October 1, 2014| 0

Love and Money (1 Timothy 6:10-12)

10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

This is perhaps the most quoted verse about money in the Bible. Sadly, it is also probably most often misquoted. The misquoted, “money is the root of all evil” implies that money itself is evil. But that is not what the text says.

The focus of this passage is love, not money. What do we love? What do we pursue with passion? If we love and desire money so much that it drives us more powerfully than godly desires drive us, we are in trouble. And that is Paul's point. In this letter full of fatherly advice to his protégé Timothy, Paul is not writing to expound on the evil nature of money, but to inspire in Timothy (and his followers) a passion for godly virtues and rightly-ordered love.

Paul uses the word φιλαργυρία (philagyria), which occurs only once in the Bible, to describe the problem of misdirected love. It means “money-loving” or “love of money.” He warns against the dangers of money-loving, and exhorts Timothy (and us) to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness,” and to “fight the good fight.”

Businesspeople get to live out this call every day. Every big or small decision offers an opportunity to “fight the good fight,” and our choices reveal the love of our hearts. The “good fight” is not mainly about monetary outcomes; it is about the desire to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.

So how do we cultivate this desire? How do we keep these virtues in the forefront of our decision-making behavior when monetary outcomes demand daily attention, and when money wins so many arguments in the marketplace and the halls of power?

The key to “fighting the good fight” is to become better lovers. To love what God loves. To love righteousness, mercy, and justice. To love the peace of mind that comes from honoring a contract or commitment. To love the customer. To love the employee who benefits from our steadfastness and gentleness. In short, we are to love God’s purpose for our business more than the money it makes.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

September 24, 2014| 0

Doing Glorified Work (2 Thessalonians 1:10–12)

10 ...when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Every noble deed stares failure in the face.

Artists risk criticism - or worse, apathy. Athletes risk loss and injury. Salespeople risk rejection. Missionaries risk despair and spiritual darkness. Business people risk reputation and financial loss. In every walk of life, people pour themselves into their work without any guarantee of success or profit.

And yet, in spite of these unavoidable risks, every good endeavor attains a certain glory. Our initiatives are songs of hope, prayerful offerings lifted heavenward. His pleasure alone is the criterion for everlasting value. By his power every good work is (and will be) fulfilled.

Here is the church's job: pray for all good endeavors. In prayer, we face suffering, loss, and disappointment head on, and know they will not prevail over us. Every decision made in faith bears witness to the glory we share with Christ. May the church pray for all God’s faithful followers in business, trades, professions, arts, and education—everywhere people endeavor to do work that pleases God!

Let this promise of glory carry you through this day and through every tough and dusty path of the journey. Someone is praying this prayer for you: that you would be worthy of God’s calling and fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you [v. 10].

Our ultimate calling is not a matter merely of choosing a profession, business, or trade. We can offer our gifts and do good work in any number of jobs, but our ultimate calling is to give our best effort as an offering of gratitude that will be fulfilled, as Paul says, “when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” [v. 10].

The late, great John Coltrane put it this way:

During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD…

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.

John Coltrane, liner notes to A Love Supreme

Every good endeavor is glorified when given as a humble offering to God. Our works are glorified not by our own strengths, but by the Lord who accepts us and brings us into his glory.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

September 17, 2014| 0

Constitutional Freedom is No Free Lunch (2 Thessalonians 3:7–10)

7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

Today is Constitution Day, which got me thinking about the hope of our nation, as stated in the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Blessings of Liberty are the culmination of our hopes and dreams as a people, and Freedom is one of the concepts that defines America. Freedom is not free, however, as we all know. It comes at a cost in financial terms, and sometimes at the great cost of life.

When Paul speaks to the financial cost of freedom in his letter to the church at Thessalonika, he seems to make a big deal about not eating anyone’s bread without paying for it [v. 8]. Why? He toils “day and night,” as he says, so as “not to be a burden.” As much as the church has an appropriate responsibility to support its ministerial leaders [v. 9], Paul insists on “paying for his own bread,” as it were.

Paul wants to teach, by his own example, that there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” He insists on buying his own bread because he does not want to burden the church [v. 8]. Paul is intent on doing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. This is the backbone of any society’s economic freedom. Moreover, honest work is a primary source of human dignity; after all, the desire to earn a living is fundamentally a desire for freedom.

This is not to say that capitalism itself is a biblical mandate (it’s not), or that the Constitution is a religious document (it’s not). However, the connection between these ideas is important: business thrives when individuals have liberty, and business bestows human dignity by creating meaningful jobs with which people can earn a living.

