The Affordable Care Act and Religious Liberty

The Wall Street Journal’s article today that outlines the two appellate court rulings is helpful in understanding the context in which the Supreme Court will decide whether or not for-profit companies are subject to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) mandates that might violate the owner’s religious beliefs.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that for-profit, secular corporations can’t engage in the exercise of religious beliefs. In other words, a corporation cannot have its’ own religious beliefs. However, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that a corporation is a form of association that, regardless of its profit-seeking status, can espouse religious beliefs:

“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other.”

In thinking about this issue, it seems to me that a privately held corporation is often more an expression of the owner’s competence, persona and values whereas a publically held corporation is an expression of a group of individuals who have joined together to own a corporation. It seems to me that in the former, there is more of a direct expression of values (and religious beliefs or lack thereof) than there is in the latter, where, presumably, there are likely to be competing religious beliefs among the owners (shareholders) of the corporation.

Can an individual’s religious beliefs be expressed through a for-profit corporation? If the court finds in favor of the ACA, what will be the Christian Business owner’s response? What should that response be? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Supreme Court to Hear Hobby Lobby’s Contraceptive Case

Today, the Supreme Court decided to take up the Hobby Lobby’s Contraceptive case. The cases accepted were Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (13-354); and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius (13-356).

CNN reports that there are nearly 50 pending lawsuits filed in federal court from various corporations challenging the birth control coverage benefits in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The debate focuses on whether corporations themselves enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals. Three federal appeals courts around the country have struck down the contraception coverage rule, while two other appeals courts have upheld it. That “circuit split” made a Supreme Court review more likely.

I don’t know how the Court will rule, obviously, but I can attest that most small business owners consider their businesses an extension of their personhood and that includes their personal beliefs. Christian Business owners and those who own and run pornographic sites would agree on this point: they both run their businesses within the context of their personal beliefs. Being forced to pay for services that violate their personal values rubs many the wrong way and represents, in my mind, the encroaching power of the Federal Government into the personal and religious lives of its’ citizens.

If the State finds that providing abortive services is a compelling public service, there are less intrusive ways (and here) to accomplish this that don’t force business owners to violate their own values.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Living on Less

In my quiet time with the Lord this morning, I read through Proverbs 21. I was struck by the contrast in verses 17 and 20:

(17) Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich 

(20) The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but the foolish man devours all he has.

It is the wise that “store up” “choice” feed and olive oil. The Hebrew word for “store up” is usually translated “grazing place, stopping place, settlement”. The sense is that it is a place of restful dwelling. In this context, the word becomes a restful, quiet place where choice goods are retained. The Hebrew word for “choice” has a sense of that which is desired, worth having or seeking. The intensity of this word seems to be strong, so a fuller translation would carry a sense of that which is deeply desired or intensely sought after. The wise put that which is highly valuable in a restful, quiet place and they do not exhaust their valued treasures. They maintain a storehouse for the future.

It is a natural tendency to live at a level that consumes all you have. Our culture teaches us that satisfaction comes from self-indulgence, from spending our hard-earned wealth on ourselves. Saving is not a high virtue in our society and is one of the reasons we’re deteriorating as a country. Living on less means reducing one’s standard of living in some way so that one can save for the future. Living a life of self-indulgent pleasure leads to poverty. In the long run, those who most love good times and consumable goods associated with wealth will not be able to afford them. By contrast, those who show restraint in the amount of time and money they invest in pleasure will have the means to attain them.

Most Christians, let alone most Americans, have a nearly non-existent Biblical theology of saving. Most don’t even tithe, giving perhaps 2% a year to the Lord’s work. If most Christians learned to live on less, the church would be strengthened and purified in several key ways:

  1. Over time, Christians would develop stronger financial situations. Their reduced of debt (due to decreased spending) would enable them to be more available for direct calls to vocational ministry
  2. As a result of not being driven by the world’s thinking, they would sin less – being led, instead, by the Spirit of God in their spending habits.
  3. As a result of having more in savings, they are able to give more to those in need
  4. We find contentment in what we have, not in what we hope to attain

When you think about it, first-world problems of self-indulgence lead to poverty, stress, debt and general uncertainty about the future. We all have much more than we could ever possibly need, yet we continue to spend more on ourselves. Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to a counter-culture life in which we live on less than we earn, give away more than most and yet find ourselves in better financial positions than most as well.

