#189 – “Leading Faithfully” Basics – First Things – Righteousness

ESSENCE:  The first step on the ancient path from the “as usuals” of business as usual, work as usual, and faith as usual to “a better way” is RENEW, and the first step of RENEW is reordering disordered priorities to “Keep First Things First”.  The Bible says unequivocally that “Righteousness” is one of the “First Things” we are meant to seek.  Righteousness as part of faithful integrity is much more than “doing good”, being ethical or even “doing the right thing”.  As intimidating and off-putting as the pursuit of Righteousness can sound, it is more about love and generosity than perfection and correction.  We believe the Righteousness element of faithful integrity requires a faithful leader to “do right” by God, and that means living generously by loving others and stewarding creation–as the driving purpose and not just a socially conscious add-on to Profit as Purpose. Righteousness in business a better way is about creating an organizational culture in which people do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, without even thinking.

“Leading Faithfully” Basics is about going back and re-examining the basics of leading faithfully through business a better way–business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. You can find more “Leading Faithfully” Basics posts at Integrous | “Leading Faithfully” Basics (integriosity.com)

We have examined business as usual, work as usual and faith as usual and considered the problems they can create, and the missed opportunities to which they can lead, for organizations, faithful leaders and the creation (particularly humans) they touch.

We are now diving deeper into an alternative to “as usuals”–a “better way” we call leading faithfully with faithful integrity through business a better way.  The first step on the ancient path to that “better way” is RENEW, and the first step of RENEW is “Keep First Things First” by reordering disordered priorities.  In this post we will look at the “First Thing” of Righteousness.

Keep First Things First–Righteousness

Integriosity and faithful integrity are about aligning the purpose, values and culture of an organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. A key element of the RENEW step of Integriosity is re-ordering disordered priorities, because business as usual — business in “the way of the world” or, more precisely, according to “the kingdom of this world”–generally puts “second things first”.

In looking at Biblical principles for work and business, it is important to go back to first principles by asking what the Bible tells us are the keys to everything else. And then we have to “Keep First Things First” by pursuing those first principles and not the “everything else”! Four key principles are captured by the word Integriosity. The key Biblical principles that form the foundation of Integriosity are embedded in the word itself–Integrity (and its components Righteousness and Kingdom) and Generosity (and its components Love and Humility).

Matthew 6:33 says unequivocally that Righteousness is one of the first things we are meant to seek, and God’s call for Righteousness is throughout Scripture.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

But the word Righteousness send shivers up some people’s spines. It seems too hard to attain and brings images of “self-Righteousness.” Righteousness is clearly something “good” in the Bible, but what exactly is God calling us to go after?

Righteousness–Levels of Good

Businesses without a faith-driven purpose have various levels of what they consider “doing good”. Each level of “good” differs in its WHY and its HOW, but at each level of business as usual maximizing profit is either THE end or AN end of the organization. Levels can roughly be broken down into the following broad categories of what constitutes “doing good”:

• Amoral: “good” means maximizing profit by any means necessary.

• Legal: “good” means maximizing profit by any legal means necessary (with “grey” areas of the law being fair game).

• Ethical: “good” means maximizing profit (presumably within the bounds of the law) and adhering to basic ethical principles (whether or not legally required).

• Socially Responsible: “good” means maximizing profit and “doing the least harm” in the process (e.g., polluting less, ensuring supply chain ethics).

• Social Entrepreneurial: “good” means maximizing profit and pursuing an affirmative social benefit (e.g., B-Corps, giving a pair of shoes for each pair purchased)

While there are certainly various combinations and permutations of these characteristics (e.g., a “socially responsible” organization that also pursues profit within the bounds of the law and ethical principles), these levels are meant to illustrate that “doing good” is relative. Moreover, levels may look similar in practice, despite differing principles. For example, an “amoral” organization may look “legal” if its leaders calculate that the potential downside of ignoring the law (taking into account the risk and consequences of getting caught) is more likely to harm profitability. “Legal” is not a principle or value–it is a strategy. But what really distinguishes the levels is heart.

