by Craig Hill
Rabbi Daniel Lapin in his book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money describes ten principles that he believes have empowered Jewish people to prosper in business throughout the centuries. In reading Rabbi Lapin's book, he confirmed many things that I inherently believed but had never expressed verbally.
I believe the principles that Rabbi Lapin outlines in his book are critical in understanding for entrepreneurs seeking to build the Kingdom of God. While I suggest that you read Daniel Lapin's entire book, in this short article I would like to focus on the first "commandment" Rabbi Lapin shares. This first commandment is expressed as follows:
Believe in the Dignity and Morality of Business
Making money is much harder, if deep down, you suspect it to be a morally reprehensible activity. If there is one Jewish attribute more directly responsible for Jewish success in business than any other, it is this one: Jewish tradition views a person's quest for profit and wealth to be inherently moral... Step one in the process of increasing your income is to begin wrapping yourself around these two related notions: (1) you are in business, and (2) the occupation of business is moral, noble, and worthy.
Deep within traditional Jewish culture lies the conviction that the only real way to achieve wealth is to attend diligently to the needs of others and to conduct oneself in an honorable and trustworthy fashion. Jews feel at ease blessing children each Sabbath with the words: "May God make you like Ephraim and Menasseh." The oral Torah fills in the gaps by explaining that Ephraim represents spiritual steadfastness and Menasseh represents economic creativity. The two belong together, and Jews wish their children to embody both.
I believe that it is important for us as believers to understand that any business endeavor to which God has called us must be seen as moral, valuable and a calling from God. From the day I gave my life to Jesus Christ in 1972 it was my understanding that everything I did, and every decision I made was to be directed by Him. I had given up my right to serve my own agenda for the rest of my life, and had given the Lord the right to determine every agenda for every area of my life every day of my life. Believing this, I expected that everything that God lead me to do was in pursuit of expanding His Kingdom for His glory and honor.
Consequently, I never got the memo that many others seem to have gotten that engaging in business was somehow the pursuit of one's selfish agenda, and engaging in ministry was the pursuit of God's virtuous agenda. Since I had given everything I was and everything I had to Jesus on the day I entered into covenant with Him, I have never intentionally pursued my own agenda in anything I have done since that day. Therefore, I have always consulted the Lord in every business venture in which I have been involved and have always sought to pursue God's agenda in that venture.
All of my adult life I have been involved in business, ministry, and foreign missions activities. It had never occurred to me to divide them into separate categories. Some Christians seem to think thoughts like the following: "I'm at church now, so I can't share about a product or service my company offers to a fellow believer I met at church or he may think that I am using my church relationships to make money." Or "I'm in a business meeting now, so I can't pray for someone in the meeting who has just shared a personal or business need, or they may think that I am a religious nut and am using my business relationships to tell people about Jesus." These thoughts never occurred to me.
I have since discovered that there are "Christians"Ã???Ã??Ã?Â with impure motives, who do indeed "use" church relationships to unduly enrich themselves. However, I don't think that we should allow the counterfeit to distort the genuine purpose of God. If directed by the Holy Spirit, I am certainly available to share with fellow believers the legitimate opportunity to purchase valuable goods and services from businesses I own or operate without fear of being accused of having a wrong motive. Furthermore, I certainly don't refrain from praying for needs or sharing the gospel in business meetings for fear of being accused of being a religious fanatic or kook.
Throughout my adult life I have been involved in multiple for-profit and not-for-profit businesses and ministries at the same time including pastoring a church, doing marriage counseling, flying airplanes, owning a Learjet charter service, and exploring for oil and gas. My wife, Jan, and I have always prayed about our involvement in each one of these activities and felt lead by the Lord to participate as His ambassadors to build and expand His Kingdom thorough each activity. I have never felt that one activity was more virtuous or noble than another. All of these activities have been callings of God for that particular time in our lives.
At the present time, we oversee an international ministry to families, which also entails speaking at church conferences and authoring books, CDs and DVDs. Due to the dramatic difference made by particular nutritional supplement products in the health and quality of life in our family, for the past sixteen years my wife and I have also become successful network marketing distributors of those products. In addition, I have some minor involvement in other family business activities. We have found that these activities frequently cross-pollinate and flow together.
For example a few years ago I was speaking at a church conference in South Africa associated with our ministry Family Foundations International. A woman approached me after the meeting with a one-year-old baby in her arms and asked if I remembered praying for her in London, England two years earlier. I did not, so she began to recount the occasion of our prior meeting. She told me that she had attended a business meeting pertaining to our nutritional supplement business in London.
At the end of the meeting, she had shared with me that she and her husband desperately wanted children but had been unable to conceive and she was wondering if one of the supplement products I mentioned might help her. I had explained to her the benefit of the supplement, but then asked if I might pray for her. The Lord then showed me a particular spiritual hindrance in her life. I prayed to remove the hindrance and to release her to conceive children. This young mother then began to weep as she shared with me that something had spiritually changed that affected her physical body and she had conceived her child within the next few days. She and her husband had subsequently moved back to South Africa and now wanted me to meet her one-year-old baby, who had been conceived as a result of prayer. So in this case I was lead to spiritually minister to a person at a business meeting.
On the other hand, many times Jan and I have encountered people requesting prayer for healing or physical health issues in a church service or ministry conference and we have recognized the desperate need in their lives for the nutritional supplements our company produces. We have certainly prayed for them, but many times as the Lord has lead us, we have also recommended the purchase of needed nutritional supplements through our business to people in need.
