Does the Bible Provide Ethical Guidance for Business?

By Scott B. Rae

Scripture has much to say about economic life, and that teaching encompasses more than simply personal finance.  Here’s a summary of the Bible’s ethical guidance for business.

First, God calls men and women to business.  In Genesis 1-2 God ordains work as part of His calling to Adam and Eve.  They were intended to work the garden as a part of their role in exercising dominion over creation.  Work has intrinsic value and is the way in which human beings fulfill the ongoing mandate to subdue the earth.  It wasn’t instituted as a consequence of the entrance of sin into the world, though sin did serve to make work more taxing and difficult.  From the beginning, work has been blessed by God.  Thus His people working in business are doing His work in the world in the same way that a pastor is doing His work in the church.  The Bible also calls people to work in order to support themselves and their families (2 Th 3:6-12; 1 Tm 5:8), to take care of the poor (Eph 4:28), to support the church and its outreaches (1 Co 16:1-3), and to provide a platform for sharing one’s faith.

Second, the Bible teaches that business is to be run with integrity.  The Bible makes it clear that business is to be conducted honestly and is not to be used as a mechanism to exploit others, especially the vulnerable.  The Mosaic Law contains numerous mandates regarding business integrity.  For example, Leviticus 19:35 mandates that one’s weights and measures be accurate—something very important in an agricultural society.  Further, Proverbs makes clear that God demands integrity in one’s business dealings (Pr 10:9; 11:1).  The prophets demanded that those in business not use their resources to exploit the poor (Am 2:6-7; 4:1; Mc 6:10-12).  The command to “act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” applies to business and establishes values of justice, love, and humility that should govern one’s business dealings (Mc 6:8).  Jesus continued this emphasis in the New Testament.  He instructed tax collectors to collect only what was prescribed (Lk 3:12-13), urged His hearers to take care of the poor (Mt 25:31-46), and taught that business is a legitimate enterprise if conducted with integrity (Mt 25:14-30).  Likewise, the apostles suggested that work is necessary, that idleness is sinful, and that generosity for the poor is not only virtuous but mandatory.

Third, the Bible condemns greed but condones an ambition for contentment.  Greed motivates most of the unethical behavior in business today as ever.  The Bible is clear that greed is a vice that needs to be put away once someone comes to faith in Christ (1 Co 6:10; Col 3:5).  By contrast, contentment is a virtue to be cultivated (1 Tm 6:6-8).  Paul made it clear that the love of money, not the mere possession of wealth, is the root of all kinds of evil.  In the ancient world, it was not uncommon for someone to acquire wealth through means that exploited others.  The notion that someone could do well financially and also do good for the community is relatively new, coming as a result of the emergence of capitalism—a system that itself cannot function well without a proper ethical foundation.