What Makes Business Christian? Part 2

This is a continuation from Tuesday’s post. Below are the last three qualities of what makes business Christian.

Christian work is Holiness-Reflecting

If Christians work for God, that should inherently make them work with excellence. But knowing that God sees everything we do should also make us with integrity. Work that is “Christian” will conform to the highest standards of ethics.

Paul goes on in Colossians to explain that everything we do is done with respect for our watching Master in heaven to whom we will give an account. That means, Paul says, even when our boss is a jerk (many of the people to whom Paul is writing were literally owned by their boss!), Christians do their work unto God. Our work ought to make it obvious that we serve a God of justice and kindness. This means that Christian bosses ought to be less concerned with what they can get away with and more concerned with the fact that they are accountable to a heavenly Master. Christian employees ought not to cut corners or lie about how much work they have been putting in. Business ethics really matter because in them we mirror the character of God. God says that “unjust balances,”-cut corners, fudged balance sheets, skimped time cards, and etc-are an abomination to Him (cf. Prov 11:1). Poor business ethics are no trifling matter.

Christian Work is Redemption-Displaying

If Christians were to act in their jobs with equity and fairness, that alone would set them apart. But those who have been touched by the gospel do not merely attempt to hold to high ethical standards: They live lives with a radically altered perspective of gratitude. What Christ has done by redeeming us to the Father produces a natural response of grace towards others.

I recently heard a story about a young college graduate who landed a job on Madison Avenue, in one of the advertising world’s most prestigious firms. Shortly after she got there, she made a mistake that cost the company $25,000. Madison Avenue is not a world defined by grace, and she expected to be fired by the end of the day. Her boss, however, went before his board of directors, convincing them to allow the blame for her mistake to fall on him instead. When this young woman heard what her boss had done, she came to him crying. In tears, she asked him why in an atmosphere as cutthroat as that of Madison Avenue advertising, he would choose to cut his own throat for her. He answered by sharing how 15 years earlier Jesus had done a very similar thing for him, stepping in the way of the wrath that he deserved. Because of the great grace that Jesus had shown him, he felt to do that for others when he could.

When we work to display redemption, we no longer angle for position, shrewdly networking so that every relationship we have and every activity of our day serves our bottom line. In fact, Christ’s grace changes our desires so that we seeknew bottom lines. If truly touched by grace, Christians in business begin to leverage their resources to bless those in need. If truly touched by grace, Christians in business consider ways to use their work in taking the gospel to places where it is not known.

Some Christians may object to a perspective like this. Grace is something that applies in the spiritual realm, they may say, but not in business: “I worked for what I have-I earned it!” they might say. A person may certainly feellike she has earned everything that she has, but where did she get her tough-minded work ethic? Her intelligence? These were the grace of God. By whose decree did she grow up in the United States instead of in a Brazilian favela? Certainly not by her own-this also was the grace of God. The very air she breathed and food she ate were provided to her as gifts of grace. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are “poor in spirit”-who recognize that all they have is a gift of grace. The “middle class in spirit”-who believe they are merely reaping through fruit of their labors, will know nothing of the Kingdom of God, because they have no concept of the magnitude of the grace of God in their lives. When someone understands how much they are indebted to grace, they will begin to see every situation they are in, whether in business or the church, as a place not to be served, but to serve.

The call to leverage our lives for the Kingdom of God is not the special assignment of a sacred few. All disciples of Jesus are called to see their lives as seeds to be “planted” for God’s kingdom. Jesus said that if our lives were a party, it should be thrown for those who can’t pay us back. Sometimes I think we’ve invented this whole language of calling to mask the fact that the majority of people in our churches are not living as disciples of Jesus.

Christian Work is Mission-Advancing

Work done by disciples of Jesus should be done with a view toward the Great Commission. In Acts we see that God used business people to get the gospel around the world even faster than the Apostles could. Luke seems to go out of his way to make this point. He notes that the first time the church “went everywhere preaching the word,” the Apostles were not engaged (Acts 8:1). He also notes that when Paul finally arrives in Rome to preach Christ there, he is greeted by “hospitable brothers,” who seem to have been there for quite some time (Acts 28:7). As Steven Neill notes in his classic History of Christian Missions, of the three great church planting centers in the ancient world (Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome), not one was founded by an Apostle.

