Tag Archives: Giving

Every End is a New Beginning

I recently listened to a man in his 70’s who has been rather successful in business tell a group of other business junkies that he hopes to give away all of wealth over the next ten years and die, essentially, a pauper. This is a man who understands that he can’t take it with him and by giving his wealth away, he’s building for himself treasures in heaven.

All business owners will leave their business. There’s only three ways to leave a business: liquidate, sell or die. Obviously, the preferred way to leave a business is through a sale of the business – that way, you’ll maximize the value for yourself and family and give your employees the greatest chance of having a job after the sale. If you liquidate, you’re either declaring bankruptcy or purposefully shutting down the business – but either way – you’re not extracting the value of the business itself. And if you die, while your heirs may be able to sell the business, it will be worth much less because you’re no longer in the picture.

How we finish our business matters – just like how we finish our lives matters. This is not a topic that many business owners look at, but it is a topic that they will be forced to confront at some point. So, several points to consider:

  1. The earlier you start to plan your exit, the more likely it is that you’ll extract the maximum value from your business
  2. The earlier you start to plan your exit, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to plan a good transition to “what’s next” in your life
  3. The earlier you start to plan your exit, the more likely it is that your employees will also experience a good transition

When you leave your business, it should be planned and part of a transition that takes you to the next adventure to which God has called you. In my friend’s case, it is planning for his eventual leaving of this earth without hoarding his wealth. He’s giving himself ten years. He’ll use it as God directs him to further the Kingdom of God. Regardless of the amount, this man is successful in business and life.

Bill English

The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil

Taken from 1 Timothy 6.6-16

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 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. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. 17 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. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

As Christian Business Owners, this passage for God’s holy word should strike us to the core: To be godly in our walk while living in contentment. Our ambition should be driven by our call to generate wealth for the Kingdom of God, not wealth for ourselves. As business owners, we have a unique opportunity to generate wealth beyond what billions in our world never dream of having. Since it is God who gives us the ability to create wealth (Deuteronomy 8), we need to take into account our stewardship of that wealth before God.

As business owners, we brought nothing into this world. Many of us started with nothing. Our businesses – if profitable and well-run – will enable us to earn significant wealth that we can realize either through consistent savings, or at the sale of our business or both.

We must remember that if our love of money – i.e., our love for toys, convenience, prestige, power and so forth – will become the root of many evils in our life. God will not allow this to continue, so more than likely, He’ll take the business away from us or will take us through deep troughs of pain and difficulties in order to make Him our first love. Make no mistake – your faith, Peter says, is worth more than silver or gold. God wants us to love Him first and have a deep, abiding relationship of faith with Him. Anything that gets in the way – no matter how good – will be taken from you by God. He will not play second fiddle.

Do you put your hope in your wealth? Proverbs reminds us that wealth is fleeting – it is here today and gone tomorrow. Frankly, you’re more financially secure unemployed but fully dependent on God than you are with a billion dollars in the bank and living apart from God. It is God who provides our security – not our money. And our security is in heaven, not on this earth.

Use your wealth to further God’s agenda on this earth. Give it away. Not because He’ll give you more, but because it doesn’t belong to you in the first place. Follow the Lord – be energized by His Holy Spirit and use your wealth as He would intend.

Bill English

Philanthropy: God’s Purposes for Business – Part IV

After profits (Purposes #3) are created, what do we do with them? We believe that the thrust of the Biblical teaching would lead to this fourth purpose:

Business exists to help the poor fully participate in the community with dignity through philanthropic giving.

When a business creates profit, that profit will need to be put to work. The most common way to put profits to work is to invest in the business through expansion activities, such as starting another product line, acquiring another company or improving processes that lower overhead costs. The conventional thinking is that profits are usually reinvested into the business to increase net revenue and net profits.

But God has a different – and better – plan.  As Christian Business Owners, we’re commanded to give away a portion of our profits.  I’m not talking, necessarily, about a tithe, but rather joyful giving of that which God has given to us.  In many instances, the giving will be well above a 10% tithe.

Proverbs 3.9-10 says this:

9 Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the first-fruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

When we give away a portion of our profits, we honor the Lord and He, in turn, promises to make us even more financially successful.  Now, lest you think we’re prosperity gospel folks here, this passage needs to be balanced with other Scriptures that deal with suffering and death.  But the balancing of the passages doesn’t negate the command:  we are to give and give generously.

Consider Proverbs 3.27-28:

27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
28 Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.

When your business is highly profitable, you have the means and ability to do good to those in your church and community.  If you already have the money, verse 28 says, you should give it away and not withhold it.

A portion of the profits, we believe, should be put to work within the community, helping the poor and enabling the community to flourish in one way or another. While this is similar to our first purpose for business, it is broader in scope and has as its’ focus the responsibility that businesses should give away some of their profits to help alleviate the poor.

In another post, we reference the Jewish tradition of Tzedekah, which has at its’ core both the concepts of charity and justice. Poverty is seen as a collective failure of society. Business exists, in part, to help society achieve the elimination of poverty – to achieve both charity and justice together.