We have explained to such people that we will be paid a small commission by the company for each purchase they make, and that this is one channel the Lord has used in our lives through which we make a living. We have never felt bad about providing people we meet with a valuable product they need for a fair price and making a business profit by doing so. There are also many people we meet in developing countries who are financially unable to purchase these nutritional products. Many of them face serious nutritional deficiencies and would be greatly benefited by the products our company makes. Consequently Jan and I give away a significant amount of product as a gift each month to many of these families. We would not be able to do this if we did not generate a profit in our business through the sale of these products to other customers.
When Joseph in the Bible found himself as steward over all the grain in Egypt during the time of famine, he did not hesitate to sell the grain for a fair price to all who wanted to buy it. It's interesting that he did not give the grain away even to his own bothers and family members. Apparently Joseph felt that the business of buying and storing grain during the good years and subsequently selling it during the years of famine was a good, moral and honorable service to provide society around him.
Is Charity Work an Act of Giving and Business an Act of Taking?
Often I have heard business people talk about some charity work in which they are involved or fund-raising they do for a worthy cause and refer to this as "giving back to society." What does this imply about such person's perception of his business activity. Since he is now "giving back" through charity, in his mind what was he doing through his business? Taking from, pillaging, or plundering society? So it seems that many business people's idea is that they "selfishly pillage" society through their business and then "give some back" through their charitable contributions or ministry. I'm sure that there are some business people whose motive is selfishness and greed, but this should never be the motive for a Kingdom entrepreneur.
While I certainly believe that we should be involved in ministry and charity, this should never be as an offset to something we perceive we are "taking from society" through business. In my opinion, this entire thought process is a deception of the enemy. If you don't believe that the very conduct of your business is a blessing to society and that your business provides employment, a valuable good or service at a fair price and is in and of itself "giving something of value" to the people whom your business serves, then I suggest that you find something else to do that does bless society. Again, most Jewish people seem to believe that their businesses inherently contribute something good, moral and valuable to society. Rabbi Lapin explains below:
Charity Is Good; Business Is Selfish - A Popular Misconception
But I have noticed that it is much easier to persuade business professionals to talk about the good they do outside the office than about the immeasurable good for society they do by running their businesses.
More to the point, do the vast majority of Americans understand and appreciate what business contributes to their well being? Do you feel the same pride in the good you accomplish merely by running your business as you do in the civic and charitable work you do?
Lapin tells the story of meeting a pharmaceutical representative and overhearing her phone conversation with a potential donor to a cancer research group she supported. The woman was very proud to share how much money she had raised for the cancer research charity, but was not proud of the money she had earned as a pharmaceutical rep. Lapin comments on this:
Few people can truly excel at occupations about which they entertain moral reservations. That woman was convinced that raising money for medical research was good and worthy, while selling pharmaceuticals was selfish; it made her uneasy... She was shocked when I suggested to her that her monthly commission check was measure of how helpful she had been to the doctor, his patients, her own company, and the hundreds of other employees of her company who depended on her sales efforts... Deep down she did not believe that she was doing the doctor and his patients a favor, while at the same time, of course, benefiting herself.
Consider one final example. A rabbinic colleague recently consulted with me. He wanted to know whether I thought he could augment his income by joining a multilevel marketing company in which his neighbor had been trying to interest him. I asked him if he understood what it would really entail on a practical level. I saw him shift uneasily from foot to foot for moment before answering. He would have to try to "lure"Ã???Ã??Ã?Â all his friends, relatives, and associates making them consumers and distributors of his products, he explained. He saw himself as "using" his friends to further his own self interests. It did not occur to him that he might just be the same answer to their dreams as his sponsor was to his own aspirations. It was clear to me that he would approach people as a supplicant, not as a benefactor.
My answer to him was that although many succeed, some brilliantly, in multilevel marketing companies, he was unsuited to the enterprise. Those who do succeed are filled to the brim with passion, enthusiasm, and conviction... Continuing, I explained that unless he was capable of believing that by involving his friends and relatives, he was doing them the biggest favor imaginable, he should best seek an alternative avenue of enrichment. To really succeed in whatever is the business of your choice, you have to come to understand and utterly absorb into your being the fundamentally true idea that your activities in your business are virtuous and moral, provided of course that you conduct your business affairs honestly and honorably. Absorb this lesson into your heart and into your soul, and you will have overcome a major hurdle on your road to financial achievement.
You must respect the dignity and the morality of business. You must see the activity of making money itself as good, regardless of whether you use the money you earn for good purpose. People at my training seminars often respond when I ask why they want to make money by telling me that they will be able to do good by giving a lot of money to charity. We must all understand that in a free, transparent, and honest marketplace, you cannot make the money in the first place without benefiting other people. If you subsequently choose to give money away, that is fine but it is not the justification for making money.
This is one of the most important reasons why Jews have enjoyed economic success over generations, and it is one that, regardless of your background you can use too.
Rabbi Lapin goes on to explain how society conditions people from an early age to believe that business is evil. He tells the story of children in an elementary school asked about their aspirations in adult life. One wants to be an environmental consultant. Another wants to be an AIDS researcher, while yet another wants to become a teacher. These students are all cheered and applauded by both teacher and students as pursuing noble endeavors. Lapin then states,
Finally the last girl is asked of her plans. She furrows her brow for a few moments and then slowly and clearly says, "I want to become a highly successful business executive so I can improve the world and make a difference in many people's lives." I think that in most schools guffaws and raucous laughter would greet this perfectly reasonable statement."Ã???Ã??Ã?Â
As Kingdom entrepreneurs I believe that it is critical for us to break this mindset of business being the pursuit of greed and our self-agenda, while charity work or ministry is the pursuit of virtue and God's agenda. We must pursue our businesses in such a way as to convey to society around us that God has called us into business as His Kingdom ambassadors. We must believe and convey that a business, that employs people, produces revenue, provides legitimate goods or services at a fair price is an honorable and worthy calling in and of itself and provides benefit and blessing to society.