There is a very interesting commentary in Deut. 8:18. It centers on the natural inclination of successful businessmen to boast about their accomplishments, about being self-made. The writer takes a panoramic look at success and enumerates God’s historical interventions on behalf of Israel. He explained to the Israelites that God undertook all those interventions so they can’t ever boast of being self-made. They can’t say to themselves, “I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.” “Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors by oath.” In this passage we see the criticality of grace. Today, I’m going to show you the criticality of grace in the lives of three well-known individuals. I will be doing a biographical sketch of three generations of entrepreneurs, turn their lives into business case studies. Because our study is essentially that of three personalities, I shall take each personality per service. You will therefore need to obtain the tapes of all three services in order to get a comprehensiveness of this lecture.
God is very deliberate in his approach to issues. He’s so strategic he’s written out the blueprint of the entire history of the world. When this God therefore decides to attach his name to the calling card of three generations of businessmen as one collective, we must as a matter of scholarship study the lives of these three men in a continuum of revelation. The three men are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and God has been known to introduce himself publicly as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There are many ways we can view the biographies of this people but, we must never forget they were businessmen. And so when we talk of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we are essentially talking about the God of entrepreneurs.
The three entrepreneurs were born under different circumstances. It would turn out they had different management styles, and yet they were all successful. They would pass on the business genes to their descendants, who eventually became a threat to the King of Egypt, and especially the Egyptian economy. The then king of Egypt was actually an Assyrian. He belonged to a minority tribe, which was why he was worried about the growing population of the Jews. They upset the balance of power. Having classified them national security threat he instituted a program of extreme repression, which soon graduated to systematized pogrom. He was the first experimenter with what we now call the holocaust. He had just started when history interjected. He therefore failed in his quest to wipe out the Jews. His army and his economy were totally shattered, destroyed in the process and ruined forever. Egypt never recovered, till this day.
The patriarch of that lineage was a gentleman named Abraham. The first time we come across Abraham was in Genesis 12. In the opening of that passage, we’re told that God had been talking to Abraham about migrating from his country. They had been having conversations. It’s why the Bible records that “the Lord HAD SAID to Abram, “Leave your native country…” We really don’t know why God took special interest in Abraham but we do know that was the most important business connection Abraham had. God as expected knew everybody. Like was said in the Godfather movie, he had all the politicians in his pocket. He installed most of the kings. And we soon begin to see the value of that network as history progressed. God became his mentor.
The full proposal God made to Abraham was later documented by Moses. You’ll find it in Gen. 12:1-3, but it was originally an oral agreement, which speaks to the integrity of both parties. This is what Moses wrote: “The Lord had said to Abraham, ‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those that bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.’”
If this proposal were brought for analysis to Alder Consulting and we’re told to create a business model with it, it will have 5 major headers: Risk, Strategic Direction, Reward (incorporating Business Expansion and Brand Development), Civic and Social Responsibility, Business Protection. Let’s look at each header, and how we came about our model:
- Risk – Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family.
- Strategic Direction – Go to the land I will show you.
- Reward: (a) Business Expansion – I will make you into a great nation (b). Brand Development – I will make you famous.
- Civic and Social Responsibility – You will be a blessing to others. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.
- Protection – I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt.
It was a 5-point proposal with 7 headers:
- Risk taking
- Strategic direction
- Business development
- Civic and social Responsibility
- Business protection
But undergirding the proposal were three major factors:
- A powerful network
These ten things are God’s entrepreneurial package – his business development program. If I were to run a business school today this will be the curriculum.
You can’t succeed in business without taking risk. And you need strategic direction. You must be going somewhere in particular. This has to do with your vision. You also need to be focused on profitability. If there’s no focus on profit it’s not a business. Without a focus on reward you will become discouraged and the business will die. But you need to be socially responsible as well. Without civic and social responsibility you will miss the purpose of the business. Your values will become warped. You’ll become a danger to your business. Of course you need protection for the business. That comes in many forms, including legal. You also need protection from envy. Unfortunately, that is not a subject taught in business schools. You will also need connections and network. And you need a growth strategy. That’s your business development strategy. Of course you need branding. Branding reduces your marketing costs. It also helps you attract good human resources. You will need mentorship – the benefit of someone’s hard earned experience. Sometimes that comes in the form of a board. A board is a wisdom table. Lastly you need ethics. Integrity is a credit facility.