Now, some might argue that by investing in growth strategies alone, that business can achieve this fourth purpose. We would disagree. Some social problems cannot be solved by strong, healthy businesses. One size does not fit all. Supporting the weak and elderly is one of many ways that businesses can give back to the community. When combined with the other five purposes, we learn that healthy businesses can bring a host of benefits to society and the church.

Inversion: What’s all the Hub-Bub About?

In recent weeks, corporations have been sharply criticized for domesticating their home country from the United States to a foreign country with (sometimes much) lower tax rates. Commonly referred to as Inversion, this legal action has the potential to save a company hundreds of millions in taxes over a period of years. Critics complain that companies who make a simple paper transaction to avoid paying taxes are hollowing out the corporate income tax base that the government relies on to fund its’ programs. Inversion is thought to be unpatriotic and unfair to the country as a whole. Critics believe that if a company does 90% of its’ business in the United States, it should pay 90% of its’ income taxes here in the US.

What is Inversion?

Inversion is the process by which a United States-based company buys another company in a foreign country, such as Canada, and then using that acquisition to move its’ overall headquarters to the foreign country. Normally, during most acquisitions, the buying company’s stock loses some value while the acquired company’s stock goes up. But in an inversion, both company’s stocks increase in value since the buying company will experience greater profits as a result of domiciling in a lower tax environment. Companies who have inverted have noted that they wouldn’t do it only for the tax savings – there is always another reason for the acquisition, such as product line expansion, entrance into new markets, overhead cost savings and so forth.

Inversion has a number of benefits:

  • Essentially it is a tax arbitrage trade
  • Lower cost of doing business
  • Increased profits
  • Greater market capitalization
  • Increased ability to invest and grow
  • Creates new jobs and new opportunities

Inversion is also fueled by the natural tendency of acquisition as a growth strategy. And as competitors invert and pair up, there is strong pressure on those who have not inverted to do the same. Inversion becomes a competitive advantage. Given the hub-bub on Capitol Hill and recent remarks by the President, it seems clear to many that if you’re going to invert, now is the time to do so. This illustrates how remarks by a President can fuel and even justify the precise action he is speaking against: the more indications he gives that current tax laws should be changed to remove the benefits of inversion, the more likely it is that companies will invert before the laws are changed.

One Christian’s ViewPoint

Small business owners don’t really have inversion on the top of their agenda these days. Inversion is for the big guys. But if you’re interested, here is one Christian Business Owner’s take on Inversion.

First, referencing the Christian Business Reference Architecture, we recall that one of the purposes of business is to give back to the community in which the business resides. If a company’s profits increase, this gives them greater opportunity to give back to their communities. In this model, the community is not necessarily the legal address of the organization’s headquarters. It really should be thought of as the location(s) where their employees live and work.

Secondly, there is, in our opinion, an inverted relationship between the amount of money spent by government on social programs and safety nets and the average American’s sense of social responsibility to his fellow man. We have no research to back this up, it is just a hunch on our part (though some articles argue in this direction, here and here). When giving back to the community is reframed in terms of taxes paid to a government, then duty to fellow man is replaced with fiscal obligations to pay as little tax as possible. Giving is reduced to a line-item expense. Taxes are not charity and forced charity through the taxation system is not charity at all. We see a need for less government spending on social programs while individuals and companies need to reframe their purpose for existence to include increased giving and philanthropy.

The government has not been bashful about demanding they take on the role of social safety net support and equalizing unfairness in our society. Why then would anyone be surprised that companies have a low sense of supporting their communities through giving? Why would we be surprised that companies support social causes rather than the poor in general? The latter is taken care of by the government through taxes, so companies that do give tend to do so to social causes that often represent political agendas.

Thirdly, many believe that too much profits (however that is defined) is inherently evil and oppressive. We fully disagree. Profits are good. Profits are a social good. Profits are a spiritual good. And profits are what is used to fuel charity and philanthropy. In our opinion, it’s not that profits are too high, it is that giving is too low. But since the government takes care of the poor, profits are spend in other ways – sometimes lavishing oneself or others with extravagance. But from this viewpoint of too-much-profit-is-evil springs the notion that companies have a moral responsibility to pay more taxes to support the poor. But their argument misses a core clash point: why would an organization want to pay taxes in order to support the poor when they can do it directly and much more efficiently?

Government management of social programs is widely known to be highly inefficient. Most programs in the Federal government have overhead costs that approach 50%, meaning that for every dollar in taxes collected for a program, 50 cents or less finds its’ way to the recipients of that program. Private charities are more efficient in administering philanthropy and giving. Taxing corporations to pay for social programs might make good politics in an election year, but it is the most inefficient way to distribute charitable dollars.

In the end, Inversion is the result of an onerous tax system coupled with a government that is too big to succeed. We have lost sight of the notion that God is the answer to our problems and that while government has a good and legitimate role, it too has limits on the good it can perform in society. Individuals and businesses are to be the main source of giving in God’s economy – through the church first and then directly through both formal and informal transactions. The Hebrew’s notion that there should be no poor among you is both noble and achievable, if government assumes its’ proper role and the population views it’s wealth as being owned by God, not by themselves. Inversion is a symptom, not the problem. Let’s focus on transforming the hearts of men so that both government and business understand their proper role in society as they live and walk before God.

