What possibilities await conservative Anabaptism? What challenges should be anticipated? This booklet explores five dimensions of the conservative Anabaptism community, calling attention to challenges and opportunities within each dimension.


Many Anabaptist communities have difficulty knowing what to do with the successful businessman. We like his money when there is a need in the church or school, but we are often suspicious of his motives. Rather than having a primary goal of blessing the Kingdom of God, many financially successful men seem to be funding extravagant lifestyles. 

Addressing this concern is difficult. There is danger in placing too much emphasis on business and the value of the man who has an obvious ability to make the material world work for him. If we only address the blessing his finances are to the Kingdom, we may inspire more men to seek after wealth. We may even provide unwarranted consolation to some whom the Lord is trying to convict regarding their focus on business. 

But we also could do harm if we attempt to say that business ownership is wrong. That the potential for spiritual bankruptcy is so great that believers should avoid business ownership as much as possible. This focus could keep people from pursuing ministry in the marketplace that God has given them the gifts to do. 

This balance was what I struggled with in preparing this paper. For many years I was a general contractor and enjoyed the interactions which business provides. Looking back there are things I would do differently. It is very easy for someone who enjoys business to forget that God has placed him in the marketplace for a greater purpose than just making money. He is to demonstrate what it looks like to follow Jesus while doing commerce. I know I failed this test many times.

Today I work for Christian Aid Ministries and direct the SALT Microfinance Solutions program. We work in developing countries helping them start and expand small businesses which then enable them to provide for their families. We also use this as a vehicle to provide spiritual teaching and try to demonstrate how their occupations can be used to share the Gospel and be a blessing in their communities. 

May the Lord bless your attempt to get a clearer vision for ministry in the marketplace!


  1. Confusion exists about the role of business and the businessman within the church community. Occupations are not generally considered an important or viable part of ministry or missions.
  2. The business arena offers tremendous and largely untapped opportunities to reach out to the lost. Our occupations are an excellent place to demonstrate the beauty of the Kingdom of God in daily life.
  3. If we are to successfully use business in ministry while protecting the businessman from the snare of wealth, changes must occur. The local church must become much more involved, both in teaching and providing ongoing accountability.

Current Confusion

Confusion exists about the role of business and the businessman within the church community. Occupations are not generally considered an important or viable part of ministry or missions.

The successful Anabaptist businessman is concurrently admired and viewed with suspicion, and we don’t seem to agree on what to do with him. Recently I surveyed conservative Anabaptists of differing ages and income brackets, all of whom were serious about following Jesus. It didn’t take long to find out that business, size of business, and business ownership are controversial topics. We have strong opinions on this subject. I found three basic viewpoints:

Business Ownership: Stewardship of God’s Gifts

This group sees Christian business owners simply as men who are being good stewards of the unique abilities God has given them. These believers are perfectly comfortable with being part of the business world and commerce. They enjoy the challenge it presents, and see business as providing the needed funds to relieve the poor and further the Kingdom of God. This group frequently speaks of the blessing of employment that Christian businesses provide. “Of course we need Christian businessmen,” they say. “It wouldn’t be good if all of our men had to go work in an ungodly environment.” 

Business Ownership: Acceptable if Small

This group acknowledges there are godly businessmen who are utilizing their abilities and providing a financial blessing to the Kingdom. But they also are very concerned when they see businessmen start out with good intentions, yet over time become ensnared, either by debt when things don’t go well, or by wealth when successful. This group of believers prefer the thought of home based businesses, where children can learn to work alongside their parents. One small businessman has even created parameters to determine when a business is too large. He told me, “When a business grows to where you have employees managing employees, that business is too big.” Business, to this group, can be a blessing when small, but dangerous when large.

Business Ownership: Avoid if Possible

A third group of believers see business ownership as very dangerous and something to be avoided if at all possible. This group believes followers of Jesus should be servants, individuals who never aspire to achieving financial success by worldly standards. They cannot comprehend how someone could end up owning a large business if they are sincerely trying to imitate the life of Jesus, a man who didn’t even have a place to lay His head (Luke 9:59). Big business, to this group, is incompatible with the character of Christ, and it is hard for them to fathom one of His followers ending up in a corporate corner office.

