Violence in our major cities has filled newscasts these past few years. A breakdown of society has forced some serious questions on politicians, churches, business leaders and private citizens—especially those who are serious about following Christ.
Who is to blame for these powder kegs of hopelessness ready to ignite in our cities? Whose responsibility is it to solve these problems? Can they even be solved? Or do we just need to learn to live with them as the logical result of a fallen world?
We may disagree about assigning blame for the violence, but the Bible is clear that as earthly citizens and followers of Christ, Christians have responsibility not only toward God, but also toward the men, women and children in our communities, and especially toward the poor.
More and more churches are investing no small amount of effort and capital to alleviate suffering. But the impoverished parts of our communities continue to generate misery faster than we can address the needs.
While not minimizing the tremendous contributions that not-for-profit organizations have made to alleviate physical suffering in the world, some things are beyond their ability. Businesses, however, can provide opportunities and resources that are needed to address social needs and bless those in our communities. The workplace has huge potential to influence the shalom—the peace and prosperity of the city.
Businesses contribute to human flourishing in a number of ways: by the products and services they provide, by creating wealth, by creating meaningful work, and much more. And beyond their core business, business leaders have unique resources, power and influence to improve the quality of life for all citizens of a city.
Over 2,500 years ago, God forbade His people, who had been taken into exile, from thinking only of their own personal peace and prosperity. He commanded them,
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:7)
This translation of Jeremiah 29:7 uses two English words, peace and prosperity, to translate one Hebrew word, shalom. Shalom is a term rich in meaning. It denotes completeness, wholeness, fulfillment, wellbeing, harmony, safety, health and prosperity in every dimension of life. Seeking shalom for their community was what God had in mind for the entire Jewish population of Babylon—and it applies to His people today, as well.
When God gives people wealth and influence to enjoy, it is not theirs to spend exclusively on themselves. Paul writes, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
Paul himself set an example for this kind of generosity. He reminded the Ephesian Christians how he did business while living in their city. He not only cared for their spiritual shalom by establishing a beachhead for the gospel, but through his business, he produced a needed commodity—shelter—provided for his own needs and enriched others who were unable to meet their own needs.
You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:34-35, NIV)
The Bible gives us a serious warning. Christians are required to be givers not takers. Those in business must not do business just to enrich themselves, the communities where they do business should be enriched as well.
Christians are to pray for and ask God to bless the city, and as God gives opportunity, they are to work for shalom—the wholeness, fulfillment, wellbeing, harmony, safety, health, and prosperity in every dimension of life—physically, socially, economically, and spiritually.
When Christian business leaders accept this challenge, people notice and rejoice—and praise God.
Proverbs 11 offers a unique view of what can happen when righteous people take this challenge seriously: “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.” (Proverbs 11:10-11, NIV)
The most important question is not who is to blame, but who will be part of the solution.
Dr. Bill Peel is the executive director of the Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University (www.centerforfaithandwork.com) and is the author of the book “Workplace Grace.” He holds a doctorate in workplace theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. A former pastor for 15 years, Bill has coached thousands of men and women over the past 30 years to discover their calling, grasp their significance to God’s kingdom, and become spiritual influences in their workplaces.