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Godliness In The Marketplace

Introduction

(1 Timothy 6:10 NIV) 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.

(Luke 12:42-44 NIV) The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? {43} It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. {44} I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.

Its hard to be a Christian in a commercially competitive environment. Its tempting to take short-cuts, dodge regulations, lie, accept bribes, peddle influence, and indulge in favoritism. Each such compromise has an additive effect in dulling our ability to hear and love God. Each departure from the path causes us to "wander" that little bit further until we become one of those who"eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs".On the other hand we can be like that faithful and wise manager above whose diligence earned the commendation of his master. If we are honest, diligent, wise and faithful then our work life will be pleasing to both man and God.

The Profit Snare

Commerce is among the most spiritually dangerous of all human activities. The saints in Scripture include fishermen, kings, politicians, physicians, prostitutes, shepherds, priests, administrators, and tent-makers but very few merchants. People who buy and sell without producing anything such as money-changers and investors in general are completely absent from the heroes in Scripture and in Church History. I cannot think offhand of a single banker or stockbroker or investor who has made a major impact for Jesus Christ at any time in the last 2000 years. The only honorable mention in Scripture is Lydia in Acts who was a seller of purple cloth and was converted. Merchants are generally portrayed as opposing the gospel and breaking the Sabbath and seen as defiling of religion in general and the temple in particular. Given the abundance of merchants in the Jewish nation the fact that they are portrayed in such a manner is salutary.

Matthew and Zaccheus were not merchants but tax-collectors. They did not buy and sell, they simply took. Scripture though clearly sees their tax-collecting as undesirable and socially unacceptable. Matthew renounced his tax-collecting in order to follow Jesus and Zaccheus made some very major changes indicating a substantial repentance in his attitude towards his work. Peter, James and John were not merchants but businessmen who had a product. This is honorable and Paul made tents for a while to fund his ministry and there is no criticism of that.

Middle managers such as centurions and stewards are portrayed very positively in Scripture. They are among the most common heroes of Jesus' stories. So it seems clear that a Christian can participate in the marketplace as a good manager in faithfulness and truth providing he or she has a definite product and a godly attitude.

Work and Our Values

It seems that our work shapes our minds and our values. You will find preachers like me tend to preach instead of conversing. When I was a research chemist I analyzed everything and everyone. My friends who are teachers come home and put their hands on their hips and give orders to their family like they were still in the classroom until they "change gears" and relax. Salesmen cannot help "selling" people in a normal after-church chat. The disciplines and values of our workplace gradually mold our lives so that we see the whole world through them. Evangelists tend to see the whole of life as saving people. Engineers tend to see the whole of life as finding solutions to problems. Mothers tend to see the family as being of central importance. If our work shapes who we are that much we need to be very careful about what we do and who we work for and work with. It will make a huge difference in our lives.

When it comes to values a Christian may not be greedy, work for the love of money or allow the "bottom line" to be the profit motive. The "bottom line" for a Christian is what God commands. That is what is non-negotiable. God would rather have you take a financial loss than have you cheat or lie or sin.

On the positive side God commends good craftsmanship (e.g. Bezalel) hard work, diligence, skill and wisdom. If our work environment contributes to the development of these values it can be very positive for our faith. Success in our career can build our self-esteem and confidence and help develop in us the courage we need to face life as Christians. The leaders of the New Testament church were generally very able men and hard-working. People like Paul and Apollos were exceptionally gifted, Barnabas was probably wealthy, while Peter, James and John seem to have been able to run a moderately successful small business. Their work values probably contributed to their diligent pursuit of God.

What Is Quality Of Life?

This is a question that we need to settle decisively if we are to make a stand for Christ in the workplace. If we accept the prevailing notion that the quality of life can be measured in dollars and possessions then we are in deep trouble spiritually. The "real world" that will last is the Kingdom of God - not the corporate jungle. We are made to feel foolish and told that our opinions are less than valid if we refuse to accept the lie that "the real world" is the business world and "the bottom line" is the dollar.

