What Will Your Business Cost You?
THE wife of the president of a South American country was accused of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to phony companies set up by members of her family. A 38-year-old stockbroker in India was arrested and taken away from his luxurious apartment and his 29 cars because of his alleged involvement in a $1.6-billion banking and stock market scandal. In the Philippines, thousands of residents of one island make their living by producing illegal handguns. To stay in this lucrative trade, it is reported, they customarily bribe officials not to interfere.
Yes, dishonesty and fraud in business are rampant throughout the world. And often it costs the people involved position and honor, as well as money.
What about you? Are you in business? Or are you thinking of starting a business? What will it cost you? Inevitably, being in business will cost something. This is not necessarily bad. However, it is wise to count the cost before embarking on a business venture or making decisions regarding one already established. (Luke 14:28) The box on page 31 shows some costs that you will want to take into consideration.
Clearly, being in business is not simple. For a Christian, there are spiritual and moral obligations to consider. Can you meet the costs and stay balanced spiritually? Are certain costs beyond what you can accept morally? What are some principles that will help you determine which costs are acceptable and which are not?
Keep Money in Its Place
Money is needed to run a business, and it is hoped that a business will bring in enough funds to sustain one’s family. However, goals with regard to money can easily get distorted. Greed may enter the picture. For many people, everything else gets set aside where money is involved. Yet, one writer of the Bible book of Proverbs, Agur, expressed the balanced viewpoint when he said: “Give me neither poverty nor riches. Let me devour the food prescribed for me.” (Proverbs 30:8) He realized the value of being satisfied with a sufficient amount for sustenance—he did not want to “make a killing,” as some say in business.
Greed, though, can cause one to forget this principle when that so-called golden opportunity arises. A traveling minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a developing country reported on such a case. A certain company needing investment capital gave the impression that investors would quickly double their money, perhaps in just a few months. This easy-money offer led many to invest. The traveling minister says: “Some were too eager to jump into it. They weren’t asking enough questions, and they borrowed money [to invest].”
In contrast, two individuals went to check out the office of this company before investing. Their request to see the production facilities was denied. This caused them to doubt the reputability of the company. It proved to be a protection for them, since within a few weeks, an apparently fraudulent scheme was exposed, and people were arrested. Just think what this cost those who had not investigated first. They lost not only money but perhaps even friends who lent to them but could not be repaid when the scheme collapsed. In money matters, how wise it is to apply the principle of Proverbs 22:3: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty”!
Stick to Your Word
What if business takes a turn for the worse? Psalm 15:4 commends a person who sticks to his agreements even if doing so is not to his advantage: “He has sworn to what is bad for himself, and yet he does not alter.” It is easy to stick to one’s word when things are going well. But it becomes a test of integrity when it is to one’s disadvantage financially.
Recall a Biblical example from the time of Joshua. The Gibeonites maneuvered matters so that the chieftains of Israel would covenant with them and not destroy them. Actually, they were part of a nation that was considered a threat to Israel. When the ruse was uncovered, “the sons of Israel did not strike them, because the chieftains of the assembly had sworn to them by Jehovah.” (Joshua 9:18) Even though this group came from enemy territory, the chieftains felt it important to keep their word. And subsequent events show that this pleased Jehovah.—Joshua 10:6-11.
Honesty is like an endangered, if not extinct, species in today’s business world. Others in businesses similar to yours may use dishonest means to increase their earnings. They may be dishonest in advertising. They may steal the name of another company and put it on their product. Or they may present an inferior product as one of superior quality. All of these are forms of dishonesty. Those doing them are like “the wicked” who, according to Asaph, “have increased their means of maintenance,” apparently in a fraudulent way.—Psalm 73:12.
Will you, as a Christian, use illicit methods? Or would you rather be guided by Bible principles, such as: “We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one”; “we have renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking with cunning”; “two sorts of weights are something detestable to Jehovah, and a cheating pair of scales is not good”? (2 Corinthians 4:2; 7:2; Proverbs 20:23) Remember, the originator of dishonesty is none other than Satan the Devil, “the father of the lie.”—John 8:44.
Some may object and say: ‘It is difficult to stay in business unless one uses dishonest methods as others do.’ This is where the Christian can demonstrate his faith in Jehovah. Honesty is put to the test when it costs something. To say that a person cannot make a living without being dishonest is to say that God does not care about those who love him. One with true faith in Jehovah knows that God can provide for his servants in any country and in any situation. (Hebrews 13:5) True, one may have to settle for a little less income than dishonest ones may have, but is this not a price worth paying to have God’s blessing?