Why the Confusion?

I believe there are several reasons for the current confusion.

Reaction to our past

While Anabaptist churches are known for attempting to take the Bible literally, in general there has been little emphasis on Jesus’ warnings regarding wealth and possessions. However, this is changing. There is an increased awareness that more teaching is needed on this topic. Many youth have reacted to their parents’ pursuit after accumulated wealth. They have concluded that involvement in the business world is not what Jesus had in mind and that a serious follower of Jesus will stay as far away as possible.

Few good role models

For the most part, spiritually minded parents encourage their children to become missionaries, not owners of large businesses. These two are perceived to be at opposite ends of a spiritual continuum. But possibly this is due to few good examples among us. Where are the large business owners who live at a comparable level to their employees? Why is it so difficult to find financially successful businessmen who refuse to be ensnared by the pursuit of accumulated material wealth, and who are using their resources primarily to further the Kingdom of God?

Separating the Secular from the Spiritual

There seems to be an assumption that being involved in business, especially a large business, makes one a second-class Christian. As a result, we sometimes hear that a person is leaving business to go into full-time ministry. But is that a Biblical concept? Did God really intend that full-time ministry apply only to those living in foreign countries or working for a non-profit organization? If everyone on the planet suddenly decided to follow Jesus, would we no longer need plumbers, architects, cooks, and garbage collectors? If everyone were sold out to following Jesus, would they suddenly walk away from their occupations? Admittedly there are some who would and should. But we need to understand that some would be honoring God by building roads, planting crops, and milking cows. In fact, it would be wrong for all of these people to neglect the work God has placed in their care. God has given different gifts to different people. When we separate the secular from the spiritual, several other misconceptions begin to grow.

Resulting Misconceptions

Spiritual Activities Have More Value

Several years ago a pastor in another country asked if I would go with him to visit a brother in his congregation. This brother couldn’t seem to hold down a job and provide for his family, and the pastor was searching for answers. As we walked in the brother’s home I noticed there was almost no furniture. There was one twin bed, one chair, and a set of bookshelves well stocked with books. An air of despondency and discouragement hung heavily in the house. This man had a wife and several children, but they would hardly look us in the eye. The brother told us to sit on the bed, he sat down in the only chair, and his wife and children stood along the wall. Looking around this desolate room, one couldn’t help but feel sorry for the wife and children. 

But as we began to discuss their situation the real problem became clear. This man spent his time reading his Bible, the Martyr’s Mirror, and Bible commentaries instead of working so his children could eat. He had tried different occupations, but it seemed the jobs never suited him, so he would return home and once again immerse himself in Christian literature. He was neglecting his family, but viewed himself as more spiritual because he was involved daily in “spiritual” activity.

Business Becomes a “Necessary Evil”

Most of us at one time or another have had problems with our septic system. Maybe the water backed up in the toilet and we were forced to uncover the septic tank and investigate the problem. Perhaps the tank needed to be pumped out or the leach field dug up, but whatever the remedy, it usually isn’t pleasant. Yet when the water backs up in the toilet we usually do something quickly. As stinky and messy as it is, we know something must be done. 

We refer to things we don’t like, but are required to do, as necessary evils. Some believers regard business exactly the same way. Rather than seeing the potential blessing it could be to the Kingdom of God, business becomes little more than just a requirement for survival. A.W. Tozer, describing the difficulty believers have in navigating this sacred/secular struggle, said: “Most Christians are caught in a trap. They cannot get a satisfactory adjustment between the claims of these two worlds. They try to walk the tightrope between two kingdoms and they find no peace in either.”1

Constant Guilt

If a man concludes that “spiritual activities” have more value than taking care of the natural things of life, there are only two potential destinations: hunger or guilt. 

Thus we shuffle off to work again, nagged by a sense of guilt that we should be spending more time in spiritual activities. But does God want a man to feel guilty when sleeping, eating, or working? God created us with natural needs, and He intends that we expend time and effort in addressing those needs. When we separate the spiritual and natural in our lives, we will struggle with an underlying sense of guilt that God didn’t intend.

