Although many readers of this blog are in full time ministry, most Christians aren’t. Many Christians inhabit the world of business, a realm that pastors frequently berate and misunderstand. There are dilemmas faced in the business world that go unnoticed by other Christians. Recently I preached a sermon on business ethics from Proverbs that touched on some of those issues.

I structured my sermon around four priorities of business. I can’t recall where I first encountered these 4 P’s, but they have been useful to me in articulating a concise vision for business ethics.

Here are the four P’s in ascending order of importance.

Profit

A profit is what you get when you sell a product (goods or services) for more than the cost to produce it. Products do not have intrinsic value. Beckett Monthly can say that a baseball card is worth $100, but it’s not really worth anything unless someone would rather have that card instead of $100. There is nothing wrong with making a profit.

If the system is fair and you’re fair, profits show that you are providing people with a good or service they find valuable. In many case, you actually help others as you seek to help yourself. Not all self-interest is selfish.

We know profit is not evil because the woman in Proverbs 31 was commended for making a profit (Prov. 31:16-18, 24). In fact, Proverbs understands human nature and that people are motivated by the promise of material gain (Prov. 16:26). Being rewarded for labor is the way God designed the world. To frustrate that design is to spit into the wind.

Every business that lasts will find a way to make a profit. This is a good pursuit, so long as this pursuit is not ultimate. There are other priorities for the Christian that must be more important than profit.

Product

A Christian aims to glorify God in everything (1 Cor. 10:31). This means Christians in business should design goods and provide services they can be proud of. This doesn’t mean Christians only make top of the line products. It means, however, that Christians should seek to provide people with goods and services that add to human flourishing, whether that is a bouquet of flowers, a breakfast cereal, or an investment tool.

We must not draw the circle too tightly around the phrase “human flourishing.” Certainly there are some products we know are not worthwhile (e.g., pornography), but in a diverse world there are many ways to “give people what they want” without giving them the idolatrous version of what they want. Just because you hate television doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for Christians in the industry.

People

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to being a Christian businessperson: don’t look out only for your bottom line. “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenue with injustice” (Prov 16:8). This may mean you don’t close on a sale that would help you, because you’re pretty sure it would hurt your customer. Or it may mean you do business in a bad part of town because the neighborhood needs it, even if you won’t make much money there.

There are hundreds of ways in which Christians in business should make people a priority. For example, Proverbs tells the rich person not to hold on to all his grain in the midst of a famine (Prov. 11:24-26). You can imagine the temptation to hold on to your surplus until prices rise even higher. But God expects us to put the well being of people above the well being of our margins. In a different vein, Proverbs 26:10 encourages employers to hire wisely. This too is a way of caring for people. Employers have a responsibility to make wise decisions, to manage well and hire intelligently. If they are fools who hire fools, the public will suffer and so will the other employees.

Principles

Christians in business must be true to biblical principles above all else. I see at least three business principles in Proverbs.

First, we must obey the law. “The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice” (Prov. 17:23). There is nothing more important for general economic prosperity than respect for private property and the rule of law. These are the building blocks of social capital and the way God expects us to manage our business.

Second, don’t promise what you aren’t willing or able to deliver. Proverbs often warns against putting up security for someone else (6:1-5; 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26-27; 27:13). This may not mean it’s always wrong to co-sign a loan, because these are probably instances where the security could not be paid (Prov. 22:26-27). But at the very least, the Bible has nothing good to say about putting up security. Better to give the money if you have it or avoid altogether the entanglements of securing a loan. The folly is in promising more than you can deliver.

Third, always tell the truth. “A false balance is an abomination to the lord, but a just weight is his delight” (Prov. 11:1; see also 16:11; 20:10, 23). Christians do not lie, not even in advertisements. We will not bait and switch. We don’t cheat, and we won’t hide the facts that consumers have a right to know. Note also that buyers can lie, saying “Bad, bad” at the point of a sale, but then boasting as he walks away (Prov. 20:14). No matter our part in the transaction, we must tell the truth.

Conclusion

The four points can be summarized with two general rules:

1) Love your neighbor as yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer (or buyer) and think how you would like to be treated.

2) Look to Jesus. Not only does he provide the grace for walking in the way of wisdom, he also is the perfect example of putting people before profit and honoring God’s principles before his own desires.

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19 thoughts on “The 4 P’s of Business”

  1. Jon Coutts says:

    I’m not convinced by the texts used to support the goodness of profit. The wise woman in Proverbs 31 sees that her vigorous work has not been for naught, but her trade (or gain or merchandise) has been good. Why? Because she can keep oil in her lamp at night (v. 18) and she can provide for her family and workers (v. 15). I’m not sure that the fact that Proverbs knows human nature doesn’t make the desire for profit good. Proverbs 16:26 says that “it is good for workers to have an appetite; an empty stomach drives them on”, but the verse before it also reminds us that “there is a way which seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death.” (Certainly the Proverbs are assembled rather haphazardly, but here the locale of a corrective reminder is conveniently applicable).

    Usually when we think of profit we think of not only that which recovers the costs of labour and enables the livelihood of the workers, but also of that which enables further upward mobility. Especially in our capitalist culture (for all the good that it can do) we as Christians have to be cautious about this utilization of the word. I am not convinced that “profit”, as such, is simply good or even neutral. The quoted verses certainly don’t recommend it, and I don’t think the caution against making profit “ultimate” is enough to curtail “the way which seems right to us”, which is to get what you can.

