What They Didn't Teach You at the Harvard Business School

Ken Connor

10/21/2007 12:01:00 AM - Ken Connor

"So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?" (Luke 16:11-12 NIV)

"Let the buyer beware." "It's a jungle out there!" "It's a dog eat dog world."

How many times have you heard them? Trite explanations used to defend dubious business practices? You may even have heard them from the Chairman of the Board of Deacons at your church or, perhaps, from someone on the Stewardship Committee. Platitudes are good for church, but when we are talking about business we are talking about the real world, right?

Wrong. Such an attitude suggests that there is a dichotomy between the real world and the spiritual world and that each is guided by a different set of rules. Jesus made it clear, however, that nothing could be further from the truth. There is one world—His world. And, in Luke's Gospel, he makes it clear that how we handle our business and financial affairs in the here and now affects our future in the hereafter. He also makes it clear that he is to be treated as Lord over all, including the business arena: "No servant 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." (Luke 16:13 NIV)

Lest there be any confusion, however, the Scriptures do not condemn money in and of itself. Money is morally neutral—it can be used to build hospitals or buy drugs. What the Scriptures do condemn is the "love of money." Such love is described as "the root of all evil." (1 Tim. 6:10 NIV) Indeed, the writer of Timothy points out that "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." (1 Tim. 6:9 NIV) Timothy makes clear the consequences of serving money rather than God.

From the earliest days of Israel, God made it clear that he expects His people to act with integrity in their financial affairs. He adjured the Israelites, "Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another." (Lev. 19:11 NIV) He also admonished them, "Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.…" (Lev. 19:13 NIV) In their business affairs with one another, God's people were instructed to be honest. The instruction came with a promise: "You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." (Deut. 25:15 NIV)

Deception in business is not just immoral; it's bad business practice. Patrick Dixon, bestselling author of Building a Better Business, recently wrote, "Every product and service is sold on the promise of a better future. The purpose of business is to deliver on the promise, and the profit is the reward for doing so." Fundamental to Dixon's understanding is the notion that a business should live up to its end of the bargain in a transaction. If it doesn't deliver on the expected result, the customer will feel cheated and the business will likely lose more over the long haul than it gained in the short run.

Some jest that the term "business ethics" is an oxymoron. It should be anything but. Christians interested in a just society should model the highest standards of business ethics, and they have every right to insist that others do the same.

If they do so, it will be good for business.