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Volume 15, Issue 4: Eschaton

When Christians Mean Business

Jack Van Deventer

Here are three questions to ponder. If spreading the gospel costs money, why aren't Christians better businessmen? If graduates of Christian schools are supposed to be highly-motivated, hardworking, and honest employees, why aren't corporate recruiters targeting Christian colleges? If Christian education is superior to that of government education, why isn't it evident in the marketplace?

Opinions will differ, of course, regarding the degree to which (or even whether) Christians outpace their nonchristian counterparts in business success, on-the-job performance, or education. My prayer is that Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will show the fruit of their salvation by using their God-given talents in all areas of life including business. My perspective on the questions raised in the opening paragraph is that Christians as a whole are underachievers in the money-making realm, being ignorant of and untrained in the basics of doing business.
Whereas we've seen pockets of notable progress in essential areas such as worship, music, and education, the resultant economic blessing or favor that one would expect to follow has not yet been apparent. In theory, Christians are poised to make substantial economic advances in the next generation because of progress in Christian education, but if the Christian education we provide our children emphasizes the ethereal to the exclusion of the practical, will our children be any less dependent on pagans for their income than we are now?
The point here is not that Christians should be entering business ventures for the purpose of self-indulgence, but rather Christians should strive to be successful in business in order to spread the gospel, which includes providing for one's family, the needs of the Church, the needs of the poor, and the well-being of future descendants. "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous" (Prov. 13:22).
In terms of business savvy, is the average Christian male head-of-household even in the same league as the virtuous woman in Proverbs? "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night… She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes" (Prov. 31:16-18, 24).
We observe that the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is a real estate developer, a farmer, a merchant, and a textile manufacturer. She is a business woman. Does her family come first? Of course. Do the poor and needy benefit from her kindness? Yes indeed. She is a wife and mother first (as a married Christian man should be a husband and father first), but making and handling money through business transactions is notably mentioned in the listing of her virtues. Her industriousness and generosity illustrate the gospel.
Why then, is vocational preparation so glaringly absent from Christian education? Would the Proverbs 31 woman still be virtuous if she failed to teach her children how to provide for themselves and others? Then why don't Christian schools (and Christian parents) do the same? How many graduates of Christian schools can go out and earn a living with the knowledge they've gained? Not many. If anything, they are forced to attend the pagan schools for that. The Christian school reply is that the students should be taught to think, not trained for a job. Saint Augustine, we are told, was not a computer science major. But these same schools are very much dependent on successful businessmen (including computer scientists) because books and teachers cost money. If our modern day Augustines don't want to be equally dependent on others for their livelihood (given that we now live in a 21st century economy) a few computer courses might not be such a bad idea.
As a university professor, I work with corporate recruiters each year as they come to attract and hire our best students into their firms. Once it has been established that a graduating senior possesses a good understanding of business and technology, recruiters invariably look for distinctively Christian characteristics in their recruits: integrity, honesty, hard work, diligence, persistence, respect, ability to get along with others, etc. These are characteristics where Christians should shine, but ones that are increasingly difficult to find on secular college campuses as ethical standards decline. As such, the corporate recruiters have developed amazingly sophisticated screening questions to filter out those who fail to meet corporate standards of integrity. My point is to illustrate (1) the extent to which businesses depend on honesty and trust and (2) that Christians with these characteristics are poised for success in the business world, provided they have some business training.
When Christians decide to get serious in the business realm, the results will be staggering because a prosperous soul leads to prosperity in all things (cf. 3 Jn. 1:2). The book of Proverbs is filled with promises linking diligence to prosperity: the hand of the diligent makes rich (10:4), the hand of the diligent will rule (12:24), the soul of the diligent shall be made rich (13:4), and the plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty (21:5). Fullness and abundance are the outcome of a lifetime of conscientious labor, as illustrated by the Proverbs 31 woman. Hers is a life of blessing, where the gospel is showcased by her love of family and the fruitfulness of her life. In her we see that prosperity is a catalyst to the spread of the gospel.

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