Every so often, I take stock of the blog posts I write and wonder if I’m making a difference in the lives of small business owners. Do people read them? Do they find knowledge or encouragement? Are business owners better off after applying the advice I give and experiences I share? Or Am I just rambling?
Today, I’ll write something that will make a difference in your life.
The title of today’s blog post comes from an excerpt from John 15 (New Testament NIV).
John 15:1-8 goes like this:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
If you’re unfamiliar with this passage, Jesus is the one saying this and so the clear meaning is that we are not making any progress in business or life without it being part of His vine.
How does this Bible verse relate to my business?
Business is the act of giving someone a service or product in exchange for monetary compensation. At first, you may think of this as a benign action in the broader spiritual realm. Far from it, a business transaction has all sorts of spiritual implications:
You can sell someone an inferior product for a high price.
You can sell someone a superior product for a low price.
You can sell a product for a low price and then reduce the wage you give your workers.
You can lie to beat a competitor on an important deal.
You can give your client less than what they purchased.
You can give your client more than what they purchased at the cost of having your employees work longer for lower wages.
You can take wild vacations and buy elaborate possessions for yourself while your employees struggle to pay next month’s rent.
You can fail to bring in new customers, leaving your employees jobless.
You can pay low performers a high wage and high performers a low wage.
The list is endless. I think you get the point.
As you’ve read this shortened list, you may say, “I don’t do any of those things.”
When coaching business owners, I notice they unconsciously act in ways that are contrary to a Godly business. They have great intentions but act contrary to truly “living in Jesus”. Truth be told, I get off-track as well.
While Jesus’s words in this passage are “loaded” with meaning, I want to extract two principles from the passage that I believe specifically apply to small business owners: 1) Fruitfulness; and 2) being “In Him”.
The free market has always impressed me. The way that we can create something of value, customers pay for that value, and the wealth associated with that payment supports a group of employees and business owners. The higher the value of our creation, the greater the wealth and growth potential it can provide your business.
What is fruit?
Many religious pastors view this fruit as converts to Christianity. I’m not saying that this isn’t part of the meaning of this passage. However, I’ve found Jesus’s words have broader implications. As a businessperson, I view fruit as how you’re making people’s lives truly better.
The restaurant owner who creates a great meal is creating “fruit”.
A plumber who repairs a leak to prevent water damage in a home is creating “fruit”.
The daycare provider who cares for children while their parents earn a living for their family is creating “fruit”.
The manufacturer who makes a product that saves hours off household tasks is creating “fruit”.
In a free market, this fruit produces financial wealth to the people providing that “fruit”. In turn, it also produces wealth to those receiving the “fruit”.
Is money fruit?
By reading this, you may get the impression that wealth and finances are the by-product of fruitfulness. While that can be true, it’s not always true. In our world, many business people produce nothing and get paid large sums of money. Here are the unfruitful efforts of a greedy businessperson:
Use deception to gain money from customers and provide no value.
Paying unfair low wages to staff while the business owner becomes wealthy
Telling lies about competitors so that you win business opportunities unfairly
Creating corrupt relationships that create undue favor devoid of adding value
These practices are the ones that have given the word “business” a bad name. When these practices seem common, they will destroy the free market.
Is lack of money fruit?
You now understand that your products and services are “fruit” and that it's possible to earn money and not provide “fruit”. I want to outline one of the biggest problems I see “well meaning” business owners make. They think that if they charge low prices and pay their employees high wages, they are somehow being “ethical” or “Godly”. Let’s get something very clear. If you:
fail to charge what your products or services are worth;
force financial stress on your family as a result of your work;
overpay your employees and suppliers;
at the eventual expense of going out of business,
you will provide as much “fruit” as an apple tree that’s under-watered and starving for nutrients. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “scarcity” equals Godliness.
Being in Him
I’ve hinted to what this means throughout this blog post. I think it’s important to expand what being “In Him” means. First, the Him is Jesus. Jesus is describing himself as the “Vine”, and we are the branches.
In this passage, Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you…” The red-lettered words above are Jesus’s words… and he has spoken many more.
Jesus’s words say, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” He goes on to say, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Further down the passage, He says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
What does this mean for you and your business?
