A Biblical Perspective on Business

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(Note: This article was published on the Coram Deo blog.)

I had written an article on this topic for my blog nearly two years ago.  In the fall of 2017, while I was conducting extensive research in preparing to write my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, I found some additional insights on work that are worth sharing now.

Business itself is morally neutral

One of the things I came to learn in my research on this topic was that business is neither inherently good nor evil.  It has the potential to be both.  Wayne Grudem, in Business for the Glory of God presented simple biblical concepts that countered the ideas I had while making my own career decisions as a teenager.  Grudem emphasizes, “We will find that in every aspect of business there are multiple layers of opportunities to give glory to God, as well as multiple temptations to sin.”

Paul Stevens, in Work Matters offers some encouragement.  “Competition in business and the workplace is not in itself evil or wrong.  In fact, it can be a stimulus to creativity and initiative.”

Mattson and Miller, in Finding a Job you can Love wisely add this refreshing perspective:

Business and industry do not produce greed.  The sick nature of man does … Can you imagine the wonder of people making beautiful products that have integrity of design and purpose, and then those products being distributed by way of ingenious systems to all those in need of the products?  Can you imagine people involved in all phases of those activities doing what they are gifted to do under God’s authority?  The world has little conception of such business, but the Christian should.

Creativity that glorifies God

While I was revising the draft my manuscript, I found an article about a biblically based company.  The Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University posted a fascinating interview with Nate Saint, nephew of one of the five missionaries that were martyred by the Auca Indians in the 1950’s.

Nate invented the Pack-n-Play, the portable baby-corralling device that is loved and appreciated by many parents.  My wife and I bought one to give our grandsons a place to sleep when they visit.

Nate believes that God invented creativity.  My immediate response when I read that simple statement was this: The Creator created us in His image to creatively expand His creation.

This godly businessman understands the creation mandate from Gen. 1:28 and Jesus’s command to love our neighbor.  His company is taking the earthly and human resources that God provided and is using them with integrity and creativity to meet people’s legitimate needs for products that helps keep children safe.  They are loving parents around the world by manufacturing and selling this item.

Business as a way of loving our neighbor

Other businesses glorify God. Tim Keller, in Every Good Endeavor remarks, “A banker in a small town making mortgage and small business loans can easily see the purpose and fruit of her labor.”

I could not miss this obvious allusion to the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  George Bailey, after seeing what it would have been like if he had never been born, eventually appreciates the value of his work at the Bailey Building and Loan.  What a great illustration of how our work is directly related to love of neighbor, where God works to meet the needs of people through our work.

Scriptural perspective

Joseph immediately comes to mind.  The presence of God had been with Joseph.  God blessed his hard work in Potiphar’s household and in prison, and then placed him second in command in Pharaoh’s court.  We read a great description of Joseph’s business savvy in Gen. 41:33-37.

In The Accidental Executive, a great book on faith and calling based on the life of Joseph in the OT, Dr. Al Erisman writes, “We can learn from the story of Joseph about moral questions related to our work.  How can we deal with temptation and the trifecta of money, sex, and power?  How can we deal with the unique challenges that come to any businessperson, which require courage when things are difficult and the wisdom to handle success when things are going well?”

Amos, one of the minor prophets, shows us God’s thoughts on business.  R. Paul Stevens, in Work Matters declares, “Amos railed against workplace injustice … The gospel is not merely the gospel of personal salvation, but is a message that has profound implications for fair wages, workers’ rights, equitable interest rates, appropriate executive remuneration, reliable currency, and protection of property rights for the poor.”

The Lord condemned the practice of buying and selling slaves in Israel (Amos 2:6).  He also condemned unethical business practices, such as skimping on standard measures, greedily boosting prices, and using dishonest scales (Amos 8:4-5).

There is much more the Bible says about business, such as fair wages, lending, profit, and wealth.

To close, let me share two motivational quotes from Tim Keller, in Every Good Endeavor:

The gospel-centered business would have a discernible vision for serving the customer in some unique way, a lack of adversarial relationships and exploitation, an extremely strong emphasis on excellence and product quality, and an ethical environment that goes ‘all the way down’ to the bottom of the organizational chart and to the realities of daily behavior, even when high ethics mean a loss of margin.

To be a Christian in business, then, means much more than just being honest. . . Rather, it means thinking out the implications of the gospel worldview and God’s purposes for your whole work life—and for the whole of the organization under your influence.

Amen!

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Every Link in the Chain is Critical

chainYesterday, during a conversation with a good friend about a difficult situation at work, I was reminded of the importance of every member of an organization.

There was one worker on the team that was not carrying their weight.  This caused a lot of stress in my friend.  It had a direct impact on the quality of services provided to the customer.  Eventually, the person at the top of the organization was made aware of this non-worker’s lack of diligence, and a parting of the ways took place, much to the relief of my friend.

Upon reflection, it made me thankful for the system of checks and balances that characterize the organizations in the U.S. Army I have had the privilege to be part of for nearly 33 years.

There are the workers at the bottom of the chain, where I found myself for many years.  These are the Soldiers who do the manual labor, whether it is setting up camouflage nets, repairing a vehicle, inspecting protective masks, or filling out monthly reports.