The Poor and Christian Business Owners

No matter what economic system is tried, there are always some who are considered “poor”, meaning that materially, they barely have enough to “get by”.  In socialistic or dictatorial economic/political systems – those that are “extractive” in nature where political power is vested in the hands of few individuals (here and here) – the vast majority of the population is poor because those with power take most of the country’s wealth for themselves. (This is, incidentally, why the cause of freedom and the federation of political power is so important to the core principles espoused on this site. The four core purposes of business cannot be performed in a political environment where freedom, private property and the rule of law are not found.)

Who are the poor? Well, there are some who are perpetually poor, meaning that year after year, they have little to live on. The reasons for this vary and won’t be discussed in this post. But some move in and out of poverty rather swiftly. Based on our economic system here in the US, a person can be “rich” or “poor” for relatively short periods of time. For example, a farmer who has earned little throughout his life might choose to sell his land to a housing developer. In that year, the farmer is thought to be “rich” according to the IRS because he sold his land for a high price and he’ll be taxed at the same rates as the rich. By the same token, a business owner whose business once brought in considerable income can swiftly become “poor” if sales dry up due to market, regulator, technology and/or competitive changes. In both cases, you may not be able to discern who is “rich” or “poor” in a given year by looking at the clothes they wear, the house they live in, their behavior or mannerisms or other external factors. Our long-term economic trajectories usually have more to do with how we “look” than our present financial state. The larger point is that people can move in and out of “poor” categories – sometimes rather swiftly. Let’s bear this in mind as we work through this post.

As Christian business owners, we are not exempt from understanding and following the passages discussed in this post. A proper interpretation of these passages will help us all understand our broader role in the Christian community as well as our unique status of being stewards of businesses that God has entrusted to us.  This post is intended to help us understand how to relate to those who are poor in our roles as Christian Business Owners. We have unique stewardship responsibilities because of our opportunities to create vast sums of wealth. Each section will tackle a different relationship/role and each section (except the last one) is founded in Scripture.

It is to these passages that we now turn.

Destitution of Some is a Collective, Moral Failure of Society

In Jewish thinking, having people who were materially destitute was a moral wrong and a collective failure of their society. Deuteronomy 15.1-15:

At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you [emphasis added], for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

In this chapter, the Old Testament Jewish law discusses the regulations for cancelling debts every seven years.  The cancellation was applied only to a “brother”, meaning a fellow Israelite.  The cancellation of debts was not applied to “foreigners”, meaning a non-Israeli person.  By analogy today, we would interpret “brother” as a fellow believer in Christ and a “foreigner” as one who does not believe in Christ (i.e., is not trusting Jesus Christ for his/her salvation).

But why would these debts be cancelled?  Very simply stated, in verse 4, the Lord tells us: “…there should be no poor among you….He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God….”.  Within my spirit, I sense that us Evangelicals have a long way to go when it comes to financially helping our fellow believers who are Christians and who are poor by giving them what they need to live a decent life. One of the elements that should characterize the Christian community is that we have no poor among us. We take care of our family.  Mind you, this community is world-wide and there are Christians in other countries who are totally destitute. Giving to some might be nearly impossible given political realities, but we must try. Christian business owners have a responsibility to create wealth through profits.  Out of those profits, we have a responsibility to give to those who are in need.

There are two sides to this: good stewards notice the plight of others and step in to help. But if they are unaware, those in need can also ask. Good stewardship doesn’t require us to give simply because someone asks, however (notwithstanding Matthew’s “give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you”). Not all who ask will use the assistance wisely. I recall one man who literally had no food for his family, so his church gave him a sum of money which was intended to help him feed his family for a couple of months. Imagine their dismay when he showed up at a church function a few weeks later with an expensive video camera he purchased with their funds. Wise stewards don’t give to irresponsible people like this, so first ask God how His profits should be spent and then follow the Lord’s leading.

Some Christian business owners give only to organizations, rather than to individuals. I was once in this camp. Go to the Lord and ask His leading on this, but it seems to me that the flavor of Deuteronomy 15 has a more personal touch than simply writing a check to an organization.

Who’s Responsible?

What I’m arguing here is that destitution is a failure of society, but the institution responsible for fixing it is the church, not the government. Perhaps we can have collaboration between the two, but with our hyper-insistence on a high firewall between government and the church, it appears that our society will not allow the two institutions to work together in any meaningful way.

I don’t support the government mandating fixes to these things that I’m talking about. Living out these principles is a discipleship issue, not a political issue. These are matters of the heart, not politics. It’s the church’s responsibility to ensure that our society has these values baked into our culture, not the governments’. Once the government gets involved, then the discussion pivots from obedience to God to who is getting “their fair share” and “what’s legal” and the rest. Church members by the millions retreat from their stewardship and discipleship responsibility once the government gets involved. The reality is that forced charity is not charity and governments are incapable of “caring”.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, surely we can find common ground among most religions to support the notion that we should not have destitute people in our society. But again, it is the churches, synagogues, mosques and so forth who should collaborate to eradicate our deepest social ills – including poverty. And frankly, one of the best ways to ensure we eradicate poverty is to teach people how to start and grow healthy businesses. But with our recent losses of small businesses in America, one wonders if this can be achieved without significant government reform. Governments cannot start businesses – but governments can shut them down and discourage new business start-ups through onerous tax and regulation policies as well as creating an uncertain legal environment.

