The Christian Post recently published my article "Financial Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice", which deals with the idea that God cares about the morality of the source of the money that we give back to Him as an offering, as taught in scriptures such as Deuteronomy 23:18, and the implications for investors regarding the profits we earn from our investment choices.
In reply to this article, one reader posted a comment under the name "Christian Commenter" and expressed some thoughtful questions that I have found to be very commonplace among believers when first presented with the scriptural teaching around investment stewardship and biblically responsible investing (BRI). I know there are more Christian investors out there with these same questions, so I thought it might be helpful and informative for others who are just starting to explore God's call to holiness in the area of finances and investing to share this conversation.
Following are "Christian Commenter's" questions and my own responses. I pray these thoughts help you catch the vision and join the BRI movement along with our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe who are investing billions of dollars of God's money for God's glory and their joy in the biblically responsible investing movement.
"Christian Commenter": While I agree with some aspects of this article, I continued to read with the following question in my mind: What connection does the author have to this topic? Finally, at the end, we see that the author is the CEO of a company that would benefit directly from what he is proposing. That is self-serving and becomes a written advertisement for his company’s services under the guise of a Biblical mandate.
Robert's Answer: Yes, I certainly have a conflict of interest as I run a biblically responsible investing (BRI) company, and as you mentioned I am not trying to hide that fact in any way. However, I got my start in this industry at Wells Fargo Private Client Services with a rather cushy job serving high net worth families and was completely oblivious to the concept of BRI. It was only after the Lord hit me with a “road to Damascus” moment that I began investing completely according to BRI guidelines – at much personal cost and risk, I might add, as it required me to leave my position and all my income and job security without much to go on but a clear calling and conviction from the Holy Spirit. (You can read about my story here if you want to learn more about my journey).
I would also add that just because I have a conflict of interest does not mean that the biblical teaching I am sharing is incorrect. Pastors preach the biblical mandate to give money to the work of God, which is clearly a conflict of interest as it benefits them directly, but that pastor is fulfilling his duty to preach faithfully the word of God and the Bible does in fact command us to give joyfully to the church. I would encourage you to examine the scriptures I mention for yourself in relation to investment stewardship and decide if what I am saying has any merit, despite any conflict of interest I might have.
"Christian Commenter": Beyond that, though, let’s continue with the author’s reasoning and ask him this question: If it is wrong to invest in companies that hold to anti-Christian views, isn’t it just as wrong to work for those companies? Shouldn’t Christians be told not to work for them as well because their wages would be the same as the profits from investments?
Robert's Answer: Great question! And the answer is “sometimes”.
Should a Christian invest in a chain of strip clubs? Certainly not.
Should a Christian work at a strip club? Certainly not.
Should a Christian invest in an abortion drug manufacturing company? Certainly not.
Should a Christian work at developing and manufacturing abortion drugs? Certainly not.
I would hope there is no disagreement on these points. However, what about a more nuanced situation, like should a Christian work in the accounting department at Netflix, even though they sell a lot of pornographic movies? I believe there is no clear scriptural mandate that would prohibit a believer from working there, as long as their work was not directly related to the production or promotion of the “adult entertainment” that is widely available on that streaming service. (For the scriptural basis of this position, please read my discussion below of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10).
But should a Christian invest in Netflix? Certainly not, because as an investor you are profiting from all of the activities that company is involved with, both good and bad, family friendly and "adult entertainment", as opposed to an employee who is paid based on a limited scope and responsibility within the company related to their specific job. So, in the case of most businesses, Christians are free to work at those companies so long as their work on the products and services are not entering biblically immoral territory.
"Christian Commenter": And, if it is wrong to invest in and work for those companies, isn’t it also wrong to purchase those products or services as well since Christians would be using their money to benefit ungodly positions? I’m interested in hearing the author’s position, or anyone else’s, concerning these questions.
Robert's Answer: As mentioned above, it is not wrong to work at a company as long as your position does not directly involve you in biblically immoral activities. Likewise, Christians are free to be customers of companies such as Netflix, so long as the products and services they are purchasing are not immoral. Keeping with the Netflix example, Christians are free to be paying customers of their movie streaming service if they limit their viewing to good, family friendly content, including the many faith-based Christian films and shows on Netflix, but if they are streaming pornographic content, then clearly they are in the wrong.
