#200 – Prioritize Biblical Flourishing

ESSENCE: Integrous “helps faithful leaders lead with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing”.  Our belief is that the bigger WHY of an organization aligned with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities should be to maximize flourishing (rather than profit) by Humanizing People, Beautifying the World and Glorifying God, properly positioning profit as a necessary means to that end. When we talk about flourishing, we are talking about Biblical flourishing.  Biblical flourishing has its origins in the Creation Mandate, Imago Dei, and the commandments to love God and love our neighbor.  The call to prioritize Biblical flourishing is also shaped by the Biblical ideas that humans were given unique gifts for the purpose of serving others and humans were created for the purpose of glorifying God.  Humans experience Biblical flourishing more fully–they become more “fully human”–when living in alignment with God’s design, which includes working in alignment with God’s design.  Leading with faithful integrity requires cultivating an organizational culture of Shalom that encourages and facilitates people working in such alignment.

We say that Integrous “helps faithful leaders lead with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing.”  You might be asking “What is flourishing, and what is Biblical flourishing, and how are they different?”

Great questions.  We can’t tell you what they are, but we can tell you what we mean.

The Popularity of “Flourishing”

If you haven’t noticed, the idea of flourishing–particularly human flourishing or how to be “happy” and experience “well-being”–has become very popular in recent years. Consider the following:

• Googling the word “flourishing” returns 157 million results.

• Searching the word “flourishing” in Amazon books returns dozens of titles (with beautiful covers), such as Flourishing on the Edge of Faith; Road to Flourishing; Flourishing: How to achieve a deeper sense of well-being, meaning and purpose–even when facing adversity; Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability; Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society; Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World; The Flourishing Effect: Unlocking Employee Thriving and High Performance as Your Competitive Edge

• Searching the word “flourish” in Amazon returns dozens more.

• Templeton World Charity Foundation is sponsoring a Global Flourishing Conference that starts today (11/29/23).  It highlights dozens of research studies around the world focused on understanding aspects of well-being.

• Sovereign’s Capital has created an ETF called the Flourish Fund.

• In 2016, Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science created the Human Flourishing Program to “study and promote human flourishing and develop systematic approaches to the synthesis of knowledge across disciplines”.

• Harvard University offers a popular course called “Managing Happiness”, which they have made available free online for a limited time.  Yale’s version, also available for free online, is called “The Science of Well-Being“. Yale also offers a course called “Life Worth Living“.   This trend seems to have begun with a Harvard “happiness” course called “Positive Psychology”, which became Harvard’s most popular course of all time in 2006.  Best-selling books have been published by some of the teachers of these “flourishing” courses, such as: Life Worth Living: A Guide To What Matters Most by Miraslov Volf and Build the Life You Want by Arthur Brooks and Oprah Winfrey.

Perhaps this should not come as any surprise.  Jonathan Pennington writes:

Human flourishing alone is the idea that encompasses all human activity and goals because there is nothing so natural and inescapable as the desire to live, and to live in peace, security, love, health, and happiness. These are not merely cultural values or the desire of a certain people or time period. The desire for human flourishing motivates everything humans do…. All human behavior, when analyzed deeply enough, will be found to be motivated by the desire for life and flourishing, individually and corporately.

God wanted His creation to flourish, and humans are His highest creation.  God made us to seek flourishing not only for ourselves but for the rest of His creation.

Some Background on Flourishing

With Ivy-league courses and programs as well as so many books about “flourishing”, we are not presenting the definitive history of flourishing in this post.  But a little background may be helpful.

Trying to define “flourishing” is not new.  The idea of a more holistic concept of well-being than mere “happiness” goes back to Aristotle’s term eudaimonia and St Thomas Aquinas’s ideas of felicitas and beatitudo.

• According to Britannica, eudaimonia was Aristotle’s concept of the “highest human good.”

• For Aquinas, felicitas was the best we could hope for in life, with the perfect happiness of beatitudo only possible in heaven.

The idea of “flourishing” seems to have caught on in modern times through the positive psychology movement.  In his 2011 book Flourish, Martin Seligman presented his PERMA model of “well-being” having five elements: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments.