The macro solution is to make the government’s efforts at combating poverty irrelevant by:

  1. Collaboration among churches, synagogues and other religious and community institutions
  2. Robust teaching and support of small business, where nearly all new employment is generated – poverty cannot be eradicated without a strong, growing business environment
  3. Getting the government out of the business of micro-managing every aspect of our lives – freedom is essential to growth and problem resolution at the micro level

I realize this notion of working with those who do not believe as we do is appalling and offensive to some who read this blog. I get that. I’ll leave this to you and the Lord to wrestle with. I won’t try to convince you otherwise.

Do Not Oppress the Poor

Those who have money have power, status, and access. I’ve seen it time and again where the rich collude with each other and the politically powerful to create opportunities for themselves that further extract wealth from the poor. This is sin. In some cases it is legal. But just because something is legal doesn’t mean that God is pleased. In the Old Testament, whether a man’s poverty was due to his own sin or to someone else’s, poverty was seen as an evil to be combated, and the law made many provisions for the relief of it. God cared for the needy, and expected his people to do the same:

Exodus 22.21-27: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

Leviticus 19.9-10: ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 24.10-22: When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God. Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin. Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

Isaiah 10.1-2: Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people

Jeremiah 22.13-14: Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.

Ezekiel 22.29: The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.

Amos 2.2-4: For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.

Amos 5.22: You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

Amos 8.4-8: Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”— skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The LORD has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt.

The temptation of the rich to oppress the poor is ever-present. Corporations – often in league with governments – oppress the poor on a regular basis. And yes, even governments can oppress their own people – including the poor. While the Republicans extol the virtues of business and the Democrats extol the virtues of government, neither sees their own as part of the problem. When big business gets in bed with big government – watch out. No one is safe.

For example, many reading this post have had money extracted from them by the force of government to pay for the offices and ball fields of billionaire owners and millionaire players. When the government agrees to subsidize an NFL franchise (mind you, the NFL rakes in over $9B in profits each year even though they are organized as a non-profit) by levying taxes on the general population so that the billionaire owners and millionaire players can have higher salaries and profits and a new stadium in which to play, this is the rich and powerful oppressing the poor. When certain corporations gain tax breaks or access to coveted licenses or waivers from the government that small business owners can’t get because they are, well, too small to matter, this is the rich and powerful oppressing the poor. When high-paid ministry leaders use guilt-tripping manipulations to (essentially) extract (even though it is in the form of an “ask”) more money from people who are struggling to survive, this is the rich oppressing the poor. When colleges accept gifts from large donors to pay for museum artifacts while cutting the positions and wages of their staff, raising tuition rates and turning away students unable to the education that supports their call to ministry, this is the rich oppressing the poor. When politicians use their position to gin-up one constituent group against another and then use that group’s anger as a basis for fund-raising, this is the rich and powerful oppressing the poor. I could go on – but you get my point. Incremental oppression occurs every day.

Christian Business Owners need to closely walk with God to ensure we do not engage in oppressing the poor. As Christian business owners, there are at least three ways in which we can oppress the poor:

  1. Oppressive pricing of our products and services that are considered inelastic. When it comes to pricing our products and services, that pricing must be fair and should take into account the poor who are among us.  While you may not take this principle into consideration if your business is selling yachts to millionaires, you should take a look at this principle if your business is selling insulin. This is why it is entirely Biblical to have pricing for non-profits and for Christian organizations that include deep discounts.  Part of supporting the church and our fellow believers who are poor is to help them obtain goods and services with pricing that meets their economic needs. You might even go so far as to offer free products and services to those under a certain income. That would be honoring to God.
  2. Unlivable wages: we pay as little as possible to ensure we create as much profit as possible. This is the American way of doing business, but it is not always the Lord’s way. When we hire someone, we should pay them, in part, based on what they need to sustain themselves. If we require a full-time commitment, then we should be willing to ensure that they are not dumpster diving for food or having to live out of a car. Christian organizations are especially guilty of this. In nearly every church, Christian school or non-profit, I’m constantly amazed at how little people are paid – and as a result – valued. For example, I know of one Christian college here in the upper mid-west who starts their full-time theology professors at $28,000/year while the President of the college makes well over $100K/year. I know I’m stepping on toes here……
  3. Not giving to the poor when the Spirit tells us to do so is hoarding and a form of oppression.  In John 16, we are told that the Spirit speaks only what He hears from the Father.  To not obey the Spirit’s leading is to not obey the Lord.  When we are prompted to do so, we should give to others – even to the point of sacrifice. Remember, wealth is a renewable resource.

Is Poverty a Sign of Righteousness or Sin?

The short answer: its’ neither. If you want the long answer – the read on.

