In 2008, news broke that the Securities and Exchange Commission had sanctioned Cadbury Nigeria, it’s auditors and registrars over the manipulation of accounting information (in the early 2000s) to mislead investors. Earlier in 2001, global oil giant, Enron filed for bankruptcy – the company had also used ‘creative’ accounting and valuation methods to falsely state the value of the company’s stocks in a bid to deceive investors. In both cases, the renowned audit firms of Akintola Williams Deloitte and Arthur Andersen respectively, were involved in helping the companies misstate facts and perpetrate fraud.
While the scandals surrounding these global corporations may cause outrage, the reality is that although many businesses state integrity as a core value, fraudulent practices are far more common than we may realize or care to admit.
From the smalltime trader who sells garri and uses a measuring bowl that has been adjusted to deliver a smaller quantity of the product than he was paid for, to online retailers who take pictures of products from angles that misrepresent the size of the product, our every day reality is that the practice of cheating and misstating facts in order to deceive is rampant in the business environment.
Now, integrity comes from the word integer, which means single or undivided. In simple terms, it means to not be two-faced. This is what the Holy Spirit means (in James 1:17) when he writes that with God there is “no variation and no turning” – essentially, what you see is what you get.
Now, as offspring of God, the Bible says we should be perfect as our father who is in heaven is perfect. Peter (1 Peter 1:15) brings some more specificity to this instruction when he says, be holy (perfect, exercising integrity) in all your conduct. By specifying that integrity is required in all our conduct, he eliminates the common idea that when it comes to business, God lowers the standard of holiness.
So how can a believer serve with integrity in the marketplace? The first thing that needs to be resolved is that the believer needs to learn that our work (business) must form a part of our devotion to God. For too many people, our worship is what we do in Church, and our business… well, that’s our business, except when we ask God to give us breakthrough. The truth is however that God commands us to do all things “as unto the Lord”.
Once we realize that our work is part of our devotion, and that God is our real and ultimate boss, our perspective should shift somewhat on the matter of serving with integrity. Psalm 15:1-4 suddenly looms into our consciousness, since it says that we can’t approach God’s presence unless we keep every word we give – even when it hurts.
Psalm 15 (TLB)
1Lord who may go and find refuge and shelter in your tabernacle up on your holy hill?… 4 …keeps a promise even if it ruins him.
The fear of ruin e.g. business failure is one reason why we struggle so much in our efforts to serve with integrity. If we realize though that except the Lord builds, the labourers labour in vain, it should help us to trust God with our survival rather than trust the ‘creative’ (which is often an euphemism for fraudulent) methods for getting results.
There’s however also just the obsessive hankering for ‘success’ that also drives people into compromising their integrity in the marketplace. Paul writing to Timothy leaves us an incontrovertible truth of what happens when money becomes our main metric for measuring success:
1 Tim 6 (TLB)
9But people who long to be rich soon begin to do all kinds of wrong things to get money, things that hurt them and make them evil-minded and finally sends them to hell itself. 10For the love of money is the first step toward all kings of sin. Some people have even turned away from God because of their love for it, and as a result have pierced themselves with many sorrows.
Every believer has a calling: the calling to be light to the world. For the believer in the marketplace, this calling is particularly challenged because; Mammon strenuously contests the lordship of the marketplace, and aims to fill it with darkness. Now, no man can serve two Lords, and those of us, who serve the Lord Jesus, must serve him even in the marketplace, and bring his light to reign there.
Now the question is if we as believers join the throng of cheats, what hope is left? If gold rusts, what will iron do? If the light that we purport to bring is actually darkness, how great is that darkness?
The Lord waits on us, and is relying on us to serve him in the marketplace – bearing his light.