The business world is temporary and treacherous. You can be at the top one day and fired the next. To base one's being and identity on how well we are doing financially or how high we have climbed the corporate ladder is a recipe for disillusionment and despair. When I was a teenager my father used to hold business dinner parties and as the evening progressed they would frequently raise the topic of "the meaning of life" for which they had no answer. They were successful but empty of inner peace and security. This convinced me to seek outside the corporate world for meaning in life and to eventually find Christ. Solomon was the wealthiest man of his day and the wisest and he experienced a deep crisis of meaning as a result. This crisis was based on the perception that he would die and that his life would have no further meaning -everything would be for nothing.

(Ecclesiastes 5:15-20 NIV) Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. {16} This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? {17} All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. {18} Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him--for this is his lot. {19} Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift of God. {20} He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

We are all total losers - financially speaking. At death our bank account becomes zero. All our financial achievements end with our last heart-beat and we must then face God." Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand."We take nothing with us that we can carry in our hand. We have no choice about losing all our possessions but we do have a choice about how that will affect us. We can let that fact rob us of joy and be like some unhappy folk"...All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.Or we can adopt a saner attitude and enjoy what we have as being from God who can take it back at any time.{18} Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him--for this is his lot.

So the real achievement in life is not possessions but contentment. That is the sort of statement that most people make in a philosophical moment. Then on Monday they forget about what they have realized and talked so eloquently about and promptly re-commence the chase for cash. It is quite difficult to hold onto the "head-smackingly obvious" insights of life and put them into practice.

So then how can we do it? How can we live Christianly and contentedly and give up the chase for cash and start living in relationship with others and with God. Like most gifts from God we must desire it. We must first of all desire to live a contented and happy life. That may sound absurd -surely everyone wants that? Many want position above others far more than they desire contentment with where they are at now. To be happy we must be humble. We must see our work and our life as a gift from God." Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift of God. {20} He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart."

Paul writes to Timothy about being content with his ministry. Then as now it was tempting to chase money rather suffer the hardships of godly ministry. Perhaps Paul had Solomon's predicament in mind when he wrote:

(1 Timothy 6:6-11 NIV) But 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} People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men 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.For Paul godliness with contentment was "great gain". Timothy was to be satisfied with food and clothing and not to pursue riches, in fact Timothy was to "flee" the temptation to accumulate them. There were true treasures to be pursued instead (see verse 11).

Sometimes we cannot have both wealth and righteousness and in such cases we must choose righteousness. Many people do that when they take a stand on principle at work and sacrifice advancement and often their employment as a result. Ministers, missionaries and those who "live by faith" have learned to be content on low incomes in order to serve God. As Jesus said:(Matthew 6:24 NIV) "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

How then will we find contentment and quality of life?

1. See your worth in gospel terms - in Christ.

2. Ask God for the gift of contentment.

3. Flee the love of money and worldly things.

4. Pursue righteousness, godliness..etc - things that satisfy.

This attitude will resolve many of the stresses and conflicts you feel at work because you will not be pulled in two directions trying to serve two masters. You will be pursuing godliness in your job and if that results in you losing that job you will be content and trust the Lord to provide. If you have done God's will God's way then the consequences are God's problem and He will supply (Matthew 6:33).

Six Questions You Need To Answer

Instead of giving you a whole list of hints on handling the workplace I am just going to leave you with six questions that I hope will get you thinking about your work and which will prompt you to make your marketplace a godly place.

1. What does God think about the type of work I am doing?

2. What does God think about how I treat people at work?

3. What does God think about the decisions I make?

4. How can I improve what I am currently doing at work and how I do it?

5. What attitudes am I developing as a result of my work? Do I want to develop these attitudes?

6. Do I need to do some radical surgery such as retraining or changing jobs? Do I need to take time out to learn more about God?


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.