In our society, the worldview that we should have our own self-interest fulfilled before we considered other people, environment or even God is very widespread. Even among people that claim and insist that they follow certain rigid ethical rules, upon further examination it was revealed that what those people means are as long as they comply with regulations set up by government, they assume that they are ‘ethical’ people. It is no different in business world.
So far, I have read around two or three books on how to set up your own business. Typically, first section of the book deals with how to create your own idea, the need to know your customer demographics (marketing), doing accurate calculation of profit and loss of whether you can have feasible business (accounting), how to advertise your products and boost your sales number, and so on. In other words, you were taught by these writers that the explicit main goal is to become successful and generate profit.
There can be a lot of reasons why this happened. Firstly, because it is naturally harder to prioritize other people before your own self-interest. So, the tips from these businessmen to generate profit seem to resonate with our own natural instinct. Secondly, even with a lot of moral rules of altruism taught by religious people and philosophers, most people feel that it is acceptable to have two different set of rules in two different life aspects.
Most people thought that religions and religious institutions are supposed to only deal with some mystical rituals and charity and that is only during their free time. In their business life, these people follow tips on how to manage their companies written by Western businessmen and entrepreneurs such as Warren Buffets, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and so on.
They do so because consciously or unconsciously, they perceive that more wealthy people have more authority to give them advice on how we should invest or manage our business. They never bother to check whether what these Western businessmen said are against commands from their Creator.
However, if you want to be consistent Christian, you should apply every God’s commandment in every aspect of your life including your business life. I also write this article as reminder to myself. What I have collected here are some principles I can take from Bible. Following these rules will probably make your business less profitable than merely following books written by secular people. However, take a note that our main concern should not be profit but righteousness before our God.
In doing our business, we should consider interests of three groups of people who will interact with our business: workers, customers, and suppliers.
Be honest with your customers. Merchant in old days cheated their customers by using stones with differing weights on their scale. By using stones with differing weight, they give their customers requested commodities (such as grains and oil) with lesser quantity and/or quality while not giving them lesser price. It is a form of fraud and deception, which is why these things are explicitly forbidden in Old Testament (Leviticus 19: 35-36, Deuteronomy 25: 13-16) and King Solomon explicitly said that God detests dishonest scales (Proverbs 11: 1).
Dishonesty in commercial transactions in modern times is not lesser than Old Testament era. However, instead of using stones with differing weights, modern dishonest merchants use false advertising to get short-term sales boost for their business. In principle, false advertisement is not much different than using stone with different weights because it basically serves the same purpose: Making customers think that the product quality and/or quantity is more valuable than its real value.
One noted example which I experienced myself is when I went into Indonesian restaurant in Orchard area around 2 months ago. There, I ordered avocado juice after seeing the image inside the menu. To my surprise, the glass containing the juice was different and smaller from what was displayed inside the menu. You may say that they run out of glass or other excuses but the main point is still the same: the customer does not get the stuff as shown in the ads.
From the image above, you can see that the glass displayed on the menu is tumbler type, whereas what was given to me is like wine glass whose capacity is much smaller. Whether they try to cheat or not, I do not know. But definitely what I got is smaller than what was told on the menu.
You know the idea. Be genuinely care about your customers. Do not cheat.
Take care of your workers. Civil law in Old Testament regarded workers as almost synonymous with poor people and a lot of verses gave instruction to land owners (most ancient form of business owners at that time) on how to treat poor people and their workers.
God commanded landowners to separate small portion of the profit to feed the poor and aliens (Leviticus 19: 9-10, 23: 22), warn employers not to hold back wages of workers (Leviticus 19: 16, Deuteronomy 24: 15). Also, day of rest (Sabbath) is constituted for Israelites to give rest and any kind of works should not be done (Leviticus 23: 3).
You should also become good leader to your workers. The Bible often use illustration of shepherd and sheeps for good leadership. Lord Jesus referred himself as good shepherd (John 10: 11).
In illustration from Ezekiel 34: 1-31, the Lord condemned shepherds who ‘eat the curds, clothe themselves with wool and slaughtered choice animals’ but ‘have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured and did not bring back the strays or search for the lost’. In other words, the shepherds eat best sheeps and neglect weak sheeps.
The bad leadership in modern time is not much different than what was illustrated in Ezekiel. In modern office culture, the bad leader exploits capable workers with a lot of works to do without any rewards and at the same time despising, insulting, yelling and firing weak workers who are slow or less skillful.
In contrast, good leader should know the working condition of the flocks (Proverbs 27: 23), reward good workers (Matthew 25: 21, 23) and still strengthen the sick and the weak (Ezekiel 34: 11-16) and judge fairly any conflict between the flocks (Ezekiel 34: 20-22).
Be responsible towards environment. No matter what kind of business you do, you will most likely need to use some kinds of stuffs such as tools, machines, electronics, furniture and so on. Those stuffs were made from materials extracted from the Earth. In other words, directly or indirectly, business need to use of nature as supplier for raw materials to be able to produce stuffs to be sold to customers.
The Earth with everything inside it, including animals, plants, land and all precious and common metals, are belonged to the Lord and they were given to human to be cultivated so that we can be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1: 28). We are supposed to be good steward by using those resources in sustainable way.
Throughout the Bible, God has demonstrated his care for animals, plants and also land. For example, God was not only saved Noah during Great Flood but also animals. He instructed Noah to take every kind of food needed to feed them (Genesis 6: 19-21). Animals was also given rest during Sabbath (Exodus 22: 12). He also gave instruction not to take mother bird together with the young or the eggs (Deuteronomy 22: 6-7). During the war, Israelite was not allowed even to chop fruit trees (Deuteronomy 20: 19). Sustainable agriculture was practiced by stop planting every seven years to give some time to land to replenish itself (Leviticus 25: 3-5).
Since God is obviously care about the earth, we should also ensure that we do the same thing in our business. In our business, we should not be blinded by maximizing profit and neglecting our responsibility to do waste management properly so that our business (particularly manufacturing and pharmaceutical) do not generate air, water and land pollution and damage surrounding ecosystem.
Of course, by doing all these things, our business will not be as profitable (at least in short term) as those business that purely focused on profit without any moral compass. However, as Christians, our first concern is what God think about our business compared to profit. Remember, God does not demand wealth but righteousness.