Let’s spend some time discussing wealth and what the Bible has to say on this subject. It seems our society has become focused on wealth and becoming rich. We’re constantly reminded in this world that being rich is a good and desirable goal. We see this in the Wall Street Journal and listed on the Fortune 500. We read about it in daily newspapers and listen to ‘experts’ talk about wealth on programs such as CNN and Fox News. Most of us invest in the stock market with the hopes that we’ll one day strike it rich or at least receive high enough returns to retire comfortably. American CEO’s are the highest paid corporate leaders in the world with some earning 400-500 times what the average worker takes home. If you’re like me and have managed a business whether on your own or for a corporation, then you know that in today’s world, you’re only as good as your last week, month, quarter, year. Have a good week? Great, now have a good quarter. Have a good quarter? Spend an hour celebrating and then focus on the year. Have a good year? Better start planning a strategy to do even better next year. If you are successful, you receive rewards in the form of raises, bonuses, better benefits, etc. Have you ever wondered, as I have, whether all the time spent on the pursuit of business/working success is worth the time? Of course you don’t need to manage a business to feel the stress of the working world today. All of us are concerned with earning more money, working our way up, receiving better benefits…..and we’re all concerned with job security considering that we could be ‘downsized’, ‘reassigned’ or fired due to ‘synergies’ created by a merger. Even if you’ve been successful and have reached your financial goals, my guess is that you’ve reached the goal and thought - ‘Is this it?’ It probably hasn’t been as satisfying as you thought it would be. Regardless, it’s as though we’re all on this big treadmill that seems to be going faster and faster and we can’t get off and we can’t slow down. It’s as though someone is dangling a carrot in front of our faces that we can never quite reach. What does the Bible teach us about the pursuit of wealth?
“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with 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. 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.” (1 Timothy 6:8-10)
The Bible teaches us that money isn’t the root of all evil (as is often quoted), but the love of money. If you believe that everything in the world is the Lord’s and you’re simply a steward of His possessions, then you won’t fall into the devil’s trap of falling in love with money and wealth. If you begin to view your money as only yours, to do with as you please, then you are starting down a dark path....which is what we, as a nation, have done.
Since public corporations seem to make up over 90% of what we read about in the business world, let’s take a moment and look at the decisions they make and why they make those decisions. As I’ve mentioned before, I have some experience with corporate decision-making. I’ve never been a CEO of a company, but like many others in middle management, I’ve had to execute senior management decisions within my area of responsibility. Let’s start by asking some basic, high level questions. What is the purpose of a corporation? What are the goals of a corporation? What influences the majority of high level decisions within a company?
Don’t worry, I won’t go into a long-winded discussion on microeconomics and financial statements. For our purposes here, we’ll stick to the basics. Obviously, public companies are focused on their stock price and the company’s return to shareholders. Companies initially issue stock in return for capital (cash) that they can use to grow their business, invest in research, etc. They want their stock price to rise so that their shareholders are satisfied and that, in return, benefits the employees of the company in many ways…increased salary, bonuses, stock options, career advancement, etc. The stock price is the focus of any publicly traded company. It is certainly the focus of anyone who invests in stocks or mutual funds.
Have you ever thought about what really affects stock prices? The answer is ....just about everything. Obviously, how well a company is performing financially and operationally impacts their stock price. The problem with stocks is that there are many other things that affect their prices - scandals, fraud, wars, terrorist activity, the overall economy, the overall stock market, interest rates, inflation, Federal Reserve decisions, Federal legislation, etc. If a big investment institution (private equity funds, hedge funds or the big Wall St. banks) buys or sells a big chunk of stock in a company, they have the power to raise or lower the price to some degree (regardless of what you're told, all investors are not the same). Mergers & acquisitions can have a big impact on stock prices. So, even though our society consistently tells us that we should invest in stocks because of past history (we always hear about past 5, 10, 30 years trends), does the past really give us a true indication of the future? As it relates to something as risky as the stock market, the past has absolutely no bearing on the future. Yes, you can see trends, but you can't see if a war is going to break-out tomorrow. You can't see if a terrorist event is going to happen tomorrow. Did 9/11 affect your checking account or savings account? Did the value of your CD's drop? No. How did your stocks do? We are blindly following flawed advice that says you have to invest in stocks in order to save for retirement. The U.S. has invested trillions in the stock market. Where is our faith? Are you placing faith in things of this world or your Creator? What do you think God sees when He looks at the stock market? I have an idea - greed. The truth is that the stock market is a house of cards and it's going to fall. How? I don't know specifically, but remember, only one card (a negative event) needs to fall for the whole house to come down.