As Christian Business owners, we recognize our businesses are no exception. Creating profit is tantamount to living on less. Businesses that spend all they have will not be able to weather those times when they experience revenue fluctuations. It is the wise who store up valuable treasures for the future.

But remember, our trust should never be in our savings. While saving and storing up should be characteristic of the Christian, our trust for the future should only be placed in the person of Jesus Christ, who has promised to meet our needs, not all of our wants.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Risk and Uncertainty for the Christian Business Owner

Risk management is changing substantially. Henry Hu, the found and inaugural director of the Securities and Exchange Commissions’ Division of Risk, Strategy and Financial Innovation is now suggesting that businesses are having to manage risk and uncertainty. He differentiates between the two as follows:

“I think one of the biggest risks right now … is what happens when the Fed eventually moves away from its extraordinary quantitative easing. The economy has basically been on steroids for a number of years. The amount of intervention by the Fed has affected all asset prices, bonds and stocks. It has caused large distortions. I don’t think anybody could quite put a handle on what will happen when this all ends. This brings to mind the classic distinction between risk and uncertainty. With risk you can assign probabilities to different things happening. With uncertainty, you can’t even assign probabilities. We’re really talking about uncertainty.”

Hu goes on to say this:

“In the wake of the government shutdown and the debate over the debt ceiling increase, can you actually assume now that the Treasury has no credit risk? Absolutely not. A lot of anchors have given way.”

The normal reaction to risk and uncertainty is to do what one thinks is necessary to secure one’s future. For the Christian Business Owner, this means running a more conservative shop – perhaps not expanding as aggressively as planned. It means building cash for the future. It means getting out of debt. And it means getting ready for the storm. All of this is good and necessary. But it is not enough.

Only by relying on Christ can one face the future with peace, confidence and hope. Christian Business owners don’t transfer our trust in the Lord to our risk-mitigation efforts. Instead, we understand that our hope for a secure future is in the Lord and in Him alone. One of the greatest promises that Christ gave us was when He said “In this world you will have trouble – but take heart, I have overcome the world!”

No matter what risks your facing today, be sure to place your full faith and trust in the Lord. He has overcome the world and its’ troubles. While you might have a rocky ride right now, your future can be certain and filled with hope.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

 

Assuming Risk as a Christian Business Owner

Risk can be defined as the exposure to chance of injury or loss.  Everyone who runs a business assumes a certain amount of risk.  In traditional economic thinking about this topic, most Americans would agree that those who assume the most risk in a business venture are also entitled to the most compensation should the venture turn out to be successful.  I personally would agree with this principle.  Generally speaking, our economy rewards the value that we give to the economy, so those who take a larger risk often provide jobs for others and a new product or service to the economy, so they would in turn be compensated at a higher rate than those who did not assume that risk.   There are two sides to risk:  one is the assumption of risk (usually based on an educated belief that there is a good chance that injury or loss will not be experienced) and the other is trusting in the Lord.  At a high level, when risk is assumed, the one assuming the risk must trust in something to offset the assumption of that risk.  For many of us, we purchase insurance to help offset the risk that we assume.  For others of us, we simply trust the Lord, understanding that His love for us and His sovereignty in our lives is a sufficient basis for assuming risk.  And still, there are others of us who do both – we purchase insurance and trust the Lord for the outcome.   The Scriptures also speak to risk, although in more general terms. However, I believe that there are some Scriptural principles that can be gleaned about risk and trust.

Assumption of Risk

Proverbs 22.3 says that a prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.  When it comes to running a Christian business, the Scriptures teach that it is an act of prudence to look into the future, assess the potential dangers and see what you can do to take refuge from those dangers.  The dangers can take many forms, from employees taking your IP and creating competitive businesses to new product or technologies penetrating the market in a way that reduces your customer base or makes your product/service obsolete.  It might also be purchasing key man insurance or cross purchase agreement (buy/sell) insurance to cover the cost of purchasing stock between partners in the event one of them dies prematurely.  In all of these situations and more, it is prudent to assess the danger and take proactive steps to guard yourself from those dangers.  (This same thought is repeated nearly verbatim in Proverbs 27.12).

