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.