"Well, if you have a standard operating procedure for it, it cannot be grace. Grace is something that you have to struggle with and grapple with. It must come from the heart and it must be borne with the spirit." – Philip Ng, 63, CEO of the Far East Organization, one of Asia's largest hospitality groups. Illustration courtesy of Go magazine.
What is God’s telos (Greek for “end goal”) for business?
Well-known theologian and author JI Packer’s narrative of God’s mission in the world provides illumination for this. Packer declared that the mission of God is nothing less than the redemption and re-creation of the entire fallen created order.
This article on how the Christian faith offers a unique proposition that gives business a redemptive purpose beyond just the temporal, continues on from Part 1.
God’s redemptive plan
The book of Genesis tells us that God made man in His own image. All of creation lived in harmony with Him and with one another. The world was perfect when God first created it. But the disobedience of Adam and Eve resulted in sin which led to the fall of man and separation from God.
But God in His grace made redemption from sin available to all who turn to Him.
Profit is not a dirty word in a redemptive enterprise. It ensures sustainability.
John’s account in the Bible says it all: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
The sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who took away the sins of the world made reconciliation with God possible when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
God’s redemptive plan, therefore, is to restore the fallen created world back to His original intent and design which is to have His entire creation live in peace or shalom with Him and with one another and to have human flourishing. And not just that, it will also be a renewal of creation as Jesus Christ has declared that He will make all things new. Therefore, from a Biblical perspective, business is a platform for man to exercise his talents and gifting to steward all of God’s creation for meeting needs of human beings and to lead them back to a relationship with God.
Enterprises on a mission
A redemptive enterprise operates on the premise that God has created the necessary conditions for doing business and generating value for human flourishing. It also affirms that our assets and abilities are God’s gifts for creating wealth to ensure abundant life for all. We are therefore entrusted with the responsibility and mission of wisely stewarding this redemptive enterprise. God is the owner and has empowered us to be His stewards.
Business is a platform for man to exercise his talents to lead human beings back to a relationship with God.
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus taught His disciples “to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness”.
A redemptive enterprise advances the values of the Kingdom of God by ensuring all business goals and operations are determined by a clear understanding of God’s righteousness and truth. We are mandated to conduct just and ethical business in total allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom.
An enterprise is an artificial person with no morality, or spirituality of its own. Its “conscience” is a derivative from the stewards of the enterprise. Hence, in a redemptive enterprise, the stewards are people of the Kingdom who acknowledge Jesus as both their saviour and King.
Good virtues and doing good alone, without the intent of serving God’s purpose, do not make an enterprise redemptive. God’s righteousness goes beyond what theologian John Stott called “social righteousness” – doing social good. It is a righteousness that is based on God’s law which proceeds from the person of Jesus. It is a call to mirror Christ’s love and righteousness.
Meeting a redemptive entrepreneur
At the crux of this is the denial of self-entitlement – the surrendering of self-interest for the interest of others, a dying of oneself as in Christ’s sacrificial love. The goal of righteousness is reconciliation with God through Jesus.
As righteousness is embodied in a person, and business involves a relationship with other persons, the same righteousness must also prevail over the relationship between stewards of a business and those interacting in the business. A redemptive entrepreneur therefore does not merely seek to lead a person to the right ends but engages the person through the right means.
“The Christian enterprise has targets, and we want to achieve them in the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Echoing this, Philip Ng, CEO of Singapore-based Far East Organization, one of Asia’s largest real estate and hospitality groups, said: “We remind ourselves at Far East Organization that we are not just about the ends, we are about the means too. The means matter more than the ends. In business, many will set targets and do all it takes to achieve the targets. That cannot be the way of a Christian enterprise. The Christian enterprise has targets, and we want to achieve them in the way that a Christian enterprise does it – in the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. No cheating. Truth in Sales. Ethical. Love your customers. Jesus tells us, ‘Love your neighbours’, love even your enemies.”
Businesses that are just focused on the ends may be obscuring the truth. Truth is the integrity of truly doing what you say you are doing. Many businesses are in pursuit of ends that have to do with profit maximisation but disguise their real intent with virtuous platitudes. They are in business just for the money.
Former Dutch Prime Minister and theologian Abraham Kuyper believed that business conducted to the glory of God is business that restrains evil and promotes flourishing. Business that expresses God’s truth and purposes will transform corporate structures and socioeconomic systems.
Creating true wealth
Profit is not a dirty word in a redemptive enterprise. It ensures sustainability. Renowned architect Moshe Safdie said: “He who seeks truth shall find beauty. He who seeks beauty shall find vanity.” Beauty is a by-product of truth. Similarly, profit is a by-product of the pursuit of truth. Profit-generation becomes a welcome result of redemptive business activity, rather than a goal in its own right.
Profit-generation becomes a welcome result of redemptive business activity, rather than a goal in its own right.
To a redemptive enterprise, business is more than a transactional process for the sole benefit of shareholders. It values relationships just as God values His relationship with us. It exists in an ecosystem web, comprising various stakeholders – employees, suppliers, customers, government, environment and competitors – who will care for one another’s interest in obedience to God’s command to love one another.
Business has a special capacity to create financial wealth, but also has the potential to create different kinds of wealth for many stakeholders, including social, intellectual, physical and spiritual wealth. Redemptive enterprises are brokers of hope in a broken world.
Is a redemptive enterprise and the denial of self-interest too idealistic? It sure is from a human perspective. A virtuous corporation can at best exhibit what former Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, described as “enlightened self-interest”.
The Christian faith, on the other hand, provides its followers with the power of the Holy Spirit which makes selflessness possible.
How to operationalise grace
The making of a redemptive enterprise is a journey. No one arrives till the Lord Jesus Christ returns the second time.
Are there such enterprises in the world?
“With grace, we are able to achieve win-win outcomes, build relationships that endure.”
Be inspired by Far East Organization’s enterprise statement: “We seek to be a community of love and a workplace of grace that welcomes Christians and non-Christians … We embrace the eternal truths of God’s Word. We apply these truths to our business as these are words of life and business is, after all, a part of life itself. Thus, we operate our business on the solid foundation of our values and our rock who is Jesus Christ. Our core values are Business with Grace, Unity, Integrity, Love, Diligence and we practise these values alongside the teachings of Jesus.”
Said Ng: “Business with grace is about according dignity and respect to all of our staff, business partners, and customers. It is also about valuing relationships and the needs of others. With grace, we are able to achieve win-win outcomes, without any party profiting at the expense of another. In doing so, we build relationships that endure, and are able to do good business and do good in business.”
“How do you operationalise grace?”, one of his managers asked CEO Philip Ng.
His reply: “Well, if you have a standard operating procedure for it, it cannot be grace. Grace is something that you have to struggle with and grapple with. It must come from the heart and it must be borne with the spirit.”
The WEF’s message is not enough
Without inner change, there can be no real human betterment. The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. God warns us through the prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Heart change is a matter of the spirit and that is the business of God.
Without inner change, there can be no real human betterment.
When the World Economic Forum, meets to deal with challenges the world is facing, high on the agenda is collaboration among stakeholders, Prof Schwab’s key message to them is: “To create welfare, you have to take care of human, social and natural capital apart from just financial capital”.
This is all well and good.
However, the crucial missing piece in all these, if I may add, is spiritual capital. That’s what makes redemptive enterprises such a compelling antidote for a troubled world.
Read Part 1 of this article here.
This article first appeared in Go, a Christian magazine in Europe, and is republished with permission. It will be distributed to delegates at the next World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
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