I Still Hate Sears - Business Ethics

Both the Young America (Minnesota) Rebate Center and an IP from “Sears Law” are still taking great interest in my posts, I Hate Sears and I Still Hate Sears, according to my web monitoring software. “Google” the words, “i hate sears”, and I’ve consistently been rated #1 and #2. I would rather have been known for my recipes, but, alas, doing my bit for public service is fine, too.

By the way, Sears and Young America. I’m still waiting for you to reimburse the $20 NSF-bank charges resulting from the rebate check you finally sent to me, drafted on your NSF account! “But…but….Mrs. Ericson, at least we SENT you a rebate check…..”…..

While I’m quite sure the following article from the Acton Institute – a group dedicated to the “study of religion and liberty” based on Dueteronomy 25:13-16 – may well be casting pearl before swine, hope springs eternal.

Corporations are NOT outside the Lord’s jurisdiction and neither are your individual actions. So read on….

Business Ethics According to God

Dueteronomy 25:13-16

On June 3, 1980 the computers in the North American Aerospace Defense Command bunker deep underground Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado sounded an alarm: Two missiles had just been launched from Soviet nuclear submarines and were heading toward the United States. B-52 bombers carrying nuclear warheads were immediately prepared for takeoff. Tensions began to increase in the underground bunker when the terminals indicated that the number of Soviet missiles had increased from 2 to 22. Then the number increased to 222, then 2,222, then 22,222. By the time the computers were reporting over 2 million incoming missiles, the officers knew they had a computer malfunction. Inspectors eventually tracked down the malfunction to a single, defective semiconductor chip the size of a snow-flake.

This was puzzling to the government, since every chip purchased by the Department of Defense is required to undergo strenuous testing, to ensure that it is perfectly functioning and reliable. On March 6, 1984, however, criminal charges were brought against National Semiconductor Corporation, for routinely skipping these tests in order to speed production and delivery of their chips and lying to the government in a three-year scheme involving thousands of improperly tested computer parts sold to military contractors. National Semiconductor pleaded guilty to twenty-three counts of making false statements to the government and agreed to pay $1.75 million in civil and criminal penalties because of its failure to adequately test some 26 million chips from 1978 to 1981 and for falsifying test reports.1 The dishonesty used to increase profit on a tiny, little microchip turned out to have enormous ramifications. In this situation, the government didn’t get what they thought they were paying for.

Sadly (and as many of you know very well), we live in a cut-throat, money driven society where such displays of dishonesty in business dealings are all too common. However, dishonesty in the marketplace is nothing new in the history of civilization and the Bible is certainly not silent concerning the ethics of business. The Bible was written during a time when dishonesty and deception in trade and commerce were commonplace as well.

So it’s no wonder that in Deut. 25:13-16 we have spelled out for us what God’s standards were for his people as they conducted business while surrounded by corrupt and idolatrous cultures.

We read, “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights: a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures: a large and a small. A full and just weight you shall have, a full and just measure you shall have; that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God.”

Scott Hafemann has pointed out that God always relates to his people throughout the Bible in the same three-fold manner.

First, God unconditionally and graciously blesses and provides.

Second, he then lays out the covenant stipulations by which his people are to live.

Third, he describes the blessings and curses which are consequences of obeying or disobeying those stipulations.2

This structure is clearly seen in the passage we’re looking at today and will be evident as we go through it.

The historical prologue to this text is God’s gracious act to redeem his people from slavery in Egypt with mighty acts of deliverance (e.g. the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna in the desert, etc.). The laws that God then gave to Moses represent the covenant stipulations, and the covenant blessings and curses are revealed throughout (especially seen in Deut. 27-30). As God told Moses to tell the people of Israel in Exod. 19:4-6, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

The stipulations we find here in vv. 13 and 14 deal with how Israel was supposed to mediate God’s justice and righteousness to their pagan neighbors and distinguish themselves as a holy nation, set-apart from the wicked economic practices of the world. God’s people were not to have two kinds of weights in their bag as we read in v. 13. Literally, this is translated “a stone and a stone” (eben vaaben). They were not to have two different stones. Before there existed a standardized system of weights and measures or a government department to regulate it, merchants would carry with them a stone to act as a counterweight for scales in order to determine how much of a certain commodity was being traded. The trouble came when some swindlers would have a light one (used for selling) and a heavy one (used for buying). When they purchased one unit of measurement of a certain commodity, they would use the heavy stone and get more than they bargained for. When they sold a good they would use the light stone and skimp their patron. It was a win win situation!

