But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 

Matthew [6:33] 

Recently I was on a podcast called Real Faith Stories, the host Brian Robinson asked me how do we bring Jesus to work?  This is a question I hear quite often. My answer was, the most significant and positive force Christians have in their life is Jesus. And bringing Jesus to work will help any business or business person. The how and why we bring Jesus is the critical piece of this answer. Not for personal gain, instead to be morally and ethically directed. 

I have heard from many mixing Jesus with business is sinful. And it is sinful if we try to use Jesus to get ahead or gain a selfish advantage. However, it is not sinful if we intend to share our business lives with and through Jesus. In effect, letting Jesus becomes our guiding light in all our business conduct.  

In the second part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Simply, Jesus is saying in whatever we do, our first effort should be to know and do what God/Jesus would want us to do. In other words, know and align ourselves to the ways of God/Jesus.  

Once this is donethen everything else will fall into place. For instance, Jesus says,  love your neighbor as yourselfThis is an important message about working with our customers, who are our business neighbors. Imagine the quality of our customer service if we treated everyone as we would want to be treated. Using this mindset, instead of trying veiled sales attempts, we will try to find out what the customer really needs and honestly provide for those customers’ needs. Who wouldn’t like a business or person which operates in this manner? And this attitude is certainly not sinful. 

Or consider the verses in Colossians [3:23]-24, where it says, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Imagine if everyone worked as if they were working for Jesus. Honest and hard work would abound. Quality would exist in all product production and in all services rendered. Our every action would be designed to do and be good.  

When I ask business owners, would you hire someone who works as if for the Lord? I always get a resounding yes!  

Part of the answer to how we bring Jesus to work resides very much in our intent and behavior. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)  Our goal in bringing Jesus to work isn’t to show others how pious we are. Instead, our goal is to be the best Christian employee or Christian business owner. 

It also means our efforts should be geared to the principle of serving the Lord and not just saying or preaching about serving the Lord. There is an old saying which says, live the Gospel, don’t just say the Gospel! People are savvy and will immediately see through our motives. If we only talk about the ways of Jesus but do not follow these words in our actions. Our words will soon become very hollow.  

So the answer to Brian’s question, it is wonderful to bring Jesus to work. However, those who do must also check their motives. If it is only to use Jesus to get ahead- likely we are off track. But if bringing Jesus to work is to help us sincerely be better and ethical business people- we are on track.  

Those who say mixing Jesus and business is sinful miss the point. Jesus should be in our lives all the time, regardless of what we are doing. Just because we work doesn’t mean we abandon Jesus. The critical message is how we bring Jesus to work. Not to gain an advantage or preach a hollow message. But to act in a manner, Jesus would approve.  

So the next time we are at work. Let’s all try working as if we are working for Jesus.  

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Luke [14:11]

I remember getting a call from John, a person I have been helping navigate a transition into a much higher position with his company. He told me the president of his company had invited him to dinner, along with other senior members of the company. Not only that but he was told he was in line for a promotion very soon—pretty heady stuff for a young executive who had only been with the company for a year.

His question to me was, how do I approach the dinner? I immediately replied, stay humble and focused on doing a good job. However, he was immediately put off guard. It seemed to him, my comment didn’t match the question. He was right. My statement didn’t directly address the question of how exactly to behave at the dinner. Instead, my reply was more directed at how he was to act in all aspects of his interactions, both at the dinner and in the office. 

It wasn’t that I was trying to be evasive. Rather, I know from the experience in my career and from watching others, in this moment, he had hit a critical crossroad in his career. Getting invited to a dinner with the president of your company and being told you are getting promoted is a huge step. This is one of those milestone moments in any person’s career. 

I had come to know John well. And it didn’t surprise me he was being recognized as a solid employee. He is an enthusiastic and very positive person. Always willing to help others and committed to doing the best he can on any project. I am also sure his company had learned they could trust him on any assignment. The president had heard this opinion from the other senior members of the company. So the president wanted to get to know him a lot better. Hence the invite to dinner. 

In the past, I have seen people take one of two courses when they hit this milestone. The first and most dangerous is to become pride-filled. They tend to overstate their accomplishments and boast about their successes. Often time adding in a few exaggerated achievements. As a result, they become proud of themselves and not as proud of the people they work alongside. The reality is most accomplished senior executives, like presidents, will see right through this behavior. But, unfortunately, this behavior becomes a career-ender for these people. 

The second and most desirable course is to stay humble. Not overstate what you have accomplished and to be sure you recognize those who have had just as much success. People who remain humble see their peers as teammates and not as competition. Humble people listen to learn, and when they do talk, they stay positive. These are the people presidents want to promote. 

