I would imagine the majority of Christians do not make a clear cleavage between business and money – to them, the end itself remains the sole purpose of the means, and one cannot extricate business from money. I would not disagree! Instead, I would like to understand how the Bible actually uses and handles the concept of currency and money instead; this will give us a clearer understanding. Should profit constitute a wise and proper goals for Christians in any sense?
We could give a very terse, straight answer and just dismiss the whole business as antithetical to Christ right off the bat, but I think that would represent a fundamentally disingenuous confirmation bias. Yes, Jesus sides with the poor and needy; nobody denies that. But does this mean business itself, the very concept, cannot ever extricate itself from a sinful context and mode of being?
Firstly, we should make the point that the Bible does not mention the modern structure of business in any way, shape, or form. Simply put, such institutions didn’t exist. A coordinated set of merchants selling goods and services might function in the same way, but guilds differentiate themselves by being less driven by profit and more via a union of various skilled craftsmen. The Good Book does not give us a straightforward answer here. However, it does give pretty clear dictates about money, the use of money, and the pursuit of money. Let’s just take a cursory look at those verses to get a picture of it:
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:10
The King James Version originally translated this quite differently, and probably in a version to which one quotes and (unfortunately) prooftexts more often than not:
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
See the subtle distinction between them? The KJV states that money IS the root of all evil – unequivocally, money is evil. The more recent New American Standard Bible, however, says that money is A root. That tiny difference makes for very different theologies! Curiously, I attempted to link this to the words of Jesus in the Gospels to no avail – God tells the disciples to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor, and Jesus tells them to put a priority on their real treasures in Heaven (you can find this in most of the Gospels; Luke 12:33 is a good example). However, it doesn’t condemn the frivolous use of money either, assuming their use fits the “indulgence”, so to speak. When the woman buys the perfume and washes Jesus’ feet with it, the response is completely different:
6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. 8 But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? 9 For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. 11 For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. 12 For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
Consider how strange this is. You often hear of money, and its frivolous use, to be horribly wrong and evil. Yet, here, Jesus, could have condemned this woman for not using this money practically, and yet nothing of the sort happens. All three of the Synoptics mention this story – clearly, something about it struck Matthew, Mark, and Luke as peculiarly important . At the same time that Jesus wants the disciples to sell their possessions, so he also accepts an extravagant gift.
My educated guess is that we can think of this as a religious act, one brought out of devotion. Money was the means of exchange, something akin to a tithe, to both buy it and eventually give it. Notice that the money itself was not even in question; rather, all we really remember is this story. The money was used for a good purpose, and thus we totally pass over the use of that money, interestingly.
I don’t think, then, that saying the Bible does not condemn money per se would constitute an extreme statement. Scripture does, very strongly, condemn certain attitudes towards money. Throughout the Bible, people use money for religious and non-religious uses – even the protagonists of said stories – but never condemns it unless the context creates a problematic use of money. This creates a far more interesting theological space to explore. What does God want us to do with money? Clearly, the Bible uses the concept throughout, if not just in its narrative than also as a tool, a function, and a warning in equal measure.
However, the vast majority of how we understand money comes from our intentions towards it. The thing in itself, from my perceptions of such verses, lies in your directed will towards it. Do you love money? More than God? It is then that money will become an inevitable problem. A culture that values money over all else exacerbates our ability to act in a way that does not put total primacy on focusing all our energies and powers towards the accumulation of wealth. Ecclesiastes 5 makes that abundantly clear:
10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is [n]vanity. 11 When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to [o]look on? 12 The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the [p]full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.