Trusting in the Lord

There are many verses in the Scriptures about trusting in the Lord. Verses that discuss God’s provision for those who trust in Him are numerous.  For example, Proverbs 10.3 states that “the Lord does not let the righteous go hungry…” and Philippians 4.19 says that “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus”.  These two verses – and many others – apply to those who own businesses.  The promise is clear:  God will not allow His people to go without the basics that are needed in life.  I personally don’t think this can be applied to mean that your business will always succeed.  These verses of provision discuss God’s protection of us personally, not protection of our possessions (assuming our business is a possession).

Ongoing Risk as a Business Owner

As a business owner, you will find that you’ll need to risk over and over again.  Just as success isn’t final, risk never ends.  Growth will require certain levels of risk.  There will always be times when you’ll need to risk in order to keep your business going.  Every time you risk, be sure to hear clearly from the Lord about your decisions and be sure they are bathed in prayer.  Knowing and understanding what risk is and when it is a good to assume it will help you avoid unnecessary loss.

Principles of Risk for the Christian Business Owner

What follows here is a brief outline of the principles that should govern our decision-making processes when we consider taking on additional risk:

  1. The risk assumed should support and further your core purposes for running the business
  2. The risk assumed should not require you to violate your core values
  3. The potential negative consequences should be proportional to the potential positive rewards
  4. Mitigating risk is normal and natural
  5. Risk is shared when we are acting under the direction of the Lord.  In other words, when following God’s direction, the risk is real, but the “shouldering” of that risk is shared between God and us.  While He may not protect us from the negative consequences of assuming a risk He’s asked us to assume, we can be assured He will meet our needs (Phil 4) and will reward us in heaven for obedience.

Bill English, CEO Mindsharp

Policy Uncertainty and Trust in the Lord

Among the core elements that must exist in society in order for small business to flourish is certainty about the future. When it comes to estimating future costs, such as spending millions on building a new production plant, foundational to those decisions is a confidence that the laws under which the business will operate won’t be changing in any substantial way that would adversely affect the business.

I have written on the topic of uncertainty in the past (here and here.) But in an emerging area of research on policy uncertainty, we are learning that as uncertainty elevates in the populous, businesses draw back from their recruiting efforts, thus keeping unemployment unusually high and creating a drag on the economy.

In the research reported by the Wall Street Journal, policy uncertainty – illustrated by the health care debates and a very poorly written law and the debates over the debt ceiling and spending levels – contributes to anywhere from .7 to 1.5 percentage points to the unemployment level. At the higher end, this represents over 2 million people who could have been employed if it weren’t for the high levels of policy uncertainty within the business community.

In the past, we have discussed the core purposes of business – products, passions and profits. But in order for a business to produce products that enable the community to flourish and allow individuals to express their creative passions, the community must provide certainty in which the businesses can function. There needs to be stability in those areas that affect business operations – tax laws, health care, debt and deficits. I believe one of the greatest legacies of the boomer generation is the uncertainty and unrest that has been created over the last six years. It appears this uncertainty will not abate anytime soon.

For the Christian business owner, it’s more important than ever to operate with complete dependence on and confidence in God. He has promised to provide for our needs and has proven Himself faithful time and again. If He has called you to own and run a business, then He will provide what your business needs for the time He wants you running His business.

Don’t let the worries of this world get you down. Stay focused on running your business for Christ. And remember His words in John 16: “In this world you will have trouble – but take heart, I have overcome the world!”

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

 

 

Revealing too much on social media

Social media is baked into our lives now. People willingly share their lives, thoughts, opinions, activities and other personal data on their favorite social media sites.

When it comes to owning and managing a business, you must remember to share carefully what you post on social media. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, they advise the CEOs on the do’s and don’ts of using social media to make company-based announcements.

