PROGRAM W-1738 – Part II
For many years I traveled around this country teaching business seminars—mostly in customer service and communication areas. What I taught were principles based on the Bible. My job was to teach something that would work, and I know from experience that Bible-based principles work. Tthey work in American business just as effectively as anywhere else.
Usually, when we see people who operate without integrity, they have a very short-term perspective, and their lack of integrity will always come back to haunt them long-term. Living our lives by biblical principles allows us to sleep soundly at night, because we know that they will prove right in the end.
Proverbs 21:21 tells us that “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” Pursuing righteousness simple means always trying to do the right thing. But what is the right thing? We have to have a standard, don’t we?
In today’s society, everyone wants to use their own definition of “the right thing.” It’s called situational ethics—the ethics depend on the situation. What we’ve discovered, however, is that this hasn’t worked so well. American business people are starting to realize that we need some unshakable and immovable values and codes of conduct in order to be successful!
There’s no doubt that God’s Word gives us that standard and, as Christians in the marketplace, we can go to that standard with any dilemma we face and find guidance to know what the right thing is. Of course, then it becomes our responsibility to obey and put it into practice—regardless of the results.
To bring this down to where we all live, here are two more real-life case studies. Let’s see how God’s Word applies in these ethical choices.
You work for a manager who has a large ego and feels threatened by anyone who makes suggestions for improvement. You have an idea for a new change in procedures that would improve the department’s efficiency, save budget money, and serve the customers much better. It would also make life on the job more pleasant for everyone in the department.
Your colleagues agree, but you must have your manager’s approval to make it work. If you want to get his approval, you know you must make him think it’s his idea. If you simply present it as your idea, with your rationale, it is not likely to be approved.
You’re thinking of ways to do this, but you’re concerned that your plan may border on deceit and dishonesty. However, you’re also concerned with getting the job done.
Is there a problem here with honesty? Is this manipulative? If so, is this wrong?
Here’s a passage that gives us some guidance in this decision:
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
As we practice integrity in a world that often doesn’t, we are exposed and we may appear naive and simple—like sheep, operating in a world of wolves. You may have felt that way on your job at times.
Remember, Jesus has sent us out exactly that way: If we practice integrity in every area of our lives, it may well appear that we are at the mercy of all those wolves and they’re going to devour us. However, we needn’t worry about that because we’ve got Jesus on our team, fighting that battle for us!
Jesus also went on to say that we are not to be stupid in our dealings, but rather we are to be shrewd. Let me remind you that shrewd does not mean deceptive or manipulative. Shrewd means “astute or sharp in practical matters.”
Based on this principle, I would think that you could find a way in this particular situation to present your ideas in a non-threatening way—perhaps by dropping seeds here and there, and helping this difficult boss to come to your conclusion. Since the motivation is to do what’s good for the customer, the company, and the employees, shrewdness would lead you to find a diplomatic yet honest way to have your idea accepted.
There were times when Jesus was very shrewd in his dealings with people. For example, do you remember when the chief priests and elders tried to trap Jesus, asking him what authority he had to teach and do the things he was doing? Jesus answered them very shrewdly. He said, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from human origin?” (Matthew 21:24-25).
Jesus knew he had them trapped with this question. Any answer they gave would be bad for them, so they had to answer, “We don’t know.” Then Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” He didn’t want to get into that question, so he found a shrewd way to avoid it.
That, I believe, is an example of being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. In our case study, we should be able to find a way to get our idea accepted without revealing that it’s our idea.
This reminds me of another passage: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)
Allowing someone else to take the credit for what you’ve done is certainly a way to humble yourself. That’s not easy to do, is it? You truly have to be motivated for the good of others to have that kind of attitude. It will be humbling—which means that God will, in his time, honor you for it.
A bright young lawyer works hard to get a position in a prestigious law firm. She does her work exceptionally well, she works many hours of overtime, and she aspires to a partnership in that firm someday.
The firm has billing hour goals for each lawyer, and the goals are unrealistic. Our young lawyer, being a Christian and a woman of integrity, turns in exactly the hours she has worked, which she knows to be more than most—if not all—of the other lawyers in the firm actually work. Yet it appears to be less because everyone else pads their hours on their reports.
She has an annual review coming up and she knows the subject will surface. Though her work is above reproach, she hasn’t billed the clients for as many hours as others have.
What does she say to the managing partner who questions her about her hours? What will she do if she is “encouraged” to pad her hours? What effect could that have on her career?
The ethical course of action is very clear in this case. It is without question wrong to pad the hours, and she has done the right thing in turning in only what she has truly worked—no matter how it makes her look. The question then is this: How does she address this situation during her review without pointing a finger of condemnation at others?
Really, her only answer is to focus on herself and keep the focus off of others. “Those are the actual hours I’ve worked. I’ve kept accurate records, and it’s an honest accounting of my time.”
If her management should explicitly ask or imply that she needs to turn in more hours, she will then have to address it more specifically. Perhaps she could ask, “Do you mean, then, that I should be working more hours, more overtime, in order to bill more?”
If she has already established that she’s working considerable extra hours, this will flush the issue out in the open. It’s unlikely, especially in a law firm, that she will be explicitly asked or told to pad the hours.
However, let’s face the fact that if she doesn’t comply, she’s likely to be blacklisted by the powers that be. She may discover that promotions pass her up, performance evaluations are not fair, and that partnership she wants isn’t offered.
Can you and I, as marketplace Christians, maintain high levels of personal integrity without adverse effects on our career? That’s the question I previously posed and the answer is that we should never even ask the question. This may sound strange, but let me explain. As Christians in the marketplace—or anywhere else for that matter—we should be so committed to doing what is right—pursuing righteousness—that the consequences of that course of action become inconsequential. It simply doesn’t matter whether it has adverse effects on our careers, or whether it advances them. In either case, we’re going to do the right thing.
If that is your heart’s desire, and if you go to God’s Word for guidance whenever you face these less-than-clear situations, I promise you he’ll give you guidance. When you pursue righteousness and love—with pure motives and a genuine concern for others—you can be certain God will stick by his end of the bargain. As Proverbs 21:21 tells us, you will find life, prosperity and honor.
As we close, let me say that to apply Bible standards in our lives on a regular basis takes more strength and power than any of us have naturally and normally. It takes supernatural power. The good news is this: Jesus Christ came to this earth, died, and rose again to provide for each of us the power we need to live supernatural lives—lives of integrity, lives that care about other people, and lives that are pleasing to God.
I challenge you—especially if you are in the marketplace—to recommit yourself to a life of integrity—doing the right thing at any cost.