Pursue Righteousness before a Tax Code Change

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, In Illinois, Tax Increases Become an Article of Faith, Heather Wilhelm outlined a current effort in the State of Illinois to have their flat income tax system replaced with a progressive income tax. Quoting extensively from this article:

“In Illinois—a state plagued by epic budget woes, a pension crisis, byzantine taxes and the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate—politics is rarely associated with godliness. Four of the past seven governors, most recently Rod Blagojevich, have been sent to prison. Locals will tell you that corruption is practically a sport. But on April 8 more than 500 Illinoisans showed that they, at least, were keeping the faith.

Donning orange T-shirts reading “Faith in Action,” a coalition of religious groups flooded the state capitol in Springfield, singing hymns, shouting “Hallelujah,” and praying for higher taxes on the rich. Their goal: replacing the state’s long-standing flat income tax with a new, progressive “Fair Tax.”

“The gospel tells us that ‘For everyone to whom much is given, much will be required,’ ” Rev. Jason Coulter, a Chicago pastor and board member of the Community Renewal Society (which organized Faith in Action) told me.” I’m called by my faith tradition to speak truth to power when I see injustice being done. And a flat tax is an injustice.”

“This is a moral imperative,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, a workers’ rights group. “There are over 400 passages in the Bible that talk about God’s special concern for the poor. Our current tax system, which favors the wealthy, is so off kilter, so skewed, and so contrary to the vision God has set before us.” “

From the Community Renewal Society web site, we quote:

“”The Illinois Policy Institute is being dishonest when they claim a Fair Tax is anything besides a tax cut for the overwhelming majority of Illinoisans.  The smoke and mirrors about future rates if we drove off the fiscal cliff are designed to confuse and scare voters, all in an effort to protect an unjust status quo,” said Rev. Jason Coulter of Ravenswood United Church of Christ.

Documents exposed in a December news report revealed that the Illinois Policy Institute has been serving as a conduit for the national State Policy Network, a group financed by America’s wealthiest corporate interests, including billionaires David and Charles Koch. The documents revealed funding to IPI from the group as earmarked for the purpose of making a Fair Tax “politically toxic” to Illinois voters.

“We, the citizens of Illinois, should decide tax and budget policy, not lobbyists and lawmakers backed by the wealthiest corporate special interests in America,” said Rev. Coulter.

The Illinois Policy Institute is responsible for many false attacks on the Fair Tax, including claims it would raise taxes on low- and middle-income families—claims which have been thoroughly debunked.  The truth is that a Fair Tax – implemented with a rate structure proposed by the Fair Tax Act‘s chief sponsor, Sen. Don Harmon – would cut taxes for 94% of Illinois residents, including everyone making up to $205,000.

Today’s attendees emphasized that tax relief for the overwhelming number of Illinois families and the protection of vital public priorities were both vitally important to the success of their communities.

“I can’t possibly pay any more taxes than I already do, and we won’t stand for any more cuts to my kids’ schools.  Enough is enough!” said Tammy Jordan of Shiloh Baptist Church of Waukegan.

“As a home healthcare worker, people’s lives depend on my care.  If there are any more cuts to the budget, I’m afraid what will happen to those seniors,” said Monique Cooper of the First Baptist Congregational Church of Chicago.

Rev. Coulter noted the unfairness of Illinois’ current tax and budget system that requires low and middle income families to pay a tax rate that is two to three times more than that of the very rich, factoring all state and local taxes paid.

“This is backwards.  Our faith calls us to fight for a Fair Tax because we believe in a community where everyone pays their fair share.  Jesus said, ‘to whom much is given, much is required.'”

Core Issue of Fairness

After reading these two articles, it seems to me that the core issue is really not one of taxes, but one of fairness. People inherently want what is “fair”, but how that concept is defined can vary widely. One wonders what the Bible has to say about the concept of fairness. Do the Scriptures speak to this concept such that we should inform our own perceptions and concepts first from the Bible? Are disciples of Jesus Christ called by God to pursue fairness? At what point do we accept injustice as part of our call to suffer – if ever?

What Does the Bible Say About Fairness?