A virtuous circle is at work here. Liberty, business, and human dignity all increase and reinforce one another when each person has the freedom, opportunity, and passion to be a solid contributor to a society’s prosperity.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

September 10, 2014| 0

Two Types of Profit: Just and Unjust (Jeremiah 6:13)

For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.

Profit is the lifeblood of a business. It’s the sign of life in the corporate body and the breath that sustains the enterprise. That’s good. But according to the prophet Jeremiah, there is also a bad kind of profit: “unjust gain,” driven by greed.

When does profit cross the line? What separates good and just profit from the bad and unjust kind?

In a word, it’s violence. Unjust gains are gained by the unjust use of force. “Plunder” is a more literal translation of the word Jeremiah used here. In the Hebrew text, the phrase (botseah-botsah, בּוֹצֵ֣עַ בָּ֑צַע) could be translated as “to plunder plunder” or “to grab by force.” When a word is repeated like this in Hebrew, it amplifies the meaning. The key issue is profiting at the expense of another. This is a win-lose understanding of economics implying that the profit/gain is taken against another’s will. Of course that's the exact opposite of biblical justice. In God’s economy, grace abounds, righteous relationships benefit both parties, and exchange is inherently win-win. Covenant blessings are poured out, wealth and spiritual capital are built up, scarcities disappear, and accounts are reconciled. That’s a kingdom vision of economics and the context for justly-earned profits. In other words, justly-earned profits are received in grace and never taken by force.

It’s also interesting to note that there is no Hebrew word for “greed” in the text's original language. That is the translator’s attempt to convey the meaning of the sentence into English. The literal language in the Hebrew is not, “everyone is greedy,” but rather, “everyone plunders plunder.” It's a strong condemnation of gains taken by force, against the will and at the expense of the other.

Problems begin when business practices (“rent-taking”) ignore the best interests of the customer in order to increase profits through manipulation or extortion. We do well to honor God’s economics by not crossing that line.

This teaching may be applied to any business by examining the forces at work in a transaction. To the extent that force is used to coerce, manipulate, or perpetrate violence, the gains are unjust and ill-gotten. To the extent that market forces work to the benefit of both parties in a freely-given and wholesome exchange, the gains are just. Economic justice is realized in profitable trades which bestow grace on all parties. Just profits uphold human dignity and add to "shalom" in society.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

August 27, 2014| 0

Gusto: The leader’s spiritual gift (Romans 12:4-8)

4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

What sets leaders apart? Is it natural-born personality, or a set of skills? Can it be taught, or is it a charisma that cannot be coached? For all the time and money spent on these questions, leadership remains a mystery and refuses to be reduced to a list of personality traits.

The Bible’s teaching on leadership comes at the question from another direction altogether. The focus is not on an individual’s personality or skill, but rather on what God is doing in a person’s life. God calls people into leadership, even when they are reluctant and seemingly ill-equipped for the job (like Moses and David). The Holy Spirit gives leaders the gifts they need to answer God’s call. In this sense, leadership is a type of vocation or “calling.”

In Romans 12:4-8, Paul spells out seven types of work within the body of Christ and names the spiritual gift associated with each. He exhorts every member of the body to use the gifts they have been given in whatever capacity they can. The special exhortation for leaders is to use the gift of spoudē (σπουδή) – the New Testament Greek word translated here as “zeal.” The King James Version translates it as “diligence,” or doing something thoroughly, with energy and devotion. The word also means to make haste [Luke 1:39], to make every effort [2 Peter 1:5], and to strive with eager devotion to accomplish a task [Galatians 2:10]. It’s a tough word to translate, but we know it when we see it. It’s the gift leaders share.

We see it in leaders who have boundless energy, like Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman. We see it in visionaries who never give up on their dream, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. We see it in business leaders who never tire of their work (like every entrepreneur I have ever met).

Spoudē is difficult to translate into English, but I like the word “gusto,” because it captures the sense of passionate delight and eager earnestness that leaders display when bringing their gift to light. Gusto suggests hunger. Who acts eagerly but the one who is hungry to taste the fruit of success? Gusto suggests passion, for who acts with devotion to God’s call but the one who loves God? Gusto suggests energy, for who goes all out in every race but the one who loves to run? A gifted artist paints with gusto, a gifted athlete plays with gusto, and a gifted leader leads with gusto. I can't think of a better way to say it!

A gifted business leader, therefore, will be one who loves the calling to serve, loves the challenge of the task, and loves pouring him/herself into it. Leadership is not a type of person: it is a gift.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014