In case that wasn’t clear enough, the same concept is denounced again in v. 14. Here, instead of two kinds of weights, God condemns having two kinds of measures, literally “an ephah and an ephah”. The ephah was a measure of volume estimated at about 3/5 bushel or 22 liters,3 so imagine having one ephah measure that was only 21 liters and another that was 23. Deception was all too easy and all too common in this primitive system, and we know from other Ancient Near Eastern literature that this very practice of having different weights and measures was prevalent.4

But in this type of society, God required “a full and just weight,” and “a full and just measure” (v. 15). This verse was translated into Greek by Jewish scholars in the 3rd century B.C. using the words “true” and “right.” Other translations like the KJV have “perfect“ and “just“ and the NIV renders it “accurate” and “honest”.

*In other words, what this positive command here is saying is that the Israelites were to use consistent and fair weights and measures so that they honestly conduct their business – only getting what they pay for and selling exactly what their buyer expects to get.*

The same idea is expressed in Lev. 19:35-36:

“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin.”

Don’t think that stuff like this doesn’t happen today.

In 1996, the USDA charged Greater Omaha Packing Co. and its president Henry A. Davis with “knowingly weighing livestock carcasses at less than their true and correct weights” and “causing the seller to be paid for the livestock on the basis of false weights. I’m sure many of you have heard about or know of other instances where the same type of thing occurred. In today’s “do whatever it takes to make a buck in this world”, the words of the poet W.H. Auden are quite apropos:

“Values are relative: Dough is dough.”

God denounces such an attitude and demands a rigorous commitment to honesty.

Having fair and just weights and measures is God’s commanded business policy subsequent to delivering his people from Egypt, and in the last part of v. 15 we see what obedience to this policy results in. It is so “that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”

Long life in the Promised Land was God’s blessing for swimming against the tide of fraudulent business practices. This same promise is joined with obedience several other times throughout the book of Deut.7 11:9 states,

“Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your forefathers to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

The point is clear: honesty has its rewards.

Everyone knows the straight-shooting auto mechanic that we return to again and again; the honest merchant we always bring our business to; the salesman that has earned our trust with repeated displays of integrity; the upright banker, grocer, broker, contractor, and the list could go on. People naturally avoid companies or corporations with a reputation for deceitfulness.

*Therefore, as a general rule it’s good business to deal justly, and so integrity is often rewarded with economic success. That’s why there are books on business ethics like one by Robert Solomon subtitled, “How Personal Integrity Leads to Corporate Success.”

While this is true, that proper business ethics generally results in a successful enterprise, there is one crucial caveat. I would be greatly remiss if I didn’t stress the fact that throughout the Bible we’re taught that our rewards for obedience are many times delayed. This is hard to swallow, and a great test to our faith, but Scripture and experience teach us that many times the dishonest, the fraudulent, the cheaters, the unethical prosper in their business while the business of the man or woman of integrity stagnates or barely makes it. To be honest, many times honesty won’t be very poplular – the whistle-blower, the employee who works hard, the manager who’s meticulous about quality control, the partner who won’t sign off on falsified numbers – all these people may suffer while it seems the wicked have it easy or never get caught.

The Psalmist felt this way in Ps. 73. He said,

“This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure.

It wasn’t until he said, “I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny”.

Ps. 49:16-20 exhorts, “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself blessed – and men praise you when you prosper – he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish“.

We must remember that even though it seems like dishonesty is rewarded and integrity is punished, God doesn’t always work on our timetables.

Those who pass on ill-gotten, temporal pleasures have an eternal reward: treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Mt. 6:19).

Holding to a rigid policy of honesty in our business interactions may not immediately pay off and may even bring us hardships, but God has promised that not succumbing to the greedy and unjust practices of this world will be rewarded.

Vv. 13 and 14 show God’s prohibition – differing weights and measures; v. 15 gives God’s prescription: accurate weights and measures, and his promised reward, long life in the land.

V. 16 rewords and expands the prohibition and gives the ground for it. We read,

“All who do such things, [that is] all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God.”

First, we have explained for us what it really is that God is forbidding. It is more than just a specific command to use the right weights and measures, but rather it is broadly described as “acting dishonestly”.

God is rebuking any kind of dishonesty to make an extra buck, from great infractions to small ones.

We may read in the paper of meat packers stuffing their product with fillers and car lots rolling back odometers, but this mandate transcends just butchers and used car salesmen to include even the gravest of white collar crimes like bribery, embezzlement, fraud, tax evasion, or extortion.