While Biblical principles may be evident in various of these levels of “good”, Biblical inspiration is unnecessary to pursue the desired ends. A business can commit to the Biblical principle of “honesty” without having a Biblical awareness as its inspiration. As Ken Eldred has written, “Character is the long-lost ingredient of successful capitalism, and biblical values are the underlying values of the character ethic.” In fact, a “socially responsible” or “socially entrepreneurial” organization with no faith inspiration can come closer to living-out Biblical principles than a faith-driven organization that is stuck on a Side Road and hasn’t transformed the heart of the organization.

That said, an organization’s “WHY” matters. Treating employees and customers with respect because it is ultimately good for profitability is not really about how customers and employees should be treated. Marketing guru Seth Godin has observed “In fact, most companies strive to be just ethical enough. To get ethics to the point where no one is complaining, where poor ethics aren’t harming their Key Performance Indicators.”

Righteousness Is More Than “Good”

Faithful integrity is much more than “doing good”. Get ready for some scary (and possibly offensive) Biblical words! In his book My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes “The true expression of Christian character is not in good-doing, but in God-likeness.”  In a more contemporary voice, Dr. Skip Moen says:

God saved you for something more than being a good person.   He saved you so that you could become a light on the hill, a lamp on the post, a living witness to a different way—His way.

Here are the two scary Biblical concepts that clearly suggest leaders who want to lead with faithful integrity are called to more than “do good”: righteousness and perfection.

Be perfect, just as your father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

These are scary concepts because they seem unattainable. (They are also possibly offensive because they conjure up images of hypocritical, Pharisaical religious types wagging a finger and saying that we do not measure up.) We really believe that faith-driven leaders want their organization to faithfully “do the right thing”, whether or not they think in terms of “righteousness” or “perfection”. These words are scary because, on their face, they do not reflect what they really mean (and we begin to imagine the wagging finger).

We are not Biblical scholars or theologians, so we greatly appreciate the scholars and theologians who clarify scary Biblical words. Here are a few:


Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest says “perfection” in Matthew 5:48 calls us “to be GENEROUS in our behavior toward everyone.”

Eugene Peterson in the Message translated Matthew 5:48 as: ”You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. LIVE GENEROUSLY and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you”.

Thomas Keating wrote “Perfection does not consist in feeling perfect or being perfect, but in doing what we are supposed to be doing without noticing it: LOVING PEOPLE without taking any credit. Just doing it.”

Jonathan Pennington says “To say that we must be teleios [perfect] as God is to say that we must be WHOLE. We must be singular in who we are, not one thing on the outside but another on the inside.”


Tim Keller (quoting Bible scholar Bruce Waltke) says “The very definition of righteous people is that they disadvantage themselves to advantage others.”

John Dear concludes “Righteousness . . . sums up the global responsibility of the human community to make sure every human being has what they need, that everyone pursues a fair sense of justice for every other human being, and that everyone lives in right relationship with one another, creation, and God.”

N.T. Wright has written that Righteousness “denotes not so much the abstract idea of justice or virtue, as right standing and consequent right behavior, within a community.”

Those are a lot of scholarly words, but we think they boil down to a few that are not so scary–we are called to live out our God-given purpose by living generously through loving others and stewarding creation.

James Hunter talks about creating Shalom where God has placed us and for the benefit of all. In his book To Change the World, Hunter suggests a theology in which we are called:

To enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others. . . . What this means is that where and to the extent that we are able, faithful presence commits us to do what we can to create conditions in the structures of social life we inhabit that are conducive to the flourishing of all.

That is much more than “doing good” or being ethical. The key to understanding faithful integrity is recognizing that “doing right” needs an object–by whom are we to “do right”.  A business can “do right” by its owners, its employees, its customers, its vendors, its suppliers or its community. However, there must be one ultimate “object” that wins in the case of a conflict (and business as usual says it is the owners).