It is not that I felt John would become prideful. Instead, I was simply throwing up a caution flag. A reminder to stay true to who he was and not overreach. 

In Luke [14:11], Jesus says, For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. What is ironic about this statement, Jesus is giving this advice to people who have also been invited to a dinner-a wedding. Jesus had also been invited and noticed the people who thought of themselves first tried to get the best seats, and those who thought of others first took the lesser seats. A critical insight into each person’s true motives. As we know, Jesus prefers people to think of their neighbor first. 

Presidents of organizations generally think the same way. They will always index to liking people who are team players. They know to build an organization around me first people is a dead-end street. 

Now John is a team player, both in the office and outside. But these moments of recognition can also be moments of getting trapped. We can either exalt ourselves or stay humble and authentic. The lure of making sure the boss knows how good we are will almost always backfire. Genuinely thinking of others first is far more admirable and likable. 

So, I wasn’t avoiding the question John asked. Instead, I was repeating advice from Jesus about how to act at dinner and in the office. Jesus knew about the trap of being too proud and gave us sage words of business and life advice. Another example of why Jesus is good for business and business people. 

“The works of hands are faithful and just; his precepts are trustworthy”

– Psalms 111:7

Abraham Lincoln left his family at the age of twenty-one and became a store clerk in Salem, Illinois. He earned a reputation as being honest and sociable. To help defend this frontier outpost, he joined the local militia. To his surprise, after one year he was elected by the other members of the militia as their captain. A remarkable achievement for a twenty-three-year-old who was new to town. In a very short time he gained a reputation as a man of integrity, and his famous nickname, “Honest Abe,” was given to him during this period of his life.

Many of us from the marketplace are faced with the question of integrity on a daily basis. How do we handle a client’s money? Do we reveal everything or hold back important information? Do we consider ourselves justified because everyone else does it? We ponder and debate. We look for answers from within our hearts. We’re under pressure to complete a deal, to give our boss the right answer. We are constantly besieged with these crossroad decisions.

I was recently confronted by a supplier to pay for more work than had actually been completed. I knew he was wrong, but I paid him anyway. His attitude was that of entitlement. I had noticed that over time he had become more difficult in his billing practices and a little more forward in his requests. After I handed him the check, I decided to end our relationship and began to use other suppliers. After a while, the man complained that I wasn’t giving him any business. I advised him I had found another supplier. He never asked why; he just got angry and stormed off.

“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

When we view our relationships from only one side, we find it harder to be honest. We begin to feel entitled and justified. We cross the boundary of fairness. Our short-term gains turn into a crisis of reputation. It happens slowly. Customers leave without telling us why. People begin to avoid us. Our reputation becomes a hidden curse. Proverbs 22:1 reminds us of this, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

When we treat our neighbors with respect and honesty, we may suffer short-term financial setbacks, but we build long-term relationships. Recently, I needed a moving company and asked around. I was told to use Company X, they were the best and most honest. I called them, and in our conversations, I asked, “Why don’t you advertise?” The company representative’s response was “We have more than we can handle from our referrals.”

PARTING THOUGHTS

What are the questions we ask ourselves about fairness?

How do we resist the temptation of the short term?

How are your referrals?

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. 

John  [8:32] 

One of the most dangerous things for any business to get caught up in is a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy happens because you had feelings it will happen, and our subsequent action supports our beliefs. In other words, without the use of facts or truth, we feel something will happen, and then it does, mainly because the actions we take ensure our feelings happen.  

So how does this happen? During the Great Depression of the last century, many previously solid banks failed because their customers thought they would fail. The bank’s customers believed they would fail and withdrew all their money, resulting in a catastrophic capital loss. Thus, causing many banks to fail, sending the country deeper into an economic morass.  

Fortunately, in my business career, I worked with a number of great CEOs who were adept at gathering facts before deciding what to do next. For example, when people would gather to discuss a problem, these CEOs would insist on getting the hard evidence and push away guesses or feelings. The reason is facts aren’t based on feelings or opinions. Instead, they are based on concrete and well-researched information.  

For instance, someone might propose a solution based on just one incident out of very many and offer a solution. Ignoring the multiple times, the event hadn’t occurred. They were essentially selecting one isolated incident to support their feelings or opinion.  

This is dangerous because a solution based on feelings and opinions doesn’t solve the problem. The problem will still exist and likely get worse. The right solutions require the right facts.  

Sometimes, these feelings or opinions circulate and are accepted because people with alternative agendas push their agenda, regardless of whether it is suitable for the company. This makes it harder to get the facts. Instead, they will point to an isolated incident that supports their agenda and convince people their feelings are a universal truth.  

This behavior creates an uphill climb to convince an organization to take a different course for the person who knows the real truth and facts. In some cases, the person trying to give the facts will become isolated or beaten down. As a result, they will likely either go silent or go along.  