More recently, the Harvard Human Flourishing Program has developed a flourishing index–“a measurement approach to human flourishing, based around five central domains: happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and close social relationships.”  The Program is conducting a multi-year study of flourishing and well-being.   They have even developed a flourishing app to help people track activities that have been shown scientifically to promote flourishing as well track their flourishing score.  In 2023, Harvard’s SHINE program, which focuses on promoting well-being in the workplace, joined forces with the Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program.

All human behavior, when analyzed deeply enough, will be found to be motivated by the desire for life and flourishing, individually and corporately. (Jonathan Pennington)

The Nature and Source of Biblical Flourishing

In many posts, we have emphasized our belief that the bigger WHY of an organization aligned with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities should be to maximize flourishing (rather than profit) by Humanizing People, Beautifying the World and Glorifying God, properly positioning profit as a necessary means to that end.  We also believe that faithful integrity is the ancient path to that goal.  Integriosity is a four-step process for getting on and travelling (and not getting detoured from) that ancient path.  When we talk about flourishing, we are talking about Biblical flourishing.  

In one sense, Biblical flourishing–as we use the term–is narrower than much of what is popular, because we are focused on flourishing in the context of the purpose and practice of work and organizations rather than general human well-being.  In another sense, our “Biblical flourishing” is much broader than the positive psychology concept, because it encompasses the flourishing of all God’s creation rather than just human well-being.

Our concept of Biblical flourishing has its origins in the Creation Mandate, Imago Dei, and the commandments to love God and love our neighbor.  The call to prioritize Biblical flourishing is also shaped by the Biblical ideas that humans were given unique gifts for the purpose of serving others and humans were created for the purpose of glorifying God.  Humans experience Biblical flourishing more fully–they are more “fully human”–when living in alignment with God’s design, which includes working in alignment with God’s design.

Creation Mandate

As a refresher, the Creation Mandate comes in Genesis 1:28:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

We are not just another species of animal created to co-exist alongside all others.  God didn’t just plop all of creation here without direction or purpose for His greatest creation–humans. In Genesis 1:28, God gave what is often called the Creation Mandate (what some also refer to as the Cultural Mandate).  God commanded us to flourish–“be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” and made us stewards (the role theologians assure us is the meaning of the terms “subdue” and “dominion“) over all He created.

God placed us here to subdue and bring order to the world. We are to cultivate nature to enable it to flourish, and this includes creating life sustaining and life affirming products, culture and the economic prosperity that allows people to benefit from those products.  Because we live in a broken world, we also fulfill the Creation Mandate by solving problems and “repairing” the world–what is captured in the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam.

Remarkably, Genesis shows us that God’s creation actually needs our work in order to flourish:

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. (Genesis 2:5)

The world was actually created to need our creativity and productivity in order to flourish.  Nothing was growing because God had not yet created humans to “work the ground”.  Could God have created a world that didn’t need us to do anything but pick fruit and eat it?  Of course.  (If He did, He might have declared about His creation “it is perfect” rather than “it is very good”.)   In his book Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller gives wonderful color to the implication of the word “subdue” in the Creation Mandate:

The word “subdue” indicates that, though all God had made was good, it was still to a great degree undeveloped. God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor.

It is the Creation Mandate that extends our responsibility for flourishing beyond merely human flourishing to the flourishing of all God’s creation.

Imago Dei

Who we are is summed up in one Latin phrase with huge implications–Imago Dei–“Image of God”. Unlike every other element and creature of God’s creation, God created humans in His image:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Understanding that every human being is created in the image of God has important implications for how humans move toward Biblical flourishing. If God wants His creation to flourish and we are the greatest of His creations, then the way He made us–Imago Dei–must hold a key to how we flourish as humans–how we become more fully human!  What are the characteristics of God–the characteristics implanted in every human–that we learn from Creation?

• Relational. God is a relational being.  That means we are relational beings, and it also means God cares about relationships. If relationships are core to who we are, then they must be core to how we experience Biblical flourishing. That means they need to be core to how we work and core to the priorities of any organization of humans.