Fairness is something we should strive to achieve, but it will not come from political lobbying, but rather from living a righteous life. In the bible, living a righteous life is a perquisite for understanding fairness. In Prov. 2:9–10, we read: “Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path”. This type of understanding only comes after one has been living righteously before the Lord (2.1-8). This is reinforced by Deuteronomy 29.15, in which we learn that when we live in sin, God sends on us rebukes, confusions and curses. Living in sin leads to confusion. It would stand to reason that one cannot understand what is fair in a given situation if one is confused. Moreover, reading and learning the proverbs of the Bible will help you and I learn and understand fairness. In Prov. 1:2–3, the writer tells us that the purpose of the proverbs in the Bible are for “attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair…” If you want to know what “fairness” is, I would point you to the book of Proverbs.

The prophets linked fairness with righteousness (Isa. 11:4; cp. Ps. 98:9) and saw that when fairness was lacking, life became tenuous and uncertain (Isa. 59:9–11; Mic. 3:9–12). Biblical persons who exhibited fairness in their words or actions include Jacob (Gen. 31:38–41), Solomon (1 Kings 3:16–27), Jesus (John 7:53–8:11) and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40–41). Biblical injunctions uphold fairness in matters of business (Lev. 19:36; Deut. 25:15; 1 Tim. 5:18), law (Exod. 23:3; Deut. 16:19), speech (Exod. 23:1), and family relationships (e.g., Deut. 21:15–17; Eph. 6:1–9). God’s fairness in His treatment of sin was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ – who was unjustly accused and wrongly killed for our sins but who willingly bore them because of His great love for us.

Fairness and Suffering

The Bible tells us that suffering is part of our call to discipleship: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but to suffer for Him.” (Phil 1.29). Suffering for the gospel is foundational to our call to believing in Christ. When (not if) we suffer for the Gospel, we’re going to live with injustices committed against us (and Christ – John 15). Suffering and injustice often go hand in hand. For the Christian, we look forward to the day when God will make everything right and will true justice to all – including you and I.

What is the role of Government?

The Bible doesn’t endorse any particular form of judgment, though we do know that in the future, God’s form of government will be a righteous dictatorship. In the Bible, God is the ultimate ruler, and He gives the responsibility to execute justice to the king (government), particularly for the weak (1 Kings 10:9; Prov. 31:8–9; Ezek. 34:1–6, 23). However, government needs limits; ruling is a function, not a status or class (Deut. 17:14–20). Government is divinely established to encourage and maintain what is beneficial and to discourage what is harmful and disruptive. Hence, believers should honor and obey governing authorities as instituted by God (Rom. 13:1–7; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Pet. 2:13–17). But let’s remember that all governing authorities are made up of fallible men operating in a world that is intrinsically opposed to Jesus and hostile to his followers.

Pursue a Righteous Life First

There is nothing wrong with lobbying the government to right a wrong – to bring justice to an unjust situation. But it seems to me that Christ took a position of counseling us to accept the powers that be while focusing us on a transcendent commitment to God alone. There is a place for Christians to lobby our government to bring justice and fairness to an unjust situation, but our focus should be on the church righting the wrongs whether or not the government intervenes. We might lobby the government, but we trust God.

As Heather wrote in her article, corruption is nearly a sport in Illinois. I merely ask the question: Are there louder, more persistent calls to our society to repent of our sin and live in righteousness before God? I suspect that Reverend Coulter and his friends would disagree that a call to a progressive tax and a call to righteousness are two different things. But I don’t see how they are synonymous. It seems to me that for the Christian, lobbying the government for changes in the tax code should take a back seat to calling our nation to repentance. Such a call would include repentance from hoarding wealth and oppressing the poor by the wealthy. But it would also include a call to repentance from the holocaust of our age – abortions or sexual promiscuity or the forsaking of our commitments in our families and community through fatherlessness and divorce or even our own arrogance in believing that we are somehow better than others. Is it not true that the millions of abortions are an anathema to God? Should we not be lobbying our government to change the law to protect the unborn, even at the expense of taking away a woman’s right to choose? Are not the lives of the unborn worth more than a civil right? Is there anywhere in the Bible where a civil right is elevated over the sanctity of life?