In the same way, Christians in the marketplace today are able to gain access more easily to strategic, unreached places. Globalization, revolutions in technology, and urbanization have given the business community nearly universal access.

Secular skills are needed to give Christians access to countries that would otherwise swiftly reject their presence. The countries most in need of a gospel presence-those in the so-called “10-40 window”-are devastated by poverty and joblessness. These places need both the words of the gospel and the tangible reflection of God’s love that businesses can provide. Millions in this region are without work and without the knowledge of Christ.

One example, though dozens could be provided, is the nation of Iran. As a country, Iran is an unreached area in desperate need of the gospel. As of today, there are 10 million seeking employment in Iran, a number that could eclipse 20 million within the next 15 years. How are places like this to be reached? Iran can be reached through the efforts of average Christian businesspeople taking their skills and expertise overseas. This may not be the path for every Christian, but perhaps God is challenging you to consider leveraging your work for his mission-advancing purposes.

Not every Christian, of course, will be led to perform their business in an unreached people group. But disciples of Jesus should always do their work with a view toward the Great Commission. A “missional vision” for Christian work is to do it well, and to do it, if at all possible, somewhere strategic. Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” Believers who do their work well can be greatly used in the work of the Great Commission; their excellence in business can give them audiences with the “kings” and influencers of the most unreached peoples in the world.

God is interested in how Christians do their work, and He wants to be involved in it. Your work can make an eternal difference in the lives of those you work with, those you work for, and those you serve through your job. Allow the transformation of the gospel to change the way you look at and do your work. You were redeemed by grace-now live out that grace in the context of your job. You may never look at work the same way again.

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  4Comments

  1. doug   •  

    J.D.,

    I realize that this comment has the potential of being very unpopular in that it might seem that I am challenging the idea that we should be “salt and light” in the world around us. But I am not intending to do any such thing. We are, indeed, to be lights in this dark world and we are called to do all things in a way that honors God. No argument there.

    My question is as to how this is actually lived out in practice. Maybe better asked: “What do the Scriptures call us to do as believers when it comes to honoring God through the various activities in life?” You address the particular issue of work and make several statements that give me pause.

    They are:

    “If truly touched by grace, Christians in business consider ways to use their work in taking the gospel to places where it is not known.”

    and

    “In fact, Christ’s grace changes our desires so that we seek new bottom lines. If truly touched by grace, Christians in business begin to leverage their resources to bless those in need. If truly touched by grace, Christians in business consider ways to use their work in taking the gospel to places where it is not known.”

    and lastly

    “Not every Christian, of course, will be led to perform their business in an unreached people group. But disciples of Jesus should always do their work with a view toward the Great Commission. A “missional vision” for Christian work is to do it well, and to do it, if at all possible, somewhere strategic.”

    My question is to what Scriptures you appeal to in order to come to these conclusions? I’m not trying to be difficult here. I do agree that we should live out our faith in the marketplace but, I would argue that the Scriptures not only nowhere put these expectations, as you have articulated them here, on Christians, but they don’t even imply that these are the duty of Christians.

    This is not simply an academic issue for me. Take the gentleman in my congregation who is a head partner in an architectural firm (or any of the businessmen or future business men). Am I really supposed to say to him: “You know, if you are someone who has been truly touched by grace, you should be figuring out how to use your work to take the Gospel to places where it is not known”? And what if he doesn’t or is unable to? Is he now a subpar Christian? Is tis a burden that he is called to bear from the Scriptures? Should this be something that I exhort him to and hold him accountable to fulfill? Or are we creating a new law that he must adhere to?

    Again, I would not argue that we should not live upright and blameless lives that shine forth the Gospel everywhere we go. But that is a different thing than to say that a business man is called to honor God by using his business as a tool for culture transformation or Gospel proclamation. Isn’t it just as honoring to God for him to simply “enjoy his toil” (Eccl. 5:18,etc.), providing for himself and his family (2 Thess. 3:10b-12) while praying to be able to live a quiet and peaceful life (1 Tim. 2:2; 2 Thess. 3:12) content with making simply enough to have food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8) and expressing his faith by living in unity with his brothers and sisters in the church context (John 17:22-23, etc.)?

    That, it seems to me, is the Scriptural call. Beyond that, there is very little to stand on. I mean, do you really believe that Proverbs 22:29 is a call to Christians to take their businesses worldwide and stand before kings with the Gospel? Really?

