Part 1 of 7

Nehemiah felt like pulling his hair out. There they were, set up outside the city wall. Not long before, Nehemiah had confronted the Jews about doing business on the Sabbath. They had been treading grapes, loading up their donkeys with grain, and bringing their products to Jerusalem all on the Sabbath.

Nehemiah felt like pulling his hair out

Nehemiah wondered what the people had been thinking. Did they not understand that profaning the Sabbath was one of the very reasons God had sent His people into exile and allowed Jerusalem to be conquered by its enemies? Nehemiah did not want anything like that to ever happen again. He had ordered the city gates to be shut at sundown Friday evening and to remain unopened until the Sabbath was over.

And now merchants and sellers were waiting outside the wall, perhaps hoping someone would let them slip in. Or maybe they hoped that customers would venture out to purchase on the Sabbath or that they could be the first to get inside when the gates opened.

Nehemiah would have none of it. He gave the businessmen outside the wall a clear message: You are not welcome here on the Sabbath. Clear out or else. “Why lodge ye about the wall? If ye do so again, I will lay hands on you” (Nehemiah 13:21). The merchants got the point, and after that, they stayed away on the Sabbath.

Buying and selling in the Bible

Under the Old Covenant, God gave specific rules to His people about business. As we see in the story from the Book of Nehemiah, keeping the Sabbath holy as a day of rest was one of God’s laws, and a significant one. Another specific rule governed weights and measures—having two different sets (one for buying and the other for selling) was forbidden (Deuteronomy 25:15). God said that those who cheated with such unfair business practices were an abomination to Him.

Amos pronounced God’s judgement on those who were eager for the Sabbath to be past so they could get back to selling. Amos described them as saying, “When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?” (Amos 8:5).

Today we don’t live under the Old Covenant, so what laws govern us in business, specifically in sales and marketing? Like many other areas of our lives, the Bible provides principles we can apply so that our work pleases God.

Let’s consider five principles you can use to guide your marketing decisions.

1. Love

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31

Jesus stated that the whole law would be obeyed if we truly loved God and loved others. Jesus gave us a clear definition of what it means to love others. It’s called the Golden Rule: treating others the way that you would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12). We all like to be treated with courtesy and respect. As Christians, we should strive to do our best to greet customers cheerfully and display a welcoming attitude toward them.

Here are several questions we can ask ourselves to help us practice the spirit of this principle.

  • Am I remembering that a person that God created and loves is on the other side of this interaction?
  • How would I feel if I was the customer in this situation?
  • Is the result of this interaction in the other person’s best interest?

2. Truth

A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight. Prov 11:1

The Bible teaches us that God never lies. Being dishonest would violate God’s character because He is a God of truth. He not only knows all things, but everything He communicates about what He knows is true. While God can be misunderstood, no one can say that God intentionally misleads them. In contrast, deception originated with Satan, and the Bible calls him a deceiver.

God calls us as His people to exemplify His character through honesty. Making everything that we do and say in business line up with reality is a constant challenge.

We can ask ourselves these questions in relation to our sales and marketing:

  • Is there anything unfair or deceptive about this?
  • In what way might I be exaggerating or overstating my case?
  • What would the customer say if they knew what I know?

3. Humility

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Philippians 2:3

Are humility and marketing incompatible? Can you promote your business without boasting? These are important questions that deserve careful thought and self-examination.

Consider the purpose of sales and marketing:

  1. To help people find real solutions to their problems.
  2. To educate potential customers so they can make a decision that it is in their own best interest.
  3. To set proper expectations with customers.

Notice what is missing. Marketing is not to tell people how good we are. Marketing is not to brag about our work. Marketing is not to put down the competition.

Humility affects our choice of words, our overall presentation, and our tone and demeanor. Even more importantly, humility defines what we talk about. Humility focuses on the benefits for the customer instead of the wonders of our product or service.

Having humility doesn’t preclude telling the truth about how we can serve others. Humility doesn’t mean that we must downplay our capabilities. Humility doesn’t mean that we zip our lips about how we can help others. We can communicate all of those facts with a humble attitude.

How would you answer these questions?

  • Is there any way in which my marketing displays pride?
  • Am I relying on a gaudy presentation or boastful claims?
  • Who is at the center of my marketing message—my company or my customer?

4. Contentment

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5

How would you assess the level of contentment in the United States today? Greed and covetousness have been around since the Fall, and we need to deal with that reality of the fallen human nature in both ourselves and in the context of marketing to our customers.

By definition, we want people to buy our products. And we don’t expect an unbeliever to display godly attitudes like the joy and contentment that we find in serving God. But what if our marketing fosters discontentment and covetousness in their lives? What might God think about this?

We are not responsible for our customer’s attitudes, but we are responsible for our own choices and actions. We need to choose to market our products and services in an honorable way that demonstrates integrity and doesn’t appeal to people’s carnal nature.

We can ask ourselves these questions:

  • Do I imply that “owning this will make you truly happy?”
  • Does my marketing cause customers to spend more than they can afford?
  • Does my business feed covetousness or discontentment?

5. Service

Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Ephesians 4:28

God intends for mankind to steward the earth and care for each other’s needs. When we adopt the world’s mindset toward business, marketing becomes all about us and how much money we can make regardless of whether or not we are serving both the common good and the interests of our customers.

Our products and services should promote others’ wellbeing so they can enjoy a flourishing life. Products that promote harmful addictions should be avoided. Rather, every transaction a customer has with us should add value to their life.

Try these questions:

  • In what ways does my business promote human flourishing?
  • Am I truly looking out for my customers?
  • Do I have a product or service that serves a useful purpose?

Conclusion

Marketing is often seen as a necessary evil because so much of the marketing we experience as consumers seems unethical or at least incompatible with our Anabaptist heritage and Biblical values.

I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that as we thoughtfully apply these Biblical principles, we can grow our businesses in a way that pleases God and blesses those around us. If this article prompted any nudges from your conscience, then take some time to pray about whether there is anything about your marketing you should change.

This is the first in a series of seven articles. The next six articles will discuss in detail how to apply these principles to various aspects of sales and marketing.

About the Author: Roy Herr is the senior marketing consultant at Rosewood Marketing. The Rosewood team guides business owners through marketing challenges into sustainable growth.