As I read the home page of the CRS web site and then read the WSJ article, the situation comes across to me as a political one wrapped in religious clothes. Hence, my response to these groups in Chicago is simple: be sure that God has called you to lobby the Illinois government for this specific tax law change. Be very sure of His specific call on your life to do this. And above all else, pursue God and a righteous life first. Without this, you (and I) will never know what “fair” really is.

The Veil was Torn

At the moment when Christ gave up His life on this earth, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27.51). There were two temple curtains, one dividing the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place and the other separating the Holy Place from the court. This inner curtain is the one described in Exod. 26:31–33; 36:35; 2 Chron. 3:14. As pictured in these passages, strands of blue, purple, and scarlet were interwoven into a white linen fabric, in such a manner that these colors formed a mass of cherubim, the guardian angels of God’s holiness, symbolically as it were barring the way into the holy of holies. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies to be in God’s presence and this was done only once a year.

The death of Jesus opened up a fresh access to God and this made the Old Testament sacrificial system and the Levitical high priesthood obsolete. The tearing of the veil signifies the obsolescence of the temple ritual and the law governing it. Jesus himself is the New Temple, the meeting place of God and man.

Through this one man’s obedience, once-for-all sacrifice for our sin, all, who by faith, lay their hands on the head of this innocent victim (Christ) are allowed into God’s presence and will one day see Christ face-to-face.

The enemy will tell you that your sin is too great – you’re too bad or stained or dirty or broken. He’ll tell you that God can save most people but that what you have done is beyond the pale – you can’t really get forgiveness from God. You’ve gone too far – you can’t be forgiven. This message is a lie from the pit of Hell. We must not believe our sin to be more than our Savior. And we must not believe that any sin or any combination of sins is greater than the love and forgiving power of Jesus Christ.

No matter what you have done in the past, Christ is able and willing to forgive your sin and set you on a new path free from the bondage of sin. My friend, you have direct access to God Himself. Don’t neglect it. Talk with God. Confess your sin. Repent and believe. If you do, God will transform you into someone you never though you could be and will give you a new life that is nothing short of miraculous. Today, please let Him into your heart. You’ll never regret it!

A Couple of Notes on Money

Businesses can’t be operated without money.  And they won’t be in existence long without profits. But money – and the love of money – is a slippery slope.  For example, Proverbs 27.20 says that “Death and Destruction are never satisfied and neither are the eyes of man”.  In other words, apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll always desire more than what we have and this desiring wages war with our need to be content with what we have.  As business owners who need to create a profit – but who are probably driven to some extent by the fun of creating profit – we still must learn to be content with what God has already given us.  Balancing the drive to be profitable with contentment is not easy. Achieving balance in this area is a sign of maturity.

In order to achieve the balance that God desires, it would be best if we kept in mind the following principles – which I’ve discussed from a different angle elsewhere on this blog:

  1. Money is a tool used by God to accomplish His purposes.  For God, money is a means to an end – never the end in itself.
  2. Money is neutral – it can be used for good or evil.
  3. Private property is assumed in the Scriptures.  For example, there would be no commands against stealing if private property wasn’t assumed in the Scriptures.  Money is a “property” that can be owned. For the Christian Business Owner, this is a stewardship issue since everything we have belongs to the Lord.
  4. How we handle money indicates how we will manage “real” riches (Luke 16.11).  As I just said, God already owns all of the wealth on this earth.  The one thing that he doesn’t own are people’s souls and those are the real riches to God.  As part of your stewardship of your business, God will ask you, at times, to shepherd well a person’s soul.  This might happen by sharing the Gospel with an employee or vendor or by God asking you to suffer at the expense of another’s actions against you so that you have an opportunity down the road to witness to that person.  Remember – the real riches on this earth are people’s souls, not your profits or your wealth. As Christian Business Owners, we need to be willing to part with our money on a moment’s notice if it means helping another person or holding fast to the true riches that God has for us on this earth.