There are some who believe that poverty is a sign of righteousness. Others believe it is a sign of sin. One can argue from Scripture either direction. Life experience would say it’s not one or the other: it is more complicated than that. Let me quote at length from the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible:

This thought—that so far from being prosperous, the good man may often be poor—is sometimes curiously inverted. The righteous may be poor, but Scripture sometimes appears to reckon that to be poor is to be righteous. Of course it is not automatically so (Prv 30:8, 9), but such references are frequent enough, especially in the psalms (e.g., 9:18; 10:14; 12:5; 34:6; 35:10; 74:19), to deserve careful consideration. And on reflection they are not so strange. As God is specially concerned about the poor, so the poor may be specially concerned about God, for two good reasons. If there is poverty in Israel, it is because those with power are misusing it; so the poor will claim God’s help first because it is his rule which is being flouted, and he must vindicate himself, and secondly, because in the circumstances there is no one else to turn to. In this way “poor” becomes almost a technical term. “The poor” are the humble, and the humble are the godly (Ps 10:17; 14:5, 6; 37:11; Zep 3:12, 13). Just as being rich can foster self-indulgence, self-confidence, pride, and the despising and oppression of one’s fellows, so being poor should encourage the opposite virtues.

Instead of being an evil to be shunned, poverty thus becomes an ideal to be sought. Following the OT use of “the poor” and “the pious” as almost interchangeable terms, personal property was renounced by many Jews during the period between the Testaments. Among them were the sect of the Essenes, and the related community which was set up at Qumran near the Dead Sea. The latter actually called themselves “The Poor.” This tradition continued into NT times. Possibly “the poor” at Jerusalem means a definite group within the church there (or even the Jerusalem church as a whole; Rom 15:26; Gal 2:10). Certainly there emerged later a Jewish-Christian sect called the “Ebionites” (from a Hebrew word for “poor”).

The NT teaches clearly, of course, that what really matters is the attitude of the heart. It is quite possible to be poor yet grasping, or rich yet generous. Even so, with the OT background outlined above, the general sense of these words in the Gospels is that rich = bad, poor = good. On the one hand, the Sadducees are rich in worldly wealth and the Pharisees in spiritual pride, and men of property are selfish, foolish, and in grave spiritual peril (Mk 10:23; Lk 12:13–21; 16:19–31). On the other hand, it is devout and simple folk like Jesus’s own family and friends who generally represent the poor.

In truth, therefore, the two versions of the first beatitude amount to the same thing. Matthew’s has the depth: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3). But Luke’s has the breadth. When he says simply “Blessed are you poor” (6:20), he means those who in their need—in any kind of need—turn to the Lord (6:17–20). It is to bring the gospel to such people that Christ has come into the world (Mt 11:5; Lk 4:18).

Christ himself embodies the same ideal, showing in his earthly life what it means to have nothing to fall back on except his Father’s loving care (Mt 8:20), and finally allowing himself to be deprived even of life (Phil 2:5–8). In this way both lines of teaching converge on a passage mentioned earlier: “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Our helpless poverty is an evil from which he comes to rescue us; his deliberately chosen poverty is the glorious means by which he does so.

(Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.)

Clearly, then, we can surmise that being poor is neither a sign of sin or righteousness – it’s really a matter of the heart. Some who are righteous are wealthy – some are poor. Some move between being the two. Some filled with wickedness prosper financially – usually because wherever you find vice, you’ll find money. But some wicked do come to ruin. There is no hard and fast rule – no “always” in this area. So don’t use the existence of wealth or poverty to infer righteousness or wickedness. Get to know the person and you’ll find out where their heart is.

As Christian Business Owners, we walk a fine line in which we must closely follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. If poverty is a result of sin, but repentance is evident, then it’s my belief that we should give. If poverty is a result of sin and there remains a hard heart, I’m much less inclined to give. We don’t support sinful activities and lifestyles with God’s money. But there’s no hard and fast rule here – just principles that we apply as we sense the leading of the Holy Spirit.

What Should an Owner Pay Him/Herself?

It seems to me that Christian Business Owners should use the following three principles – either in tandem or individually – to set their salaries and living standards:

  1. Go to the census bureau and find out what the average salary is for your neighborhood or town and pay yourself that. Adjust your living standard to live within that salary and give the rest away.
  2. Do a survey of other businesses in your vertical that are roughly your size. Find out (if you can) what the other owners pay themselves – average it out and pay yourself that.
  3. If possible, find out what the average salary is for those who are members in your church. Pay yourself that amount and adjust your living standard accordingly.

The point is that we should strive to live at an average level – not the levels of the rich and famous. People are dying every day of hunger, malnutrition and other elements that are beyond their control. We have a responsibility world-wide to these individuals – not just those in our back yards. So instead of indulging in self-pleasure, let’s enjoy the gift of giving to others. Much of what we do and all of what we own won’t matter in 30 years or even 10 years. But giving to those in need is one of the few things we can do right now that will have eternal effects.

Frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that living the “high life” is a form of selfishness and hoarding – both of which are clearly condemned in Scripture. Our hearts need to be bathed in generosity, not selfishness.

