Honest Scales and Honor with God
A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight. … The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. (Proverbs 11:1-4)
According to an Ernst and Young study of dishonest business practices, “nearly half of workers in Europe … think bribery and corruption are acceptable ways to survive an economic downturn” and “more than 40% of employees at board and senior manager levels said that sales or cost numbers had been manipulated by their company.” Similar stats and stories abound in the US as well – for many people, bribery and deception are an organic part of doing business.
As Proverbs shows, the problems of “false balances,” “crooked” business practices, and unrighteous riches are ancient. The burden of performing for your company, the pressure of beating the competition, the allure of fattening your own bottom line, and the knowledge that everyone else is probably cheating too are all powerful motives for fraud. Even so, the Scriptures call us to a better way.
In the opening chapter of Genesis, God explains to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden what business is for. He commands them to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). That is, humanity is meant to be caretakers of God’s world, cultivating the earth for the benefit of the whole human race.
This includes not only agriculture, but every earthly industry – construction, engineering, law, finance, medicine, education, and so on – every kind of work that is required to sustain human civilization. This does not mean that everyone will be equally prosperous in the earthly economy, but it does mean that all our labors should be conducted with integrity.
Which explains why corruption in business is a serious thing to God. He created each of us with a set of gifts and gave us a sphere to work in – our own “garden” if you will – and calls us to work in that sphere for the good of the whole community. Corruption in business is therefore not only injurious to our neighbors, but an affront to God Himself. We are using God’s gift of the earth and God’s gift of our abilities in order to frustrate God’s good plan of serving our fellow man. Even if no one else will find out – or could find out – about our dishonesty, God sees and condemns it as “abominable.”
But where human sin has abounded, the grace of God abounds all the more for those who receive it. In Luke 19, we find Jesus turning a man from running a racket to running in righteousness. Jesus invites himself into the life of Zacchaeus, a Jewish man who betrayed his countrymen to collect taxes for the Romans (and extort even more cash for himself on the side). Upon hearing that Jesus wants a relationship with him – and the implication of forgiveness for his crimes – Zacchaeus renounces his wealth, giving half to the poor and repaying anyone he has defrauded four times over.
Every time I think of this story I ask: What prompts Zacchaeus to do this? Why such a dramatic reversal? It is his revelation that making a bit more cash through dishonesty is absolutely trivial compared to being honored by God. The good news in Christianity is that this honor, this offer of Jesus’ life poured into our lives, happens purely as God’s gift, even for despicable tax collectors. And it is an invitation that all of us sinners need to say yes to, in our business dealings and in the rest of our lives, every day.
Father, thank you for calling me to honest work. I want my labor to be pleasing in your sight and to strengthen those around me. By your Spirit, soften my heart to be just and generous today. Fill my life with Christ’s life. In His Name I pray, Amen.