• Creative and Productive.  God is creative and productive, and He derives fulfillment and joy from His creation. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in it, sat back and declared the finished product “very good”. But He also enjoyed the process of creation, taking the time to appreciate each stage as “good”.  And then God put us in the Garden “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15) as a good thing before the Fall.  That means creativity and productivity through work are central to our humanity and our ability to experience Biblical flourishing as humans. But it also means we experience Biblical flourishing more fully when we express our God-given creativity and productivity in work cultures cultivated to enable us to derive joy and fulfillment from the process and fruit of our efforts–just like the God in whose image we were created.

• Sacred. God cares about all of creation, including material things, because He made it. But humans are special, because we are the only things created in Gods image. That makes every single human sacred and entitled to be treated with the same dignity (not more for the CEO and less for the receptionist). Biblical flourishing through work requires an organizational culture that values rather than devalues human dignity, which we believe requires treating people as an “end” instead of a means to an “end”.

We can’t say this enough times—people are more “fully human” and able to experience Biblical flourishing when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given productivity and creativity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity.

Commandments to Love

Although people often attribute the commandments “love God and love your neighbor” to Jesus, they were “nothing new”–they came straight from the Old Testament:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)

What Jesus added is the clarification that these are the greatest commandments on which “depend all the Law and the Prophets“. (Matthew 22:37-40) If Biblical flourishing of humans requires living in alignment with God’s design for humans, then humans are more “fully human” and able to experience Biblical flourishing when living out these commandments.

With Imago Dei teaching us that humans are more “fully human” and able to experience Biblical flourishing when living out our God-mirroring characteristics, we must pay attention to a Biblical passage in which humanity is commanded literally to mirror God in a very specific way. The command came from Jesus in John 13:34:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Remember, an organization is simply a group of people working together toward a common goal. If people are created and called to love God and love their neighbor, then an organization aligned with Biblical flourishing must exist to do the same, which means it must be managed in a way that encourages, rather than hinders, its people living out that divine calling.

Purpose of Gifts

By our nature as creations in the image of God, we are given gifts of creativity and productivity through specific skills and physical and mental abilities. Some are given a gift of physical strength, some an artistic ability, some a logical mind, some a mathematical mind, some a poetic mind, some a business mind, some a gift of nurture and care, some a gift of ideating, some a gift of craftsmanship, some a gift of executing, some a gift of elocution, and some athletic ability.

We believe using those God-given gifts–the basis of our work and stewardship–as God intended them to be used is a key to humans experiencing fuller “humanness” and Biblical flourishing.  The Bible tells us two important things about how we are to use our gifts.  1 Peter 4:10-11 declares that we are to use these gifts–the basis of our work and stewardship–to serve others in order to glorify God.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

Indeed, glorifying God is ultimately the reason and purpose God made us.  Isaiah 43:7 makes clear that glorifying God is WHY we were created (“everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made“).   That simple and paramount truth is something that Biblical faiths have recognized for ages, from the Westminster Longer Catechism (“Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever“) to the Catholic Catechism (“Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: The world was made for the glory of God.”)

Biblical Flourishing in the Context of Work and Organizations

The Nature of Work and Organizations

Humans were created in the image of a creative and productive God who displayed His “working nature” by creating for six days (and then resting), which means work, in reflecting that nature, is essential to our humanity and our experience of Biblical flourishing. Humans are meant to serve one another through work by applying their gifts to steward creation and promote the flourishing of that creation. We are also meant to glorify God in all we do. When we reflect the image of God by exercising our God-given gifts through work to serve one another, we are also living out the commandments to love God and love one another. Work is a vehicle for living out those commandments and, in the process, for both experiencing and creating Biblical flourishing.  In the words of Jeff Van Duzer:

When humans engage in creative, meaningful work that grows out of relationships and gives back to the community they become more deeply human.

Work has intrinsic value in God’s Kingdom simply because it allows us to reflect our humanity and flourish, and it is necessary to being “fully human” and flourishing, apart from the product of that work.

Cultural commentator Seth Godin observed:

A business is a construct, an association of human beings combining capital and labor to make something. That business has precisely the same social responsibilities as the people that it consists of.

We believe Godin’s statement about social responsibilities holds true for Biblical purpose as well. An organization (including a business) is a platform that facilitates humans working together in relationship to live out Imago Dei, fulfill the Creation Mandate, and use their skills to love each other through service.