A Different Set of Rules

When we separate our business life from our spiritual, it also becomes easy to justify a different set of rules. Recently I overheard two businessmen discussing Mechanic’s Liens and whether or not a believer should use them. One of the men said, “Well, I don’t think Jesus intends for us to let people just run over us. If we didn’t use Mechanic’s Liens, a lot of our customers would just take advantage of us.” Where, in the teachings of Jesus, would one find support for this statement? 

What interested me most was that the individual making this statement belonged to a fellowship which would teach a close adherence to the teachings of Jesus in church life. They would teach that it is wrong to use the courts to apply force, we should forgive an erring brother regardless of how he had taken advantage of the church, and we shouldn’t be involved in military force. Yet when it came to business, for some reason things looked different. A different set of rules were in play. 

Failure to be honest with Scripture

Ignoring Difference between Proverbs and the Teachings of Jesus

 There are some major differences between the Old Testament instructions regarding wealth and the teachings of Jesus. Yet I see most Anabaptist financial teachers ignoring these differences. We tend to do the same thing we accuse others of doing with divorce and remarriage or non-resistance – just pick out a verse which says what we are wanting, regardless of the context or the situation it was addressing. But we need to be honest with the fact that the message of Jesus regarding wealth and possessions was radically different from what the Jewish people had previously been taught. 

The Teachings of Proverbs

  • Teachings of Common Sense

Proverbs abound with statements of what we refer to as common sense. If you first do this and then that, the result will be this. “The Sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing (Proverbs 20:4).” This is simply a true statement of common sense. If you choose to stay in the warm house when you should be working in the field, you won’t have a harvest.

  • Self-Preservation Encouraged

Throughout the book of Proverbs the reader is taught that he must be diligent lest he be taken advantage of or lose what he has. Notice the underlying message of these verses: “Be not one of them that strike hands or of them that are surety for debts. If thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away thy bed from under thee (Proverbs 22:26-27)?” This is a verse which applies to what is called co-signing for a loan, but notice the message. “Why would you do that? Why take that kind of risk? If the fellow you are co-signing the note for goes belly up, you might lose your own bed!” This same underlying thought is found throughout Proverbs. Don’t make choices that cause you to be led into poverty. Poverty is something to be avoided.

  • Prosperity: the Reward of Diligence and Frugality

“He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough (Proverbs 28:19).” If you work hard and are diligent, you will be prosperous. Proverbs also warns against seeking wealth by other means. “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labor shall increase (Proverbs 13:11).” The path to prosperity is taught very clearly in the Proverbs. “He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich (Proverbs 21:17).” This verse says that the man who chooses to spend money on pleasure, living it up as he goes, will never accumulate very much wealth. The path to accumulated wealth is hard work and a frugal lifestyle.

  • Poverty: The Reward of Slothfulness

“I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man (Proverbs 24:30-34).”

This is another reoccurring theme in the book of Proverbs. Material poverty is the result of poor choices, laziness, and slothfulness. If you are going to extract food and blessing out of this cursed earth, you will be required to fight to do it. It will not come easy, and the reward for slothfulness is poverty.

  • Planning and Saving for the Future Encouraged

Twice in the Proverbs the lowly ant is held up as an example for us. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest (Proverbs 6:6).” The ant isn’t only a diligent worker, but it also plans ahead. God has placed within the ant the knowledge that summer doesn’t last forever. So while there is plenty, the ant gathers and saves for the coming winter. The lesson here is evident. “The ant are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer (Proverbs 30:24).” A wise man plans ahead and saves for coming need. A wise man will observe this and take action. He knows if he is going to succeed materially, he will need to plan ahead and save during times of plenty.

  • Material Wealth: Good and a Blessing from God

Repeatedly God told the children of Israel, be obedient to me and I will make sure you have plenty. “Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the Lord thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers: And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle (Deuteronomy 7:12-14).”

