“What good is it…if someone has faith but does not have works?…If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it (James 2:14:17)?” Those are the words of St. James in his letter circulating around the house churches in the early days of Christianity. James’ letter goes far beyond being donors, volunteers, caregivers, and ministers. It goes directly to the heart of spending our day in the marketplace – those places we where we live, work, study, and play every day.
During a state of the company address in my former life, our CEO presented his thoughts on what it would take to be successful given the global economic crisis at the time. He said “we must continue to look for ways to be smarter about the projects we bring forward for approval.” Now that made sense, but I didn’t see projects fail because we weren’t clever enough to know they were bad deals. I saw projects failing because of greed for personal gain or hastened to meet company goals.
Faith and economics rarely encounter each other in the business world. St. Pope John Paul II recognized this when he wrote “…on the one hand, [is] the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others. In order to characterize better each of these attitudes, one can add the expression: at any price (Sollicitdo Rei Socialis §V.37.)” He argued that accumulation of profit and power cannot be measures of success in business unless they are reinvested back into society to promote the social, cultural, and spiritual well-being of people (§II.9). In other words, making better projects and business deals is not so much about being smarter as it is to be grounded in our faith. Making business decisions which consider the greater good, instead of personal gain or maximizing corporate profit, far benefits the company, the employees, and the community as a whole.
For the Christian leader in the marketplace, faith and works are not an “either/or” option. They are a “both/and” necessity for ethical business life. To tell an employee “have a good weekend” rings hollow when that same employee is facing low wages, long hours, no insurance, or loss of their job. Being a Christian leader in the marketplace takes prudence, planning, wise counsel, courage, and compassion. Daily decisions involving cost cutting, maximizing profits, optimizing equipment maintenance, business unit performance, and product value tradeoffs are a reality in the business world. But then so does God’s expectation that our faith and works become one. Ethical life for a Christian in the marketplace is a reflection of Christian discipleship. For Faith without works is me meaningless.