In large measure, this post encapsulates two core purposes of business: Profits and Philanthropy. God enables us to create wealth so that He can bless us in giving it away to others who need it more than us. Keeping such a view of money at the forefront of our thinking will help us maintain balance in our lives and make us free from the love of money and the entrapments which so often sink deeply into the wealthy in our society.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group

Rogue IT Administrators and New Concerns About Data Privacy

From the Wall Street Journal’s Risk Roundup Report on Friday, April 18, 2014:

  • 57% of IT Administrators made undocumented changes to their IT systems that no one else knows about.
  • 39% of IT Administrators have made changes that resulted in being a root cause of a security breach
  • 88% of respondents are changing or have changed their cloud buying decisions because of the NSA revelations
  • 65% of respondents had experienced SQL injection attacks that successfully evaded their perimeter defenses in the past 12 months. Each SQL injection breach took an average of nearly 140 days to discover and required an additional 68 days on average to remediate.
  • eDiscovery work is up: 20% of in-house lawyers now say their companies faced a regulatory/investigation matter in 2013, up from 9% in 2012

Bill English, CEO

Taxes are a huge expense for most Americans

When one combines Federal and State taxes on a national scale, the Tax Foundation has calculated that Americans spend more on taxes than food, clothing and shelter combined. This analysis doesn’t include other taxes, such as gasoline or sales. If we were to add up *all* the hidden taxes that we pay, plus the other taxes and fees that the various levels of government assess, I suspect we’d be at 50% or more of our annual gross income.

How much more can we, as a nation, pay in taxes? We have a political class that is very comfortable with deficit spending and keeping the entitlement state going. This can’t go on forever. At some point, these high taxes and high debts will combine to impoverish our nation. While I can’t predict when this will happen, I can assure you that it will happen.

Bill English

Reputational Risk, Brand Strength and Persecution

While abortion remains a divisive issue after 30+ years in our society, the issue of gay marriage has become even more divisive and at the same time, a uniting issue for those on one side or the other. By vast majorities, the younger generation is pro-gay marriage, seeing it as a civil rights issue. By a lesser plurality, older folks see gay marriage as a moral or natural law issue, one in which civil unions can be endorsed, but marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples.

Social issues are now corporate risk issues. Managing your company’s reputation is now a core element of managing risk. Privately held companies by Christians will face increasing pressure and reputational risk when they follow their Christian beliefs in the marketplace. Just as most non-profit organizations are an outgrowth of the founder’s beliefs and personas, so are most small businesses: they are an outgrowth of the owner’s skills, talents and moral/religious beliefs. As the extreme pro-gay element in our society went after Chick-Fil-A in 2012 and more recently, Mozilla’s Barry Eich who resigned under pressure for having donated to a 2008 California ballot initiate that defined marriage as being “between one man and one woman”, those who run their businesses God’s way will find increasing pressure and opposition from the gay community as they live out their beliefs in the marketplace.

Chick-Fil-A is a good example of how a strong brand – which represents a strong emotional connection between the customer and the brand – can help weather attacks from various groups who are hell-bent on transforming society into their utopia while silencing any opposing viewpoints. But knowing how to engage in spiritual warfare is the Christian Business Owner’s most effective tool in navigating troubled waters. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” says Paul in Ephesians 6.12. The battle that was fought by Chick-Fil-A and the one now being fought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties is, at its’ core, a spiritual battle. In short, Satan wants to destroy and silence all who oppose him. God is on the other side and while He tolerates evil today, He will one day rule in authority, power and righteousness. Every knee will bow to Jesus Christ and every tongue will confess Him as the Lord “in heaven, on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2).

Staying quiet in the marketplace in order to maintain your business is tantamount to surrender. God has not called the Christian Business Owner to quiescence. Staying focused on the four core purposes for businesses is essential for you, your employees and your community. But being salt and light in your business and community will sometimes mean taking a stand on social issues. Some are called to be prophets in the business world. If it costs you your business, is that any worse that what other prophets have endured in the past? We need to be faithful to God and His Word before all else. If you are facing opposition or even persecution today because our society thinks you’re on the wrong side of a social issue, then work to strength your brand, but also spend time in spiritual warfare for yourself, your family and your business. Ask God to bring a sweeping revival in our country and commit yourself to faithfulness and perseverance to God and His Word. Hold out the Word of truth to a lost and dying world, but hold it out with love and respect for those who oppose you and with humility as your represent the Lord in the marketplace.