If you’re a Christian Business Owner – take these matters to prayer and see what God would have you do in response to this post.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group

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

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

A Christian’s Response to the President’s Remarks: “You Didn’t Build That”

Many are saying that (what they call) the President’s attack on small business owners betrays his real feelings and thinking and beliefs about the role of business and the role of government in our lives. I’ve noted previously that we are not a majority and never will be, so we’re a voting block that the President can afford to alienate. Here are the President’s remarks, in context:

“But you know what, I’m not going to see us gut the investments that grow our economy to give tax breaks to me or Mr. Romney or folks who don’t need them. So I’m going to reduce the deficit in a balanced way. We’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts. We can make another trillion or trillion-two, and what we then do is ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more. And, by the way, we’ve tried that before — a guy named Bill Clinton did it. We created 23 million new jobs, turned a deficit into a surplus, and rich people did just fine. We created a lot of millionaires.

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been s it seems that the conservatives simply want to ensure that rugged individualism is the reason that businesses are built uccessful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”

The conservative’s response to his comments has not been encouraging to me. From what I can tell, conservatives have simply responded by saying that rugged individualism is what built this country. They believe that business owners built their small businesses on their own, not recognizing that business owners have always had help in creating their businesses.

The president confuses equality of opportunity with the quality of results. The fact that the government built the roads does not mean that government is the source or the main responsible party for businesses succeeding. His “socializing” of business and government in his comments is disconcerting. In addition, if one were to take this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, then one could also reason that government is responsible for the many business failures because apparently, the roads didn’t bring the right people to the businesses or didn’t come close enough to the businesses to make them successful. If we’re all responsible for each other’s success, we’re also all responsible for each other’s failures.

What is missing in this entire discussion is the truth of the Christian faith. The liberals are wrong in believing the government plays a core, vital role in the creation and success of business. While it is true the government provides an ambient, contextual environment in which business can succeed (equality of opportunity), it is also abundantly clear that government is not responsible for the success of business in America, nor can it be without also shouldering the responsibility for the failure of many more businesses. By the same token, conservatives are wrong when they assert that it is rugged individualism which built a small business. I too, am a business owner, and yet I fully recognize that without the dedication, hard work and loyalty of my employees, by business would not exist and whatever wealth I have would not exist either. On both sides there exists arrogance. The liberals are arrogant in their assertion of the goodness of government, and conservatives are arrogant in their assertion of rugged individualism. Neither side recognizes that God is both sovereign and generous in his intercourse with humans in their daily lives.

So what does the Bible have the say about the president’s remarks? Let me outline some key, foundational truths from the Scriptures that demonstrate that there is a third view to success in business-it is a Christian view.

While I am not a full Calvinist in my theology, I believe the foundation for all theology is God’s sovereignty. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that God owns everything. For example, in Deuteronomy 10:14, Moses wrote to the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” In Psalms 24:1, David wrote quote the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”. In Psalm 50:12, we read quote if I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” In fact God lays claim to owning quite literally everything on the face of this earth. For example in the Old Testament laws, land was never sold permanently because it belongs to the Lord: “the land must not be sold permanently because the land is mine.” (Leviticus 25:23). God also lays claim to the foundation of economic activity by declaring that “the silver is mine and the gold is mine”. (Haggai 2:8)

When it comes to economics and running a business the second foundational passage for me anyways, is Deuteronomy chapter 8. I would like to quote at length from Deuteronomy chapter 8 because I believe that this passage drives to the core of our discussion in this post.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these 40 years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands… When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his flaws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large in your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery… But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.”

What both sides are missing in this debate is the absolute truth of God’s sovereignty over the affairs of man. It is God who gives us the ability to produce wealth and it is he who gives us our wealth. The President is right – we didn’t build the businesses on our own. But the president is also wrong – it is not the government or society that gave us our businesses and our success. It is God who gave us these things. Now I believe, that a market-based economy, sometimes known as capitalism, is the most biblically-based economic system that we have on this earth. Capitalism is rooted in the idea of private property and personal liberty. The Scriptures hold to these things very clearly, starting with the 10 Commandments, and holding to these truths through the end of Revelation. Socialism, on the other hand, is first off, a godless system because it denies that God even exists and subsequently denies the individual private property and personal liberty. Government supplants God, I think, because man cannot live without God.

The capitalism can be easily corrupted. Sin has affected and depraved market-based economies in our world. One of the evidences of a depraved, market-based economy, is this notion that once I’ve made my wealth, I have little, if any responsibility to my fellow man. I can do with my wealth as I please because I made it, I own it, it’s mine, and I’ll damn well do what I want to do. This is not a Christian view of wealth. The Christian view, is that since God gave me the ability to create wealth, I have an inherent responsibility to use that wealth to further God’s kingdom. Part of the furthering of his kingdom means giving my wealth away and not hoarding it. Why? Because the wealth belongs to God in the first place and secondly, in a market-based system, it is a renewable resource. In addition, my wealth doesn’t belong to me. I am merely a steward of that which he has given to me. Therefore, since my wealth doesn’t belong to me, and since I am a steward of that which belongs to God, it is my responsibility to seek his face, to understand what he wants, and then to do as he commands.

