The Purpose of Business: Shalom Provision
Part I of this series focused on how business solves a vast array of human problems, addressing humanity’s material challenges. But we all know that businesses are not solely altruistic. When customers find a business’ products and services to be sufficiently compelling, companies also have the opportunity to create an entirely different kind of value. Customers buy products and services at a price higher than production cost, demonstrating that companies have added economic value. Companies get to harvest that increase in value as profit. This means that successful businesses do something unique and significant: they enlarge human economic wealth. Only business enlarges economic wealth.
Through the Eyes of Prosperity
The significance of this is made clear in Deuteronomy 8:17-18, one of the most compelling business passages in all of Scripture. Here Moses warns Israel not to let their coming prosperity cause them to forget God or their covenant relationship’s responsibilities. Specifically, Moses offers this stern admonition:
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today,” (NIV, emphasis added).
On one level, the passage is exactly what it purports to be: a warning against the all-too-prevalent human inclination to ignore God when things are going well.
This passage has more to say, though, with three essential truths about business. First, we learn that the ability to create wealth is not a human invention. Instead, it is a divine gift, something God himself has bestowed on humankind. This is remarkable.
Remember that across the entire landscape of human endeavor, business is, uniquely, how wealth is created. Businesses combine raw materials with human labor and ingenuity to create products that (typically) sell for more than their cost of production. That economic upside is generally described as profit, but, as noted above, it also represents the enlargement of human wealth. Successful businesses are, quite literally, engines for wealth creation, which makes businesses the specific means through which God has blessed humankind with the ability to create wealth. And since Scripture tells us that the ability to create wealth is a divine gift, then business itself must also be God’s gift. How extraordinary is that?
Wealth In Human Hands
But there is more. This passage also tells us why God gifted humankind with the ability to create wealth and how God means us to handle that gift. The “why” teaching is in two key and connected phrases: “it is he [God] who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant” (NIV, emphasis added).
Starting with Adam and Eve in the garden and then repeating with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, all God’s covenants follow the same pattern: “blessed to be a blessing.” God takes the initiative to bless us out of his love and goodness and for his glory.
We see that reflected in Deuteronomy 8:17-18. Moses says that the ability to create wealth is a gift explicitly meant to confirm God’s covenant relationship. To fully appreciate this truth, we need to recall that in God’s first formal covenant with humankind, he made a binding promise to bless and prosper Abraham and his posterity and, through them, the entire world. This means that God promised to be the Provider. Centuries later, Moses tells us that God chooses to fulfill his Provider pledge by giving us the ability to create wealth. In other words, Moses tells us that a huge way God cares for our material needs and thereby fulfills his Provider promise is by giving us the ability to create wealth.
Moses says that God’s desire to bless us is made manifest and tangible through the gift of wealth creation and that it is an important way in which he provides for our material needs. But then what? How does God hope we will respond?
Our response is far from certain. God knows, as does Moses, that our hearts incline toward selfishness. And so Moses is intent on saying to God’s people, “In gifting you with the ability to create wealth, God has fulfilled his covenantal pledge to bless and provide for you. And in your near future, you will experience the prosperity that comes through this gift. But then you will face a choice. At that point, you may be tempted to ‘say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me’’” (NIV, emphasis added).
In other words, you might foolishly conclude that your wealth and prosperity are entirely your own doing. You might forget the fertile land given to you by God. You might forget that your crops only grow to harvest because God keeps the locusts away and causes his sun to shine, and his rain comes in good time and portion. You might forget that the very ability to create wealth has been bestowed on you as a gift.
And so Moses says, in effect, “Please don’t be so foolish.” When God’s gift of wealth creation leads to prosperity, don’t imagine your fortune came only through the strength of your own hands, i.e., only through your effort and ingenuity. Even more importantly, don’t be so foolish as to conclude that God intended your new wealth and prosperity only for your benefit.
No, instead, “remember the LORD your God.” Specifically, remember that wealth creation is a gift by which God fulfills his part of an intended “blessed to be a blessing” covenant relationship . . . and you are to, in turn, fulfill your part. Make sure, therefore, that you use God’s wealth creation gift for the purpose for which it was intended: as a way for you to join God in his great work of blessing all of humankind.
Bottom line: in Deuteronomy 8:17-18, Moses tells businesspeople especially that God has gifted them with the ability to create wealth: 1) as part of his loving, covenantal relationship, and 2) in hopes that they will use that gift to join in his great “abundant life,” shalom-restoration mission. This means Scripture explicitly confirms that businesspeople and their investors are to be God’s agents to sustain and prosper all of humankind.
Unfortunately, many businesses harm others. They cause blight instead of blessings — and we’ll discuss how we should respond to this reality in Part III.
The Next Step
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