Biblical Principles for Business Ethics: Balancing Love and Justice

Business ethics theories overall are divided into two categories: conservatives and liberals.

North American April 8, 2019

Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Business ethics theories overall are divided into two categories: (1) conservatives ideally emphasize that means such as procedural justice, policy, legal authority, and the Ten Commandments are more important than the outcomes; where (2) liberals practically emphasize outcomes such as maximum utility, happiness, benefits, or well-being of whole communities as more important than means. 

As an example, consider possible responses to ten beggars, of whom only two have real needs. A person focusing on justice might think of the begging as a hoax and will give nothing to all ten beggars, while a person who considers love or ‘good hearts’ of high value might give money to all ten beggars. Since the latter cared about the real needs of two beggars, they were then willing to give to all of the beggars, ignoring the possibility of being deceived by the majority of eight. We might consider the latter response merciful and kind. 

The story is told of a widow who was caught stealing a loaf of bread. While sentencing her to what the law required, six months imprisonment, the judge did not want to see the widow’s family suffer in her absence. In order to balance justice and love, the judge paid the $6,000 bail to free the prisoner. He acted as a judge with legitimate authority but also as a redeemer with a good heart.

Similarly, the Bible provides wisdom for teachers of business ethics. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), based on God’s law and justice. But God does not want human beings to die without hope, so he personally chose to balance justice and mercy in order to resolve this ethical predicament. He paid the wages of sin by being crucified even though innocent. Christians call this bailing-out process salvation or redemption, buying back what is undeserved, balancing love and justice.

John 3:16 reminds us that God gave his Son because he so loved us, enough that his offer is that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. We may describe Jesus as an apolitical reformer with a good brain and good heart. Salvation is Christ’s way to take the penalty for us, out of consideration of love and justice. So, rather than choosing either end of the conservative-liberal continuum, Jesus models the perfect balance of love and justice.

God condemned extreme practices. Ultra-conservatives such as the Pharisees believe that keeping all laws and creeds will please God. But God also condemned the opposite extremes of liberalism, such as demonstrated by King David’s self-indulgent seduction of Bathsheba, which did not reflect his belief in God (2 Samuel 11:2-4).

A Christian teacher might help students discover biblical principles for ethical behavior. Consider the story of the Good Samaritan, where students might compare and contrast the choices evident in the behavior of the priests who were so engaged in their ministry that they ignored the needs of the injured traveler, and the Samaritan businessman who set aside his business trip to practically provide for the immediate human need. Facilitating critical thinking about case studies in biblical, local and global contexts calls question to prejudiced perceptions, drawing students to consider the complexities through the eyes of diverse classmates’ perspectives. Such reasoning through realities near and far has the power to transform students, shifting their ethical choices towards God’s balance of good brain and good heart.

Authors

Dr. Grace received her PhD in Nursing Science from Texas Woman's University. Her dissertation evaluated the effects of music relaxation video on pain and anxiety in patients who received intracavitary brachytherapy for gynaecological cancer. She is the 2011 recipient of the International Research Dissertation Award from Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society. Currently, she is a Full Professor and teaching at Andrews University Department of Nursing in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.

Dr. Chi is the Professor of Management, Graduate Program Director, and Associate Dean of the Business department at Andrews University, USA. He has served at Taiwan Adventist College as an instructor for four years (1985-1989) and has served at Southwestern Adventist University as a business professor for 16 years. As the Business Department Chair and MBA Program Director at SWAU, he was also awarded Educator of the Year in 2007. He received his B.A. in Theology, B.B. A. in Business Administration (Accounting), M.B.A. in Business Administration, PhD in Leadership and Administration with minor in Business Management, a second PhD in Quantitative Methods, Statistics, and Research Evaluation.

    4 comments

  • | April 8, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Great article, this is so applicable to what we have learned in class!

    • | April 9, 2019 at 4:14 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Floyd!

  • | September 8, 2020 at 4:08 am

    Very interesting and though inspiring. Thank you.
    In light of this topic, I’m reminded of a story of someone I know who runs a manufacturing factory. Her company had decided to purchase a packaging machine that could do the work of 5 people-a wise business investment as it reduces production cost and increases production efficiency in the long run though initial cost is immense-and the machine would, naturally, replace 5 under-skilled workers. It was clearly a good business decision with no legal consequences attached, but was it an ethical and just decision? Should she have chosen to keep those unskilled workers instead of placing a machine that replaced them for long-term reduced cost and increased production? These are some of the decisions in business operation that are perhaps too vague or grey to determine if the balance between good brain and good heart is maintained. I later learned that she compensated those laid off workers even though it was not mandated by any law or policy. Certainly, an act of “good heart” but it’s hard to say that it was an act of prude business decision if you consider it as an unnecessary cost incurred.
    As such, in today’s business we face grey and vague decisions often, and to guide ourselves in the direction of right decision I believe we ought to follow God and let Him shape our values, conscience, and heart so that we may be prepared to make the right decision as Christian businessmen.

  • | September 8, 2020 at 7:52 am

    There is a constant battle between Justice and empathy/ compassion. You see always that what is right is right, what is wrong is wrong and the person should be punished. However, what is this world if it is not for compassion? Each case is different, and if God could forgive, be compassionate during the hardest of times, be on the cross, and still ask his Father to forgive us, then I think we really need to hold on to that. Plain and simple.

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