They remind us all that the Securities and Exchange Commission recently published new guidelines for companies making disclosures. Disclosing to investors via tweets or posts can be good thing, as that seems to the preferred way investors want to get company communications, but with 140-character limits for tweets, such pronouncements have a “different feel” to traditional disclosures, but still have the same disclosure obligation to investors.

Another area of concern that companies must be aware of is the retweeting or liking of comments made by third parties. If there is favorable coverage of the company by an analyst or a positive newspaper article, a company normally would issue a press release or file an 8-k with the SEC to highlight the good things said about it.

While social media lends itself to a CEO liking good news on someone else’s Facebook page or posting a link to that article on Facebook or retweeting it to their followers…officers and directors of companies need to be aware what they are retweeting when retweeting someone else’s words or article may be equated to them as having adopted those words. If the CEO is passing along information they ought to make sure it is factually accurate and not misleading.

This article goes to not only our reputation, but also the quality of our speech. When we repeat what another person has said or written, unless we explicitly give our thoughts about it, we are tacitly endorsing their speech. Our speech is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to do either good or bad. We can build others up or tear them down. And we can pass along mis-information as well as sound speech that is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

Be careful how you manage yourself in social media. Saying less is often better than saying more. Christian Business ownership has it’s limitations.

Related artcles: here and here.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

 

A Comment on Reputation

A recent Wall Street Journal article relayed that most corporate executives felt two elements were true about reputations:

  1. Reputation should be part of any business strategy because it influences how a company is treated by shareholders, customers, partners and regulators.
  2. Company should state what it stands for and then cleave to their values, no matter what. Publically falling short of their openly expressed values is one of the worst blunders a company can make because the media love to report on hypocrisy and double standards.

This seems to be in direct conflict with Jonathan Macey’s book “The Death of Corporate Reputation”, in which he writes:

“It used to be the case that for a diverse array of companies and industries involved in the capital markets, nurturing and maintaining the organizations’ reputation was absolutely critical to their growth and continued success. I argue that this simply is no longer the case, at least in the U.S.”

For Christian business owners, our reputation is one of the most valuable assets we have. Reputation is built over the long term by the two parts of your wake: what you do and how you treat people. In order to build a great reputation, you must have the skills to finish a job with excellence. In addition, you need to have the people-skills necessary to authentically connect with others, build alliances and engage in conflict resolution. If you can build both sides of this equation – professional skills and people skills – over time, you will develop a good reputation. What you accomplish and how you treat people will constitute your reputation.

The Bible speaks of having a good reputation as more valuable than fine perfume or great riches (Proverbs 22.1, Ecclesiastes 7.1). Instead of seeking to be rich, the Bible tells us, we should seek to build a good reputation. Those who have a good reputation are more rich than those who live in the largest of houses, drive the finest in cars and enjoy the best comforts and advantages life has to offer. In business parlance, this means treating your employees, partners, customers and vendors with the respect and honesty they deserve. It also means developing, communicating and the living by your personal and corporate values.

Always be growing in your professional skills – but be sure to pay attention to your people skills too. Doing both will ensure you don’t need to give a lot of attention to maintaining your reputation, because by taking care of people and demonstrating your professional expertise, you’ll find your reputation will take care of itself.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Debt and Lending

This post just skims the surface on debt and lending. But I offer this in the hopes that if you read through it, you’ll have a better idea about what the Scriptures command concerning debt and lending.

Biblical View of Debt

We are all in debt to God for our existence and salvation – 1 Co 4.7, Gal 3.13, 2 Cor 8.9. Let’s not forget that whatever happens with our businesses, we really owe everything we have to the Lord’s goodness and graciousness. He owes us nothing. We owe him everything.

For starters, it is not inherently wrong to borrow money, otherwise, the Scriptures would have expressly forbidden it. But when you borrow, you do become a servant to the lender (Prov 22.7). I believe that many (perhaps a majority?) Christians are in bondage to debt and are significantly hindered in their service to the Lord by their debt. They are simply unavailable to the Lord for most types of sacrificial ministry because of their debt. Whenever you think about taking on debt, understand that the more debt you have, the more time you must spend working to earn money to pay off the debt. Your focus becomes fractured and the amount of time and resources you have to contribute directly to ministry efforts is limited.