The fact the Bible warns very clearly that those who have wealth live with significant danger. For example loving wealth is seen as a significant danger in the Scriptures: though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”(Psalm 62:10) Prosperity often leads to pride and we know that God cannot abide with someone who is proud: “because you think you are… as wise as God, I am going to bring foreigners against you, the most ruthless of nations.´(Ezekiel 28:6-7) We also read in 1 Titus 6:17: “command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth: which is so uncertain.” In James 1:10, we read “the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wildflower”. The wealthy also live with the danger of kidnapping: “a man’s riches may ransom his life.” (Proverbs 13:8) We also read in Ecclesiastes 5:12, “the abundance of a rich man permits and no sleep.” The Bible also reminds us that wealth is fleeting and leaves us as fast as it comes to us. Thinking that possession of wealth brings one security is to believe a deception – a lie.

So what are Christians to do with their wealth? The short answer is this: whatever God commands us to do with it. But the Bible is very clear that we are not to let the poor languish in pain. It is also clear as Matthew pointed out in chapter 5, that we are to “give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Stewards have certain responsibilities. For example, we recognize the Lord as the owner of our possessions, we recognize that we are to be faithful to the Lord first, and that we are to trust in the Lord not in ourselves or our possessions. We are also held accountable for our stewardship (Luke 16:2).

The Bible is clear that when we give our wealth away, there are significant advantages or benefits of this giving. For example, in Acts 20:35, we read “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” We will also experience increased intimacy with the Lord: “for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) by being faithful and archiving we are told that this will enable the Lord to bless us: “bring all the ties… So that the Lord your God may bless you.” (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) Proverbs 11:25 says “a generous man will prosper” and Proverbs 3:9-10 says “honor the Lord with your wealth… Then your barns will be filled to overflowing.”

Giving to the poor is commanded in the Scriptures and is seen as tantamount to giving to the Lord. For example in Proverbs 19:17 we read “he who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.” And in Proverbs 1431 we read “whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” In Deuteronomy 15:11 we read, “be open handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” and in Ezekiel 16:49 we read, “this was the sin…they did not help the poor and needy.”

It seems to me that Jonathan Sacks in his book, “the dignity of difference”, has hit the nail on the head when he argues in chapter 5 of this book a moral case for the market economy and follows that in chapter 6 talking about compassion: the idea tzedakah, which is essentially the Jewish word for concepts: charity and justice. Quoting from page 114 in his book:

In two verses in the book of Genesis God specifies the mission with which Abraham and his descendents are to be charged: “shall I hide from Abraham I’m about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and on nations of the earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his household after him keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right (tzedakah) and just (mishpot), so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:17-19).

It is difficult to translate tzedakah because it combines in a single word to notions normally opposed to one another mainly charity and justice. Suppose, for example, that I gave someone $100. Unity is entitled to it, or he is not. If he has, then my act is a form of justice. If he is not, it is an act of charity. In English, a gesture of charity cannot be an act of justice, nor can an act of justice be described as charity. Tzedakah therefore is an unusual term, because it means both.

It arises from the theology of Judaism, which insists on the difference between possession and ownership. Ultimately, all things are owned by God, Creator of the world. What we possess, we do not own-we merely hold it in trust for God.… If there were absolute ownership, there will be a difference between justice (what we are bound to get 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, the prompting of benevolence or sympathy. In Judaism, however, because we are not owners of our property but merely guardians on God’s behalf, we are bound by the conditions of trusteeship, one of which is that we share part of what we have with others in need. What would be regarded as charity in other legal systems is, in Judaism, a strict requirement of the law and can, if necessary, be enforced by the courts.

What said tzedakah signifies, therefore, is what is often called “social justice”, meaning that no one should be without the basic requirements of existence, and that those who have more than they need my share some of that surplus with those who have less. This is absolutely fundamental to the kind of society the Israelites were charged with creating, namely one in which everyone has a basic right to a dignified life and to be equal citizens in the covenantal community under the sovereignty of God.”

In the Old Testament life the religious and the governmental were wrapped up in the same institution. In the United States these two institutions are highly separate. I think this is the genesis of many of our political and religious debates in our country. For example, is it the government’s responsibility to take care of the poor or that of the church? Because we live in a religiously pluralistic society where many different beliefs about God abound, I believe it is the responsibility of both the church and the government to take care of the poor and to ensure a basic dignity of life by ensuring that they have the basics of what they need for a dignified existence. I also believe that most who have earned their wealth through hard work and industry, recognize the help that they have received along the way and are willing to give to those who are less fortunate.

The core thesis of what I’m trying to say is this: all that government does create is (or should be) under the direction of the Lord – the context and culture in which business can thrive and wealth can be created. It is up to the individual initiative for the wealth to be created and once created, the individual has a stewardship responsibility before the Lord to steward that wealth as the Lord directs.

I think both the Conservatives and the Liberals are off base on their thinking about the role of government and society and how they impacts the creation of wealth. Neither side recognizes the sovereignty of God, or our inherent stewardship responsibilities for the Lord, which moderate and throttle our basic instincts toward selfishness and hoarding. The temptation of governments to oppress (and essentially replace God in society) in the name of fairness is also mitigated when those in government recognize that ultimately God is in control. It is the jettisoning of God from our society that it is causing most of our problems, in my opinion.