Bill English

The Humble God

Today, on Palm Sunday, I offer this devotional for your consideration.

In Matthew 21.1-11, we have his account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, five days before He is to be crucified. We celebrate this today – on Palm Sunday, named after the people waving palm branches to hail Christ’s entry into the city which will kill him in five very short days.

But what we have is not a triumphal entry – instead, we have the King of kings arriving on a donkey, fulfilling Zechariah 9.9:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

In Matthew’s account, he tones down Zechariah’s quote, removing the triumphal elements, leaving us consider a modest King (vs 4):

Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

Matthew does this because Jesus is “king”, and yet, at the same time, He is humble and unpretentious. Matthew wants us to focus on this: Christ comes into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Don’t gloss over this. A donkey – the most earthly of the work animals – bears a King as He rides into seat of power – Jerusalem. Jesus is Emmanuel: God-with-us in a truly human way: God on a donkey.

And in this modest entry, we have illustrated for us His deity and his humanity. He is the Crucified Messiah, the Modest King, the Lowly Lord, the Human God. He is fully God, yet does not consider equality with God something to hang onto, so He empties Himself and makes Himself nothing (Philippians 2). No other God does this. No other God comes to man and allows man to kill Him so that He can save them from their sins and have an eternal relationship with them. All other gods are big. They are impressive. They require adulation upon their arrival. But not Jesus. The humble King comes into town in a way that no other King would dare.

God on a donkey.

On this Palm Sunday, reflect on the one who humbled Himself so He could give His live to save you. And consider giving your life to the one who humbled himself so He could give His life to save you.

Bill English

The Need is not the Call

I have a good friend who is in full-time vocational ministry. He is an entrepreneur like me and near the end of our conversation over lunch last week, he asked for my advice. In his ministry, he’s seeing a need within his staff that is going unfulfilled and might hurt parts of the ministry if left unattended. Because he has done type of work for nearly 30 years, he was thinking of scaling back that portion of his ministry that few can accomplish and taking on the other portion of the ministry that could be done by many after they have been trained.

He was falling victim to a common syndrome for entrepreneurs: we see a need, see how it can be fixed and so we think we should go do it – even if this means neglecting our core tasks and call.

As an entrepreneur, he and I fall victim to the same temptation: because we can look into the future and see what could be, we think that since we can see it (no matter what “it” is), we should go do it. I have made this basic mistake in business countless times and each time it has cost me wasted time and resources.

As entrepreneurs, we need to remember that God has a call on our lives to be in business, to generate wealth for His kingdom and to traffic within the largest mission field on the plant. Let’s remember that when we get a new idea, just because we can “see it” in the future doesn’t mean that God has called us to fulfill that dream. Stay close to the Lord and let Him lead you instead of pursuing a dream that to which you have not been called. Don’t let your enthusiasm and creativity get in the way of understanding God’s call on your life and your need to stay focused on what He has called you to.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group

Believe and Do Not Doubt

As a Christian business owner, who you choose to help you run your business one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. You could sit through the best MBA programs in the nation, and it is likely that they will not prepare you for the most important decisions you’ll ever make in business, because those decisions are all about people and about your instincts in hiring the right person.

In 2 Samuel 15, we have the story of Absalom working over four years to steal the hearts of the people of Israel away from David his father who is currently the king. Apparently he was able to engage in his subversive activities without David ever knowing what he was doing. But he was skillful enough in subverting the kingdom away from David Levy was able to make himself king for a brief period of time while causing David to flee from Jerusalem in order to save his life. This subversive activities and usurpation of David’s authority is described in versus 1-4:

“In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.” Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.”

As you can see, Absalom successfully deceived the people into believing three things:

  1. David would not hear their case
  2. David was not competent to rule on their case even if he did hear it
  3. In order for justice to return to Israel, Absalom himself needed to be appointed judge in the land

At the core of his deceit is the truth that in their day, became was the individual who administered justice throughout the land. To call into question David’s competence and willingness to hear the people’s claims for justice and then to assert that he himself should be king, was a clear usurpation of David’s authority and the pinnacle of arrogance.