As a Christian, you can make a demand on God for this package. Ask for the ABC Package – Abraham’s Business Class Package. It’s your right by the way. The covenant God made with Abraham accrued to his generations. It’s why Isaac and Jacob were blessed. You’re a descendant of Abraham through Christ Jesus. Gal. 3:29 says, if you belong to Christ you’re Abraham’s seed. Ask for your package. Ask God to sponsor your risk, to give you vision and strategic direction, to teach you how to profit, to make you a steward of resources, to offer you protection from the envious, as well as legal protection, to give you connections and network, and to make you a brand. Ask for his mentorship as well, that he makes you a man of integrity. That’s the ABC Package. It’s a covenant package.
The picture of Abraham that emerges from scriptures is that of a confident, fair-minded, smart and generous man. We see his fair-mindedness in his dealings with Lot, and in the fact that he even deigned to entertain the request of the king of Sodom for return of his people after the conquest of Chedorlaomer. This was a conquered and destitute king making demands. Yet Abraham reinstated him and returned his people. He was also a proud man. He told the king of Sodom, “I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise you might say, ‘I’m the one who made Abram rich.’” (Gen. 14:23).
But Abraham had an ethical flaw. Abraham’s flaw somehow coexisted side by side with his faith, just as OUR weaknesses coexist side by side with our faith. The mistake we often make is, we assume our faith in Christ is an auto character formulator, not minding the fact that God had said the gifts of the Spirit are quite distinct from the fruits of the Spirit. That you have the gifts of the Spirit doesn’t automatically mean you have good character. Faith is acquired, character is developed.
We see the mistake of assumption that faith equals character in many dimensions in the body of Christ. You go into business with a Christian and you automatically assume that because he’s a Christian he’s ethical. Until the guy turns out to be a Christian fraud. When Paul wrote the church in Ephesus that let him that stole steal no more, it meant there were some Christian thieves in that church. Never assume character in business. It’s why we have something called contract. If you want to go into business partnership, spell it out in writing. Money does things to people’s character. And never assume character in the choice of marriage partner either. That he goes to church doesn’t automatically mean he’ll make a faithful husband. That she’s an usher doesn’t mean she’s of good character. The qualification for usher is not the qualification for spouse. Because man ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he is capable of the noblest of deeds, as well as the most heinous of acts, and both in equal measure. The point I’m trying to make is that faith can co-exist with ethical flaws, and Abraham had this challenge.
Now, I know we like to imagine the people in the Bible were perfect human beings, but they were not. They were men like us, far from perfect. They had character flaws. And God deliberately included these character flaws in the narrative of the Bible so faith doesn’t seem impossible to us. Elijah was a very rude man, a contumacious character. David liked fine babes. He was an adulterer. Peter was argumentative and stubborn. He never ate those items on that large sheet that descended from heaven, even after God told him to. He kept insisting on his course. It’s why God had to raise Paul. Or the Gentiles – us, would never have been saved. We were the unclean animals on that large sheet. The sons of Zebedee were mummy’s boys. Mummy took them to ask for special favour from Jesus. Esau was a dim-witted and immature fellow who sometimes imagined himself Arnold Schwarzenegger. Moses was a terrible stammerer, and a murderer. Miriam and Aaron were a jealous lot. What the humanity of these people tells us is that God is willing to work with imperfect vessels. It’s important you have a realistic assessment of your humanity. But you need to work on your ethical dimension. Unattended to, it will create complications in your program.
Let me illustrate Abraham’s ethical flaw. Let’s dimension it. Make it real. I have a question for the ladies: If your husband tells you he’s afraid a powerful despotic ruler is interested in you, and he wants you to sleep with him so the despot won’t kill him in order to have you, would you do it? If you do sleep with the despot however, your husband will be rewarded with an oil block or major contract. Call it sex for life and oil block exchange. What will you do? That was Abraham’s ethical issue.
Abraham was what you might call an extreme pragmatist. He didn’t mind another man sleeping with his wife to achieve strategic ends. He was afraid of being killed by the Egyptians for Sarah. Sarah was an extremely beautiful woman and Pharaoh liked to collect beautiful things, including beautiful women, by force. And so Abraham fobbed off the story of his relationship with Sarah, omitted a critical detail, essentially telling half-truth – all for self-preservation. But he was also willing to exploit the situation for his own prosperity. Listen to what he told Sarah as they approached Egypt: “Look, you’re a very beautiful woman. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!” So please tell them you’re my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.” (Gen.12:11) And sure enough they treated him well. When Sarah was taken into Pharaoh’s palace, Abram was given many gifts because of her – sheep, goats, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, camels. He had told the Egyptians Sarah was his sister. But he omitted the tiny detail she was also his wife. He had married his half-sister, which was a matrimonial convention in those days. David’s son Amnon would have married his half sister Tamar as well.
