What If This World-Famous Economist Was Tragically Wrong?

What is the purpose of business in general?  Have you ever stopped to think about that?  What about the purpose of your business?  Are you clear on what that is and how it affects your job?  One final question – what do you think God’s purpose is for your business?

Purpose of business

If you have been in business very long, you have most likely heard that the purpose of business is to increase, or maximize, shareholder value.  This idea has been around a long time, stemming from comments by world-famous economist Milton Friedman in a New York Times article in September 1970.  In this article, Friedman argued against any “social responsibility” on the part of businesses, other than increasing its profits.

Another Perspective

I will begin by saying that I cannot compete with Friedman’s deep understanding of economics.  However, I do believe that the Bible is the authority on the matter. And based on what I have read there, I am convinced that God has a different purpose for our businesses.  I believe Milton Friedman was dangerously wrong.

Before I go any further, please know that I DO understand that profit is necessary to a business.  It cannot operate for very long without it.  There is nothing wrong with profit and there is no need to apologize for it or hide the pursuit of it.  Nothing I will say from this point should be taken to mean that profit is the problem.

Instead, I simply want us to be clear on exactly why our business exists.  And based on what I see in the Bible, the answer is NOT simply to maximize profit for the shareholders.  Let’s take a look at a couple of passages from the Bible and see what we can determine regarding a purpose.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.”  You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4:13-15

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds,and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

I am convinced that we can discern from these passages that God does not see maximizing profit as the purpose of our businesses.  If this is true, then what is His purpose?  Why did he create business in the first place?  What purpose does it serve in His overall plan?

God’s Purpose for Business

The more I dig into this whole idea, the more I am convinced that He sees business as a tool, a part of His overall purposes.  To find out what these are, we have to look no further than the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:35-40

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

If we read these two passages in the context of determining God’s overall purposes, I would say it is clear that He wants us to love Him, love others, and point everyone to Him.  To the extent that business can be used by us as a tool to do just that, we are to do it.  There is no greater purpose!

If this is true, then it is a serious mistake to operate a business for any other purpose.  No, I do not believe that God will ZAP anyone running a business with profit as their main objective.  At the same time, I believe that we will all look back at the end of our lives and see our missed opportunities to serve God.  We will see the chances we had to impact eternity.  It will be a tragedy for us to see how we could have run our businesses for eternal returns rather than temporary profit.

I would encourage you to pray about this on your own.  Pray God would open your heart and reveal to you His purposes for your business.  Pray He would give you clarity around what it means and how you are to carry it out.  Pray He would then give you boldness to act.

Photo by alexkich / iStock

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