The Bible tells us that debt can cause social ills: Ne 5.3-5, Job 24.3, 9, Mt 5.25-26, Ez 18.12-13. Some of the problems in the United States can be traced to either the government, organizations or individual being in debt. For example, it is common knowledge that high debt levels can lead to high stress levels. Sustained stress, in turn, can cause physical and relational problems that may not be obviously tied to debt.

So, let me offer Three Principles for us to follow from Scripture:

1.    Luke 12.58-59: Avoid borrowing unless absolutely necessary

2.    Proverbs 6.1-4, 20.16: Avoid signing surety for a loan

3.    Deuteronomy 15.1-3, Mt 5.25: Avoid long-term loans (Best Practice: have an asset that offsets the loan, such as a house for a mortgage)

If you don’t pay attention to cash flow, it is easy for your business to fall into a slow, insidious slide into more and more debt. If you don’t have a clear idea as to the following, then you need to increase your knowledge of cash flow in order to be a better steward of what God has given to you:

1.    Fixed expenses each month

2.    Variable expenses each month

3.    Break-even point each month

4.    How growth is managed

Nearly all managers can manage expenses. It is a minority that understands how cash flows into, through and out of a business. Godly stewards know how money comes into the organization and how to manage that growth for future income. They know how to manage cash flow to ensure their debts are paid on time. Following these principles may be difficult to do with assets that devalue over time but yet are necessary, such as a car. But not striving to follow these principles because it is difficult to do so is not wise.

Borrowing is such a common way to purchase goods and services today. Our entire economy is built on debt. It is not uncommon for people to be in significant debt for years, if not decades. Sometimes, staying out of debt is not an option – such as when an unexpected medical condition occurs, causing high medical expenses. But for the most part, we spend money on things we don’t need and we use debt to do it.

When it comes to paying your debts, here is what I believe the Scriptures command us as Christian business owners:

1.    Paying your accounts on time is expected behavior of every Christian, regardless of whether it is a person or business expense

2.    Be prepared to pay all outstanding debts of your business, even if this means personal loss

3.    Best Practice: never borrow more than what you can realistically liquidate and pay back

Biblical View of Lending

If it isn’t inherently wrong to borrow, then it isn’t inherently wrong to lend. Besides, Christians are commanded to give to those who ask: Mt 5.42, Dt. 15.7-11, Lk 6.35, 11-5-8.

Here are the Biblical principles of lending:

First, never put up security for your neighbor: Pr 11.15, Pr 6.1-5, 17.18, 22.26-27. If you’re neighbor is in such a bad financial situation that s/he needs to borrow money without collateral, then it is better (if the Holy Spirit leads you) to simply gift the money to your neighbor as opposed to being the one responsible to pay back the debt.

Secondly, don’t lend more than you are willing to lose. This is just common sense. Ex 22.14, 2 Ki 6.5, Isa 24.1-2, Pr 19.17, PS 112.5

Thirdly, get to know the personal situations of those who owe you money: Matt 12.7, Prov 22.1. When you loan someone money, you are loaning God’s resources to that person. A faithful steward will not loan money easily or in haste. God will hold you responsible for lending money in an unwise or hasty manner. Best practice is to get to know the personal and business situations of those who will owe you money before you lend them money.

What if they don’t repay? You must be willing to forgive their sin against you: Matt 18.21-35.

Extending Credit to Customers

As a Christian business owner, when you extend credit to customers, you are (essentially) lending them your products and services. Realize that extending credit is the same as making a loan – be very careful about lending money or lending services. You’re a steward of God’s business and avoiding bad debt is an act of stewardship. If you think there is a reasonable chance that you will not be paid, then:

1.    offer to do some or all of the work pro bono or give your products away, not because of any tax advantages you might experience, but because giving is more emphasized in Scripture than lending.