Jesus had this problem early in his ministry. Many of the religious leaders tried to change the minds of people about Jesus. They used skillfully crafted words to convince the local population to condemn Jesus. They weren’t interested in if Jesus was telling the truth. They were more interested in getting rid of a person that threatened their power base.  

The facts, in this case, were clearly on Jesus’ side. He was the Son of God and sent by God. He cured many. He spoke clearly and was always faithful to the words of God. He counseled the downtrodden and showed compassion. Certainly, no one knew the scriptures better than Jesus. Many times using the scriptures against the religious elite.  

The dilemma for Jesus was that even though he did what he said and said what he did, it went across the grain of those in power. Instead of using facts, his detractors used feelings and misguided opinions to prove him wrong. To them, it wasn’t a question if he was right or wrong. Instead, it became a quest to eliminate his influence.  

Jesus didn’t respond to the religious elite. He simply said to the masses, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. A simple message, stick with me, and you will discover what is real. And we all know Jesus did fulfill his mission. He was crucified and rose on the third day to save us from sin.  

To prove the point, not much is known today about Jesus’ detractors, but much is known about Jesus. That is the issue with feelings and opinions. They don’t last long but can cause a lot of problems. It is always the facts and the truth which survive.  

The same is true with our faith lives. Stick close to the message of Jesus. We should test everything we feel or hear against the words of Jesus. If it matches, likely, we are hearing or feeling the truth. Otherwise, we are reacting to either our misguided desires or falling for someone else’s agenda.  

The truth will always set us free.  

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned

Romans [5:12]

Augustine, the great doctor of the early Christian church, famously said, Give me chastity, but not yet. An amazing statement when you consider his elevated status as a great ancient leader of the church. Augustine had a significant influence on many church doctrine, especially the Doctrine of Original Sin. Yet as a wild youth he stole fruit because he was told he shouldn’t! As a young adult, he enjoyed the illicit pleasures of life. This statement and his actions as a youth make us wonder; How did this man become the great leader of the early church?. The answer is complicated, but when we know the back story of his life, we will know why.

Augustine was born in Algeria, in 354AD. His father was moderately wealthy and was a pagan. His mother, Monica was a devout Christian and likely a Berber. Because of the family’s wealth, Augustine was well educated. In fact, the family only spoke Latin at home and not the local language. He was a brilliant student, who excelled at both mischief and his studies. Later in life, he was so skilled in reading and writing he was recruited to Milan to teach oratory.

As a youth, Augustine was prone to explore the seamier sides of life.

Which left his mother praying for his soul. In one particular incident, as mentioned before, Augustine and his friends stole the fruit, not because they wanted to eat the fruit, but because they were not permitted to take the fruit. This particular event would significantly shape his views on sin.

At the age of 21, he had a relationship with a woman from Carthage, but would not marry her. Further aggravating his mother Monica. Instead of Christianity, he followed a pagan religion called Manichaeism. A form of religion that existed only from the 3rd to 7th century. What attracted his interest was that it was more reason-based and less faith-based then Christianity. Believing in something he couldn’t see, or touch seemed illogical. He remained a follower for around ten years.

He was in constant pursuit of the origin of life and how we fit into the universe. His mother constantly told him that he would find the answer through Jesus. Not surprisingly he resisted all her attempts and focused on philosophical and physical explanations.

Later, through a contact, he was asked to go to Milan and teach.

He left, with his mother Monica chasing after him, still pleading with him to convert. While in Milan, he was introduced by his mother to Bishop Ambrose. Over time they became good friends, but Augustine resisted any attempt to convert. But still searched for an answer. His heart was unquieted.

Eventually, the graciousness of Ambrose overwhelmed him. One day sitting desperately tormented in a garden, he heard a child’s voice say, take up and read, referring to the Bible. To which Augustine did and providentially opened to Romans [13:13] which said;  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

A message he could identify with and in that moment he committed his life to Jesus. And his heart rested with Lord and became quieted.

As the story unfolds, Augustine goes back to Africa and becomes ordained, and eventually becomes the Bishop of Hippo.

In his role as Bishop, he worked with his compatriots on many church doctrines, because of his skill in a language he could easily decipher and explain critical aspects of the Bible. By nature, he was a leader and was soon leading numerous theological discussions.

One doctrine in particular, that he is credited with is, is the formulation of the thoughts of Original Sin. Essentially, it states that all humankind is inherently sinful, as a result of Adam and Eve’s eating the apple in the Garden of Eden. That it was inherited by us through them. However, what is not quite agreed to is the severity of the inherited sin. Augustine believed that humankind was much enfeebled by original sin. A few didn’t take it that far. However, in many quarters, notably the Catholic church and many segments of Protestantism, adopted Augustine’s point of view on Original Sin.

