A Trustworthy Worker is Faithful to His or Her Fiduciary Responsibilities (Proverbs)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

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.

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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.[1]

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