We believe faithful integrity requires a faithful leader to “do right” by God, and that means living generously by loving others and stewarding creation–as the driving purpose and not just a socially conscious add-on to Profit as Purpose. It is acting to maximize flourishing (rather than profit). It’s not easy, but it is not the wagging finger of the seemingly unattainable, “rule-following” burden suggested by “perfection” and “righteousness”. As Albus Dumbledore said in the Harry Potter series (Goblet of Fire, to be precise): “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

Integriosity is about choosing to lead an organization with faithful integrity and then doing it. We actually believe it is a desire planted by God in everyone’s heart.

Righteousness Is More Than “Do the Right Thing”

It is not uncommon for an organizational leader to call people to “do the right thing”. After all, the alternative is pretty unappealing–“do the wrong thing”. Treat our customers poorly? Break the law? Violate our contracts? The Bible is pretty clear that doing the right thing is important: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17 ESV). But faithful integrity requires considering more than just WHAT you do. It requires also considering HOW you do it and WHY you are doing it. For example:

• HOW: An employee can do the right thing (meet a sales target, increase profit, secure a customer) in a way that would not look like faithful integrity. Righteous targets and goals can be achieved through means that are unethical or even illegal, such as through deception or bribes. They can also be achieved in ways that are uncaring or even exploitive or hurtful to other people (whether customers, fellow employees, vendors or suppliers), communities or creation. HOW matters!

• WHY: It is also possible to do the right thing, in the right way for all the wrong reasons. Rick Warren wrote “Integrity is uncorrupted motivation. It means you do the right thing, and you do it for the right reason.” “Doing the right thing” in an organization ultimately means furthering the ultimate purpose of the organization. In business as usual, the purpose of the organization is to maximize profit, which means that, at the end of the day, “doing the right thing” means furthering Profit as Purpose.

Achieving sales goals by treating salespeople well is doing the right thing in the right way, but if the salespeople are treated well solely to meet the target, then they were not treated well for the right reasons. They were manipulated and used as tools toward the goal (which might be the organization’s goal or a personal goal of leaders, such as earning a bonus). Faithful integrity calls for living out our God-given purpose by living generously through loving others and stewarding creation.

In his book For Goodness’ Sake: Satisfy the Hunger for Meaningful Business, Chris Houston says “Do the right thing for its own sake and not because rational economics says we might have something to gain from doing so.” WHY matters for humans and organizations!

We believe doing the right thing, in the right way and for the right reasons is actually following in the Way of Jesus. In their book The 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible: A Weekly Devotional, Kenneth Boa and John Alan Turner observe in talking about Jesus “He always did the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reason. He was the most righteous human being of all time.”  You will note that Boa and Turner add a fourth dimension of “doing right”–WHEN–“at the right time”. In fact, a misguided WHEN is at the core of the Side Road of Interimizing.

It is sufficient to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The time is always right to do the right thing.”

We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy. (Albus Dumbledore)

Righteousness Requires Authenticity

For an organization to exemplify faithful integrity, the organizational purpose, priorities and values that define its WHY must reflect the “wholeness” character of integrity. In the words of Rick Warren, “Integrity is uncorrupted motivation. It means you do the right thing, and you do it for the right reason.

Integrity needs a WHY, and the WHY must be “authentic”. In other words, the organization’s WHY must be more than a pretty sign on the wall.  Authenticity can be thought of as having four components:

• Identity: The organization is clear about its WHY–its purpose, priorities and its values. That means they are written down for people to see. “And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.‘” (Habakkuk 2:2 ESV)

• Sincerity: The WHY of the organization that is written down is actually the WHY to which its leaders are committed. An organization that has an eloquent mission statement declaring its WHY as “to glorify God” lacks sincerity (which means it lacks integrity) if it is actually operated on the basis of Profit as Purpose.

• Consistency: The organization operates consistently in accordance with its WHY. Purpose, priorities and values are not just for when they are convenient–they are most important exactly when they are most inconvenient. This is easier when things are going well and much more difficult when times are tough. Seth Godin has astutely noted: “When we make a ‘just this once’ exception, we’ve already made a decision about what’s truly important. . . . What makes it a principle is that we do it now, even though (especially though) it’s hard.”