2.    Ask for a down payment sufficient to cover your expenses

3.    Ask them to secure financing from a third-party source if you can’t afford to offer free services

4.    Decline the work if neither (a), (b) or (c) apply (remember that contracts, purchase orders and the like are simply instruments to inform you how the customer intends to pay, they are never a guarantee of payment)

Collecting from Christians Who Owe You Money

Discussions on collections can devolve into discussions on legal action. What do the Scriptures teach about suing others? Well, your hands are really tied. The Scriptures forbid you from taking a Christian brother or sister to court, pure and simple. You cannot sue your brother – 1 Co 6.7. Why? Because lawsuits among Christians indicate a state of unrighteousness – Is 59.4. Furthermore, you are not to demand back that which has been taken from you – Matt 5.40, Luke 6.29-31.

If you need to seek a third-party to remedy your financial situation, then your differences with other believers should be settled among the brothers and not in front of unbelievers – 1 Co 6.1. So, what if your brother doesn’t pay you? Then, we should be content to be wronged instead of bringing a lawsuit against a Christian brother – 1 Cor 6.7. If we sue our brother, that is a sign of spiritual defeat. The American court system is setup to divide and separate parties, not bring them together in unity. Rarely does a Christian fight another Christian in court where both find their relationship with the Lord and each other is enhanced, where love is abounding more and more and where true justice and forgiveness is attained. Instead of suing, we should (and need) to forgive our brother: Col 3.12-13.

However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to collect monies that are due to us from our brothers. Here are some possible methods of collections:

1.    Appeal to them as brothers to fulfill their duty – Matt 18

2.    Take a brother with you to appeal to them to fulfill their duty – Matt 18

3.    Appeal to their church leadership for personal (not financial) assistance or your own church leadership if both attend the same church

4.    Ask them to work out a payment plan

5.    Ask them to secure financing from other sources

6.    Ask them to give you an asset that you can sell

7.    IF you don’t receive resolution, God may be calling you to suffer financial hardship

Now, let’s turn our attention to collection methods with Christian organizations or businesses – does the command to not sue your brother apply to Christian organizations or Christian-run businesses? Well, first, the concept of a corporation was not present when the Bible was written, so the Scriptures are silent on this question. In American law, corporations are treated as separate individuals and non-profits carry additional responsibilities because of their assumed public trust. To the extent that we treat corporations as a separate entity, we could consider the corporation as a separate, neutral entity that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of Scriptural commands. Yes, because the corporation takes on the values and persona of the owners, I believe it should be considered an extension of the owner’s personhood and should fall within the Biblical commands about not suing your brother. Not suing, however, does not preclude:

1.    Placing a lien against another’s property until the debt is collected

2.    Using the services of a collection agency who will help you collect the debt without resorting to legal action

3.    Reporting no-pay or slow-pay clients to proper authorities, such as D&B

4.    Stopping services mid-stream if milestone payments are not received in long-term contracts

5.    Reporting possible illegal activities to the proper authorities – this may be an act of discipleship

6.    Asking the brother’s church elders to intervene

7.    Choosing to forgive your brother and live with the pain of their sin against you

Admittedly, this post is more of a “cliff notes” presentation on these important matters. I trust this has been helpful to you.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Greed, Christians and Business Ownership

Also known as an intense Love of Money, Greed is characterized by an excessive or rapacious desire for money and is often linked with selfishness and, more generally, corruption of character. This is aptly illustrated in Ezekiel 33.30-32, where the Lord describes his people as those who “express devotion” to God but their “hearts are greedy for unjust gain”. Greed can be applied to a deep desire for what others have – such as a beautiful wife (cf. David and Bathsheba) or some physical possession. But normally, we use the word covet to describe the desire to have what others already have, even though, certainly, greed is involved. There is overlap, but for purposes of this post, I’ll focus on greed as it relates to money and wealth.

Greed is not inherent within a free market economy, though it does exist in robust forms. When two parties freely agree to an economic transaction that is beneficial to both of them, this is not greed but rather self-preservation. At the Bible and Business, we differentiate between righteous ambition and greed. IF greed were at the root of all economic transactions in a free market, then we could not fulfill our duties as illustrated in Luke 19 to return a profit on our work to the Lord without sinning. We believe a business can be incubated, grown and sustained without greed. Profit can be created without greed. This is where understanding God’s purposes for business are so important. (Here, here and here.)