The only person who can really fix our problems is Jesus Christ. When I say that our country needs a revival, a turning back to the Lord in an earnest and sincere way, the repenting of our sins, crying out to God for forgiveness of our sins, I am merely taking thoughts in this post to their logical conclusion. 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 says as much: “when I closed up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locus to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”

The next time you hear a liberal talk about the essential goodness and nearly unlimited abilities of the government to fix problems and create fairness in our society remember that there are curses for disobeying God and that ultimately God is in charge. The next time you hear conservative talk about rugged individualism in near isolationistic terms, remember that it is God who is giving that person the ability to create wealth, that each of us on this earth, regardless of the amount of wealth we have, have a stewardship responsibility before the Lord to steward what he has given to us effectively and in the manner that he directs.

I believe our public policies, both fiscal and monetary, would be so much better if both Democrats and Republicans, and in fact everyone in our nation, recognize the sovereignty of God and our stewardship responsibilities before him.

Bill English, CEO

Death of a Dream

During a particularly difficult times for my business a few years ago, I found myself thinking about Hannah and Eli in 1 Samuel 1. You’ll recall that Hannah, who became the mother of Samuel, was barren and found herself at the end of ridicule and debasement from her rival wife, Peninnah, in a polygamous marriage over an extended number of years. She experienced ongoing, deep pain as well, given that in her culture, her inability to bear a child impacted the quality of her personhood and what other’s thought of her.

The Scriptures record that Hannah reached a point of being so distraught that when she had the opportunity, she poured out her grief to the Lord at the temple. Eli saw her praying, saw that her lips were moving without much sound and subsequently concluded she was drunk. Imagine his surprise when he learned she was pouring out her heavy heart to the Lord. We learn from the text that in the process of pouring out her heart, she fully surrendered to the Lord and let go of her dream to be a traditional mother – to be who she thought she was supposed to be. It took her years to get to the point of full surrender. Her surrender was visceral and went to the core of her identity. Her dream of being a traditional mother – as visceral and central to her identity as it was – needed to be let go and subsequently re-formed by God Himself.

In time, the Lord granted her wish to be a mother, but her “motherhood” would be different than any other: it would be filled with greater joys and greater sorrows than most mothers would face and her dream would be worked out in the context of a unique plan. And her obedience would benefit the entire nation of Israel.

Most of us have dreams about our futures. Dreams often motivate us, can cause us to take risks, define meaning and purpose for our lives, provide personal identities and propel us forward into the future when nothing else is able to do this. Left to our own devices, most of our dreams will spring from our selfishness, or our perceived need for power, security or acceptance. Christians often confuse their dreams with a call of God on their lives. It is a fine line, to be sure. But if one’s dream is first surrendered and then aligned with God’s call on one’s life, the combination of the dream and the call are very powerful.

Our culture has a vacuous idea about dreams. Consider these Aerosmith lyrics:

Yeah, sing with me, sing for the year sing for the laughter, sing for the tear sing with me, just for today Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away
Dream On Dream On Dream On Dream until your dream comes true Dream On Dream On Dream On Dream until your dream comes through Dream On Dream On Dream On Dream On Dream On Dream On Dream On………

I would suggest to our Aerosmith friends that the Good Lord will do what is necessary to ensure our dreams are surrendered to Him and align with His call on our lives. That merely dreaming until it becomes reality is not virtue – it’s chasing after the wind. Dreaming for the sake of dreaming is wasted time and cycles. But as I said above, aligning our dreams with God’s call on our lives produces a powerful mixture of motivate and direction that is difficult to stop.

Every business owner I’ve ever met also have dreams. Innovators are those who are able to see a different future than most – a future that has their products and services baked into the community, helping it to flourish and grow. Innovators have well crafted, well defined dreams and often, they pursue turning their dreams into realities through business. As business owners, we may have dreams about success and wealth, culture and employees, awards and achievements and seeing our products and services enable others to do more and be more than they could without us. I would suspect that many of us business owners also have dreams around success and financial security. And perhaps that is one of the strongest dreams that need to die if we are going to run our businesses to God’s glory.

God is looking for a group of business owners who want to first live out all that it means to be a Christian business owner in the marketplace. Succeeding in this requires first that our personal and business dreams are submitted to God. While we are called to lead a business in the marketplace and provide products and services that enable the community to flourish, our call is often defined pragmatically through the dreams that God has placed within us.

When we hold onto our dreams to the point where we’re asking God to follow us, then we can be assured that God will kill that dream for us. This is what He had to do with Hannah. We’ll resist. And He will allow us to go through the painful process over whatever length of time it takes to kill those dreams. God loves us too much to allow our dreams – our hopes – to be placed in anything or anyone other than Him. And He certainly isn’t going to follow us.

I think that those who have their business dreams re-defined by God will look back and say it was of the best things to ever happen to their person and business. But that can only happen if you persistently go before God, humble yourself, pray, seek His face and turn from your sin. Give your dreams to God. Let Him define your dreams for you and you’ll have a brighter future than ever. So, dream! But ensure your dreams are aligned with God’s call on your life and let Him define and shape them.

Bill English
The Bible and Business