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
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.
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, secondly, Jesus 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 neighbor, even 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.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.
Now it may seem a little strange, and over the top, for me to say, I love going to the Dentist. But it is true and let me explain why. It is not fun to have a toothache or to need a root canal—all of which I have had to experience recently. And anyone who has had a toothache can attest it’s not a pleasant time. For me, I knew I would find a caring and compassionate answer at my Dentist’s office.
As a person who studies businesses, I get great joy when I discover a company that is well run. I have found this with my Dentist, Dr. Heath Lefberg.
A week before my youngest daughter’s wedding, I developed an infection in my front tooth, which had a root canal long ago. So, needless to say, this event was very untimely. On top of this, I was to be the minister at her wedding. So I called Dr. Lefberg’s office and was immediately and sympathetically given an appointment that day.
Dr. Lefberg quickly assessed the problem and told me my situation was very complicated and would require a complex procedure to fix. He could not perform the procedure, and I would have to go to an endodontist specialist. But first, he wanted to get me comfortable and able to complete my daughter’s wedding. So his goal became to get me through the following week and my daughter’s wedding, which he did with a required course of anti-biotics and Advil.
After a few difficult days, it worked. Finally, I was able to be pain-free and perform the wonderful task of marrying my daughter. In the meantime, Dr. Lefberg stayed close in following my progress, as did the office staff.
When I returned from the wedding, I went to Dr. Lefberg’s office for a follow-up. As I entered the waiting area, the receptionist and office manager immediately asked how was I doing and how was the wedding? These questions weren’t superfluous. Instead, they were sincere expressions.
I have found this whenever I call the office as well. They are people who care about their patients and go out of their way to make them as comfortable as possible. But, like any cultural attitude that exists in any business, it starts at the top.
When I watch Dr. Lefberg interact with his employees, I find a person who cares about their opinions and talks to them respectfully. In turn, it is reflected in how we, the customers/patients, are treated. Their efforts are always sincere and warm towards those of us who visit the office.
Dr. Lefberg himself asks me about my work as a Christian author. To my surprise, I have found he is a great student of the bible and its history. Most of the time, during my appointments, we talk a little about my work during my visits.
As I have thought about the business model for Dr. Lefberg’s dental practice, it’s centered on excellent customer service. And I have concluded that for any company to have excellent customer service, two things must be aligned; the leader’s desire to have a great customer service culture and have positive employees whose mindset matches the leader’s. Both must exist, or one side will doom the culture.
Indeed, I find both sides working harmoniously in Dr. Lefberg’s office. When I think about the Good Samaritan story, I see an excellent example of two sides working together. We all know this story of a Samaritan person finding a person in need on the side of the road. Two religious people pass him by. While the Samaritan man stops his journey and tends to the person’s wounds. Then takes him to an inn to rest for a few days while he goes on his journey for a few days.
Here is where the story takes an unusual twist. The Samaritan man asks the innkeeper to help out. Certainly, taken care of a person wasn’t on the innkeeper’s to-do list. But, likely, inspired by the compassion of the Samaritan man, the innkeeper takes on the role of helping out. Many miss this part of the story, but there are many times another person exists in most efforts to help out.
Providing great customer service is similar. First, there has to be a leading example of being empathetic to customer needs to the point of stopping to help the customer out. Second, like the innkeeper, positive employees must exist to carry on the task of helping the customer. To have excellent customer service, it starts at the top and is finished by the employees
Jesus uses this example as a lesson on what loving thy neighbor means. It also applies to any business. It is a message of worrying about the customer first and not our scripted to-do list. Positive people always find a way to both provide excellent customer service and their to-do list. Like Dr. Lefberg’s office, they still get their job done and provide excellent customer service.
And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
On Sunday, Connie and I go to a very small Methodist church. It is part of our Sunday ritual. There are bigger churches in the area, certainly with more than twenty or thirty attendees at our church. These larger churches have lavish interiors, powerful music, and far more resources. But this is our church, and we both feel the presence of God when we enter on Sunday.
The pastor of our church is a very compassionate and unassuming woman. When she delivers her sermon, she is always very crisp, and her research is thorough. I know this type of pastor. When she was at seminary, I am sure she got all A’s. She probably was the one who greeted everyone with a smile and dutifully did her homework. Likely, she was never the leader, just a competent student who took her studies very seriously.
Her goals in life are being a good pastor for her flock and raising a healthy family. Likely she will stay a pastor for these smaller churches. She doesn’t have the outward desire to be powerful; instead, she desires to do her best every Sunday for her flock.
But each week, she brings forth something that changes or helps me think through my ministry to the business world differently. Many times making we wonder ‘why hadn’t I thought or found her insight before.’
This past Sunday, her verse (Mark [6:56]) mentions that Jesus healed the sickly in the marketplace. As soon as I heard this, I knew this was one of the missing links in helping people see Jesus was a marketplace minister.
Previously to support my theory, I had scoured scholarly writings throughout the world. Discovering writings to support my hypothesis in interesting places, like Bible commentaries from centuries ago. I even found scholarly essays in Australia to support my viewpoint. I have studied ancient Hebrew and Greek to dissect words. And certainly used Matthew Henry’s commentaries from the 17th century to find answers.
But here is this one simple verse, which was always there for me to see; I discovered the connection of non-circumstantial evidence; Jesus did some of his best work in the marketplace. It was as if my pastor was talking directly to me and telling me this is the important clue you have been seeking.
The verse, Mark [6:56], explains that people brought the sickly from the local villages and towns to their marketplace to be healed by Jesus. To make sure I wasn’t delusional, I went to my library of commentaries once again to see if I could confirm I was right. In doing this research, I discovered John Albert Bengel (1687-1752), the father of modern Biblical scholarship, who explained why. He explained if you wanted to meet someone very important in the first century, you went to the marketplace. It was the center of not only commerce but where people congregated. Certainly, Jesus as well would be where most of the people gathered.
For us in the twentieth century, it would be hard to think Jesus would be on Wall Street, at a shopping mall, or any of our other commercial gathering spots. But in the 1st century, places of commerce were gathering spots.
If you wanted to trade or sell products you had or made. The marketplace was where you went—a kind of clearinghouse or place for the everyday citizen. The reality was, giant corporations didn’t exist. Instead, commerce was done at the local and individual levels in a central place in every town.
If you wanted to buy bread, candy, jewelry, or household products, you went to the town’s marketplace. It is likely that most days of the week, you physically had to go. There were no Amazon Prime delivery trucks, just good old fashion commerce by walking around.
Naturally, as a former carpenter, Jesus had been there many times. And certainly, Jesus would know to go there to carry out his earthly ministerial mission for God. While some of Jesus’ ministry was completed in the local temples, it was often in the streets surrounding the central marketplace. Jesus was the original Street Minster. And not only that, he did his best work in the marketplace.
Jesus went where the people were, as he does today. On any Sunday, statistically, half the people in any church have to be at work by [8:15] the following day. This is a missing piece of understanding by the church today. So maybe we should take Jesus’ lead and meet people where they are. Jesus is already there In the marketplace and waiting to help all who work. Jesus is even on Zoom!
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