Does it matter how we earn our income?
There is frequent talk these days about the true source of goods and whether or not they have been obtained without harm to people, animals, or the environment. In fact, visit your local supermarket and find products labelled as “Fair Trade”. Generally, this means the workers involved in the production process had safe and clean work conditions and received appropriate remuneration.
In some instances, the very nature of an organisation’s revenue stream may be harmful. A business that derives its income from gambling would be a good example of this. Each year gambling destroys thousands of lives and entire families are thrown into poverty. Marriages crumble. Children are neglected in the pursuit of profit. And often, this cycle spirals downward for generations.
So, why does it matter where our income comes from? And what does the Bible have to say about it?
Two passages can help us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). These passages show us that God cares about the work we do and expects us to do it in such a way as to bring honour to Him.
At times, however, the very nature of our work may lack alignment with God’s Word. Some professions, such as human trafficking or prostitution, where income is derived through an activity God forbids, we would declare ‘off limits’ to Christians. But it’s also worth considering how we should approach work in industries that cause meaningful harm to people and planet, even though they might not be clearly forbidden in Scripture.
The second issue to consider is our behaviour at work that helps us to generate that income. The nature of our earning may match our values, but the way we go about our daily business may not. Once again, a helpful place to start is the Bible: “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man” (2 Corinthians 8:21).
Whether we own a business or work for one, our role carries significant ethical responsibilities. When we promote our goods or services to the public, we must use clean, clear and honest messages. When we manage and remunerate staff, we must treat them as fellow image-bearers of God. We must act with integrity, obeying the law of the land in our business dealings, and honouring contracts while also paying taxes. We keep our promises, both verbal or in writing, and price our products or services fairly and reasonably — these decisions have a substantial effect on our witness, and clearly impact whether we bring glory to God through our actions at work.
Even something as simple as reliability at work can impact how we are perceived in the eyes of man and God. Reliability shows we respect and value others. We bear witness to Jesus when we honour God with both our words and our actions in the marketplace. This glorifies God and may win people to the Lord.
Many business people feel significant pressure to perform, and therefore the temptation to engage in illegal or ethically questionable behaviour overwhelms them. For example, a lawyer might be tempted to overbill a client or allocate time to the wrong client based on capacity to pay.
Ultimately, we are faced with a choice. There are only two roads, God’s road or the world’s road. We can choose to boost or derive our income through poor ethical practices or undertaking immoral activities, such as paying staff improperly or late, dishonouring our suppliers by breaching contracts, treating customers unfairly, and disrespecting our fellow employees, or we can choose to glorify God by loving people the way we love ourselves (see Matthew 19:19).
Everyone, even dishonest workers, values dealing with honest business people! If we earn our income deceitfully, not only do we damage the business and its reputation, but more importantly, we bring disrepute to the name of God. We only have to look at the damage that scandals within the Church have done to the public perception of Christianity for examples of this.
In the end, we find that God cares about both the nature of our work and our behavior at work, so yes, it does matter how we earn our income. Making a living in ways that align with God’s Word brings glory to God, shapes us as workers, and transforms our world.
Alex Cook serves as CEO and Founder of Wealth with Purpose, an organisation that equips churches to build generous cultures, strengthen their finances, maximise their existing resources, and provide their members with financial discipleship to help them invest in eternity.