All too often, in successful organizations, whether they are churches or businesses or political institutions, those who are one step below the senior leadership of the organization often are tempted to usurp authority and to vie for the ultimate power in that organization. Godly leaders should be aware of this temptation and should put in place systems and/or ways of quietly checking up on their #2’s. It is simply a fact of life that people who are close to power will want to have that power for themselves. Power and authority can be very intoxicating and can corrupt even some of the best people on this earth.

But there is also a deeper truth here that we need to realize. Satan engages in the very activities in which Absalom engaged. Our enemy will move within our hearts in our mind’s to cause us to believe that God does not hear us, then he is distant and disinterested in what we need and in gaining justice in our own lives. He will plant thoughts on our habits that perhaps God is not competent or strong enough to deal with the injustices and the problems in our lives. And then he will offer a different god for us to follow. That God may be money, fame, power or a host of other idols to which we can bow down. He will tempt us to think that these idols will give us all that we need for life, prosperity, happiness and security. But just bear in mind that he will only be feeding you lies.

God does hear us. He is more than competent to manage our lives and the problems within them. God is Almighty, everlasting, powerful and 100% sovereign over all of the affairs of this earth. We do not need to replace God with anything. Do not fall for the temptation that God does not hear and that he does not care. Do not believe the lie that he is somehow incompetent or unable to bring justice to your life and to deliver you from the hands of your enemies. God is fully able and he is a shield to those who put their trust in him.

In order to hear the voice of God, you first have to believe that his heart is with you and that he is worthy of your trust. If you believe that he doesn’t hear or that he doesn’t care, then you are much less likely to seek his voice when you’re making decisions and to trust that his leaving is the right leaving for your life. If you’re wavering in your face and in your belief in God, then take the next 30 days and spend at least an hour with God in prayer and in reading his word. Let him transform your life and your face so that you will come to a place where you have steadfast faith in his character and in his abilities. Those who trust in the Lord are protected by God. Those who wait on the Lord will find their strength renewed. As you run your business today, may God richly bless you and draw close to you as you draw close to him.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group

What Should the Wealthy Do With Their Wealth?

I have written about wealth several times on this site (here, here (poll), here and as well as other posts). In this post, I would like to focus on what the Bible has to say about what the wealthy should do with their wealth. Based on what I have read and learned from the Scriptures, I will assume the following principles in writing this post:

  1. Our ability to create wealth comes from the Lord only
  2. Therefore, we have no room to boast about the accumulation of many wealth that we do have
  3. We are only stewards of the wealth God has given to us, even if we are owners of wealth under the American legal system
  4. The Lord sends wealth to some and poverty to others (1 Samuel 2.7)
  5. the wealthy have a moral duty to ensure that poverty is eliminated where possible

Let’s surface some Scripture passages first.

Relevant Biblical Texts

Proverbs 3.9-10: Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.

Matthew 19.16-26:  Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ h and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Luke 16.1-9: Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ” ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

1 Timothy 6.17: command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or 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.

James 5.1-6: now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver have corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last day. Look! The wages you fail to pay your workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

I suppose one could write an entire book just on the side passages. But the focus of this post is on what the wealthy should do with their wealth. So out of these passages, I will focus solely on the aspect of what the Bible is saying about what the wealthy should do with their wealth.

We can see him Proverbs 3 that we are to tithe from the first part of the wealth that we earn. By giving God the first part of our wealth, we acknowledge our dependence on him and we are disciplined to keep God’s interests ahead of our own. In nearly all cases when a person is drifting from the Lord, one of the first things to go is there giving to the Lord. In Matthew chapter 6 verses 19 through 21, he writes “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” Boiled down the common English but Matthew is saying is this: show me where your money is and I’ll show you where your heart is. Giving is the hallmark of a person who understands that their wealth is given to them for a greater purpose than self-indulgence. The discipline of tithing is essential to the Christian business owners’ fulfillment of Proverbs 3.

In Matthew 19, we learned that the completion of the rich young ruler’s piety would have been to sell his riches and give that wealth to the poor. While this passage has been severely abused by those who hate the wealthy and are socialistic and their worldview, one cannot escape the clear direction by giving to the poor of your wealth is something that the wealthy should be doing as an act of worship and service to the Lord.

