Brothers and Business Deals

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By the grace of God, we live in an industrious community of Christians, and it has to be said that this has had a very predictable result. Not unrelated, we are also a community that contains more than its share of well-to-do believers. This presents dangers, and temptations, and opportunities. 

As I am fond of saying, “You can’t keep money from doing what money always does.” What was once said of the Puritans who came to New England? It was said that they came to do good, and ended up doing well. Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked (Dt. 32:15). Cotton Mather once said that faithfulness begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother. Beware, when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses, and your gold is multiplied, that your “heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God” (Dt. 8:10-14).

Remember that some sermons are doctrinal, and some are practical exhortations, and some turn over flat rocks in search of roly-poly bugs.

The Text

“And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred” (Mark 4:13–20).

Summary of the Text

This passage is the Lord’s application of His parable of the sower. He begins by saying that an understanding of this parable is the master key to an understanding of all of His parables (v. 13). The seed that the sower casts is the Word of life (v. 14). Some of the seed falls on the path or sidewalk, and so Satan has no trouble whisking it away immediately (v. 15). Their hearts were the sidewalk. Then there was the stony ground. Because of the rocks the soil was shallow, but there was at least some shallow soil there. Consequently they sprouted immediately, gladly, but only because the soil was so shallow (v. 16). But because they could have no deep root, they fall away promptly in any difficulty (v. 17). And then comes the warning that I want to emphasize this morning. Some seed is sown among the thorns (v. 18), and those thorns are defined as cares, lies, and lusts (v. 19). These choke out the Word, rendering it unfruitful. Then there is the good soil, returning a harvest of thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold (v. 20).    

How Anxiety Presents Itself

The Lord is teaching us about the sowing of the gospel and the life-and-death responses that are exhibited by different kinds of soil. He is talking about salvation or the lack of it, and as we meditate on the parable, we do recognize this. That is the primary meaning of the parable. But I am preaching to Christians, which means this is a message to the good soil. That good soil produces differing amounts of grain—thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. So we make a serious mistake if we glibly assume that the things that interfere with the salvation of unbelievers can have no effect on the sanctification of believers. We too can struggle with hardened soil, stones in the soil, and with thorny cares. As we reflect on this, make all the necessary adjustments in your heart and mind.

With that said, we are going to consider how “the cares of this world” present themselves to us, as responsible Christian adults. And here it is. They present themselves as “taking responsibility.” Anxiety and worry can clean up real nice, and knock on the door of your heart, wanting to know if you have adequate insurance coverage. This guy is a representative agent for Carking Cares Mutual.

And when these financial cares spiral out of control, what happens is that you wind up with a great big junior high school, with much higher credit limits.    

Doing Business with Brothers

Because God is blessing us in this place, under these circumstances, in this community, I must exhort you to remember certain things. As your pastor, I have seen many business deals between brothers go south. And the more our community is blessed, the more it will create opportunities for this kind of thing to happen. So here are some basic principles that financial opportunities and pressures (e.g. “cares” straight out of the parable) will make you want to forget. There are twelve of them.

First, write it down: Regeneration does not make anyone’s memory perfect, least of all yours. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). Anxieties want maneuvering room for creative memories, and written documents interfere with that.

Second, maintain internal records: “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds” (Proverbs 27:23). If your bookkeeping is not on top of it, then there will be in the long run no difference between your business and pyramid scheme, where you take money from the next client to finish the job for the last client.

Third, abide by what you wrote down: It is amazing what financial pressure can do to one’s hermeneutical abilities. A righteous man swears to his own hurt, and does not change (Ps. 15:4). As Upton Sinclair once put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” If you signed it, then do it. And don’t allow your wife’s financial anxieties dictate what you now need the words of the contract to have meant.

Fourth, don’t play to the gallery: Our community is big enough now that it will always contain a number of tenderhearted Christians, ready to take up the side of whoever the “poor buddy” in the dispute is. This is in violation of the Scriptures, but it still happens. “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Leviticus 19:15). Right and wrong are not to be determined emotionally or sentimentally. If a man is a poor businessman and is consequently always in arrears, the fact that you feel sorry for his wife does not mean that the invoice is invalid.

Fifth, distinguish best practices from pagan best practices: Certain business practices really are best practices in a common grace sort of way. But other things are just imported from the world, with the smell of worldliness still all over them. It is never lawful to sue a brother before unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:1-8), for just one example.

Sixth, don’t change your story for different audiences: “‘It is good for nothing,’ cries the buyer; But when he has gone his way, then he boasts” (Proverbs 20:14).

Seventh, don’t abuse the ichthus fish symbol: The Golden Rule is “do unto others” (Matt. 7:12), and that is not the same thing as “hope that others would do unto you.” When you see that little fish sign in the window, does it make you want to hope that he gives you a little discount because you are a brother? Or does it make you want to add 10% to the invoice because he is a brother?

Eighth, who pursues? With a biblical ethic, the debtor should always pursue the creditor. “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8).

Ninth, always have a buffer: You cannot predict the meteor landing on your shop, but if you have been in business for longer than ten minutes, you should able to budget beforehand for all the standard excuses. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: But the simple pass on, and are punished.” (Proverbs 22:3).

Tenth, good business reputations are not a birthright, but are rather built over time: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” (Proverbs 22:1). But a good name is not fashioned out of wispy clouds, or bits of the blue sky. A good name does not refer to what you wrote and printed on your brochure.

Eleventh, honoring fellow believers in business is crucial: How do you treat brothers and sisters in business, some of whom are in a competitive space? Or how do you respond when someone asks you about someone’s job performance, and there were some real problems with it? Remember the words of the Heidelberg—“also that I defend and promote, as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my neighbor” (Heidelberg Q. 112). We should therefore answer the questions as graciously as possible, insofar as it is consistent with honesty. Do not flip this, where you are as snarky as might be, but without falling into overt dishonesty.

Twelfth, abhor dishonesty, and loathe the blowing of sunshine: “Divers weights are an abomination unto the Lord; And a false balance is not good” (Proverbs 20:23). In Reformation-era France, they had a proverb that said “as honest as a Huguenot.” It will be quite some time before Americans are saying “as honest as an evangelical.” But let’s bring it a bit closer to home. Are the people here in town starting to say “as honest as a kirker”? I have seen some unfortunate things here, but I also see the development of a truly promising future. But even with that promise and potential, it is not yet proverbial. Our goal—not just our prayer goal, but our goal in business—must be to have it become proverbial.

How should we react when a brother appears to be neglecting some or all of these principles, but it does not rise to a level of charges or church discipline? Remember free grace > free men > free markets. And if we learn to live this way as a community, the market will discipline. And as for you, if you internalize these principles, you will be in a position to always underpromise and overdeliver.

Christ in the Marketplace

If Christ is in you, and if you are in Christ, then one of the best places where this can be displayed is in the marketplace. This is the place where hard work, honestly and competently done, cheerfully approached and without complaining, for the price quoted, and no funny business, provides a stark contrast to the world, and also sadly, to much of the Christian world. In such a circumstance, Christ shines brightly.

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