Greed is condemned by God in the Scriptures and is contrary to the purposes of God. In Psalm 10.2-3, it is the arrogant, wicked man who “boasts of the cravings of his heart” and who “blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord”. To revile the Lord means to assail with contemptuous or opprobrious language or to address or speak abusively of the Lord. Here, we are taught that those who are greedy will bless others who are greedy and at the same time, be contemptuous and speak abusively of the Lord. In Romans 1.29, we find that those who have been given over to their sinful lusts by the Lord are filled with “every kind of wickedness”, including greed. (See also 1 Corinthians 5.10.)

Greed should not be considered something that is unusual for those who have not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. It is one expression of the sinful human nature. In Mark 7.21-22 (see also Matthew 15.19-20), greed is listed as one of the elements that makes a man “unclean”. As Christ taught us, it is what comes out of his mouth that indicates what is in his heart (Luke 6.45). Show me someone who speaks well of greed or who speaks abusively about the Lord and I’ll show you someone who is greedy.

Examples of Greed

The Scriptures contain several examples of greed from which we can learn. In Joshua 7, we have the story of Achan, who wrongfully took some of the sacred things from the plunder in Israel’s victory over Jericho:

But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel.

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.

3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”

10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.

14 ” ‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the LORD chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the LORD chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the LORD chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’ ”

16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD.

24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

Achan was exposed. His greed cost him everything. And will cost us too:

  1. Greed negatively affects our families and communities. I’m sure that the community of Israel didn’t enjoy putting to death one of their own. Certainly Achan’s family didn’t profit from his greed.
  2. Greed creates short-term wealth, but it does not help the community flourish, which is one of the three core purposes of business.
  3. Greed is completely self-focused: “as long as I get what I want, I don’t care what happens to others”. This is well illustrated in the pornography industry, where the entire focus is on the physical satisfaction and “love” is defined at a transactional level. Those who run the porn industry make huge sums of money, all the while destroying the dignity and purity of men and women alike.

Another example of greed is illustrated in Ezekiel 22.12, where the indulgence in usury (the charging of excessive interest) results in “unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion”. In the fall of 2008, we observed a number of credit card companies raising interest rates well above 20%, which is an example of how corporations – run by individuals – engage in greed-based practices. The charging of excessive interest rates will always lead to unjust gain, regardless of the current economic climate.

One of the strongest teachings on greed is found in Luke 12.16-21:

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

This is the parable of the rich man who was successful in business and who decided to build bigger barns to hold his increased wealth. He was so successful that he literally didn’t have enough room for all of his wealth. So he built larger barns to hold his increase of possessions. His actions alone would have revealed what was in his heart. But his words confirmed it: “I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'” It was all about him: his money, his wealth, his comfort, his security and his enjoyment. But little did he know that he could die and not take one thing with him into eternity. He is described by God as a “fool” because the total investment of his life was in temporal things which could be taken from him in an instant.

What are the lessons we take from this passage in Luke?

  1. Greed can take the form of hoarding. The parable starts with this strong warning from Christ: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (vs. 15).” In this parable, the sin of greed is not taking from others (we have no reason to believe his wealth was dishonestly gained), but about amassing wealth and fortune for yourself. It is the sin of hoarding. He had no thought about God or the poor. He hoarded his wealth and the text implies that he saved more than was necessary for his future needs – which is the classic definition of hoarding.
  2. This is another example in Scriptures where wealth itself is not condemned, but rather it is greed and hoarding that is condemned.
  3. His “god” was money. Greed is a form of idolatry, it is obviously selfish, it takes trust that we should have in God for future security and places it in money.
  4. Moreover, he was a slave to his money and possessions because his future security was wrapped up in money. Take note – all of you who believe that buying gold will save you in the day of distress: Gold will have no more power to secure you from financial harm than any other form of money.
  5. Greed also distorts what a “need” is. The text implies that, from the rich man’s perspective, he *needed* those larger barns in order to store his wealth. But from God’s viewpoint (and perhaps us as we read this text), we get the distinct impression that he didn’t his additional wealth. He could have given it away and not missed it.
  6. Greed can happen at any economic level. It’s not just the rich who can be greedy. At its’ core, greed is the decision to value yourself and place yourself ahead of others and God.