This theme continues in the book of Proverbs, and there is an overtone throughout the book that having wealth obtained honestly by labor is a wonderful blessing. “The poor is hated even of his own neighbor: but the rich hath many friends (Proverbs 14:20 & 19:4).” This verse along with others says that a man who is wealthy will have more friends. Material wealth also provides some earthly security. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty (Proverbs 10:15).”

Different characters in the Old Testament, whom we hold up today as righteous men, were very wealthy. I believe this is a fulfillment of God’s promise. One of the Proverbs says it like this; “The crown of the wise is their riches (Proverbs 14:24).” Wealth in the Old Testament seemed to provide some evidence that a man was approved of by God. We understand there were exceptions; there were poor widows who were very faithful to God and wealthy men who were ungodly. But in general, wealth and prosperity were seen as good things, and a sign of the blessing of God.

The Teachings of Jesus

The teachings of Jesus provide an almost opposite view on wealth, and must have provided quite a shock to the listeners who had been taught from Proverbs and the Old Testament. 

  • Lacking Common Sense

 “Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Matthew 5:42).” This would never appear in a “How to Run a Successful Business” book or a business seminar. Another of Jesus’ teachings: “And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; (Luke 6:34, 35)” A bank couldn’t operate like that, and it is obvious these statements lack what we call common business sense.

  • Self-Denial Encouraged

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise (Luke 6:31 & Matthew 7:12).” The wealthy storeowner’s goal is to convince people they need his product. But instead of selfishly trying to increase sales so profits will increase, Jesus is saying the storeowner should look at transactions from the buyer’s point of view. That doesn’t sound like successful business advice.

  • Prosperity: A Great Danger and Potential Snare

“Woe unto you that are rich!” Jesus said. “Ye have received your consolation (Luke 6:24).” Later in Jesus’ ministry He again warned against wealth. “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24,25).” This saying was so radically different that even the disciples, who were mostly poor men, were shocked. The Bible says they were “exceedingly amazed (Matthew 19:25).” Jesus addressed prosperity repeatedly and His message was always consistent: earthly wealth is a great danger and a potential snare to a man. 

  • Material Poverty: A Place of Potential Blessing

“And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).” And then, lest anyone be uncertain of what He was saying, Jesus continued. “Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled (Luke 6:21).” I think we can say with confidence that God doesn’t take pleasure in seeing people be hungry. Just a few chapters later we find Jesus so concerned about His hungry crowd of followers that He performed a miracle so they could eat (Luke 9:10-17). Rather, in speaking of the poor and hungry Jesus was exposing one of the snares of earthly wealth. Riches cause us to forget God and depend less on Him. Where a rich man depends on his wealth for deliverance in time of trouble, a poor man tends to turn to God. For this reason, material poverty is a place of potential spiritual blessing.

  • Worrying About Future Discouraged

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they (Matthew 6:25,26)?” Businessmen are notorious for planning, plotting, and trying to peer into the future. Almost every financial seminar will devote some content to planning. Was Jesus really saying not to even think about the future? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe He was teaching the foolishness of worrying about the future. The English Standard Version of the Bible says: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on (Matthew 6:25).”

Differences We Need To Honestly Address

Part of the confusion with how to regard business and the Christian businessman is a result of not being honest about the differences between the Old Testament view of wealth and the message of Jesus. And not only Jesus. His warnings against desiring to be wealthy were substantiated in the Epistolary writings of His disciples as well. While perhaps not as succinct or forceful as the words of Jesus, men like Paul also warned against the pursuit after material wealth (1 Timothy 6:6-19). This view of earthly wealth, which differs from the Old Testament, needs to be addressed and reconciled.

Business: A Useful and Powerful Vehicle for the Kingdom

The business arena offers tremendous and largely untapped opportunities to reach out to the lost. Our occupations are an excellent place to demonstrate the beauty of the Kingdom of God in daily life.

