Friday, June 01, 2007

Christians in Business? Why Not? (A talk by Revd Stephen Green at St. John’s Cathedral, 2 March 2004)

The business environment has a dreadful reputation – corporate greed and competition are evident, and we have recently seen, all over the world, several cases of fraud. In the light of this, we might well ask: “Should Christians, or anyone with high ethical standards, have anything to do with business?”

There is no contempt for commerce or business expressed in the Bible, either in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Jesus used lots of images drawing on business life – he talked of wages and investment and there is even a reference to bank deposits! The bible clearly envisages business activity as normal in human interaction. How can we have the economy we have unless there is a flourishing business community? A fundamental New Testament theme is that we are to live a life worthy of our calling as Christians, and this goes for all realms of life.

Obviously, there is a balance to be struck – business is a normal place for Christians to be, while at the same time we are to live a life worthy of our calling or our vocation. Everything we do, in every realm of life, is a calling, but can we truly say we have a calling to be in business – or to be a banker?

I believe we should expect to see people “called” to the different realms of business life. What does this mean in terms of daily outworking? It does not mean that everything we do is perfect – we are imperfect humans in an imperfect world – and so, the business world is not perfect.

Being called to be a Christian in business means four fundamental things:

1. A sense of contribution to human welfare
You must have a sense that the company you work for is making a contribution to human welfare. That is, advancing the Kingdom of God.

2. Integrity
This needs to run through everything you do. It means:
· not getting involved in office politics.
· not fiddling the expense accounts in any way – large or trivial.
· being honest in the way you deal with colleagues.
· being honest in appraisal systems, telling employees the truth about how they are doing.

3. A sense of being stewards
We are to be stewards of that which is entrusted to us, not as owners, or as ‘power freaks’. Stewards have responsibility rather than power. Stewardship is about what we do with the assets we receive for the work we do. This means we are to be stewards of our own personal resources. As Christians we are challenged to be sacrificially generous with what we do with our money.

4. Taking risks
We take risks, not just in a business sense, but also in a spiritual sense. There are two occupational hazards for successful senior businessmen. The first is that the commitment you make, because of the very demanding nature of your work, leads you to make spiritual compromises.

Then there is the risk that the commitment turns into idolatry, that business becomes the “be all and end all”, to the extent that nothing else matters so much in your life, and you expect everyone else to feel the same.

In business, as in any walk of life, we are tempted to succumb to lesser gods. This can be very dangerous, and the challenge is to make the balance right. But remember these words: “Lead us not into temptation” and “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” This is all part of the fabric of business life and experience. Here are two business people that Jesus met:

A rich young man, asking Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life (Luke 18.18-27)
Jesus told him to keep the commandments, and when the young man said, truthfully, that he had done that. Jesus, seeing his real need, told him to go and sell all he had. The man went away sadly, because, instead of possessing, he had allowed himself to be possessed by, his money. A telling story for many business people who have accumulated much wealth.

Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19.1-10)
The effect of his encounter with Jesus was that his life was transformed, and he started on a new spiritual journey. Jesus did not tell him to stop being a tax collector. He did not tell him his profession was wrong.

The fundamental point is that the business world, with all its risks and imperfections, is where we should expect to see Christians making their contribution. Therefore, “Christians in the business world?” Yes, indeed, why not?

Stephen Green is the Group Chairman of HSBC. He joined The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited in 1982. In March 1998 he was appointed to the Board of HSBC Holdings plc as Executive Director, responsible for the Investment Banking, Private Banking and Asset Management activities of the Group. He was the Group Chief Executive from 2003 to 26 May 2006. Stephen is married with two daughters. He is also an Anglican priest.

Source: St. John’s Review · Easter 2004


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