    Again, I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just wanting to see some real Scriptural wrestling on this. It is not enough to say “Well, of course Christians should do this” (not that you are saying that, but many do). We need to learn to start asking “Is this really a truth that arises from a natural reading of the Word or is this an assumption that is the product more of our business/success driven culture (and our confusion of the two Kingdoms we live in) than anything else?” That is all I am asking.

  2. Bruce Ashford   •  

    Doug, hey brother. If its OK, I’ll jump into the discussion for a moment. As I see it Scripture teaches us that our work is a part of our obedience to him and a way that we image God in this world. In the creation account, we are told that man and woman are created in the image/likeness of God. In the immediate aftermath of this statement, we commanded to “have dominion” (help God lovingly rule his creation; this relates to our work), to “till the soil” (to take what he has already made “good” and bring out its potential; to take dirt and make it produce plants; this command ties our work to our purpose in life), and to “be fruitful and multiply” (this is a social command, whereas the ones above are work/culture related).

    So the very first thing Scripture teaches us about being human relates directly to our work in this world. Then throughout Scripture we are told to bring everything under Christ’s Lordship (including work), to do all to the glory of God (including work), etc. for this reason, I think our “working life” is a part of our charge in this world, and is a wonderful lever for imaging God, and the God-given context for being verbal proclaimers of the gospel.

    As for two kingdoms, I couldn’t agree more that there are two… and that we who have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the son of his love (Col 1) should do everything in our power to be “signs” and “instruments” of the kingdom of the son, even as we stand in the midst of the kingdom of darkness. When we do our work to God’s glory, and according to his creational design for us, we are “signs” of God’s kingdom, signs of what it looks like when all things are done from within a Christian worldview and for Christ’s glory.

    You raised a good question, and did so in a gracious and knowledgeable manner, and I hope that my response here is as helpful as your question was.

    Blessings,
    Bruce

  3. doug   •  

    Bruce,

    Thank you for your response. I have no essential disagreement with anything you wrote here. My concern is just how we answer the question “just what does it mean to bring our work under the Lordship of Christ and to bring glory to God through it?”

    To work with integrity is, of course, a good start. But beyond displaying a God-honoring character while in the workplace (with the implication that the business itself should display this character as well if it is owned by a believer), what do the Scriptures call us to do?

    I’m afraid that we are too quick to insert “shoulds” where there are, at best, “coulds.” Again, take the gentleman in my congregation that has an architectural firm as an example. Could he seek to do architectural work overseas in Iran and set the stage for Gospel proclamation by doing so? Sure, he “could.” “Should” he though?

    I am arguing that the Bible doesn’t say that he should.

    Anywhere.

    And, thus, we shouldn’t say that he “should” either.

    In fact, I might actually argue that he shouldn’t do so. He is the father of 7 children whom he and his wife homeschool. He is very active in his local church body, counselling newlyweds on how to have godly marriages and he leads our parent-led children’s Bible study. Such a venture take him away from his family and his church which are the only two places where the Bible does, in fact, say he “should” be.

    Can I encourage him to pray as to whether God may send him on a missionary venture? Of course. But I am in no position to argue that he “should” be doing anything of the sort.

    And in order that people don’t think that the crux of my issue is the idea of overseas missions work, I would make the same argument if we were talking about taking his business across town.

    I might use my God-fearing grandmother and grandfather as examples. They ran a grocery store in the hills of West Virginia where their neighbors would trade eggs for milk, etc. while raising 6 kids and running a farm and my grandmother taught Sunday School in her small one room church.

    What obligation should their pastor have put on them to be agents of transformation in the “holler” they lived in? I think we need to be careful here. Their conscience can only be bound by the Scriptures.

    Lastly, I would simply say that there seems to be a huge influx of teachings on this subject here of late and we need to be careful to understand the presuppositions of those whom we learn from. A teacher may tell great stories of transforming the culture, leveraging the workplace, and bringing “shalom” to the city. But once I find out that he is a postmillennialist, suddenly it becomes clear that he is looking at the world and Scriptures through a certain lens that does not jive with my own. Now what he says makes so much more sense but, ironically, I suddenly realize that I don’t agree with him anymore.

    In Christ,
    Doug

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