The Blessing of Industry

God created Adam for labor. Not providing work for him would have been as foolish as creating fish to swim without providing the water in which to do it. The Bible says that God put Adam in “the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it (Genesis 2:15).” When Adam fell into sin, his punishment wasn’t that he suddenly needed to work and depend on the soil to produce his food. The result of the Fall was working with cursed soil. Thorns came up, insects devoured plants, and crops failed. The consequence of cursed soil was more labor and less production.

Sometimes in our affluent society we forget how important work and industry are to our physical and emotional health. Americans have a strange culture. I have seen people driving around in a YMCA parking lot, trying to get a spot close to the door so they don’t need to walk so far, only to go inside and exercise. What an amazing society! Where else on earth can you go and see people mowing their lawns with riding mowers, then going in the house to work out on the treadmill? Yet labor and exercise are important to our physical and mental health, and business is the environment in which it happens. 

Industry is a blessing, and followers of Jesus will be known for a good work ethic. The Apostle Paul, speaking to the church at Ephesus, used his example of working hard physically to defend his ministry. He told them, “These hands have ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:34,34).” We don’t usually talk about Paul’s work ethic, but he wasn’t ashamed of it. He provided, not only for himself, but also for others around him who had need. 

Opportunities to Demonstrate Kingdom Business

In our current materialist culture, there are few things more capable of getting the attention of the unbeliever than a non-materialistic attitude and lifestyle. I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to use our businesses as missions. In the past, observers watched faithful martyrs die for their faith, and it moved them to further investigate this thing called Christianity. In a very similar way, people who observe businessmen giving up potential financial gain because of a love for Jesus can’t help but have a desire to know more. Stories of businessmen who relinquish profits and demonstrate that the dollar isn’t king in their life are rarer than they should be. But when this occurs the story spreads quickly. Financial advisor and author Larry Burkett relates the following story.

“The owner of a large manufacturing company suddenly lost his plant manager. The manager met him at the door one morning and abruptly announced he was quitting. The owner was perplexed. For the past five years he had been grooming this plant manager to become president of the company. So he asked the manager his reasons for leaving, but the manager refused to discuss it. He asked the manager if he would at least stay long enough to train someone to take his place, but the manager refused. The owner was still confused, but since the manager had previously been a good friend, he held a going away party, thanked him for his faithfulness, and gave the manager a substantial severance bonus.

Several months later his reasons for leaving became evident, when the former manager opened his own company and copied his former boss’s best-selling product. During the next few years this new business grew and became a fierce competitor of the first company. But nine years later something happened. The new business had some design problems with one of their products, and became involved in several lawsuits.

The owner of the original business was a Christian and had forgiven his former manager years before. When he heard his competitor was having difficulty, he felt God was calling him reach out to his former manager. So he bought one of the defective products that caused the lawsuits, and asked his engineers to find a solution to the problem. They found the problem and a solution, and then the owner called his former manager and shared what his engineers had discovered.”2  

Does this account seem like occupational suicide, or does it speak to you of genuine Christianity? Business provides an opportunity for us to demonstrate the fact that the dollar isn’t king in our life, and these kinds of stories should be more common in our churches. If we really desire to reach out in a materialistic society, then we shouldn’t ignore the opportunity which business provides.

Business in Foreign Missions

We underestimate the potential in business in foreign missions. Consider the country of Indonesia. Christians have sent traditional missionaries there for hundreds of years. Yet in spite of all the mission activity, that country has the largest concentration of Muslims anywhere in the world. So how did the Islamic faith gain such a foothold? Was it because Muslims have a vibrant mission plan? No, the country was converted to Islam years ago primarily through traveling traders and businessmen. One man who has lived in Indonesia said that when the Christians came, they isolated themselves in mission compounds, having little daily interaction with the local people. The Muslims, on the other hand, worked with the common people and became involved in their daily lives. As one researcher explains, “One important factor in the rapid spread of Islam was its emergence at the hub of a series of important trade routes, including caravan trails leading from the Middle East through Central Asia to North China, and across the Sahara to the Sudan. Many Muslim traders were also effective missionaries, acting as multiple diffusion nuclei who travelled widely. Expansion diffusion accounts for the spread of Islam from its Arabian source area, and relocation diffusion accounts for its subsequent dispersal to Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa and the New World.”3 These men came to do business, and in the process told the people about Mohammed. Business allows people to interact with a culture in a unique way, and I believe it provides a much needed component to our foreign missions.

