Christian businessmen and women have a handicap.
They are confused.
They waste a lot of mental energy trying to justify things that don’t need to be justified.
- Making money — No matter how well we teach that the Bible says money itself is not evil, but rather, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10), people– Christians and nonChristians alike– think that money is evil.
The poor are, rightly, held up in Scripture as important to God. They are. That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you if you are not poor. It only means that God does not allow us to look down on someone because they are poor.
But if you feel ashamed of making money, then you have to find ways to convince yourself to be okay with making money (since you need money to live). That is hard mental work, and there is a contradiction that is inherent and will prevent you from accomplishing it. You will rationalize and self justify making money by offsetting the fact with some kind of charitable motive on the other side of the balance.
This is what you are seeing when businesses announce that their purpose is to give to charity. They say, “We want to give back, so we are donating…” My question is, “Why are you having to give back? Did you steal your profits from someone?” Their answer is actually, “Yes,” because there is an assumption that any money made from others is stealing. But is it? NO. But since all money is evil, you should be giving your product away. There is that contradiction. What would happen if you gave your product away? In most cases, you will run out of products. You will not be able to provide for your family.
A business is profitable if they provide something valuable to others. If they don’t figure out a way to provide value at low enough overhead to make a profit, then they will not stay in business. In a free country with the rule of law, the market will sort this out just fine.
Rather than think of ways to “give back,” think about what you are giving for the money you are paid. Whether you are in business for yourself, or you are an employee, the principle is the same. If you are being paid for the service you provide, then it is a probable sign that you are being valuable to whoever is paying you.
By all means, give to charity. Help the poor. But it will never make up for doing evil. If making money is evil, no amount of giving or religion will suffice to ease your conscience. The attempt is wearing you out and tying your mind in knots. You need the money, so you work, but you feel terrible about it, so you don’t thrive as you should. You’re too busy devising ways to feel good about yourself. Impossible, since you are an “evil profit seeker.”
- Putting People First — Countless manufacturers and construction companies have the motto posted everywhere: “Safety First.” Really? How much can I make going around being as safe as possible? What does it pay to sit in a bunker eating soft food inside a bubble suit? IT PAYS NOTHING.
The reality is that these companies must put profit first, and so they must put providing value to a customer first. Safety is super important, but it is second at best. In the same way, I think there is wrong thinking against the idea of putting people first. There is a great book about managing the finances of your business. It’s called, Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz. The book is about making sure you don’t eat up all your profits by not budgeting and then spending too much on expenses. That’s all. Common sense.
But I heard an accountant call into the Dave Ramsey Show to ask his opinion about the system. Apparently a client who was paying her to work for him had wanted her to read the book and work that budgeting system in her accounting of his business. She called Dave to ask if he’d ever heard of the book and what he thought of it. It was obvious from her questions that she had not read the whole book yet.
Dave, who I have usually found really helpful in the area of personal finance, went on a rant. He had a serious issue with the wording “profit first.” He slammed it with zero understanding of what the book was about, and then he gave a speech about “putting people first.” “Put people first and the profit will come” (he said with a thick and confessing southern accent). He made the author of the book look like a money grubber who hated people. Through the whole thing, the accountant laughed along at the stupidity of her client, saying, “that’s what I thought.”
Dave’s erroneous point was that it somehow makes money to put people first. I had a friend who was an accountant, and she really hated her job. I asked her why she was working there, and she had obviously done some hard mental and theological work to come up with a palatable answer. It was the kind of answer that can really ease your conscience when you a) make a lot of money, b) make it doing something you are ashamed of—A.K.A. anything besides social work or being a public school teacher. She said, “My purpose there is to love the people, to serve them.”
I said, “So you hate the job and want to quit, but you love serving people. Easy. Quit and go volunteer at a shelter. You’ll be more fulfilled, because you’ll see a closer connection to the fact that you’re helping people.”
She said, “Well, I can’t, because I need to make money.” Right. So, again, why do you work there?
“To make money.”
“Do you do something for this money?”
“Yes, I work hard.”
“So stop trying to justify it, and just learn to enjoy it.”
It’s really great to serve people and help people, and you should love everyone. Jesus said so. But when it comes to adding value, you have to provide something valuable. You should do it lovingly, but it can’t be just anything.
Dave was wrong. Putting people first is not going to pay your bills. First you have to answer the question of what you are going to provide. You generally can’t make a profit honestly unless your service or product is valuable for some reason. Putting people first is great if you mean you need people to pay you for the value you add to them. Dave is correct that being attentive to people’s needs is a great way to get them to pay you. After that, Profit First is simply the old adage of save off the top, which I’m certain Dave approves of.
My friend was ashamed deep down, because she knew she was working a job that was hard and she didn’t enjoy it, because she liked that it paid a lot. She needs to reevaluate her priorities. It may be that the money is not really that important. It may be that she is betraying her own values by working there for the money. If so, then this would in fact be a sinful love of money, and she would be suffering for her sin.
But it also may be that the money affords important things in her life that tip the balance toward working a difficult job for now, so that she can have the benefit of what that money can provide. That’s perfectly acceptable.
But what she must not do is pretend otherwise. If she pretends she is working there only because she wants to serve others, she’ll know she is lying to herself and everyone else. When you know you are living a contradiction, lots of bad things start to happen in your life. When you know you cannot trust yourself, then you earn the anxiety and fear that come about to push you around.
There are more contradictions, but if we can grasp just those two, it will have a profound impact on the way we live. Be honest, and root out contradictions. You will lose the handicap that has kept your life and performance mediocre and has nearly crippled you with anxiety.