In contrast, as an investor you cannot tell Netflix to only send you profits from the good movies and not the bad ones. So if you are an investor in Netflix, you make yourself an accomplice who is sharing in the profits of ungodly, sinful movies that lead people into sin and ensnare them in a wicked bondage to lust and adultery. The Bible clearly condemns profiting from immorality (see Deuteronomy 23:18, Proverbs 16:8 and other scriptures I referenced in the original article), which makes investment in such companies a no-fly zone for Christians.
The Bible Says
A good scriptural framework for this conversation is found in Romans chapter 14 and 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10, where Paul discusses the topic of food sacrificed to idols. Paul makes the point in these chapters that believers are free to purchase and eat the meat sold in the marketplace, even thought it was derived from idol sacrifice, "Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do" (1 Cor. 8:8). But at the same time, he denounces idol worship, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (1 Cor. 10:21), with the obvious implication that those who are responsible for actually sacrificing the meat to the idol and selling it in the market are involved in a sinful act of idolatry.
Similarly, Christians have liberty to be customers of businesses with murky aspects to them, as long as what they are purchasing does not involve them directly in biblical immorality (as in the case of adult entertainment, abortion, or other inherently sinful products and services). Likewise, it is problematic for a believer to invest in a company that sells immoral products because they are no longer the innocent consumer, but a guilty producer and profiteer of immorality.
Caveat Of Conscience
One additional caveat that Paul addresses in this regard is the issue of personal conscience. He states that even though Christians are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he acknowledges that some believers "through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled" (1 Cor. 8:7). For these believers, eating that meat would be a sin, as Paul states in Romans, "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).
With this in mind, we should remember that for various reasons God may place a conviction upon a believer's conscience that should govern their personal behavior, though that conviction would not extend to all believers in the way that a biblical command would.
For example, a Christian who has a personal history with alcoholism or with alcoholism in their family tree may have a strong conviction not to drink alcohol. They also might have a conviction that they could never work as a waiter who serves alcohol or be employed at a winery, brewery or distillery, or could never invest in a company that derives any revenue from alcohol sales.
That Christian should abide by those convictions, but also acknowledge that their personal convictions do not apply to all believers. And more to Paul's primary point in the Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 passages, we believers who do not have such convictions should still be mindful of our "weaker" (Paul's word, not mine) brothers and sisters who do have those convictions and should refrain from any activity that might cause them to stumble on their own personal convictions of conscience, even though we are free. We should never express our Christian liberty in a way that causes others to stumble, "But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak" (1 Cor. 8:9).
Love Above All
It is for this precise reason that at Inspire we exclude alcohol (for instance) from our portfolios. Personally, I have no problem drinking a beer or a glass of wine or investing money into a winery or craft brewery or something of the sort. However, I know that some of my brothers and sisters for personal reasons mentioned above do not want anything to do with the alcohol industry, and so we remove alcohol from our portfolios, among other things.
But while alcohol is an example of an industry that Christians can be free to invest in, the same cannot be said for other industries which are inherently sinful, such as abortion or pornography. Those areas are not up to individual conscience but rather are expressly prohibited as immoral in God's word, and as such all believers should take care not to profit from or otherwise be involved with them.
The teaching of the Bible is rich, deep and clear in regard to the expectations God has for believers as stewards of His investment assets. At the same time, much of the depth in that scriptural teaching is aimed at fleshing out the nuance between God's command and personal conscience. This complexity should not be cause for us to freeze up and disengage, but rather serve as an invitation to lean into God's truth and learn more of His character, His glory and His plans for your joy as you seek to honor Him in all you do, including how you invest His money. As Paul himself concludes his treatment of this discussion, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
Robert Netzly is the CEO of Inspire Investing and frequent contributor on FOX, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other major media. Read more from Robert in his #1 bestselling book Biblically Responsible Investing, available at Amazon.com and other major retailers.
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Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.