How Abraham expected to get it all worked out remains a mystery. But the pragmatist never thinks that way. All he thinks of is, whatever it takes. And that’s a dangerous ethical standard. God had to use considerable leverage to rescue the situation. Abraham jeopardized their agreement as well as God’s plan. Nobody knew it at that time, but that plan included Jesus and the salvation of mankind.
But pragmatism in itself is not bad. It’s extreme pragmatism that is the issue. Pragmatism is invaluable in business. It aids judgment call, helps you focus. Abraham’s pragmatism for example informed him not to collide with the state power of Egypt, or the state power of the Philistines. He would later build his own private army, but there is army and there is army. Pharaoh was a gorilla. And Abimelech was a gorilla. In business it’s important to recognize a business gorilla when you meet one. That’s a judgment call. A business gorilla is a very large, rapacious and vicious competitor. It’s not wise to start a war with a gorilla if you can’t sustain it. If you want to go into any war you must count the cost, the Bible says. Never start a business war which will destroy you. If you can’t sustain a pricing war for example don’t start one. The gorilla can lower prices and sustain losses over a long period of time, just to wipe you out. Then he’ll raise the price thereafter and recoup his losses. Meanwhile you’re out of business. Compete on other parameters with a gorilla. Do lateral warfare. Create a different value proposition, e.g. service and innovation. Only the state can effectively take on a gorilla. Going through the state is an option. Use regulation.
And so there are two types of pragmatism. There’s ethically challenged pragmatism, the extreme pragmatism practiced by Abraham – the “whatever it takes” pragmatism, no scruples. Then there’s moderated pragmatism – a judgment call pragmatism. It’s a tool of analysis, for realistic appraisal of situations but it doesn’t tell you to violate ethics in looking for solution to a problem. You need to draw a line in the sand somewhere – determine what you won’t do for money. The love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10).
Some things rob a Christian of testimony. There’s definitely a place for ethics and personal values in business. Ethically challenged pragmatism always threatens God’s program and jeopardizes the future.
The question then arises, what should Abraham have done? Faced with the prospect of being killed for his wife, and the need to go down to Egypt, what should he have done? This is what I call the Abraham Paradox and a lot of businessmen have encountered this paradox. If Abraham doesn’t go down to Egypt he’ll suffer economically. May be wiped out of business. But if he goes down to Egypt he risks losing his life, or his wife. It’s a complex “either or” scenario: Either A or B where B is either C or D. What should Abraham have done?
The truth is, Abraham didn’t necessarily have to go down to Egypt. When Isaac was faced with the same situation – a looming economic recession, and he wanted to go down to Egypt God told him not to. He promised to prosper him right where he was. And he did. There’s no account of Abraham ever inquiring of God what to do. Egypt clearly wasn’t that critical as he did get thrown out of Egypt and he wasn’t wiped out of business. Sometimes we create false alternatives for ourselves.
When you’re faced with Abraham’s Paradox check whether you’ve created a false alternative. And it’s wise to consult God on what to do. He’s your mentor. He’ll tell you exactly what to do. He told Isaac, “Do not go down to Egypt, but do as I tell you.”
Then you have to be careful about dying before the time. The appropriation of Sarah by the Egyptians was a natural progression of the lie Abraham told. No one truly knows what would have happened had Abraham told the truth. The mathematics of logic says you can’t predict such an outcome. (You can use Add Maths to configure this). That I won’t go to the market if it rains does not imply I would go to the market if it does not rain. I may or I may not! It’s the technical issue of sufficiency and conditionality in logic. I’m just saying we don’t know what would have happened had Abraham told the Egyptians Sarah was his wife. We just assume they would have killed him. It is hard to imagine that God would just have stood by and let the Egyptians kill him. And Abraham didn’t read his covenant. His covenant with God contained a protection clause. Be familiar with the terms of your covenant with God. When you don’t know what God has promised, you’re prone to strategic misdirection and ethical challenges.
In closing, I’ll like to remind you of the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
Thank you and God bless!
Delivered at Enterprise Development Week of The Elevation Church, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos