Christians are expected to be generous to the poor and needy. God commands us in the Old Testament to do so. This message continues consistently through the end of the New Testament. There are literally, hundreds of passages promoting that message. But, is the responsibility to help the poor and needy apply only to individuals? Should a Christian business help the poor and needy? Let’s examine that issue together.
First, a little background
In The Good Book on Business, I uncovered the model for a Christian business: the Biblical household. The Biblical household is an economic entity that consists of family, slaves, servants, and employees, under the direction of the ‘head’ of the household. The Biblical household has a presence and position above and beyond the collection of individuals who were employed by it. It was organized to accomplish some God-given task. In modern day terms, the Biblical household is a family business.
Businesses (Biblical households) had a major role from the very beginning of creation through the entire Biblical narrative. This included the establishment and propagation of the church in the New Testament. Most of the Biblical businesses were agricultural. Abraham, for example, was a wealthy rancher. Growing and selling grain, growing, processing and selling wine, and raising livestock were common business, but not the only ones. Joseph, for example, was involved in food distribution, while Bezalel was a custom jeweler, Jesus a carpenter, and Paul, a tent maker, to name a few.
Just like today, there are some things that only a business can do. Businesses generally have a larger collection of manpower, assets, and resources. Read the passages that provide directions that can only be accomplished by a business.
Here are two:
Leviticus 19:10 New American Bible (Revised Edition)
Likewise, you shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the Lord, am your God.
The law is directed toward vineyard operations. It’s pretty straightforward – at harvest time, leave the fruit that falls on the ground. Don’t pick it up. The needy and the stranger can then follow your pickers into the vineyard, and help themselves to the grapes.
Leviticus 23:22 New American Bible (Revised Edition)
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the Lord, am your God.
This is a very similar concept, focused on a different business. Businesses that grow, process and selling grain, leave the corners of the fields unharvested. Leave the gleanings so that those in need can help themselves to it. These directions are part of the Mosaic law and not binding on Christians today. Nevertheless, they express a concept that modern Christian businesses may want to mimic.
The four foundational concepts that are expressed and implied here are:
A small percentage less of raw materials won’t make a huge difference in your profit and loss. You should be able to absorb a little loss of raw materials.
Finished goods were not given, but the excess raw material was made available to the needy. The finished goods from grain and grapes are flour and wine. The passages do not direct the giving of finished goods, but only of the raw materials. In a sense, the raw materials were God-given, without the value-added benefit of human hands. You are making available a portion of the materials God has given to you.
The needy had to harvest the produce themselves. The business owners were not told to harvest and give the produce to the needy. They gave the needy an opportunity to harvest it themselves. In other words, they have to work for it. This agrees with the New Testament admonition:
2 Thessalonians 3:10 New American Bible (Revised Edition)
In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.
Thus, the result is to allow the needy an opportunity to work for their own food. This means not to simply give it to them. Giving the needy the finished good would deprive them of the opportunity to work. It would also void the dignity and positive self-image associated with it.
The needy need to be assertive enough to know when the timing is right to make their own harvest. Grapes on the ground are not going to last more than a day or two. Grain, left in the fields, do not have an unlimited lifespan. The direction to the business owners is to make it available. The needy need to be aware of when that happens and harvest it themselves.
Here are some suggestions for business owners wanting to incorporate these principles into their Biblical business.
Service professionals. CPA’s, consultants, doctors, lawyers, etc. Your commodity is time and expertise. Consider giving a certain small percentage of your time, pro-bono. Give to people who come to you with needs you can fill, but who are unable to pay the full fee.
Manufacturers. Consider dedicating a certain number of jobs within the plant to people who are otherwise unemployable. One of my clients has a contract with a local non-profit. He supplies a job to disabled workers. They simply rack parts to be coated.
Think about giving excess raw materials, or overruns of finished goods. Look for a non-profit that helps difficult-to-employ people find work.
Distributors. Consider creative uses for obsolete inventories. Could it be used to create jobs?
Restaurants. What are your procedures regarding excess food that is thrown away? Is there a way to get this into the hands of people who need it?
Regardless of your type of business, you can come up with some creative ways to impact the needy in your community. You can give by dedicating a small portion to the needy and providing an opportunity for work to those who are assertive enough to look for it.