The Wise Worker is Trustworthy (Proverbs)
The first characteristic of the way of wisdom personified in the Valiant Woman is trustworthiness. “The heart of her husband trusts in her” (Prov. 31:11). Trustworthiness is the foundation of wisdom and virtue. God created people to work in concert with each other (Genesis 2:15), and without trust this is not possible. Trust requires adherence to ethical principles beginning with faithfulness in our relationships. What are the workplace implications of being trustworthy depicted in the book of Proverbs?
The first requirement of trustworthiness is that our work brings good to those who trust us. The Valiant Woman works not only for herself, but also for the benefit of those around her. Her work benefits her customers (Prov. 31:14), her community, (Prov. 31:20), her immediate family (Prov. 31:12, 28), and her co-workers (Prov. 31:15). In the economy of the Ancient Near East, these spheres of responsibility all come together in the economic entity called “the household.” As in much of the world today, most people then worked in the same place they lived. Some household members worked as cooks, cleaners, caregivers, or artisans of fabric, metal, wood and stone in rooms in the home itself. Others worked in the fields immediately outside as farmers, shepherds or laborers. The “household” refers to the whole complex of productive enterprises as well as to the extended family, employed workers and, perhaps, slaves who worked and lived there. As the manager of a household, the Valiant Woman is much like a modern-day entrepreneur or senior executive. When she “looks well to the ways of her household” (Prov. 31:27), she is fulfilling a fiduciary duty of trust to all those who depend on her enterprise.
This does not mean we cannot work for our own benefit as well. The Valiant Woman’s duty to her household is reciprocated by its duty to her. It is proper for her to receive a share of the household’s profit for her own use. The passage instructs her children and her husband and the whole community to honor and praise her. “Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her…. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates” (Prov. 31:28, 31).
Our fiduciary duty requires that we must not do our employers harm in the pursuit of meeting our own needs. We may dispute with them or struggle against their treatment of us, but we may not work them harm. For example, we may not steal from (Prov. 29:24), vandalize (Prov. 18:9) or slander (Prov. 10:18) our employers in order to air our grievances. Some applications of this are obvious. We may not charge a client for hours we didn’t actually work. We may not destroy our employers’ property or falsely accuse them. Reflection on this principle may lead us to deeper implications and questions. Is it legitimate to cause damage to the organization’s productivity or harmony by failing to assist our internal rivals? Is access to personal benefits—trips, prizes, free merchandise and the like—leading us to steer business to certain suppliers at the expense of our employer’s best interests? The mutual duty that employees and employers owe each other is a serious matter.
The same duty applies to organizations when they have a fiduciary duty to other organizations. It is legitimate for a company to negotiate with its customers to obtain a higher price. But it is not legitimate to profit by taking secret advantage of a customer, as several investment banks were found to have done when they instructed their representatives to recommend collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs) to customers as solid investments, while at the same time selling CMOs short in the expectation their value would fall.
The fear of the Lord is the touchstone of fiduciary responsibility. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Prov. 3:7). All people are tempted to serve themselves at the expense of others. That is the consequence of the Fall. However, this proverb tells us that fear of the Lord—remembering his goodness to us, his providence over all things, and his justice when we harm others—helps us fulfill our duty to others.
For an application of this passage, see "Have a Banker When You Don't Need One" in Texas Nameplate Study Guide by clicking here, and see "Grow with Retained Earnings" in Country Supply Study Guide by clicking here.
“Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Majority and Minority Staff Report” (Washington DC: United States Senate, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations). Accessible on the Web at http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_file...isisReport.pdf
Honesty is another essential aspect of trustworthiness. It is so important that one proverb equates truth with wisdom itself. “Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23). Honesty consists both in telling the truth and in doing the truth.
The Souto Brothers sold their Miami-based coffee roasting company in 2011 for $360 million. They proved that honesty and hard work can create a strong return on investment.
Chapter 6 contains a well-known list of seven things God hates. Two of the seven are forms of dishonesty: “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who utters lies” (Prov. 6:16-19). Throughout the book of Proverbs the importance of telling the truth is a steady drumbeat.
I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. (Prov. 8:6–7)
A truthful witness saves lives, but one who utters lies is a betrayer. (Prov. 14:25)
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death. (Prov. 21:6)
A false witness will not go unpunished, and a liar will not escape. (Prov. 19:5)
Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips. (Prov. 24:28)
Lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool. When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech. (Prov. 10:18-19)
Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness speaks deceitfully. Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. Deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil, but those who counsel peace have joy. (Prov. 12:17-20)
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Prov. 12:22)
Like a war club, a sword, or a sharp arrow is one who bears false witness against a neighbor. (Prov. 25:18)
An enemy dissembles in speaking while harboring deceit within; when an enemy speaks graciously, do not believe it, for there are seven abominations concealed within. (Prov. 26:24-25)
Although the Bible does condone lying and deceit in exceptional circumstances (e.g., Rahab the prostitute in Joshua 2:1, the Hebrew midwives’ lies to Pharaoh in Exodus 1:15-20, David’s lie to the priest in 1 Samuel 21:1-3), Proverbs does not allow lying or deception to have a role in daily life and work. The point is not only that lying is wrong, but also that telling the truth is essential. We avoid lying, not so much because there is a rule against it, but because in our awe of God, we love the truth.