• Transparency: The organization is clear and open about its WHY–what it wants to achieve and for what it stands. The organization’s WHY should be understood by its owners, employees, customers, vendors and community. They should understand it not only because they can read it, but also because they can see it. It’s WHY is not just declared in a sign on the wall–it is reflected in the heart of the organization.

The importance of authenticity is not just theoretical—it matters to employees.

In their book, Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World, Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub tell about an employee survey done at the Mars Corporation: “Employees who believe their management walks the talk of the values they espouse can (in our company culture, where this trait is highly valued) be considered to be experiencing through enhanced well-being an equivalent of a 30 percent pay increase.” (Of course, appearing to “walk the talk” for the purpose of being able to pay less or avoid employee attrition is inauthentic and lacks integrity.)

Gallup’s 2016 report on “How Millennials Want to Work and Live” listed as its #1 “functional change” that millennials “want to work for organizations with a mission and purpose“. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, noted “For millennials, work must have meaning. . . . The emphasis for this generation has switched from paycheck to purpose — and so must your culture.” We can be pretty confident that they don’t just want a sign on the wall.

Perhaps the best call to authenticity comes in the words of Jesus: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)

Righteousness Calls for “Living Generously”

Just as there is a faith/work movement in the United States, there is also a generosity movement. Groups like Generous Giving and the National Christian Foundation do important and excellent work helping people of faith understand the importance of being generous with their wealth. However, by itself, the message of “give generously” can draw a leader into, or at least positively reinforce, the Side Roads of Monetizing or Interimizing. It is all about what you do with “the wealth” (a.k.a., “the profit”) and not about how you generate “the wealth”.

Remember, Monetizing is believing that faithful integrity and faith/work integration can be just about giving money to people or groups that do “God’s work”, and Interimizing is believing that you can put off the “significance” of faithful integrity until you have achieved worldly “success” (a.k.a., “the wealth” and “the profit” that can be given away generously).

We believe that faithful integrity requires more–it requires the “vertical integration” of generosity. “Living generously” is about operating the organization (and, in the process, generating wealth) in a way that generously loves others and stewards creation. Remember Tim Keller’s definition of “righteous people”? It is people who “disadvantages themselves to advantage others.”

This is a lot like donating blood. The donor gives their time and their very life blood in order to help someone in need–they don’t just donate money to the Red Cross. Living generously is living sacrificially–choosing to give something up or to forgo a benefit because it benefits the common good–because it represents faithful integrity.

In exploring faithful integrity and “living generously”, we want to highlight the work of Praxis, an accelerator for faith-driven entrepreneurs. Praxis urges organizations and leaders to strive for the “Redemptive Edge” of their industry. Praxis defines Redemption as “restoration through sacrifice” and says that:

A redemptive enterprise “spends itself” on behalf of the world more than on its own behalf. The founders, and ideally the funders, are led by the Spirit to create sustainable value while leaving opportunity for others (gleaning), and to operate regularly with grace and forgiveness.

Praxis uses redemptive within a framework that identifies exploitive and ethical organizations as the lesser alternatives. We call the ethical grouping “do good” and the redemptive grouping “do right”.  We agree with Praxis–faith-driven leaders are called to more than ethical.

Colossians 3:2 tells us “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” “First things” are “above” and “second things” are “on earth”. The hard part is “Keeping First Things First” and pursuing them simply because they are “first things” and not in order to get the “second things”. Having an agenda of “second things” can leave us with nothing. The problem is that an agenda of the “second things” makes them your “first things”–and that is a disordered priority.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  The importance and rarity of an organization emphasizing “for the right reasons” was highlighted for me at a breakfast several years ago.  I was meeting with a friend who was committed to doing his job faithfully.  He also worked for a corporation led by a faith-driven leader.  My friend shared that the business was unlike any he had worked for in the past because the CEO emphasized not only “do the right thing” but also “in the right way” (and he had worked for businesses in which “in the right way” was not a priority).  After I shared my belief about the importance of a trifecta–adding “for the right reasons”–I could see a lightbulb go off in his head.  Exploring WHY had never occurred to him, but it became obvious.  He had always assumed that “Profit as Purpose” was always the WHY for business.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by LuAnn Hunt on Unsplash
(photo cropped)