However, organizations are not merely constructs–they are creations that become part of God’s creation. An organization such as a business is a product of the Creation Mandate–it is created by humans exercising their God-given authority and mandate to “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth, and subdue it“.

Remember, the Creation Mandate extends beyond merely putting together raw physical materials. It includes “subduing” through the creation of culture and social structures such as organizations. Organizations such as businesses have intrinsic Kingdom value because they are a creation of God’s image-bearers that provide the platform and the opportunity for humans to come together in relationship to express and fulfill their humanity and flourish through work by producing and promoting the flourishing of other creation in ways that could not be accomplished by people working alone.

Although the nature of an organization is that it has intrinsic value because it is a creation of God’s image-bearers fulfilling (whether or not knowingly) the Creation Mandate, an organization’s full intrinsic Kingdom value–the Biblical flourishing it could unleash–can only be realized if its purpose, values and priorities align with Biblical purposes, values and priorities.

Biblical Flourishing Through Work and Organizations

Redemption through Jesus is commonly seen as all about forgiveness of sins and “salvation”–getting to heaven. However, looking at the Bible through the lens of a Four-Part Kingdom Gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) reveals another exciting aspect and purpose of Redemption–to restore our humanity and experience Biblical flourishing by restoring our relationship with God so that we can “get back in the game” of “building for the Kingdom”.

Humans were given work and the Creation Mandate before the Fall, but we are not able to understand or engage fully in that mission without Redemption and the Holy Spirit. Leaning on the eloquent words of theologian N.T. Wright from his book Surprised by Hope:

In the new creation the ancient human mandate to look after the garden is dramatically reaffirmed . . . . The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill that mandate at last.

We summarize and express these Biblical purposes of work and organizations–these ways in which to pursue Biblical flourishing–as being threefold:

Humanize People: People are more “fully human” and able to flourish when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given productivity and creativity and creates economic prosperity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity.

Beautify the World: An organization adds to the beauty of the world and assists in God’s restorative plan for His Kingdom by creating opportunities, economic prosperity, goods and services, and by solving problems and “repairing” the world, in ways that help families and communities to flourish, and by extending its culture of Shalom to all creation it touches. In the process, the work of the organization takes on deeper meaning for its own people.

Glorify God: An organization glorifies God and loves its neighbors principally through serving people–by providing opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identities in creative and meaningful work, by providing opportunities, economic prosperity, goods and services, and by solving problems and “repairing” the world, in ways that enable families and communities to flourish, and by creating a culture of Shalom conducive to the flourishing of all creation it touches.

There is a wonderful way in which Humanizing and Beautifying create a virtuous circle of Biblical flourishing.  Humanizing People leads to better physical and mental health, better family relationships and stronger communities, thereby Beautifying the World, and the sense of bigger purpose employees get from understanding how they Beautify the World through their work is itself Humanizing.  Through a lens of Biblical flourishing, the promotion and facilitation by an organization of flourishing internally serves to promote and facilitate further flourishing externally, and the promotion and facilitation of flourishing externally serves to promote and facilitate further flourishing internally.

Biblical Flourishing Requires Faithful Stewardship

An organization pursuing Biblical flourishing through the alignment of its culture with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities must recognize that the Creation Mandate requires faithful stewardship of God’s creation. We believe faithful stewardship of an organization must take into account four principles–Respect, Sustainability, Mutuality and Generosity.

Respect. Respect for all humans because God created them, which means treating all stakeholders of an organization (owners, employees, vendors, customers, communities) with dignity and caring about how the organization is impacting their flourishing.

Sustainability.  Sustainability applies across all aspects of an organization, including its utilization of all forms of capital that drive the business and its relationships with the stakeholders related to those forms of capital.  This requires leaders to assess the usage and the availability and health of all the capital it requires to keep operating–natural, human, social and financial.

Mutuality. Mutuality is about an organization extending its culture of Shalom to all people it touches by managing all capital from a Biblical view of relationships, community, human dignity, flourishing and the common good.  Mutuality is about ensuring that transactions are “fair” to both parties, regardless of bargaining leverage.  It embodies the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31) and helps ensure sustainability of the organization, its relationships and its capital.