    When the poor *demand* more money from the government, who takes it from the rich by force, is this not greed? When corporations demand special tax breaks and incentives from the government, is this not greed? When a politician vows to redistribute wealth as a means of gaining votes, is this not greed? When the rich learn of someone in need and have the means to help but choose not to act, is this not greed? I’m not purposefully trying to offend anyone here, but greed can happen in any economic level and can take many forms.

Note: False teachers are also put forth as illustrations of greed. These examples can be found in Matthew 23.25, Jeremiah 6.13 and 8.10, Luke 11.39 and 2 Peter 1.3-14. Also, Greed will always invite the wrath and judgment of God. The Scriptures are clear on this. See Ephesians 5.5, Proverbs 15.27; 28.8; 28.25 and 29.4. See also Ezekiel 18.10-13 and 28.5-7; Amos 8.4-7, Micah 2.1-3, Habakkuk 2.5-6 and 1 Corinthians 6.9-10.

Christian Response to Greed

How should a Christian respond to greed? Should greed ever be a part of a Christian’s life?

In short, a disciple of Jesus Christ is not to be greedy. This is taught in passages such as Proverbs 28.6, where we are told “better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse”. We can also look to Proverbs 11.28, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf” or to Proverbs 22.1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold”. Other passages include Exodus 20.17, Deuteronomy 5.12, Ezekiel 18.8-17, and Romans 13.9.

Christian leaders are not to be greedy either. In fact, this is a requirement for those desiring to be elders in the church. 1 Timothy 3.2-3 states that Christian leaders are not to be “lovers of money”. You can find similar commands in Titus 1.7, 1 Peter 5.2 and illustrated in the life of Paul in Acts 20.33 and 1 Thessalonians 2.5.

But it’s not enough just to say “don’t be greedy”. That’s a bit empty….hence…..we need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit and overcome our greed.

How does one overcome greed? The process is rather simple, but not easy. First, repent of your greed (Luke 3.14) and then, secondly, be on guard against greed creeping back into your life (Psalm 62.10, Luke 12.15-21). Thirdly, you’ll also need to not associate with those who are greedy. And fourthly, you need to learn to give – and give all the time. Giving away your wealth keeps you dependent on God, which is antithetical to greed. You simply cannot be a giver and be greedy at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive. (There are other passages for us to consider, such as 1 Corinthians 5.11, Colossians 3.5, Ephesians 5.3 and Job 36.18 on this topic. Please refer to them.)

As you give your wealth away, you’ll also learn contentment. Contentment is wanting what you already have rather than wanting what you don’t have. Nearly every Godly person I’ve ever met is also a content person because they have learned that God Himself is sufficient to satisfy their wants and desires. Hebrews 13.5 says “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”.” 1 Timothy 6.9-11 gives us a sharp contrast between greed and contentment. In verse 6 Paul writes that “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it…People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” He goes on to command Timothy to “flee all this” and to “pursue righteousness” – commands that Christian business owners would be wise to heed.

Finally, the Scriptures tell us to pursue and seek God Himself. The real remedy for greed is to turn from the pursuit of wealth and to the pursuit of God. This is best commanded in 1 Timothy 6.17-18, where Paul writes to Timothy: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share”. Jeremiah has a good way of putting this (9.23-24): “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on either, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.” See also Psalm 119.14.

Final Thoughts

Greed should never characterize a Christian’s life – especially when that Christian owns a business. As Christians in business, we have a higher entrustment from the Lord to use the wealth we create for His purposes. Our attitudes should be like Christ – who gave up the riches and glories of heaven to come to this earth to serve us. Let’s not be known for our money. Let’s be known for our giving, our love for God, and the purity of our walk and the utter transformation of our lives by the Holy Spirit.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

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