Next, there are the supervisors who ensure this work gets done to standard.  These are usually junior noncommissioned officers.  I fulfilled this role at times in my military career as well.  Then there are the managers who ensure that the supervisors are supervising to standard and that sufficient resources are available.  These are the senior noncommissioned officers or junior grade officers.

At the top of every organization, there are the commanders or senior enlisted advisors who ensure that everyone in their organization, whether it is an office, a company, battalion, division, or corps is resourced, trained, ready, and doing their part effectively to accomplish the mission.

If someone at any point in the chain of workers fails to perform their assigned responsibilities to standard, then the task at the bottom will not be done right or the customer’s needs might not be met.  This can have dangerous or even fatal consequences.  Camouflage nets fall down, vehicles will break down at the worst time, protective masks might leak, and reports might be misleading.

Let’s take this out of the military setting.

Every single worker at every level in a store, school, church, bank, theatrical production, government office, professional sports team, or factory is critical so that products and services can be provided to those who need them.  If someone is not pulling their weight, customers do not get the quality they deserve and are depending on.

The value of every worker at all levels in an organization was specifically addressed by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth.  (See 1 Cor. 12:12-31.)  Paul taught that the body of Christ is made up of many parts.  Each member has value, purpose, and function.  They are all necessary for the body to be healthy.  All must be connected to each other and to the head.

Whether you find yourself in a church or a secular work setting, and no matter where you are in chain, know that your contributions are critical to meeting your customer’s needs.  Do your work diligently and show appreciation and respect to those who work above, next to, or below you.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

What is the Value of Diversity in the Workplace?

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(Note: This article was published on the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University blog.)

Two years ago, I saw a movie that moved me deeply.  Hidden Figures tells the story of a team of black female mathematicians in the early 1960’s who worked brilliantly and diligently behind the scenes at NASA, amidst a hostile environment towards both females and blacks.  In spite of these challenges, their work contributed significantly to the success of the first manned space flight.  This film demonstrated how God puts the right people with the right skill sets at the right time and place to do a good work that had an enduring impact on society for the common good.

Since February is Black History month, this may be a good time to explore this topic from a Christian perspective.  I invite you to consider how you can embrace racial diversity in your workplace and be agents of reconciliation, showing God’s love to a world divided by race.  (See a book review I wrote on Benjamin Watson’s book, Under our Skin that was published by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.)

Military experience

I have a unique viewpoint due to my military experience.  Based on over three decades of experience as an active duty Soldier and as a Department of the Army civilian, I can say with all seriousness that diversity works in the Army.

Why does it work?  Equal Opportunity is embedded our Army Values.  All personnel are trained and expected to treat others with dignity and respect.  They are held accountable if they do not.  Discrimination of any kind is not tolerated.  Everyone seems to get along no matter where you serve.  The unity we have amidst our diversity makes us stronger – an unstoppable force.

Looking back, I appreciate the many benefits to myself and my family of being able to work, live, and worship within a racially diverse military community.  It made all of us more compassionate and understanding.  We came to respect, acknowledge, and embrace others’ differences, knowing that we were unified in one common goal – the defense of this great nation.

Unity amidst diversity

Even though we have come a long way since the 1960’s, and even if there may be racial harmony in the military and other workplaces where diversity is appreciated, we must look to God’s word to see if there is any wisdom to help us work with those of another race.

Jesus, knowing that He would be the one to bring God’s blessing to the nations that was promised to Abraham, prayed specifically for unity among His followers in John 17:20-23.  The result of this unity in the church would be that the world would take notice of God’s love.

There was much racial tension between Christ-followers of Jewish and Gentile descent in the first century church.  Paul directly addressed this conflict in Gal. 3:26 and 28.  He states that all Christians, no matter what their ethnic background, are part of the same spiritual family.  “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus . . . There is neither Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Paul also addressed unity between Jews and Gentiles in his letter to the church in Ephesus.  He reminds both groups that Jesus himself is their peace, since He has “made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14).  That sounds like something we need to be reminded of ourselves in our churches and our workplaces today.

I must also mention that our conviction that all humans are worthy of dignity and respect is based on the doctrine that God created men and women in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).

Ultimately, we read that there will be a vast number of men and women “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

What can we do?

In closing, let me offer “a way” to get personally involved in racial reconciliation at work.

Four years ago, I had the opportunity to engage an African-American senior NCO that worked in my office.  Our dialogues began shortly after the Ferguson incident, which happened near St. Louis, two hours from Fort Leonard Wood.  I boldly asked him to help me understand what I had never experienced myself, specifically focused on the tensions between blacks and police.

Our conversations were a bit awkward at first.  Once he knew I was genuinely interested in understanding what it was like to be a black man in America, he opened up and shared freely.  He opened up my eyes and heart to the injustices faced by black men and women in this country.  Our discussions often moved me to tears.  He became a dear and respected friend.

I ask you to prayerfully consider doing the same if you can.  It may be life-changing.  It may break down barriers in your workplace.  It may earn you the right to speak about your Savior and Lord, who died that we might find true peace in His presence and find unity amidst diversity.

Perhaps God has put you right where you are at the right time and place to do a good work that can have an enduring impact on society for the common good.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.