Business Ethics vs. Bible Ethics

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by H. Osby Weaver

THERE IS A LATIN PHRASE caveat emptor, meaning “let the buyer beware” or “that the buyer buys at his own risk,” Another similar one that runs parallel with it is caveat venditor or “let the seller beware.” So, it works both ways.

That either or both should be appropriate for our time is an indictment of the business practices so  commonly employed today. Apparently some have fallen for the shallow pretext that religion is one thing and business another; that the two cannot be merged without getting in each other’s way since they are supposed to be antagonistic to each other. There was the fellow who claimed that he had “done got religion.”  When asked if he was going to church and reading the Good Book, he resoundingly replied, “Yes sir!” When asked if he intended to pay his debts and stop cheating, he replied, “Now you are off the subject of religion and are talking about business!” To many, that is the relationship that business and religion sustain.

This attitude is not the result of what the Bible teaches nor a deficiency in God’s word that fails to cover all of life’s problems. The scriptures propose to be a perfect guide, “furnishing completely unto every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), Its discipline is in righteousness and prohibits making provisions to fulfill the lust of the flesh (Romans 13:14). This is not an imaginary state but real and practical guidance to everyday living,

In order to measure up to this indenture, it must provide adequately for all activities in the business realm, as well as all other relationships, This is not to suggest that the scriptures will deal specifically with each  individual, personal problem.

On this basis the Bible would be too voluminous to read, much less make application of what it says. It does, however, guide in paths of righteousness and helps one make the proper choices that should be made, not only in the things specifically stated, but also by divine principles that apply to more than one situation, If one would live acceptably to God in the kind of world in which we find ourselves, scriptural principles must be learned and allowed to prevail in all activities and relationships.

It has been said that “honesty is the best policy.”  This no doubt would be true if honesty were only a policy, but honesty is not a policy. Policies may be altered according to circumstances, but honesty cannot be so handled. Honesty is a principle and principles never change. In business, whether a buyer or a seller, a merchant or a customer, if divine principles regulate us, we can make it in this world and anxiously look forward to the big reward in the world to come.

A close companion to honesty must be generosity. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38). This is not just something that sounds good theoretically, but it is practical and it works, But one has to work it, and there are times when it requires the very best within us to see that it does. Making these principles work requires patience, stedfastness, and even a willingness to be “taken advantage of,” mistreated, and perhaps abused—but victory will be ours. We can do it!

A preacher once was asked to address a group of business men in a near—by city, and he chose for his subject the Lord’s statement in Matthew 5:38·41, with emphasis on “Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” He made application to business practices. As would be expected, most of the business men took it with a grain of salt as mere preacher talk.

However, there was one exception- a man who operated a tire store. Upon returning from the luncheon where he had listened to the preacher, he was confronted by an angry customer demanding a new tire or his money back. It was obvious that the supposed defective tire had been abused by running it flat and it had been chewed up by the rim. The business man’s first impulse was to bawl out the customer and throw him out the door, Then he remembered the preachers talk and decided that he would give it a try even if it cost him a new tire, so he told the customer to pick out a new tire and it would be installed on his car “free for nothing,”

The customers attitude immediately did a 180 degree turn and he replied, “Well, l guess I did run a little too long on that tire after it went flat.” The business man pressed the advantage he had going for him; “That’s all right, we stand behind our merchandise. Just select the tire you want and it is yours free of cost.” The customer walked up and down the row of tires with his hands stuffed down in his pockets up to his elbows. Then he said, “That damage was not altogether the tire’s fault.” Well, to shorten a story, an hour later the customer left with four new tires on his car, happy with his purchase, and the business man had the money for all four of them in his cash register, The business man had established the practicality of a divine principle and had learned first-hand that when one “smites you on the right cheek, it does not hurt nearly as much as one might think, to turn the other also!