. This is unethical because even though some people may be able to afford it, the poor will suffer. Thus, if you happen to have a monopoly of a product and take full advantage of that to make the price unreasonably high, you are not just making profits but you may have crossed the line into extortion. 

This is the same principle as what the scriptures call usury, or charging people unreasonably high interest on loans. Exodus 22:25 'thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.' This happened in the time of Nehemiah (Neh 5:1-10) - Because the majority of the Jews were too occupied with building the wall of Jerusalem to grow any crops, they had no choice but to borrow money to buy food from others. Those who had money to lend saw an excellent opportunity to make huge profits by charging very high interest rates. The people ended up becoming heavily in debt, to the extent of selling their houses and even themselves into slavery to pay their greedy creditors. They earned a stern rebuke from Nehemiah for this! Always ensure that your prices are not oppressive but affordable to most people. Let your business bring blessing rather than suffering to others! 

Another thing that Christians in business must never do is to delay the delivery of their goods or services when payment has already been made, unless there is a good reason for that late delivery. This is especially true with mail order transactions, where customers have to send in a check before the delivery is made. 

B. To Employees 

The second group of people that a businessman needs to be fair and honest with, are his own employees. He must pay all his workers fair wages for the amount of work they are doing. The market rate is a good yardstick or what is fair. He should be careful not to show favouritism to certain employees and deprive others what is due to them. 

He should also be careful not to exploit his employees by delaying or withholding all or part of an employee's salary or by making an employee do more work than what he is being paid for, e.g. forcing him to work on his day off. According to Leviticus 19:13, to withhold salary payment even overnight is already sinful in God's sight: 'Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.' 

C. To Authorities 

Besides being honest and fair to clients and employees, businessmen should also be honest in his dealings with the government authorities, especially when he is required to declare his taxable assets. Some shrewd businessmen may find a legal loophole that enables him to pay less tax than required. Some years ago people involved in real estate transactions did this by under-declaring the price of a piece of property. But in Matt 22:21, Jesus said 'Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.' Christians in business should be careful not to evade paying taxes. Please remember that even if some method is legal, that does not mean it is acceptable in God's eyes. One good example of this is the laws concerning bankruptcy. 

Sometimes, a businessman who is in financial trouble, and owing large sums of money can simply declare bankruptcy in order to avoid obligations, and maintain his personal resources by putting all his wealth in the name of his wife, or children. With a clever lawyer he can build a fortune that cannot be touched by former creditors. In the eyes of God such a person has grievously sinned. He must put things right by returning everyone the money he owes to them. Please remember that loopholes may be legal, but not acceptable in God's sight. 

D. To Competitors 

A Christian businessman must also be fair to his competitors. Christ said that in this world, we should be 'wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.' (Matthew 10:16) A businessman should not run down rival companies, or hire away their key technicians or best executives with better pay in order to disable them, or steal their company secrets. Some businessmen are guilty of stealing the image of a rival company that has a famous brand name - e.g. Pensonic sounds like Panasonic. 

Another sin that some businessmen are often guilty of is bribery. Why is it wrong to bribe? Because it gives one an unfair advantage over others. The word of God in Exodus 23:8 says 'And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.' 

Thus far we have already considered two areas of problems that a Christian may face in today's business world - Managing Funds and Maintaining Fairness towards clients, employees, the authority and competitors. We go on to look at a third problem area, which is: 

III. Mergers and Partnerships 

Lately there has been a lot of news of mergers of large companies both local and international. Mergers have advantages and disadvantages. They can offer greater opportunities and efficiency. But when one enters into a joint venture or business partnership with another, there are bound to be differences in working procedures, in objectives and priorities, and this inevitably leads to some degree of compromise. 

Such compromise may be morally disastrous to the Christian businessman, if his partner insists on using unethical or dishonest means to get results. That is why we need to apply the principle of 2 Corinthians 6:14 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?' 

On the other hand, it is hard to find an ideal Christian partner in business. Some Christian partnerships have turned sour as well, and partnerships can ruin friendships. So if you are thinking of going into a business partnership, then as far as possible, enter into it only with Christians you can trust. The Lord has special blessings for this kind of business partnership. However, if circumstances do not allow you to have a partner who is Christian, then find one who is honest, trustworthy, and has already proven himself through time. One must learn to commit the whole business partnership to the Lord. 

What if you are already in a large multinational company and have many non-Christian partners in your business? Then you must be like Daniel - who stood firm on his godly convictions despite having to work closely with many unbelievers in the government. 

Let us go on to look at the last area that may be a problem to the Christian in the business world: 

IV. Magnifying God 

Psalm 34:3 says 'O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.' And God Himself has said in 1 Samuel 2:30 'for them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.' Remember that a Christian businessman is a steward of all the wealth that God has entrusted to him, and he must regard God as the Head and Director of his business. Hence he must be willing and ready to do whatever God has commanded him to do in His word. 

Since the Lord has commanded His day to kept holy, a Christian should not open for business or require his employees to work on the Lord's day. And if he has to travel overseas for business meetings, he will always look for a fundamental church there to attend on the Lord's Day. If he cannot find a church, he may either gather with Christian colleagues with him to have their own worship, or do it privately in his hotel room. 

Church history records that as early as 200 AD, Christians laid aside business on Sunday, even though it was not a non-working day then and the rest of their pagan colleagues continued to do profitable business. Sometimes when a person thinks of all the business he is losing to his rivals, he wonders why he should not do the same thing on the Lord's Day. But Malachi 3:10 says, 'Prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.'

If you own a shop or restaurant, trust God to make up for all the business you will lose by closing on Sunday. Remember that all success in business comes from the Lord. Psalm 127:1 puts it like this 'Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.' Ultimately God is the one who gives you prosperity or loss. Are you willing to depend fully on Him? 

There is one more point about magnifying God in your business that we need to know about, and that is the principle of returning a portion to God. Whenever the Israelites harvested their fields, they gave the firstfruits of their harvest to the Lord. 

This was their expression of thanksgiving to God, who was the source of their good harvests. In the same way, let us always remember to return to the Lord a good portion of what He has blessed us in our work or business. This not only helps us to acknowledge our dependence upon Him, but also prevents us from thinking that our business has done well because of our own skill or ingenuity.

Dearly beloved, if you are engaged in business in the world, or you are are thinking of starting a new businesses, please remember to honour the Lord in it. Run your business differently from the way the world runs its business. Glorify God in your business! Ensure that you maintain a good Christian testimony, in the management of your funds, in exercising fairness with everyone, and in your business partnerships or alliances. Let Proverbs 22:1 become your company's policy: 'A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.' 

May the Lord bless and honour you as you seek to honour Him.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25