Generosity.  As explained in post #189 (First Things–Righteousness), faithful integrity requires more than “giving generously”–it requires the “vertical integration” of generosity by “living generously”.  Living generously is about operating the organization (and, in the process, generating wealth) in a way that generously loves others and stewards creation.  Living generously is living sacrificially–choosing to give something up or to forego a benefit because it benefits the common good–because it represents faithful integrity and increases the Biblical flourishing of others.  In this respect, generosity is closely tied to mutuality–treating vendors, employees, customers and communitoes more fairly than you might need to based on your bargaining leverage is living sacrificially–and it is faithful stewardship.

There is a truism attributed to John Hayes, former Chief Marketing Officer of American Express, “We tend to overvalue the things we can measure, and undervalue the things we cannot.”

In their book Completing Capitalism, the authors identify 4 types of capital needed for a business:  natural, human, social and financial. They argue that “business as usual” has been to focus only on financial capital and largely ignore management of the other key components.  In part, it is because we only manage to what we can measure, and business hasn’t had a good way to measure natural, human and social capital usage.  As a result, these other forms of capital, including people, have been mismanaged through lack of management.

We are very encouraged by recent initiatives to develop manageable measures for the previously unmeasurable.  The Economics of Mutuality (which emerged from the work at the Mars Corporation detailed in Completing Capitalism) includes ways to measure and manage to uses of natural, human and social capital.  The Harvard Human Flourishing Program has developed an index for measuring human flourishing.  While the Holy Spirit must always remain the ultimate source of discernment for a faithful leader seeking to lead with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing, that discernment now has tools to aid implementation and pursuit of the Creation Mandate.

Biblical Flourishing Must Be the “End”

Flowing from the Creation Mandate, Imago Dei, the purpose of God’s creation, and the nature of work and organizations, we believe the Biblical purpose of an organization is to maximize the Biblical flourishing of all the creation it touches, particularly people.  However, the flourishing it could unleash can only be realized when a leader has the courage to put profit in its proper place–as a means rather than an end. In the words of Ken Eldred:

Profit is like oxygen. You absolutely need it to win the race. But that’s not the objective. The primary objective of business is serving others to the glory of God.

Perhaps the most consistent theme over the last 198 posts is that profit becomes a problem when it becomes the purpose of a business.  We call it Profit as Purpose, and it is a hallmark of business as usual–business according to the world’s beliefs, values and priorities.

As we have also said many times, profit is not bad, and the creation by business of economic prosperity is good. Profit in a business is necessary for faithful stewardship of the business (it is necessary for Respect in order to properly compensate owners and critical for Sustainability), which means it is necessary for the Creation Mandate, which in turn means it is necessary for business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, which in turn means it is necessary for Biblical flourishing. Economic prosperity enables families and communities to flourish.

Like money, profit becomes bad when it moves from being a tool to being an idol.  Profit is an idol when it is the end toward which the business is managed. If profit is the purpose–the end toward which a business is managed:

• People and the rest of creation can never be more than tools of production to be managed toward that end (“No one can serve two masters“, Matthew 6:24).

• People will be valued based on their perceived profit contribution, and value is likely to be based on short-term profit or stock value.

• Decisions will be made mainly based on financial metrics, because they measure profit and they are easily measurable.

• Because an organization manages to its purpose, a key role of the organizational culture of the business will be to drive profit.  Business culture can be designed (or will just emerge) to drive or inspire people to perform at higher levels and contribute more to profitability through manipulative mechanisms like bonuses/commissions/promotions and the fear of elimination or demotion.

Profit as Purpose works against faithfully stewarding people and the rest of creation toward Biblical flourishing, which means it works against the Creation Mandate, Imago Dei, and the purpose of God’s creation. Profit as an end requires its maximization.  Profit as a means permits its optimization.  Faithfully positioning profit means seeking the optimal level of profit to maximize Biblical flourishing–the level of profit that brings God the most glory, which is, after all, the reason we are here.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): As encouraged as I am about new measurements for the previously unmeasurable elements of faithful stewardship of a business, I am even more encouraged by the mere existence of the Harvard Human Flourishing Program as well as the Harvard Law School Program on Biblical Law and Christian Legal Studies.  In fact, it is the most hopeful I have felt about my alma mater in 40 years.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Jan Martin Will on Shutterstock
(photo cropped and reversed)