For simplicity, if we were to point to one, overriding factor in a company’s stock price, I believe it would be growth. Stock analysts always point to a company’s sales/revenue growth, profit growth, prospects for growth, hindrances to growth, etc. when discussing stocks. Sales and revenue must continue to grow at an acceptable level (10%, 20%, 30+%), profits must grow, etc……in order for investors to continue to invest in a company’s stock. If you’re a CEO of a publicly traded company, you’re focused on (among many other things) how to grow your business through internal growth, acquisitions, etc., while keeping costs as low as possible. You're constantly under pressure to find ways to grow your business. You can't just run a nice profitable business, you must get bigger. The treadmill never stops running.
So, with these things in mind, let’s answer the questions above. What is the purpose of any corporation? We could say that companies provide products and services that benefit us…and that’s a good thing. This is certainly true for some companies, but the one overriding purpose for any publicly traded company is to make money. If you aren’t profitable, how long will your investors continue to support you? I think the Dot Com bust of 2000 showed us the answer. If you have a great idea, you better turn the idea into a profitable business within a couple of years (depending on the industry) or you’re going to find yourself under ever increasing pressure to do so. What are the goals of a corporation? Every publicly traded company has operational and financial objectives that will meet or exceed expectations. They must meet sales, revenue, cost and profit expectations or their stock could decline. What influences decisions within the company? Most high level decisions revolve around whether the outcome of these decisions will have a positive or negative impact on these same metrics – sales, revenue, costs and profits. If we step back for a moment and really think about what drives corporations and their decisions, we see one overriding theme - the pursuit of money. What does the Bible say about spending our lives in pursuit of money? God's Word is clear - pursue God, not money. The love and pursuit of money will lead you into all kinds of evil. If you're wondering how corporations can do evil, you won't have to look far. Remember, the measuring stick is not the world - don't compare yourself or your business to the world and think you're a-ok. The measuring stick is God's Word. Pollution, deforestation, fraud, embezzlement, bribes, 'creative' accounting, oppressing the poor, pursuit of profits above all else, etc. Think about the structure of a corporation. The people at the top are usually wealthy, while the people at the bottom struggle to get by. In fact, corporations are consistently rewarded for paying the lowest wages possible (an example is outsourcing) regardless of whether they are doing fine financially. Yes, people with more responsibility should make more, but not 400 times more and not at the expense of others. Every time you read about layoffs, outsourcing or 'downsizing', who usually loses their jobs? Those at the bottom of the corporate ladder are usually the most affected. Who usually benefits? The people at the top. Wall Street normally applauds these 'cost reductions'....which many times leads to more compensation to those making these decisions. They never mention the lives that are turned upside down because of these decisions. For weeks now (April 2007), I have been reading about how the downturn in the subprime market is causing a spike in foreclosures and mortgage company bankrupcies. Many articles have discussed how this could trickle down to affect many areas of the economy. Not one article I have seen (in the Wall St. Journal or other publications) has discussed the impact to the families who are being evicted due to the foreclosures. I'm sure their are many reasons for the problems - people taking on too much debt, economic downturn in some areas, overzealous mortgage salespeople & companies, etc., but this is how the world looks at things. Very rarely do we read about the human cost. This cost doesn't affect the bottom line. The corporate working world can chew you up and spit you out. God tells us this in His Word - you and I are going to have problems throughout our time on earth (work included). The difference for those that believe in Him is that we know He's watching over us. We will always receive what we need according to His will.
‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."’ (Hebrews 13:5)
With all of this said, let’s ask the toughest question of all – is it easy to run a company in today's world based on the principles in God’s Word? I believe the short answer is no. Why? Because the #1 focus of most companies is the pursuit of money. If you were to listen to any publicly traded company’s quarterly earnings call, would the CEO begin talking about how they were following God’s plan? Would the CEO talk about how their success this quarter contributed to the company’s ability to give back to God? It seems a little strange to us to even suggest something like this. In today’s world, we inherently want to separate our working world from our personal world. We don’t think in terms of blessing and cursing as it applies to the companies we work for. Why? We like to think that if I live my personal life according to God’s Word, it’s ok if I let things slip when making decisions for my company. The truth is that God asks us to stand against our enemy in every aspect of our life. One of the benefits of forming a corporation is that employees of the corporation are shielded from liability (this changed to some degree with the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, but we won’t go into details here). If a defect on a car causes an accident, the people involved in the accident don’t personally sue the CEO of the company who built the car, they sue the corporation. This is one of the ‘benefits’ of creating a corporation. In the same way, we feel that God (I was certainly included) wouldn’t ask us to stand against such overwhelming worldly thinking and actions at work. What if we were fired because we didn’t conform? Instead of relying on Him, we rely on ourselves and worry about how the world will react. Never forget, the world wants you to conform to its way of thinking and our workplace is just another conduit for our enemy to get to us. The Bible tells us that we must stand against our enemy - always. God is always faithful and will provide for us.
Let’s look at an example. If you’ve read my initial letters, then you know that I spent a few years working for a cable company. When our company launched our services in Knoxville, we had a few ‘adult’ channels as part of our channel lineup. I simply accepted this as part of being in this business. A couple of years after we launched, our company decided to launch ‘level 2’ adult channels. These are more graphic and the price is higher. I held out on offering these channels until we were the only division without them. Eventually, I gave in because ‘every other division offered them’ and they offered us more ‘revenue’. Once the Lord began to change me, I no longer viewed these channels as ‘revenue’. I viewed them as they truly were – a way for our enemy to lead people down dark paths. What came to mind for me was this – a family man who has never viewed pornography sees an ad for the Playboy channel late at night while watching ESPN. He decides to order one movie…which leads to other movies and possibly the Internet. After awhile, his wife discovers that he’s viewing these things and ……you can guess the rest. All of us are susceptible to this temptation (yes gentlemen, the Lord knows we are weak in this area. He created us to be visual, but only to look at our wives!). If someone is not a strong believer in God, all they need is a little push to get hooked on this stuff. Ask any pastor and they’ll tell you how damaging pornography can be. It can destroy marriages, families, homes.
“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34).
Of course, it only starts out with a movie. This is how the enemy works. It became very clear that I was going right along with the plan. I can tell you that it is a very sobering moment when you see that you are being used by the enemy. Would I have felt responsible if the marriage of someone I knew ended because I decided to show these movies? Of course not, I’m simply trying to earn a living – who am I to push my values on someone else? This line of reasoning doesn’t make much sense to me now. I thought I was doing ok in this world, but I was not strong enough to resist our enemy because I was relying on my own understanding and strength…I failed time and again to resist.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Once I began following the Lord, I was led to this verse:
"Return, faithless people," declares the LORD, "for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:14-15)
Let’s briefly take a look at a few Bible verses that comment on wealth and the pursuit of wealth:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:23-24)
Is Jesus telling us that if you are wealthy it is impossible to enter God’s kingdom? No. It is difficult for wealthy people to enter heaven because in most cases, wealth and the pursuit of riches becomes their master. They put their pursuit of wealth ahead of God and money becomes the focus of their lives. Are we warned about this? Absolutely.
"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.” (Matthew 6:24)
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
How do you know who you’re serving? It’s not hard. If God asked you to give up everything as part of His plan for you, could you do it? Be honest. Two years ago I could not have done it. If you seek God and allow Him to change you, money will no longer be your master because He will give you true faith. The Lord may bless you with wealth, but you’ll view it as His – you will only be a steward of His money to use for His kingdom. This is how you determine whether money is your master. Do you view it as yours or His?
We are given many warnings about pursuing wealth:
“Looking at his disciples, he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. "But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:20-25)
Don’t let the riches and pleasures of this world keep you from maturing spiritually:
“While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown." When he said this, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, " 'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'
"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8:4-15)
This is another parable that certainly applies to us today:
"Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:15-21)
What does the world tell us? Acquire all the money you can. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a reserve for tough times, but we are constantly told to store up as much as we can. This doesn’t mean that you should spend everything you earn, but seek God’s guidance on how He wants to use what has been given to you. Don’t store up a lot of money and then sit back and take it easy. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so stay close to the Lord, do not put your faith in money.
