Wealth, Humility and Business Ownership

As I read through the Bible and grow in my business ownership role, I’m find that much of the Scriptures teach about wealth and business ownership is found in the Old Testament. This passage in Deuteronomy is one of the main, core, foundational passages that a business owner must bear in mind and follow if one is to run his/her business for the Lord based on Biblical principles. In this post, I’ll outline my thinking on this passage and pass along some pragmatic ideas on its’ application.

8.10-11: When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.

Note that our tendency to forget the Lord and wander from His ways occurs after we are fully supplied and satisfied with material goods. Part of our wandering is failing to observe his commands, laws and decrees. People often feel that hardships are times of testing and I don’t disagree with that thinking. However, success is often a strong, more difficult test for a number of reasons, but one pragmatic reason is that when a person is successful in business, there is usually an increase in income. With that increase comes the ability to spend money on one’s affections. This is where Matthew 5.21 becomes so relevant: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If you’re earning an increasing salary + bonus because the profits in your company are on the rise, then understand that how and where you spend those extra dollars reveals what is in your heart and where your affections truly reside. If you spend it on cars, cabins, boats, memberships, bigger houses, or other big ticket items, then that is where your heart is. If you spend it on building the church – Kingdom investing – then that is where your heart is. Some can do both – given away large sums of money while purchasing big ticket items. Knowing how/where to spend this cash is best brought before the Lord, in a spirit of stewardship, asking Him how you should spend His money. Success can reveal a heart that easily wanders and the money that comes with the success often allows the heart to wander from the Lord while enjoying the trip.

Notice that God does not condemn his people for having these material goods. His warnings in this passage are really about affections and pride: forgetting what the Lord has done for us. Setting aside our dependence and relationship with him because we foolishly believe that our success is a direct result of our efforts, energies and intelligence is what his coming warnings are all about. This passage does not teach that we should remain poor or live at the lowest economic level possible.

8.12-14: Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

How many of us in American have fine houses in communities into which we’ve settled down? How many of us business owners have “herds and flocks” that are growing along with retirement plans and savings accounts that multiply all that we have? For many, many business owners, this is the case. The description of these people are that they have everything they need and want materially. Their physical and economic needs have been surpassed and most, if not all of their desires have been fulfilled. This is a description of ultimate “success” in American terms. But look at what this success leads to: pride. Those who are given success will be tempted with pride: “I did this or that”. Pride forgets what the Lord has done for us. It forgets that each of us were rescued by the Lord Himself. The reminder for the Israelites was their escape from Egypt and it’s slavery. This is a metaphor for us today: We have been brought out of sin and it’s bondage and are no longer slaves to anything the evil one can offer us. Paul says as much in Colossians 1.13, when he writes that “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins“. Pride forgets the past, forgets the goodness of the Lord, places itself as the proximate cause to all it’s success and places it’s affections in itself.

This is one of the reasons that we tithe 1% of the gross dollars in our company to non-profit organizations. Tithing helps us remember who gives us our success and the abilities to earn an income. Tithing helps us to recall the past when we nearly had to close our doors due to high bills and lack of sufficient income. We have been though salary cuts and layoffs in the past. Any success we experience in the present is a direct result of the Lord’s goodness to us. Yes, we must work (and often work hard) to achieve success. But let us never forget what the Lord has brought us through.

8.15-16: He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its’ venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end, it might go well with you.

It is interesting that the Israelites needed to be reminded about that which the Lord did for them in the past. He took them through a period of little success that was difficult and long. It had elements that could sting and perhaps kill. But he also provided in ways that were simply unnatural – so unnatural that they defined any natural explanation. He did this to humble them and test them, to prepare them for their future success.

8.17-20: You may say to yourself, My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me. 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 forefathers, as it is today.

This is an expansion of the temptations listed earlier in this passage – to become prideful and to wander from the Lord as our affections for him are replaced by an affection for ourselves and our material goods. The meaning of this last part is obvious: what we mistake as a direct correlation between our success and our effort is the truth that our effort could not have existed had it not been for God’s kindness in giving us the ability to create the wealth in the first place. Boiled down to common English, while one may take pride in pulling himself up by his own boot straps, one cannot deny that is it God who gave him the ability to pull in the first place. Ability precedes results and those who forget that it is God who gives us this ability will surely fall into the sin of pride.

I take the phrase “ability to produce wealth” to encompass not only skills, talents and intelligence, but more generally, also to encompass opportunities, ideas and the entire economic system of capitalism in which the wealth is produced.

Summary

What can we learn? Here are the lessons that we can learn from Deuteronomy 8:

  • Having wealth is not condemned by God
  • Pride is the core temptation for a person who has experienced material success
  • Forgetting how the Lord has brought you through difficult times is a second temptation to material success
  • It is God who gave us the ability to produce the wealth in the first place and thus, we have little room (if any), to take pride in the results of our efforts
  • Humility is the attitude of the heart that is dependent on God for all that one has
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