The Luke 16 passage need not be a difficult passage, even though it appears that dishonesty is being commended. It should be stressed that the master praised the (now discharged) manager not for being so dishonest but for being so clever, so astute, so shrewd. Jesus is telling this parable. It is he who is saying that the master or owner praised the dishonest manager. The owner praised him not because he had Shrewd Managerbeen so crooked but because he had planned ahead. Jesus agrees that looking ahead is the thing to do, and adds, “For the people of this world, in dealing with their own kind, are more shrewd than the people who have the light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into everlasting habitations.” Jesus is not telling us that we should become worldly-minded or crooked. He is stating the obvious fact that in worldly matters worldly people often show more astuteness or shrewdness than God’s children do in matters affecting their everlasting salvation. Jesus wants his people similarly to look ahead to eternity and in the meantime, work within the culture and structure you find yourself in while also avoiding temptations to sin.

In 1 Timothy 6, the rich are commanded to not be arrogant or to put their hope in their wealth because wealth is so uncertain. Instead they are to put their hope in God, not in their wealth.

Finally, in James 5, the rich are commanded to weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on them as a result of oppressing their workers. Money is power and money buys access to the powerful. The temptation to use one’s position of power and wealth to oppress others is common and ever-present. When the wealthy oppress their employees by not paying their wages, this passage tells us that the Lord himself hears the cries of the oppressed and will take away the luxuries and indulgences of the wealthy. Therefore, the wealthy are commanded to pay the wages of their workers who have already performed work in a satisfactory manner. (Note that the amount of the wages is not in question in this passage. The parable in Matthew 20 which shows the generosity of God in giving similar rewards to those who have worked vastly different amounts for him in this life and its implications for compensation strategies for the Christian business owner is probably best left to a different post that I’ll need to write at some point in the future.)

So when we consolidate the teachings of these five passages here is what we find:

  1. The wealthy should be giving away their wealth
  2. The wealthy should not put their hope in their wealth
  3. The wealthy should not use their position of power and influence to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor

In his book The Dignity of Difference, Jonathan Sacks writes, “a world in which the few prosper and many starve, offends our deepest sense of fairness and human solidarity. You do not have to be a convinced egalitarian to know that the disparities of this magnitude – vast, concentrated wealth alongside widespread suffering- is intolerable. The real problem, though, is one of responsibility. No one planned this outcome. It happened as a result of billions of transactions, investments and purchasing decisions.”

Writing from a Jewish perspective, Sacks goes on to outline that in our English language a gesture of charity is usually not thought to be an act of justice, and an act of justice is usually not thought to be an act of charity. However, the Hebrew word, Tzedakah means both charity and justice. He reminds us that this concept of combining both charity and justice arises from the theology of Judaism, which insists on the difference between possession and ownership. Ultimately all things are owned by God, who is the creator of the world and the giver of wealth. What we possess is merely what we hold in trust for God. In his thinking, the clearest example is the provision and Leviticus: “the land must not be sold permanently because the land is mine; you are merely strangers and temporary residence in relation to me” (Leviticus 25.23). If they were absolute ownership, there will be a difference between justice (what we are bound to give to others) and charity (what we give others out of generosity). The former would be a legally enforceable duty, the latter, at most, a moral obligation prompted out of benevolence or sympathy.

But because God is the owner of everything and we are merely guardians or trustees on God’s behalf, we are bound by the conditions of the trusteeship, one of which is that we share part of what we have with others in need. What would be regarded as charity under the American legal system is in Judaism and Christianity, a strict requirement of giving even though it cannot be enforced by American legal courts. No Christian business owner should tolerate saying others without the basic requirements of existence, and those who have more than others must share some of that surplus with those who have less. This is absolutely fundamental to the kind of society but God has charged us with creating: one in which everyone has a basic right to a dignified life and be equal citizens in a covenantal community under the sovereignty of God. It does not matter that we are Americans. God’s law supersedes American law.