Getting a Vision for Kingdom Focused Business

If we are to successfully use business in ministry while protecting the businessman from the snare of wealth, changes must occur. The local church must become much more involved, both in teaching and providing ongoing accountability. 

What If?

God has always desired for His people to provide a public, corporate demonstration of what the entire world would be like if everyone were a follower of Him. This was what God had in mind for the nation of Israel, and it is the desire He has for His church. Our lives should demonstrate something so radically different and beautiful that the observer cannot help but ask, “What if everyone lived like that? What kind of world would this be if everyone followed Jesus?” Business provides a tremendous opportunity in our society to demonstrate something different. Customers, vendors, and everyone who interacts with a Kingdom focused business should walk away saying, “Wow, what would the world of commerce be like if everyone operated like that?” But if we are going to achieve this goal we must begin to view our occupations differently. Following are some areas where I believe we need focused teaching if we are to achieve this goal.

Desire for Mutual Blessing in Each Transaction

Recently I heard about a man who was looking for a particular tool. He knew the tool could be purchased new for around $500, but he only wanted to invest $300, so he searched for a used one. He found one at a garage sale that looked like it had hardly been used, and the price tag said $35. What a wonderful opportunity! But the man knew the woman selling it had no idea how much this tool was actually worth. He knew this woman’s husband had died recently and she was obviously selling his tools. 

Should he just pay what she was asking for the tool? After all, both would walk away from the transaction feeling good. Or should he pay her what the tool was really worth? This man was a follower of Jesus, so he told her this tool was exactly what he had been looking for and that he was willing to pay $300 for it. As you can imagine, this shocked widow didn’t keep this story to herself. What was it that caused the man to reveal the true value of the tool? It was an honest desire for mutual blessing in the transaction. 

The importance of ensuring the other person is being blessed by every transaction is a concept which is lacking in our churches. Too often a good deal or a great opportunity really means that I got the best of someone else in a business deal. But is it possible we are losing many good opportunities for outreach, simply because we are seeing business only as a way to make money? The man who bought the tool at the garage sale lost $265 by speaking up. But that story is still being told. I doubt that using that money to buy tracts would have had a greater impact for Christ.

Dealing with Proverbs and Jesus

The Proverbs are a collection of general truths and observations about our world. They contain many powerful truths which were true when written and are still true today. But we need to understand what they are. They are statements of general truth. For example, we are told in Proverbs, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing… (Proverbs 18:22)” Is this always true? Most of us can think of men who have found a wife, but it wasn’t a blessing to their lives at all. Yet there is an overriding truth in this verse. Wives can be a great blessing in our lives. This statement is a general observation about life. 

Another verse says: “A soft answer turneth away wrath. (Proverbs 15:1)” Does it always? Jesus responded very kindly to His accusers, but they crucified Him anyway. Most of us have experienced situations where we received wrath in spite of our soft answer. Yet, again, we understand there is a general truth in this verse. Those who answer with kindness instead of harshness tend to defuse angry confrontations. Again, this is a wise and general observation about life. The book of Proverbs is full of these kinds of observations.

But as we have seen, there are major differences between the book of Proverbs and the teachings of Jesus regarding wealth. In the past many conservative Anabaptists have chosen to ignore these differences, and this has impacted our view of business. If we want to emphasize the importance of tithing or putting God first in our lives, then we might use a teaching of Jesus like, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).” But if we are wanting to teach how to accumulate wealth slowly, the importance of defending and protecting your possessions against loss, or even the many ways financial prosperity can be a blessing in our lives (as if we need to be taught), we go to the Proverbs. The Bible becomes a big pool of verses, and depending on what we are trying to substantiate at the time, we dip in and find the passage which says what we want.

