We all read the bible through the lens of our own context. What if we read the bible through the lens of marketplace ministry? This would not be a tent-making perspective or a worldview that reduces business practice to wealth generation. What if we read the bible through a lens that positions business alongside many other great endeavors as a sphere of influence where God calls many Christians to minister and have kingdom impact every day?
As a business professor and applied researcher that has worked with 100s of companies, I am acutely aware of the seats at church that are filled with people who spend the majority of their lives at work. Most Christians will spend their careers working for companies. Many Christians will make decisions every day that impact the lives of coworkers and employees. All have the opportunity to labor alongside people who may have never set foot inside a church even though they sit next to a Christian at work every day.
The faith & work movement has demonstrated that God cares about ALL work. The theology of work project provides a commentary on Genesis to Revelation establishing that God has a lot to say about work and how we conduct our work. However, as the world around us becomes more polarized, we need tools and strategies to not just be Christians at work, but to do work Christianly. In order to actively live out our faith at work, Christians in business need wisdom and discernment.
The Role of Wisdom
You may be surprised to learn that wisdom is a buzz word in secular business strategy today! Wisdom, not merely data, information, or knowledge, is an essential ingredient to business that is done profitability and ethically. From a worldly vantage point, wisdom is the ability to transform data into information and then knowledge in order to discern the right choice in decision making. This is a great definition of practical wisdom… but what about divine wisdom? Divine wisdom is akin to the inspiration that King Solomon received from God. This divine wisdom that not only made Israel great in the eyes of the world, but also brought Israel peace, wealth, and prosperity. Divine wisdom is motivated by awe of God or as scripture states, the fear of God.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Proverbs 9: 10
Wisdom is not only essential for our spiritual life, it is essential for all of life. Beginning with the book of Job, then from the courts of David and Solomon, wisdom literature was written to direct the wise in all of life, including life in the public square and in the marketplace. Wisdom is foundational to our ability to grasp truth and to reflect our creative God as image bearers in whatever sphere He has called us to:
The Lord brought me [wisdom] forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;
I was formed long ages ago at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
In Proverbs 1-9, Lady Wisdom is introduced as an elusive woman of immeasurable wealth. Lady Wisdom is contrasted with Lady Folly as she conducts life and worship in the public square. The book of Proverbs begins and ends with wisdom personified as a woman. The Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato, later pick up on this trend to personify wisdom as a woman as the temple in Ephesus is dedicated to the Goddess Sophia and philo-sophy itself is birthed from a love (philo) of wisdom (sophi). In scripture, Lady Wisdom offers us both promises of prosperity and wealth as well as tactics and strategy for managing employees (then servants) and delivering products profitably in the marketplace.
If read as a chiasm, a book bracketed by the idea of wisdom, Proverbs opens and closes with wisdom personified as a wise woman:
|Wisdom & Lady Wisdom||The Noble Woman|
|Proverbs 1:7 (3:8, 8:13, 9:10)||Proverbs 31:30|
|– Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
|Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.|
|Proverbs 3:13-15; 8:10-11||Proverbs 31: 10, 29|
|– Proverbs 3:13-15 Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is far more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
– Proverbs 8:10-11 Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare to her.
|A capable woman who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.
|Proverbs 3:16-17, 19:17||Proverbs 31:18-19|
|– Proverbs 3:16-17 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
– Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
|She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.|
If read in this light, as wisdom personified as Lady Wisdom, both Proverbs 1-9 and Proverbs 31:10-31 take on new meaning for Christians in business hoping to be noble, valiant, and profitable (all translations for the word noble describing the noble woman in Proverbs 31:10-31). Lady Wisdom becomes the Noble Woman personified in action in the marketplace. She conducts business to the benefit of her family and to the honor and glory of God. Scripture read through this lens provides a new way of understanding a wisdom orientation (philosophy/ strategy) for business to include a set of beliefs that prioritize the love of God and others as the end-goal in business. This love-centered orientation for business strategy will direct Christians in business to lead with a servant heart that positions companies toward:
- Understanding the needs of all stakeholders,
- Viewing time holistically in the long term, not just short-term returns,
- While co-creating quality products with customers and suppliers,
- With an understanding of the entire supply chain, and
- All while balancing sustainable profitability, impact on people, and care for creation.
Christians in business do not merely need inspiration, they need wisdom from scripture as a plumb line for their decisions and actions as they conduct the work God has called them to do. As I searched for a book that laid out a wisdom oriented, kingdom strategy for business, I found great theological works establishing that God cares about all callings and all work. I found testimonials of CEOs who had been used by God to have an impact in the marketplace. But when I looked for generalizable models for doing business based on both scripture and business research, I found none, so I wrote this book for my students and for fellow disciples of Christ who wished, like me, for a way of serving God in the marketplace every day!
How to Use Wisdom Based Business by Hannah Stolze
- This book combines biblical principles and business research to build a framework to inspire both purposeful and profitable business
- An implementable model of business strategy emerges throughout the book that is both best practice and enables business leaders to live the great commandments
- An integration of business research and biblical principles provides evidence for practices that have been demonstrated to improve business performance
- A practical toolkit for believers in business and the pastors who would like to come alongside them as disciples of Christ in the marketplace.
Hannah J. Stolze (PhD in Business Administration, University of Tennessee; MA, Wheaton College) is associate professor of marketing and supply chain management at Wheaton College. A former member of the U.S. Army, where she served as an import specialist, Stolze has for the past ten years researched more than 40 companies in the areas of global supply chain management and social and environmental sustainability.