So let’s go back to the fruit that Augustine stole as a youth,  his view of human nature and sin were derived from this moment. He believed that the total depravity he showed in this instance was universal and that all humankind shared this characteristic. He didn’t take the fruit because he needed it, but because he was told he couldn’t have the fruit. Thus became the center point on his and the later church thinking about original sin.

So here is where I disagree.

I don’t believe that humankind was enfeebled as Augustine decreed. I have seen many acts of kindness in my life to buy into his viewpoint. Frankly, I am in more agreement with great saints like Julian of Norwich, who didn’t see sin as so disabling. It’s not that I don’t agree with original sin, I do believe we all fall and fail, but no to the extreme of complete depravity proposed by Augustine. I have seen too much kindness in my life to agree.

My own belief is that Augustine saw the whole world as he saw himself. What I mean by that, it is to be expected that people with good self-images have a healthier view of humanity.  Augustine’s stolen fruit and his love of pleasurable things affected his viewpoint and in his assignment of the severity of sin.

But I must also admit, this goes against two thousand years of Christian thought. And I know there will be people who write and will vehemently disagree.

But remember Augustine who stole the fruit and was the one who said, Give me Chastity, but not yet.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Colossians [3:17] 

One of my favorite things to do is to give talks on college campuses. I especially like to hear the students’ points of view. Always unique and insightful conversations that belie the students’ relative inexperience in the business world. In these talks, I do two things. First, give the students real-life insight into what their future lives will look like. And secondly, talk extensively about Christian ethics. Both of these topics are designed to help arm them for the next step in their lives.  

After I have given my presentation, I always allow for an extensive question and answer period. Inevitably I will always be challenged about my too simple view of Christian business ethic. I tell the students that Christian Business ethics always boils down to; what ought I to do. And the answer of what I to do is found in Colossians [3:17], where it says, And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

The students believe my point of view is too simple and doesn’t consider the complications or dilemmas of ethics. Like, what about cultural differences? Or weighing truth versus loyalty. Next, they will ask what about long-term versus short-term decisions. Then there is always the question about the individual versus the community. And finally, what about justice versus mercy? These are great questions and represent the five classical ethical dilemmas taught in theirs or any ethics class.  

But the everyday world’s view of ethics is very different than Christian ethics. While similar in answering the question of what ought we to do?, Christian ethics uses the perspective of the Bible and, more specifically, what Jesus would do.  

There is a trap here as well. Many of these dilemmas exist as very minor exceptions and not the general rule. Indeed, the exceptions must be considered, but not at the expense of the broader issue of morality. In other words, too much time can be spent on the five percent versus genuinely understanding the overall point of ethics.  Many of these discussions of the exceptions can overwhelm the real value of ethics. Specifically, in Christian business ethics, knowing what Jesus would have us do is a far more critical question.  

The answer to knowing what Jesus would do is more straightforward than we might think. First, we have the ten commandments, which contain things like not stealing or committing murder. Secondly, Jesus tells us in Matthew 22: 37-40, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  

So this seems pretty simple to understand, follow the ten commandments, and love God along with our neighbor. However, the more challenging test of Christian ethics isn’t just with this knowledge; it is in the execution. This is where more time should be spent than talking about the exceptions or dilemmas. Temptation is the hardest part of Christian Business ethics. Temptation is what breaks down our ability to execute great Christian business ethics.  

Throughout our careers, we will be tempted by money. We will perhaps stretch the truth to get our way or even a benefit we don’t deserve. We might even be tempted to spread rumors about a co-worker. So my advice to the crowd is to spend more time on two things, be clear about our understanding of what Jesus wants and giving in to temptation.  

However, the five dilemmas of ethics will still always pop up in these discussions. Take the dilemma of truth versus loyalty. Suppose we know of a corrupt situation in which a friend is involved. The dilemma is we expose the truth and hurt our loyalty to our friend. When we use Christian business ethics, this is really a question of truth and loving our neighbor 

First, Jesus always wants us to tell the truth; yes, always! But, secondlyJesus also wants us to love our neighbor. In this case, it means talking to the friend quickly and telling them you have to disclose the truth. And this is loving your neighboreven if it could be viewed as being disloyal. But, in reality, you are helping your neighbor not to get involved any deeper and perhaps helping them be part of the solution. So to allow a friend to continue down a crooked path is not really loving your neighbor.  

Dilemmas may be valuable in the discourse of understanding ethics. But for Christians, it is more important, as it says in Colossians, whether in word or deed, to do it all in the name of Jesus. And secondly, watch out for temptations. Dilemmas aren’t our real problem. It is with the ability and commitment to following the path of Jesus.