Leading Biblically: Beatitudes in Business, Part 1

Aug 04, 2010 |Bruce E. Winston

Whether you're at the top or bottom of the business ladder, Scripture lays out specific and practical principles on how to make the most of the workplace.

How should I live my life?

I had to face this question 15 years ago during a church service at a time in my life when I was teaching management to MBA students. I realized that morning that, while I was an openly Christian professor, I kept the Bible for Bible studies but relied on the traditional textbooks for teaching and for my own management of 20 school employees.

During the sermon the pastor stated the Great Commandment to love God and love people. I was struck by how much "love" was an action word and that it spoke of how I should live my day-to-day life. I was sure I understood how to love God, but I found myself wondering how I could love my employees and my peers in the workplace.

Finding love in all the right places

I decided that if I was going to "love" employees and peers during the work week, then I needed to start with what I had learned on Sunday. I knew of the Greek words typically translated as "love" — Eros, Phileo, and Agape — but none of these seemed applicable in the workplace.

Not seeing a workable solution from the three forms of love, I went back to the New Testament and looked for something else. I found a form of love — Agapao — that surprisingly I hadn't heard of before. It's the most common form of love in the Greek New Testament and seems to emphasize a "moral" love — doing the right things for the right reason at the right time.

I found that Agapao is derived from the same root word as Agape but the modification of the word significantly modifies the meaning. This is similar to the differences between "waterfall" and "waterway" — both have the same root but if you do on a waterfall what you do on a waterway you're in for a problem.

Now that I had discovered the right concept to help me know how to love my neighbor, I went to work trying to figure out how to apply it in the workplace.

The Beatitudes

At about the same time of my insight into Agapao I heard a presentation on the beatitude "Blessed are the meek" and how we all need to be meek. I couldn't imagine telling our MBA students to be meek — we had been teaching them to be aggressive in business, assertive, and so on. I wrestled with the dilemma: If I'm to apply Scripture to my life, then I have to put all of Scripture to all of my live. Including my work as a manager and as a business professor. I wondered if perhaps I didn't rightly understand the Beatitudes.

What I found in the years since I first started studying the Beatitudes, I'm happy to say, showed me how to love others and how I should live my life, regardless of the context. I found the Beatitudes remarkably applicable to how one manages a business, how one manages employees, but also how one walks out life outside of the workplace.

In this first article I introduce each of the seven Beatitudes and show how each relates to our lives, both in the work environment and outside of it. Subsequent articles will explore each beatitude in more depth, with more examples to help unpack how we should live. Give yourself some time to contemplate these beatitudes, for the message of the beatitudes is counter to much of what we're taught. I've struggled with the transformation for 15 years, and while I believe I've made changes in my life, I know I have a long way to go. And so I continue to wrestle with how to best to apply the Beatitudes.

Before we move into each beatitude let's look at the elements common to all. Each beatitude begins with "Blessed are." This phrase in Greek is Markaris, which is similar to the Hebrew Shalom, more fully translated as "peaceful" or "comfortable." As I worked at living my life by the beatitudes I experienced Markaris and realized the practical benefit of this peace and comfort. My level of stress, for example, has reduced over the years.

In addition, Markaris carries with it a sense of time-less-ness in that we are not to be blessed in the past, or blessed in the future, but blessed all the time without ceasing. However, it's worth noting that it doesn't carry the sense of "instantaneous" peace. Only after you're consistently living as the Beatitudes direct does Markaris occur.

One last thing before we cover the seven Beatitudes: It's notable that they're in a specific sequence. As I studied them I noticed that the most common problem I encountered in my consulting with leaders was addressed in the first Beatitude. The second most common problem was addressed in the second beatitude. And so on through the seventh beatitude. Remarkable!

Now, let's look at each of the seven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit

The term "poor in spirit" carries with it the sense of being humble and teachable. To be poor in spirit means that you understand that relative to all that there is to know in God's universe you don't know very much, and that others know more about some things than you do.

When you have the attitude of being teachable you're willing to listen. One of our MBA graduates recently told me that a major business idea came from his secretary, who didn't have a formal education but was able to see an opportunity for the company, by using the internet, to sell something that beforehand was not sold that way. The graduate told me that if he didn't have the attitude of wanting to hear from others he would've dismissed the secretary as not knowing much.

This beatitude is the most common problem I encounter in leaders today. Rather than an attitude of humility and teachable-ness I see an attitude of ego and aloofness. What a shame, especially when you consider the consequential blessing of this beatitude — one gets the kingdom of heaven. Only the humble and teachable can "see" and "understand" heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn

The Greek term translated "mourn" communicates a level of intensity of caring. It means to care for others with an intensity as if mourning for the dead. To best understand this concept you have to go back in time to the period when Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount, and note that people hired professional mourners so that there would be an appropriate level of intensity in mourning.