Based on the definition of “fruit”, this means that you can’t create an ethical business that creates wealth without being “in Jesus.” So, I suppose, “being in Jesus” will be quite important for you as an ethically successful businessperson.
Here’s a list that is surely not complete, but should point you in the right direction:
Reading your Bible
I’m not sure if you have or haven’t read the Bible, but it is an amazing story of God’s work with a group of people who eventually became known as the Israelites, Gentiles, and Arabic people. By reading the Bible, you will start to understand the nature of God and therefore the nature of Jesus. My personal advice is to read the bible from start to finish. The Bible, in context, will help you better understand what “being in Him” really means.
Applying Biblical Teachings
If you follow the first piece of advice, you may be left a little confuses with creation, the law, grace and forgiveness, and a lot of other Christian and Jewish doctrine. You need to go beyond this theology into the “balance” that God is advocating. As a business owner, you may want to glean a lot of wisdom from Proverbs. You’ll understand that the application of these principles will lead you to much of the ethical business ownership that I described in the “fruit” section above.
We all tend to get pulled into a secular idea of our business as some mechanical machine that we are compelled to build. We work hard, earn enough money to live on and buy a few extra material possessions. Maybe go on a few memorable vacations here and there. We retire with a small or large nest-egg and die.
If this is your life, you’re missing so much. The secular idea of life is a lie. Yes, there are elements of life’s success that intersect with a successful business. Your business, and your work have so much more meaning. This meaning is wholly related to WHY you’re in business. This WHY, is completely dependent on your “belief” or worldview.
This topic is so important, but hard to grasp. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say a plumber goes on a call to fix a leak at a home. When he gets to the home, he finds that a valve needs to be repaired. He makes the repairs, gives the homeowner a bill and then returns to the shop.
This action is common, and most won’t give it a second thought. I want to talk about the difference with belief systems of two different plumbers who do this work.
The “believer” will look at this very different than the “nonbeliever”. He will see the homeowner as a spiritual being. The way he acts and talks with the homeowner is a representation of how God wants him to act and talk to another one of His flock. The language he uses will be respectful and empathetic. He will be diligent in his work and charge a fair price for the service.
The “unbeliever” will do the work out of obligation. He knows that if he don’t complete the work, he may lose his job. He will act kind to the owner, because if he doesn't, the owner will report him to his boss. If the homeowner gets belligerent or acts unfairly, he will feel justified in repaying their belligerence. While he will be diligent in his work, he may take a little longer to bill more time and avoid having to increase the amount of work in his workday.
I know what some of you are saying… "I can act kind without being a “believer”." My response is that you may be more of a “believer” than you know. After all, why act in an ethical way, if there isn't some belief on your part that it matters. Right?
Making things right
If you’re like me, you mess up a lot. While messing up is part of being human, asking for forgiveness and trying to make a situation right is part of “Being in Him”.
If you lose your temper with a customer. Even when they have deserved rebuke. It’s your job to make things right. This means that you ask for forgiveness for your behavior. Not that the customer will admit any wrongdoing on their part.
If you predicted a lower revenue year, and you paid your employees less than they deserved, pay them an end-of-year bonus.
If you consulted a business owner who followed your advice and ended up worse off, refund their payment; or try to help them for no added cost.
This list could go on forever. I think you get the point.
Can non-believers be “fruitful”?
Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Does this mean that only Christian business people can be “fruitful”? I first want to navigate the difference between the religion of Christianity and “being in Him”. I’ve paid special attention to give examples of what “being in Him” means in this blog post. Some people who call themselves Christians, are not living “In Him”; and many people who don’t call themselves Christians are living “In Him”. I'm not a judge of anyone’s true heart and belief.
If you’re providing a valuable service that's making the lives of your customers better in some way and your charging a fair price while you pay your employees a fair wage… chances are that you’re doing your business in a way that is “In Him”.
You can point to failings of any business leader or employee who professes to love and follow Jesus. That doesn’t mean that they're hypocrites. All of us have fallen short.
I hope that you’ve found this blog post both convicting and encouraging. I also hope that your business is a “fruitful” business. As you go back to doing business, think about the motivations behind your task list; and start to “be in Him”. I promise, the “fruit” will follow.
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