Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quine writes of the Protestant Work Ethic

Many professions have a code of professional ethics.  Turn to Proverbs to see what the book of wisdom tells us about a Christian work ethic no matter what your business.

     1.    Honesty
The Lord takes a personal interest in the conduct of his people in the marketplace.  In the agrarian society of Solomon's Israel, this principle was communicated through weights and measures.  The Lord concerns Himself with the honesty of the weights so that He delights in a true weight, but hates a false balance.  Read this for yourself in Proverbs 11:1, 16:11, and 20:10,23.  Because the use of weights and measures were common practice in commerce, the Lord is therefore seen as taking personal interest in the commercial transactions of everyday life.

Proverbs 11:1, 20:10, and 13 inform the person in business that the Lord hates commercial dishonesty.  "Abomination" means that such practice is disgusting to Him.  He has the same disdain toward those who gain by crooked means (3:32), liars (6:16, 12:22), the wicked or even criminal in business (15:8,9), and those who pervert justice (17:15).

The dishonest will face consequences for their lack of integrity in business.  Note the parallelism between the man who does right and has "wealth," and the man who is wicked and has contrasting "trouble" in Proverbs 15:6.  "Trouble" could be shame (Genesis 34:30), death (Joshua 7:25), or general affliction (Isaiah 14:29), but is opposite to "wealth" here in Proverbs. What is true today in business was also true in Solomon's day:

What goes around comes around.  Income dishonestly gained ultimately does not profit, and will lead to discipline from the Lord.  Read the warning in Proverbs 10:2; 16 and 11:18.

Proverbs mentions few but important specific dishonest practices.  Although many feel it a legitimate business procedure, Proverbs 15:27 couples bribery with "illicit profits” Literally the word here means "to cut."  The person who uses bribery "to cut the big deal" is not outside the eyes of the Lord.  The benefit sought will really bring trouble to his own home.  Bribery is a perversion, Proverbs 17:23.

Lying may be thought of as necessary, or even legitimate sales puffing, but the prosperity it brings will only be short lived.  Proverbs 20:17 and 21:6 speaks to this.

These passages from Proverbs definitely reveal the Lord's intimate interaction with those in business.  The believer must consider honesty as part of his work ethic.

2.    Diligence
A.    Energetic Action
The believer in business is to be characterized by diligence.  "Diligence" (XXXX) in the Old Testament portrays decisiveness of action.  The diligent is one who is energetic so that there is accomplishment of the goal.  There is a sense of sharpness, and alert action with the diligent (cf. Isaiah 10:22-23; 28:22).

In Proverbs the diligent are contrasted with the sluggard, whose actions, when finally taken, are listless, inappropriate, and ineffective in securing their goal.  Diligence denotes conscientious and persistent activity, where actions are not wasted but part of achieving the goal.

B.   Results of Diligence
i.     Material Wealth
Material prosperity is the expectation for the alert and active worker.  Read it for yourself in Proverbs 10:4, 21:5, 13:4. In these verses, "soul" is used for one's desires.  The desires of the soul are fulfilled, or "made fat" for the diligent in business.

ii.       Leadership Opportunities
Leading others is also the reward of diligence according to Proverbs 12:24.  One author comments, "Through his industry a man reaches the position where he becomes the employer of labor." (Cohen, Proverbs, p.78)    The one who proves he is diligent is blessed with the greater responsibility of leading others who do not possess this alert and energetic nature. We all know someone who started out working as a janitor or some menial job and worked through the corporate ladder to become a manager, vice or even president.  The simplicity of diligence is often rewarded with leadership opportunities.

C.   Diligence versus the “Get Rich Quick Scheme”
As if written for our generation, there is a stark contrast to diligence.  Notice the reward of those who try to profit by some "get rich quick" scheme.  Read it for yourself in Proverbs 20:21; 21:5; 28:20,22.  The destructiveness of the get rich scheme is the attitude involved.  It is a mental outlook which quickly brings poverty, Proverbs 2l:5b. 28:22. The "get rich quick" attitude corrupts good practice.  Proverbs 28:22.  The word "to haste" describes one who is "unbridled...not the master of himself." (Delitzech, Proverbs, p.65)   This person ends up with an "evil eye" towards others.  In the field of law these kind are the "ambulance chasers."  They act like vultures who look at others as prey to take their money.  Proverbs condemns this attitude.

D.   Diligence versus Laziness
As greatly as diligence is extolled, sluggardliness is ridiculed.  Most frequently the consequence of being lazy is poverty.  Proverbs 6:6-11; 20:4,13; 24.30-34.  The lazy prefers just a little more sleep to hard work.  When he finally gets up and gets going it is not to perform quality work, for Proverbs 10:4 tells us that he is a negligent worker.  A sluggard would not make a good employee.

It is important to note that the poverty of the lazy is not the result of a lack of resources but due to failed use of opportunity.  In Proverbs 24:30-34 we see that the sluggard possesses a vineyard, yet fails to use it.  It is similar to Proverbs 12:27 where it is presumed he shot his game, but fails to clean, roast, and eat it.  The advantages and opportunities given a lazy person are wasted.

The sluggard therefore becomes hungry, Proverbs 19.15.  His problem could lead to a lack of quality in life, or Proverbs 21:25 possibly even indicates a premature death!  Laziness is a serious problem.

The ways of the sluggard bring shame, Proverbs 10:5.  Servitude is his future.  The sluggard should never be in management because he has never learned to manage himself, Proverbs 12:24.  He should not be trusted in business because he will cause disaster, Proverbs 18:9.

In Solomon's position as King he must have had the opportunity to see all kinds of people and evaluate the consequences of character.  The lazy go hungry, don't use their God-given talents, are on their  way to a premature death, bring shame, miss management opportunities, and bring destruction to one's business.  Solomon describes a bitter life for the lazy.

3.       The Work Ethic
While the focus of many universities and business colleges has finally turned to ethics in the marketplace, Proverbs has spoken to those in business for centuries.  No matter what our work, two basic principles directing our professional conduct are clearly stated:  Honesty and diligence.  These characteristics should follow the follower of the Lord.

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