    I appreciate the qualifications given in that section and assume more was said in the sermon, to which I am not privy, but I thought I’d look up the verses and having done so I thought I’d register some qualificatory observations of my own. Happy to hear back though.

  2. Daryl Little says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for this article. Very helpful.

    I’m self-employed, and if I didn’t make a profit (as I too often don’t) I couldn’t feed my family and stay in business.

  3. J. Dean says:

    You scared me for a minute, Kevin. I saw the title and thought you’d latched on to the “church growth” movement!!!

  4. Michael says:

    Jon, essentially you are saying profit is evil?

    A business is in business for profit. The bring about an increase for the owners. This principle is implied all throughout the Bible in the mention of tithe, coveting (coveting what?), stealing, all throughout the wisdom literature, in the Pentateuch, and in the NT.

    In 1 Tim. 6:17-19 Paul could have condemned the rich for profiting, but he tells them they should use their riches (their profit) for good works.

  5. Jon Coutts says:

    Michael, I guess I’m pushing for a realization that not all forms of profit are good, or at least that “profit” itself is not a good word, since it gives support to a good many capitalist notions which I don’t think are precisely Christian. Mainly I’m thinking of the “upward mobility” justification for profit which I mentioned, but we could also think of other things such as the definition of what is proper payment for our labours and what is needed for the livelihood of our workers. I just think “profit” as a value in itself can be evil, and I think both you and Kevin are indicating in that direction without saying it in so many words. I don’t agree that a business, Christianly speaking, has to be in it for profit alone (and especially not one which simply “brings about an increase for the owners”). Like you said, we are in it for good works, which I take to mean for the good of our society (which includes the well being of those our businesses support) to the glory of God and the furtherance of His Kingdom. 1 Timothy is a great topic to bring up in that regard. Great point.

  6. Jon Coutts says:

    I realize I’m sounding a bit negative by focussing on the first P, Profit, so I should say that I think much of what I’m concerned about shows itself quite well in the third P, where Kevin talks about People. I guess I’m just looking for what is said there to reverberate back into the definition of what is good or not good about “profit”.

  7. taco says:

    Kevin, this is much needed in the “Evangelical” world. The Christian view of vocation is all but lost and with it has gone any sense or understanding, or contentment with the gifts God has given us in particular areas, especially in work other than “ministry” (in the popular sense of the word.) In fact, today I would say that a businessman in the Evangelical world is looked down upon as simply selfish far more than someone who is *not* gifted in preaching trying to force themselves into that mold being told they should *do* something where God has gifted them.

  8. Loren says:

    As a businessman in a large corporation I found your 4 P’s to be instructive and I am still mulling them over. As I have kicked these thoughts around with some others, I think I might have added a 5th P – Perspective. Proverbs 15:16 says: Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Included within that context would be to wrestle with Matthew 6:19 and 6:24.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I regularly must ask myself who am I serving really; where is my treasure really; and how much is enough before achieving more profit/wages brings trouble to my spiritual life and relationships. It seems to me that Jesus is very clear, “No one can serve two masters (I think that means it can’t be done), for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” It’s an either/or proposition. In truth, I (and other brothers and sisters I observe) at times “serve” or are “devoted to” the pursuit of business rather than God — which is sin — and I lose perspective that Jesus wants me to “serve” God with all my heart, soul and mind. It is a fine line; it’s an attitude; it’s a perspective, but I can gloss over, rationalize, kid myself as to how I am actually living day-to-day all to easily. This does not mean I don’t work hard for the corporation, but I do it first and foremost, unto the Lord (perspective).

    In any event, your points have caused me to do some reflection and for that I am appreciative as I represent Jesus in the market place and strive to treasure Jesus above all else.

  9. Jeremy says:

    Just wanted to state that business must make profit to continue to survive. Buildings need maintenance, office/manufacturing equipment needs to be replaced, unforeseen circumstances will arise that you have to pay for that do not apply to general operating cost of the business, research and development needs funded, people need trained, etc. The list really goes on an on. I work as an engineer. If we do not make large profit on a few jobs, we will not be able to overcome the losses we take on many jobs. Without profit, the business will shut down.

  10. Steven says:

    You should do your next sermon on the 4 P’s of Marketing: Product, Price, Place, Promotion. As a recent business school graduate (and now a seminary student), I’ve often longed to see how Jesus can be view in the model of business and how business is indeed a reflection of the Gospel. There’s definitely a sermon in there somewhere!

  11. mark leder says:

    I like your blog it helps and makes sense thanks again for the blog

  12. Philip Urich says:

    Yes. This is right on.
    Business and Entrepreneurship are very aggressive cultures full of ideas. While some include valuable tools, the accepted paradigm is often self-focused.
    I read this blog four weeks ago and was immediately convicted of looking at profit over being a servant. How good to be free of that trap. Profit is a part of excellence in business. But, it is not at the expense of serving our communities (in line with the True Servant- Jesus). Both consumers and business people know kind service stands out in the marketplace. I’m thankful to be called to serve in the marketplace (in the world).
    As for the controversy around profits: Luke 16 Jesus seems very comfortable with business and profit. So much so, He directed us to use the world’s tools (ie. wealth) to build eternal relationships. Our Savior’s words give an edged contrast to some profit-adverse, Christian business.
    The issue with profit seems to revolve around the means and extent of profits. But, profitability is a normal response to good business- mirroring God’s creation that bares fruit and seeds to bare more fruit.
    It looks like the gospel to graciously share $ with our neigbors. And, those $’s come from profit. The question for us all is, How are we using the world’s tool of wealth? May it be in line with directive and passion of Jesus- make disciples & care for the poor.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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