Caring for others in this fashion means that you make decisions that personally benefit those working for you and with you. One of our graduates told me once that he was very concerned for single mothers since his grandmother raised his mother as one. He specifically designed his company to attract and hire single moms. He paid above the local wages and arranged for employees to have time off to take care of family issues.

This beatitude is the second most common problem I encounter in leaders today. I hear employers say that their employees are their most important asset, but most of them have insufficient tools, income or workplace safety. You show how much you value your employees when you truly care for them.

Note that the benefit of this beatitude is one of reciprocity. If you care for others, then the "others" will care for you. I personally experience this blessing as employees and peers take care of me as I've taken care of them.

Blessed are the meek

What we translate as "meek" from the biblical Greek refers to "controlled discipline as a domesticated animal." Of course, this doesn't mean that we have to be horses or oxen. It does mean that we intentionally control our tempers and discipline, though.

As leaders/employers and peers in our workplaces we have the ability to harm people or to bless them. Even when it's necessary to terminate the employment of someone, we can do it with controlled discipline and help the employee leave with dignity and grace.

When leaders live by controlled discipline employees and peers are willing to tell the leader what needs to be said and people are willing to take the responsibility for problems, since everyone knows that when discipline is necessary, it is controlled.

I find many leaders who are uncontrolled in their discipline, which results in both employees and peers working in fear rather than joy. This is the basis for the benefit of this beatitude in that only those controlled in discipline can inherit the earth. God won't entrust his creation to the undisciplined.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness

The biblical Greek translates reasonably close to the English here with the exception that what we call "righteousness" more specifically means that which is "right," "just" or "holy." What we translate as "hunger" and "thirst" conceptually exists in the Greek as a sense of being insatiable — we just can't get enough.

How often in our organizations do we spend time teaching folk what is "right," "just" or "holy"? If we lived by this, how often would we be nervous when a news crew shows up to interview us? We wouldn't. The office would be a peaceful place.

The reward for this beatitude is one of ease — all we have to do is seek it and we will find it. How easy can it be? We should live our lives seeking to do what is right, just, and holy. To hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful

The biblical Greek translates into "mercy" as we think about it today. Human "justice" can be brutal at times; mercy seasons and dampens justice to make the process more humane.

As I worked to live out this beatitude I found that I tied this to the controlled discipline concept. I realized that not every error or mistake needed punishment. People who really enjoy their work feel bad when they make a mistake, and typically seek to improve with each opportunity. I realized that unless the error was a repetitive or intentional mistake there was no reason to punish. Rather, most of time I pointed out the error and what I wanted done different in the future. Usually, the next time I got what I wanted and the employee grew in the process.

The benefit of this beatitude is reciprocal in that as we show to mercy to employees and peers we receive mercy. There is nothing sweeter than mercy when you really need it.

Blessed are the pure in heart

This concept in the biblical Greek translates as being single-minded or focused in what we are doing. We should live our lives by simply doing what God has called us to do and only what God has called us to do. There are thousands of things that we can do, but there is only one thing that matters — doing what God calls us to do.

The benefit of this beatitude is that we can see God. Only those that are single-mindedly focused on God will be able to see Him.

Blessed are the peacemakers

The notion of peacemaking implied in the biblical Greek is to create and sustain peace. This isn't a condition of the absence of conflict, but the active and intentional resolution of peace. This is the last of the seven because it's necessary to have all six beatitudes in place first. We have to be teachable, caring, controlled, righteous, merciful, and focused before we can care enough about others to want to resolve conflict.

And the benefit? To become the inheritors of God, which is the deeper meaning of the biblical Greek that we translate "sons of God." Peacemakers shall inherit the heavenly.

How then should we live?

We should live our lives with a sense of humility, knowing that others will know more about some things than we do. We should live our lives with concern for others while controlling our discipline. We should live our lives seeking what is right and showing mercy to those around us. We should live our lives with single-mindedness toward God and sustaining a climate of peace.

As we do this we'll be chastised by others because of the success that will come to us, and the sense of peace and comfort that pervades what we do. This is OK and should be expected. It's an indication that we're living our lives as we should.

Fifteen years after beginning my adventure with the Beatitudes, I'm still in church thinking about what the Bible says about living my life, realizing how much I've learned about loving my employees and peers in the workplace. While my journey of learning is not complete, my workplace is a better place to be because of the Beatitudes. I've found that life is much simpler when I consider the Bible first as a means of knowing how to live my life.

PART 2: Walk Humbly »

Copyright 2007 Bruce E. Winston. All rights reserved.

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