Another one of the ways God is blessing our community immensely is through the explosion of businesses and industry. As this grows, the opportunity for business bumps will increase. Of course it’s often a great gift to be able to do business together as believers, but there is no guarantee that Christians will not sin, make mistakes, or botch projects. These are challenges that we must embrace, and work through as Christians. And this process is essential to growing up into a mature Christian city.
“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thess. 4:9-12).
LOVE IS OBEDIENCE FROM THE HEART
We cannot say this enough in our current cultural moment, but “love” is not whatever we want it to be. Love is obedience to God from the heart. And in this case, the “love” that Paul is urging the Thessalonians to “increase more and more” is clearly spelled out. Just before our text, love means abstaining from all fornication and not defrauding one another sexually (1 Thess. 4:3-7). We may as well spell out the fact that this means: monogamous heterosexual marriage. And then he adds to that here: study to be quiet, mind your own business, work with your own hands so that you are known for your honesty and lack nothing. This is love. Notice that Paul doesn’t say anything here about warm feelings or following your heart.
The connection here between sexual ethics and economic and business practices is not accidental. Rampant sexual fraud in the bedroom leads to rampant economic fraud in the public square. The family and home are the basic building blocks of business and economy. Covenant keeping in the home is practicing to keep your word at work. Of course it goes both ways, and shoddy work in the market place is a great way to practice unfaithfulness at home. The foundation for our commitment to this kind of love is the gospel of Christ: He was obedient to the death for our salvation. This is love. And we love because He loved us first (1 Jn. 4:9-11).
GIFT GIVING ECONOMY
God so loved the world that He gave (Jn. 3:16). And so it is that the basis for all truly free markets is this kind of love: gift giving. This means that when it comes to doing business, our instinct should always be to blessothers, especially brothers and sisters. This is the opposite of looking for or expecting a deal or a discount – as a buyer or a seller – simply because you’re both Christians. It is more blessed to give than receive, and therefore, the accent is on you giving, not you getting other people to give to you. So, if you need the goods or services of someone else, you should want to give as big of a gift as you can in exchange for it. You are of course free to shop around, but you should want to bless them (pay) so they can give even more. And if you are giving the good or service, pricing should be set sufficiently so that you can keep on giving a good gift that is high quality, excellent, and thoroughly honest. God does not want us to give beyond what He has actually given (2 Cor. 8:12). We are to work in such as a way that we lack nothing (1 Thess. 4:12). In terms of quality of products and services, Christians should despise the sentiment of the bumper sticker that says, “not perfect just forgiven.”
WRITE IT DOWN
Paul said that the Thessalonians didn’t need him to write to them, but he did it anyway, and given the challenge that they would soon face (2 Thess. 2:2), it was very important that he did. We are people of the written word, and therefore one of the hallmarks of Christian civilization is the written contract. Therefore, write all business agreements down. Do not say that since they are Kirkers you don’t need to write it down; do not say they are fellow believers so everything will be fine. Do not write some of it down, and have additional verbal agreements and handshakes. No, from the beginning God wrote everything down for us, not because He would forget His word, but because we are the kind of people who forget. This is central to our commitment to honesty. This need not be a suspicious or accusatory thing; it should be considered one of the central ways we love one another. In the absence of a written contract, the Bible says elsewhere that we should rather be defrauded than bring shame on the name of Christ by making a big stink about it or taking a brother to court (1 Cor. 6:7).
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS
Of course, as members of Christ and bound together by membership vows, we have promised to watch out for one another and bear one another’s burdens (cf. Gal. 6:2). But in the same place it says, “let every man prove his own work… for every man shall bear his own burden.” If the great principle of Christian business is love (defined as obedient and glad gift-giving), then our duty to work hard and mind our own business so that we lack nothing means that our goal should be to mind our own business, which is not at all the same as autonomous self-sufficiency. Part of minding your own business means take care of your own garden. It also means not assuming you know anything about your brother’s situation. This applies to what you might be tempted to think your brother can afford to pay or give; this also applies to various business decisions, whether it’s your competitor or the fact that somebody in the church went with your competitor. Don’t assume the worst; don’t assume anything. Life is complex. Related is the fact that you must not take business decisions personally. And while you should want to do everything you can to be at peace with a brother and cover a multitude of sins, a negative review of work need not be cause for being out of fellowship.
When a business deal goes south it can be a real tangled mess, especially in a small, tight-knit community, but the gospel applies here as well. This doesn’t mean being naïve, gullible, or being walked all over. The cross teaches us is that love is obedience from the heart. Obedience is scrupulously honest (Ps. 15:4), but love also speaks the truth, holds brothers accountable, and is willing to work long and hard to bring resolution and make things right, because Christ suffered for us. They will know we are Christ’s disciples not just because we get along but because we love one another even when by all human standards we shouldn’t (Jn. 13:35).