"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 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 16:10-12)
We’re being told here that if you are faithful with a little, the Lord will give you more to manage for him…and not just wealth, but ‘true riches’. He will give you more authority to carry out His will. Most importantly, we are told that you cannot serve God and money. Don’t think that making lots of money and giving small amounts on Sunday means that you are serving God. If you are truly following the Lord, you are tithing on Sundays and giving when and where He asks you to give. Your focus is on Him.
There are many lessons given to us in James chapter 4. One of them speaks directly to us today regarding how we are living our lives. We pursue worldly business and things with no thought about what the Lord wishes us to do. We don’t ask God for what we need, we try to do it all ourselves.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble."
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.” (James chapter 4)
We must overcome the world and our focus on worldly things through faith in Jesus Christ:
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
“This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:3-5)
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
And finally, we are given warnings to those who are focused on wealth in this world and those that have taken advantage of the poor:
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” (James 5:1-6)
As you think about these things, remember what we’re told from this passage in Luke. No matter what you have done to this point, it’s never too late to allow God to change your life and accept His offer of salvation - until you leave this world. Once we die in this world, there are no more chances. The Bible is clear on this subject.
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' " (Luke 16:19-31)
I just read a couple of articles about why Americans are never satisfied with what we have. Even though we are the richest nation on earth, we want more. It’s always interesting to read secular articles try to explain these things when the Bible does a much better job in one sentence. In the fallen world in which we live, material gain is never good enough.
“…..the eyes of man are never satisfied.” (Proverbs 27:20)
In the end, we all need to remember why we’re here. We’re not here to live nice, comfortable lives and focus on gaining material wealth. We are here to love and serve our Creator in a spiritual war…just as He loves us. If our enemy has diverted you from your true purpose through worldly pursuits, it’s time to ask God for forgiveness and start on His path for your life. Remember, if you’re reading this, you still have time.
Lastly, it doesn’t take a doctoral degree to see what most corporations focus on – the pursuit of money and power. There’s not a whole lot of difference between corporations and governments in the world today (both are in the business of power and money). In some areas, they actually seem to be blending together. Where is this pursuit of money leading us? The above verses spell it out quite clearly. In addition, the Bible tells us that we will not be able to buy or sell unless we accept the mark of the beast. While I don’t believe that the mark of the beast is technology related (previous post – this is a spiritual mark), I do believe that technology will certainly come into play. How else could the coming political beast prevent buying and selling? By removing cash from the world’s economic system. To buy and sell, you will need to be part of the ‘system’. Who will control the ‘system’? In the physical world, it will obviously be this beast. In the spiritual realm, satan will be in control of this. He will put enormous pressure on us to relent and give up – give up our life in eternity. Now think about this – who is inventing the technology to do this? Our government? No. Private enterprise – corporations. Also remember that as larger and larger mergers & acquisitions take place, more control is placed in the hands of fewer people. The same thing is happening as governments grow larger and exert more control over us. So, fewer and fewer people are controlling more and more of our money supply, economic policies, job opportunities, etc. Does this make you a little uneasy? It should. Bible prophecy tells us that power will be consolidated at the very end of this age. It’s happening right in front of us.
Again, this isn’t an attack, it’s the truth. Corporations make decisions on what’s best for the company and pay no attention to whether it’s the correct, Biblical thing to do. In effect, they are not following God’s plan, but our enemy’s. If you are thinking that it is impossible to run a company according to Biblical principles in today’s world, then you believe our enemy’s lies – just as I did. This type of Godless decision-making will ultimately lead to technology that places the world into bondage. There will remain only one way to get free – Jesus Christ.
If you are someone in a leadership position within a company, ask yourself who you are following. Which team are you on? Regardless of what you’ve been told, there are only two teams. Be honest with yourself. Don’t let our enemy tell you that your life should be used to make money and die rich. If you lead a Godless life in the pursuit of money and never ask for forgiveness – never receive God’s offer of salvation, there will be nothing that He can do for you at that point. You will have rejected all that He did to save you from an eternity in desolation. Worldly success is a deception - don’t be deceived. True success is walking in our Father’s perfect will.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18)