As a business student in my 20s and then as a young professional, I was asking the question: How can businesspeople advance the Christian faith? In the writings of a well-known, 18th-century pastor and theologian I discovered that my question was not new.
In the 1740s, Jonathan Edwards was witnessing The First Great Awakening. He wrote his “Thoughts On The Revival" as a small booklet. In it he described three clear ways business people could contribute to the spread of the awakening he was witnessing.
Edwards marveled that those with wealth and honor can have a strange shyness about their faith in Jesus, “as though they were ashamed of it.” They are careful, when they should be confident, afraid when they should be bold. He called for fresh zeal, like that of King David in Scripture:
“In this day of bringing up the ark, they ought to be like David, that great king of Israel, who made himself vile before the ark; and as he was the highest in honour and dignity among God’s people, so he thought it became him to be foremost in zeal.”
Business leaders who are passionate Christians can greatly influence others towards faith in Jesus.
We're all tempted to live as if earth was our home, but this is especially true for those with the means to build their own kingdoms and order their lives according to their will. But Jonathan Edwards believed that “If some of our rich men would give one quarter of their estates to promote this work, they would act a little as if they were designed for the kingdom of heaven.”
Generosity is a rare and beautiful mystery. Scripture calls it "an act of grace." When we give we remind our own hearts that we already possess the greatest treasure. We proclaim to the world in the words of the old hymn: "I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold. I'd rather be his than have riches untold. I'd rather have Jesus than houses or land. I'd rather be led by his nail-pierced hand."
When we see Jesus and his salvation as our highest treasure, we'll freely give the one thing this world holds most tightly: money.
3. Gospel Patronage
Edwards saw that Christian giving has the opportunity to go beyond philanthropy. He advised leaders to get in the game and “devise some notable things to do with their money, to advance the kingdom of their professed Redeemer, and the prosperity of the souls of men.” Our faith leads us to be active, not passive in alleviating suffering wherever we find it and caring for the souls of men of women by spreading the gospel.
Jonathan Edwards didn’t have the language of gospel patronage, but he saw it. He encouraged people to financially support gospel workers, saying, “Great things might be done for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ at this day by those who have ability… by supporting some who are eminently qualified with gifts and grace in preaching the gospel.”
We can all have influence to advance the gospel message when we use our wealth to invest in the ministries of those who preach Jesus to the world.
It Could Happen Again
If those gifted in preaching will preach Jesus and those gifted in business will partner with them in zeal and generosity, there's no telling what God will do. God might be pleased to cause great awakenings to spring up again in the biggest cities or least likely places.