Remember, dishonesty is like a boomerang that, when thrown, comes back to the thrower. If a businessman is found to be dishonest, customers and suppliers will often forsake him. He may fool them once, but that may be the last time. On the other hand, an honest businessman usually gains the respect of others. Be careful not to be overtaken by the false reasoning, ‘Everybody else does it, so it’s OK.’ The Bible principle is, “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends.”—Exodus 23:2.
Suppose your long-standing business partner is not a fellow Christian and does not always adhere to Bible principles. Would it be proper to use this as an excuse to evade your own responsibility when something unscriptural is being done? Remember examples like Adam and Saul. Instead of avoiding sin, they gave in to pressure from others and then blamed their associates. What a high price they paid!—Genesis 3:12, 17-19; 1 Samuel 15:20-26.
Deal Properly With Fellow Believers
Are there costs to consider when entering into business dealings with fellow worshipers of Jehovah? When the prophet Jeremiah purchased a field in his hometown of Anathoth from his own cousin, he did not just give him the money and shake hands. Rather, he said: “I wrote in a deed and affixed the seal and took witnesses as I went weighing the money in the scales.” (Jeremiah 32:10) Making such written agreements can prevent misunderstandings that could arise at a later time if circumstances change.
But what if a Christian brother seems to have treated you unfairly in business? Should you take him to court? The Bible is very clear on this. “Does anyone of you that has a case against the other dare to go to court before unrighteous men, and not before the holy ones?” asked Paul. What if a problem is not satisfactorily resolved right away? Paul added: “It means altogether a defeat for you that you are having lawsuits with one another. Why do you not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded?” Just think what a black mark it would put on the Christian organization if outsiders heard of true Christians fighting it out in court! Could it be that in such cases the love of money has become stronger than love for brother? Or could it be that one’s honor has been tarnished and retaliation is foremost in mind? Paul’s counsel shows that in such cases it would be better to take a loss than to go to court.—1 Corinthians 6:1, 7; Romans 12:17-21.
There is, of course, a Scriptural way to handle such disputes within the congregation. (Matthew 5:37; 18:15-17) In helping the brothers involved to follow the recommended steps, Christian overseers may offer some helpful counsel for all concerned. It may seem easy during such discussions to agree with Bible principles, but afterward will you really show that you listened by applying the counsel given? Love for God and for our fellow Christians would impel us to do so.
Undoubtedly, being in business is going to cost you something. Hopefully, the price you pay will be reasonable. When confronted with decisions or any questionable situation, keep in mind that there are many things in life that are far more valuable than money. By keeping money in its place, keeping one’s word, being honest, and dealing with business associates in the Christian way, we can see to it that a business costs no more time and money than necessary, and at the same time, we can preserve friendships, a good conscience, and a fine relationship with Jehovah.
For a modern-day example of sticking to one’s word in business, see the article “My Word My Bond” in Awake! of May 8, 1988, pages 11-13.
[Box on page 31]
Things Your Business Might Cost You
Time: Running one’s own business almost always takes more time than working as an employee for a company. Will this cut into your schedule, leaving less time for important spiritual activities? On the positive side, will you be able to arrange your affairs to spend more time in doing God’s will? If so, fine. But be careful! This is easier said than done.
Money: It takes money to make money. What investment is required for your business? Do you already have the funds? Or will you have to borrow? Can you afford to lose some? Or will the cost be more than you can bear if things do not work out as expected?
Friends: Because of problems arising in day-to-day operations, many an entrepreneur’s business has cost him his friends. Although a potential for making friends is there, the possibility of strained relations is all too real. What if these friends are our Christian brothers?
A Good Conscience: The general approach to business in today’s world is “Dog eat dog” or “What’s in it for me?” Over 70 percent of the students in a European survey held that ethics have little or no place in business life. It is no wonder that fraud, dishonesty, and questionable business practices have become commonplace. Will you be tempted to follow suit?
Your Relationship With Jehovah: Any action in business that is against God’s laws and principles, even though common in business affairs, would spoil a person’s relationship with his Maker. This could cost him his prospect of eternal life. Would this not obviously be too high a price for a loyal Christian to pay, no matter what the material benefit?
[Pictures on page 31]
Which will help prevent later misunderstandings? A gentleman’s agreement or a written contract?