  • The Proverbs

Proverbs teaches us how to make this material world we live in work for us. It is the operating manual provided by the Manufacturer Himself. It is an invaluable book containing succinct and powerful business instruction regarding how to make the material world work. Men throughout the ages have applied its teachings to their lives, and many have become financially successful. Its principles still work and are still true thousands of years since the teachings were first penned. Because it the operating manual for the material world, the principles it teaches work regardless of your religion. Japan is a very wealthy yet godless country. How can this be? Because, unknowingly, they as a society have lived out much of the message of Proverbs. Japan has a strong work ethic, is known to be diligent in business, and historically has had one of the highest personal savings rates in the world. Though the average Japanese may not be aware of the source, these foundational values from Scripture have made the country very successful financially. Proverbs contains the formula for material prosperity.

  • The Message of Jesus

If you go to Jesus’ teachings hoping to find pointers on increasing business revenue you won’t find much, because that wasn’t His mission. He taught we should make every decision from an eternal perspective, and said that a man who had nothing but earthly possessions at the end of his life was a fool. 

But although His focus and perspective on wealth was different, Jesus never proclaimed the truths in Proverbs no longer valid. He didn’t say, “Ye have heard it hath been said, He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread. But I say unto you, don’t get up so early to work in the field. Relax, God knows you need food and will bring it to you.” Jesus didn’t say you couldn’t accumulate earthly wealth by heeding Proverbs. He just taught that earthly wealth wasn’t worth accumulating.

Jesus wasn’t saying that a good work ethic, saving for known expenses, or being diligent in our business decisions weren’t good. But He was saying that a man can do all of this, and still be bankrupt at the end of life. Actually, even the author of Proverbs hinted at this truth. Addressing the foolishness of focusing only on material wealth the writer said; “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches (Proverbs 13:7 & 23:4,5).” Even in the Old Testament there was a basic understanding that earthly wealth alone is insufficient, and Jesus persistently reemphasized the folly of having an earthbound foundational vision.

Reconciling Proverbs and Jesus

So what are we to do with the different focus and message? More importantly, how are we to deal with these differences in our business? I propose that, although Proverbs and the teachings of Jesus have a different purpose and focus, they do not contradict each other. Both Proverbs and the teachings of Jesus have a powerful role to play in business.

“Proverbs provides the how; Jesus the why.”

Proverbs provides the how; Jesus the why. Proverbs tells us how to produce income, and the teachings of Jesus tell us why. Proverbs provides the needed tools to make the material world work for us. Within the New Testament we discover why God wants us to be involved in this activity. We find teaching on the importance of using money to provide for our families, (1 Timothy 5:8) assist the fatherless and widows, ( James 2:27) and instruction regarding sending aid to needy believers in other parts of the world (2 Corinthians 8:14). None of this is possible without industry, and nothing out there surpasses Proverbs in teaching how to make business profitable. But it is also essential that the Christian businessman keep going back to why he is in business. Proverbs teaches how, and Jesus taught us why. 

  • Money: Not to be served but useful in the Kingdom

In some ways it would have been easier if Jesus had just told us to stay away from money, and sometimes I see young people taking this position out of reaction. But Jesus didn’t say this. In fact, we see Him teaching us that as dangerous as money is, it can be useful in the Kingdom. One of the most lengthy and yet difficult parables Jesus told was the story of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-12). Men have wrestled through the years to understand why Jesus would use the account of an unrighteous man to illustrate a godly concept. But the concluding message is clear. While we are not to serve money, it can be useful in furthering the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in his letter to the church at Ephesus when he encourages them to earn money so they would “have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28).

  • Surrendering what is right and fair

Proverbs describes what is right and fair, and has many teachings regarding cause and effect. If you do certain things, you can expect certain results. It describes what is just and reasonable, and every business owner should be familiar with it. But the teachings of Jesus call us to lay down our personal rights. To not insist on receiving what may be fair and equitable, and to consider each business transaction from the other person’s perspective. Jesus doesn’t disagree with the teachings contained in the Proverbs describing fair treatment. He just taught us not to insist on it. To focus, not on getting what we deserve and building our own financial empire, but on furthering the Kingdom of God and blessing others in our interactions.