While the American Constitution guarantees individual liberties, those individual liberties cannot be divorced from a more collective freedom that comes from the generosity of the rich. A society in which the few prosper but the many starve is not a place of liberty. When the rich use their power and wealth to oppress the poor they are actually taking away the basic human liberties and rights of those who are being oppressed. And when the rich use their power and influence in collusion with the force of government to extract wealth from the masses, which has been done countless times through the ages, God is not pleased and this usually ends in the other room and for both the rich and the society in which they live. Under Jewish law, the Jubilee year was instituted so that everyone can have a share in the land. In the course of time, some people were forced to sell their land either because of bad harvests, poor choices or other misfortunes. But in every 50th year, the land was to be returned to its original owners let no one was denied his or her ancestral inheritance. The connection between economic equity and political freedom was explicit.

Many of the government redistributive actions in America today are based on the assumption that in any free market, an equitable distribution of wealth will not emerge naturally from the working of that free market in and of itself. I wrestle with this notion, because I believe that the free market is the best way to most efficiently distribute resources for the good of society. And yet it cannot be denied that the inherent power that accrues to those who have wealth and their temptation to oppress others so that they can amass more wealth and engage in more self-indulgence is an ever-present temptation that many too often give into. This is why a free market needs government regulations: power needs to be constrained so that the oppressed have legitimate opportunities to grow their station in life.

Personally, I am not a big supporter of the government redistributing wealth. When the government steps in and does that which the churches and the businesses ought to be doing on their own, it is all too easy for the religious and business institutions to abdicate their responsibilities to the government. The government is incredibly inefficient and wasteful in performing wealth redistribution and unwittingly encourages selfishness and hoarding on the part of the rich. What we need is a culture that expects the wealthy voluntarily give their wealth so that those who are in poverty, whether through fault of their own or through misfortune, still have the basic essentials that they need to thrive within the society. Voluntary charity is much more efficient. And it honors the Lord. Charity forced through government action leads to fights and divisions over which groups are enriched and which groups are harmed by any given government action. In short, forced charity divides us into classes. Voluntary charity results in the opposite. But this can only happen if the wealthy fully accept and bake into their lives God’s perspective on their wealth. When those who view the wealth that they do have as having come from God and in humility see themselves as stewards of that which God has given to them, they are much more likely to give that wealth away because they know that if God wants them to give more to the poor, that he will enable them to create more wealth.

110213_1342_GreedChrist2.jpgConsider Deuteronomy 15.8: “you shall open your hand wide to him (the poor person) and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need and that which the lack.” The idea here is that the rich are commanded by God to maintain the poor but are not commanded to make them rich. The redistribution of wealth, from a biblical perspective, is to be born by the rich and from a heart of love for God. The rich recognize their wealth is not their own and is to be stewarded to further the kingdom of God, in part, by giving it away. This is one reason, in my opinion, that a sweeping revival is needed in the country: we have far too many wealthy who have jettisoned God in their personal lives and use their wealth to indulge themselves and think nothing of oppressing the poor. Government action cannot solve problems of the heart, no matter how well-intended the programs might be.

The Scriptures are not against wealth. Let me say it again: the Scriptures are not against wealth. Nor do the Scriptures condemn people for being wealthy. But the Scriptures do condemn, over and over, the hoarding of wealth and the misuse of the power that comes with wealth. I would submit that it is much more difficult to live a godly life as a wealthy person than it is to live a godly life as a poor person. In other words success in business can be much more difficult to handle in a godly way and failure.

Therefore, as a Christian business owner, you should view your profits as sustaining the other three purposes of business: products, passions and philanthropy. The purposes of business are not solely profits and to increase the wealth of the shareholders, even though this is what is taught in most American MBA programs today. In God’s economy, our responsibilities are far more diverse and important than merely enriching the shareholders of the company. If you are running a business today and you want to run it God’s way, then I encourage you to take a long step back and ask God what you should be doing with your profits. Look at your standard of living and see if there’s a way to simplify so that you can have more wealth to give away. Realize that your time on this Earth is so very short, and that none of your wealth will go with you into eternity. Remember that your wealth is fleeting and that the things you most want in life cannot be purchased with money. Remember that the goal of your life is not to be wealthy, but to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group