Lying is destructive and leads ultimately to punishment and death. We are warned not only to avoid deceit, but we are to beware of the deceivers around us. We are not to allow ourselves to be taken in by their lies. Even here we recognize that we ourselves may be prone to believe the lies we hear. Like gossip (which is often a lie wrapped in a tissue of truth), we find a lie drawing us into the circle of those who are in the know and we like that. Or we find that in our own perverseness, we want to believe the lie. But the proverbs warn us forcefully away from those who lie. A workplace where only the truth is spoken (in love, see Ephesians 4:15) is utopian, yet God calls us to be among those who avoid the lying tongue.
About half of these proverbs prohibit false witness in particular, echoing the Ninth Commandment (Exodus 20:16). If misleading others in general is ungodly, then falsifying an account of someone else’s actions is a crime that “will not go unpunished” (Prov. 19:5). A false witness is a direct assault on an innocent person. Yet it may be the most common form of lying in the workplace, second only perhaps to false advertising. Whereas false advertising is at least directed against outsiders (customers) who know to be wary of sales pitches and generally have other sources of information, a false witness is usually an attack on a co-worker, and is likely to be accepted without skepticism within the organization. It occurs when we try to shift blame or credit by misreporting others’ roles and actions. It harms not only those whose actions we mis-report, but the entire organization, for an organization that cannot accurately understand the reasons for its present successes and failures will not be able to make the changes needed to improve and adapt. It is like shooting someone on a submarine. Not only does it maim the victim, it sinks the ship and drowns the whole crew.
Not only words, but also deeds, can be either truthful or false. “The righteous hate falsehood, but the wicked act shamefully and disgracefully” (Prov. 13:5, emphasis added). The most prominent form of dishonest action in the proverbs is the use of false weights and measures. “Honest balances and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work” (Prov. 16:11). Conversely, “a false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but an accurate weight is his delight” (Prov. 11:1). “Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good” (Prov. 20:23). False weights and measures refer to defrauding a customer about the product being sold. Mislabeling a product, short-cutting the promised quality, and misrepresenting the source or origin—in addition to blatantly falsifying the quantity—are examples of this kind of dishonesty. Such practices are an abomination to God.
God Loves Honest Scales in Finance
Brian Bauer, a financial manager at Boeing, points out that the scales we use today abstract.
“Modern finance is the set of scales relied upon by business leaders, owners, and customers. Accounting reports tell owners about the performance of their business. A cash flow analysis tells a buyer whether or not they are getting a good deal when acquiring a company or manager when launching a project. And here’s where things get interesting. Accounting is governed by a set of rules, but the rules must be interpreted and the methods for adhering to those rules spark vigorous debate…. Click here to continue reading.
There are practical reasons for acting honestly. In the short run, dishonest acts may produce a larger income, but in the long run, clients or customers will catch on and take their business elsewhere. Yet ultimately, it is the fear of God that corrals us, even when we think we could get away with dishonesty on human terms. “Diverse weights and diverse measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 20:10).
Apart from false weights and measures, there are other ways of being dishonest in the workplace. One example from the Old Testament concerns land ownership, which was certified with boundary markers. A dishonest person could stealthily shift those boundary markers to enlarge his own holdings at the expense of his neighbor. The proverbs condemn dishonest acts like that. “Do not remove an ancient landmark or encroach on the fields of orphans, for their redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you” (Prov. 23:10-11). The proverbs do not enumerate every kind of dishonest act that could be done in ancient Israel, much less in our world today. But they establish the principle that dishonest acts are as abhorrent to the Lord as dishonest words.
What does honesty—both in word and deed—look like in today’s workplace? If we remember that honesty is an aspect of trustworthiness, the criterion of honesty becomes, “Can people trust what I say and do?” not “Is it technically true?” There are ways to break trust without committing outright fraud. Contracts can be altered or obfuscated to give unfair advantage to the party with the most sophisticated lawyers. Products can be described in misleading terms, as when “increases energy” in a food label means nothing except “contains calories.” In the end, according to the proverbs, God will plead the cause of those so deceived and will not tolerate these practices (Prov. 23:11). In the meantime, wise—that is, godly—workers will avoid such practices.
When Do You Fire Your Customer?
The senior management of Software Dynamics, Inc. had just completed its Business Roadmap, spelling out SDI’s Vision, Mission, Values and Guiding Principles.
One section described the company’s position toward its customers: “We realize we are dependent on close relationships with our clients, and will go the extra mile to assure we are meeting their requirements and serving their needs.”
To continue reading, click here. You can return to this page afterwards.
The proverbs return again and again to the theme of honesty. “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them” (Prov. 11:3). “Bread gained by deceit is sweet, but afterwards the mouth will be full of gravel” (Prov. 20:17). An amusing proverb fingers another form of deception: “‘Bad, Bad,’ says the buyer, then goes away and boasts” (Prov. 20:14). Deliberately denigrating a product we want in order to get the price reduced, then gloating over our “bargain,” is also a form of dishonesty. In the realm of haggling between knowledgeable buyers and sellers this practice may be more of an entertainment than an abuse. But in its modern guise of spin doctoring—as when a political candidate tries to convince English-speaking voters that he or she is tough on immigration, while also trying to convince Hispanic voters of the opposite—it betrays the fraudulence behind intentionally misrepresenting reality.
See M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, 2nd ed. (Touchstone, 1998).