Christian Business Owners and the Politically Powerful

What does the Bible have to say about Christian Business Owners interacting with those who hold political power?

One passage that speaks directly to this interaction is Proverbs 23.1-3:

1When you sit to dine with a ruler,

note well what is before you,

and put a knife to your throat

if you are given to gluttony.

Do not crave his delicacies,

for that food is deceptive.

These first three verses occur in a larger passage (1-8) where strong warnings against courting favor of the powerful, greed and intercourse with the envious are instructed. This warning is specifically about courting favor with the powerful. Even though in the preceeding verses (22.29) that those highly skilled in their professions would serve before the politically powerful, we are now instructed about the dangers of developing a relationship that is so close – so confidential – that we lose our respect and proper decorum to the point where they observe us immoderate, intemperate way.

Several thoughts from this passage. First, the ruler is not your equal and you are not his – at least from a civil, political perspective. Keep this in mind, the author is saying. Even if you do become good friends with the ruler, remember that you are sitting down to dine with a ruler more than a good friend.

Secondly, we are to note well what is before us. Rulers tend to eat well using fine cutlery with servants and chefs and so forth. Note well what is given to you. Most people don’t get this opportunity to eat such culinary delights, so take note of this. The trappings of power are intoxicating – note well what all this represents – an opportunity to have your deepest desires changed in an instant to what he has by virtue of his position. In essence, the temptation is that of coveting – wanting what he has when your station in life doesn’t afford you the same access to wealth and its’ perks.

Hence, thirdly, we are to put a knife to our throats if we are given to gluttony. The Hebrew word for “gluttony” literally means life, people, soul, breath. What the author is saying is that if you are mastered by your urges and appetites instead of being one with self-discipline and submission to God – if you are one given to satisfying your deepest needs even at the cost of giving up your core values and trading them for that which is fleeting – the delicacies and perks of the politically powerful – then put a knife to your throat and, metaphorically, kill yourself right now. Why? Because all of the ruler’s perks and wealth is nothing compared to what we have from God – righteousness, instruction, wisdom and so forth. And if we allow ourselves to be ruled by our appetites, our desires, our urges, then we’ll end up destroying ourselves, so the remedy must be strong: put a knife to your throat. Don’t give into the temptation to be taken in by the power and materialism of the ruling class.

Lastly, we are not to crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive. “Food is deceptive” is literally translated “bread of lies”. What is the lie? Well, two parts.

First, that dining with a ruler and receiving his favor today means that he won’t crush you tomorrow. Don’t be deceived. Rulers always act in their own self-interest and if you get in the way – even after long stretches of good relations with the ruler – he’ll crush you if needed to maintain his power and wealth. The second aspect of the lie is that you – not being equal to a ruler – can have all that he has through intimate association with him. Don’t give into this desire. In the end, you will be destroyed.

The reality is that Christian Business Owners do interact with the politically powerful from time to time. Some interact more frequently and intimately than others. The warning here is not that we should abstain from those interactions, but that we should recognize the inherent temptations to sin during those interactions. We should remember that our real home is not on this earth and that we should have an eternal perspective which gives us the basis for self-control and a reason to desire eternal, not temporal, things.

Bill English