The Need for Ongoing Financial Accountability

Most conservative churches have certain requirements, written or unwritten. We understand that if a fellowship is going to survive in our culture there must be accountability with those requirements. But sometimes we give little thought to accountability in business. For some reason, even in fellowships where accountability is high, business seems to be off limits. But we must realize it wasn’t this way in the early church. In the book of Acts we find very high accountability and financial transparency (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37, & Acts 5:1-11). There is much potential in business for blessing the Kingdom of God. But there is also possibility for great danger. The need of our day is for churches who are willing to look closely at how to utilize the blessing of business, while protecting our business owners from the temptations and danger inherent in wealth. 

I know of congregations where each family is asked once a year to share an overview of their finances with their deacon. I have also heard of local brotherhoods which ask each head of household to submit their annual tax return. This document remains in a sealed envelope, but is available should the deacon decide further accountability is prudent. I know of communities where church leadership is consulted before investments over a certain dollar amount are pursued. Some congregations ask each member to reveal the debt they are carrying once a year. This enables leadership to keep their finger on the pulse of their congregation, and gives them the ability to work with a situation before it becomes a major concern. Living with an awareness that I am accountable to others for my financial actions can be a powerful way to maintain a Kingdom-business focus. Everything can look good on the outside, but debt might be increasing year after year. 

Maybe this is outside your comfort zone, and you have grown up in a setting where the only time someone’s finances are discussed is when there is a major problem. But is that really the best? Is this the picture we get from the early church in the book of Acts? I am not saying a congregation should immediately have everyone reveal all their financial information. There are situations where this might not be healthy. But I am saying, especially in our time of prosperity, the church needs more transparency. If we are going to use our business as a mission without jeopardizing the spiritual life of the businessman, we need leaders who are willing to take the risk.


  1. We have not taken seriously enough the danger posed by wealth and affluence. As a result many are more focused on building their own earthly empires than on using their resources to further the Kingdom of God. In reaction, others see business only as a snare with little potential for good.
  2. Businessmen have not been held accountable for their use of wealth in many churches and are not sure what their role is within the church. We go to them when money is needed, but ignore the potential they have in ministry and outreach.
  3. Business and the resulting wealth has inherent danger. One of the early Christian writers said many years ago, “They who are occupied with much business commit also many sins, being distracted about their affairs, and not serving their Lord.”4 It essential that we take note of the warning. With much business comes much temptation and potential for distraction.
  4. Business also contains much potential for good and blessing within the Kingdom. We should not attempt to separate our work from our worship, but rather recognize that God intends for our occupations to be used in spreading the Gospel.
  5. If churches are going to be blessed by the positive, without being overcome by the negative, we will need to wake up to our need for financial teaching and close accountability in business. We need to both bless and walk beside those who have been given the gift of business administration.
  6. When we actually believe that one of the goals of business is to provide a public demonstration of the superiority of the Kingdom of God, many current questions regarding business practices will be resolved. We will have a desire to operate our businesses with different foundational goals. Instead of viewing profit as preeminent, we will want every person who comes in contact with us to walk away feeling like they have just met Jesus. The use of lawsuits, collection agencies, and questionable marketing techniques which stretch the truth will no longer be an issue.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are the dangers facing those who have a God-given gift
    for business administration?
  2. How could our churches better both bless and hold the wealthy
    businessman accountable?
  3. In the book of Acts, it is obvious they were very transparent
    with their finances. How could our churches be more transparent?
    What are some dangers of no transparency? What dangers might
    accompany too much transparency?
  4. How can a young man know if he has the gift of business

This article is the third part of a compilation of essays titled “Where To?”

Works Cites

  1. A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, (Horizon Books, Christian Publications Inc., Harrisburg, PA, 1948), 119.
  2. Larry Burkett, Business By The Book, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1998), pg. 3.
  3. Chris Park, Religion and Geography, (Lancaster University), 2004.
  4. The Pastor of Hermas, Book Third, Similitude Fourth, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprint 1989), Volume 2, pg. 33.