Sermon inspired by this book.
“God and business. Do they have anything to do with each other? Today I’d like to talk to you about an idea for ministry you may not have considered. Many students come up and ask me how they can balance the pressures of school and life with the call to ministry that they see in scripture. Many of you are about to take exams and even for some of you, this will be the last semester at Ntare school, but you have also heard some kind of call from scripture union over the years to continue with your faith and get involved in some kind of ministry. I want to send you away with the thought that you don’t have to separate ministry from working life. There is a way you can combine the two, and that’s why I’m calling this message “God in the marketplace,” after this book I have here.
There is a story I know of a certain Ntare boy who was taking Entrepeneurship and Economics for his A levels. He was also very active in the school fellowship as a chairperson for scripture union. He was excited about the chances he might have after he left Ntare school to study business at university and to meet some of his fellow OBs already successful in the business world. He was so excited especially because he had a vision for his home village that his business studies would help him accomplish. You see, in his home village in Bushenyi, electricty has not yet reached and the water is also fairly poor. People live happily but he knew that if he could bring power and better water and other types of industry, the community would improve significantly and would be able to sell their crops and goods with much higher profit.
So the Ntare boy goes to university in Kampala and takes his business classes. He is fortunate enough to have some very successful business professors with great business advice, and he is even able to socialize with them outside of class. His professors are gregarious and witty, always the life of the party, saying things like “Am I poor? No, I’m rich” to crowds at dinner parties followed by thunderous laughs.
On the advice of his professors, he starts to market his idenity as his business. A good business, they tell him, is a confident personality that sells its own lifestyle. He starts small by purchasing and managing a few shops, then is able to purchase a few bodas and rent them out to boda drivers. With smart investing and steady income stream, soon his account is on the rise. Would you believe it, a beautiful young lady from his university also begins to take notice in him, telling him how smart and strong he is. He is glad to feel confident enough to provide income and a house for a woman, who soon turns in to his wife.
Not long after, he meets another business man in the area who takes notice in him and asks to partner. They combine businesses and their profits sky-rocket, knowing how to provide services that the market demands. Thanks to his business partner who socializes with MPs, a district MP brings the young man to his house and asks him to serve as his financial advisor. What a blessing. How can he turn this opportunity down? His income more than doubles, and the offer also comes with a car. Before he knows it, two kids are on the way and two cars are in the driveway of their private compound in Kampala thanks to his new job as business advisor to the district MP. And more money is on the way, the MP promises, if he will simply hold certain information and documents for the MP in this “new” house, promising not to release this private, secret information to anyone.
This is a story that is happening today to university students who are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and to many, it would look like a blessing from above. However, what has happened to the young man? With good intentions, he went out into the business world hoping to generate enough funds to re-shape his home village and support his friends and family. It’s not impossible for him to do that, but as you can see, he’s been sucked into the business world and is likely even dealing in corruption without knowing what happened. It happens so fast it can his head spin. He has lost his vision because the cares of the world became too great.
Let’s turn to Isaiah 58 to take a look at what God says about the good work we can be involved in here on earth.
vs. 6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not the share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yoursle from your own flesh?
The shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily.”
He even goes on to say in verse 14 that if we delight in the Lord, that he “will make you ride of the heights of the earth.”
I like that phrase. Riding on the heights of the earth. What does it make you think of? A winged chariot flying through the clouds? Or how about a president sitting at the top of his business tower in a big city, literally sitting on the heights of the earth. We can agree that most humans long to be important and in some ways to ride on the heights of the earth. It’s funny that the same thing we often can get lost looking for in business is the same thing God wants for us. It’s just he has a different path for us to take to get to the heights.
In the passage, God calls these activities “fasting.” Many of us fast possibly to get more blessing from God or to prepare for ministry, the way Jesus did. It’s interesting that God considers the actions that Christians can get involved in as “fasting.” He even says that when we call out to him, he will respond quickly to our requests due to these fasts. But let’s look more closely at exactly what kinds of fasts these are.
The bonds of wickedness. The yokes and straps that oppress people. Working for the poor, the homeless, the naked, and the abused. Do you know any injustice going on in your own area? Did you know that some children who come from poor homes are often picked up by strangers and promised great jobs in the city, only to find themselves forced into labor in a rock quarry, a cave, or even worse, sexual slavery. Did you know that things like this go on around us and we don’t even notice? Is it right? Should the strong be preying on the weak like this? So who is going to stop them?
The answer to that is me. And the answer to that is you. All evil needs to succeed in the world if for good men and women like us to do nothing. God is giving us a charge to get involved in making the world a better place, to sniff out corruption, and to make sure that the oppressed are set free. How amazing this work would be!
This is a very different idea from business, isn’t it? It is, but it’s not so different after all. First of all, this young man from Ntare can still keep his vision. It’s not wrong to make money, and the bible even goes to lengths to instruct the rich in this present age not to be arrogant, but to set their hopes on God and be rich in good works, using their money for generosity. 1 Tim 6:17
Second of all, let me give you a second story that illustrates how exactly you can bring a ministry into your business, allowing you to be in business and working for justice and ministry at the same time.
Raise your hand if you have ever enjoyed a coc-a-cola? I thought so. Did you know the current CEO of Coke in the United States is a Christian? Let me read you some of his story that he published recently here in my university magazine, and it will show you how he lived his life for a long time without “seeking first the kingdom of God,” and how he made a great switch late in his life to start using his business for ministry.