V. 16 makes clear that God is giving an all-encompassing denouncement of dishonesty and in this verse we also find what the basis for this denouncement is.

God, in his very being is diametrically opposed to injustice and dishonesty.

Here he uses very strong language in order to emphasize that he is against dishonesty. Elsewhere, we read in Prov. 11:1, “The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight,” and Prov. 20:23 reiterates, “The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him”. (cf. Prov. 16:11).

Economic justice is the cry of the prophets.

Amos pronounces judgment on those “skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales“ (8:5). Through Micah God asks, “Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights“ (6:11)? Throughout Scripture, we learn of God that he hates dishonesty when it comes to money; not just false weights and measures, but any kind of dishonesty for illegitimate gain.

So, in this passage, because God is so very opposed to dishonesty, he condemns the common practice of having false weights and measures and commands fair weights and measures with the promise that those who deal justly will live long in the land.

But precisely because it is God’s fundamental holiness that demanded honesty in the way his people conducted business in the ancient world, the message of Deut. 25:13-16 rings just as true today in the modern world. And that message is: there is no place for ethical equivocation when it comes to the way in which we conduct our business in the world. Those who have economic integrity, even when it’s not popular or profitable, enjoy God’s favor and blessing and if not immediately, will someday be rewarded.

As Christian business-people gathered at this luncheon, Christ has redeemed you from the futile, self-destructing, and wicked ways of the world.

Now he commands of you, living in a fiscal world driven by the bottom line and the profitability of the firm, where greed blurs moral vision, to be set apart in obedience to God’s demand for honesty. In faith that you will be blessed in doing so, *resist the pressures to falsely advertise, stand against unauthorized use of company money, don’t allow skimping on quality control, have no part in covering up harmful violations of environmental policies, be convicted against exorbitant price mark-ups, denounce bribery to keep an employee quiet, don’t knowingly sell faulty equipment, never falsify numbers to make them look better. Whatever ethical dilemma comes up in your occupation, honesty is always the best policy, because it’s God’s policy.

  1. Taken from Manuel G. Velasquez, Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1992), pp. 49-55.
  2. See Scott J. Hafemann, The God of Promise and the Life of Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
  3. See R.B.Y. Scott, “Weights and Measures of the Bible,”  The Biblical Archaeologist 22 (March, 1959), pp. 22-40.
  4. A similar injunction is found in the Egyptian document entitled Instruction of Amenemope.
  5. Greater Omaha Packing Denies USDA Charge of False Weighing, “Omaha World-Herald, 20 Sept. 1996, p. 20.
  6. From “Song of the Devil” in W.H. Auden, Two Songs (New York: The Phoenix Book Shop, 1968).
  7. i.e. 5:16, 6:2, 32:47
  8. Robert C. Solomon, Better Way to Think About Business: How Personal Integrity Leads to Corporate Success (New York: Oxford UP, 1999).
  9. “Dierbergs Pays Fine in Beef Label Case.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 31 May 2000, C2.; “Tainted Meat Sold Despite First Inspection.” The Toronto Star, 5 Oct. 1989, A17.
  10. “Playing Used Car Detective, Online.” New York Times, 29 July 2001, sec. 3, p.
  11. See also Ezekiel 45:10-12.

  1. I hate Sears….
    they have hosed us for tooo long.

    — Joy    Jan 9, 11:32 AM    #
  2. DO NOT BUY FROM SEARS. I HATE THEM TOO! Their customer service is so bad… they don’t have ANY!! My front load washer stopped spinning. I called Sears repair – BIG MISTAKE. 1st they told me on the phone it would cost $65 to have them come out. The guy comes, goes down into my basement for 10-15 mins., comes up and tells me “the motor is all rusted out – it’s shot.” Tells me it’ll cost $400 to put in a new motor but that I can just buy a new machine for $400. Then he bills me for $75 not $65. I go online to see what is involved with replacing the motor, maybe my boyfriend and I can do it ourselves and save money, right? I found MULTIPLE websites that said the same symptoms my machine had (filling and draining but only humming when it should spin) could be as simple as a clogged coin trap. In less time than the guy was in my house we cleaned the trap and I have since done 3 loads with my “rusted out and shot” motor!!! So you have to ask yourself; was he totally incompetent or was he malicious? If you look you can see NO RUST on the motor. I am voting malicious! And you have to know – had I run out and bought a new machine they would have taken away my old one – like they are so nice to take it off my hands right? But then I bet they would clean the coin trap and sell it as “refurbished” for another $250 profit for them! And to add insult to injury they refused to refund the $75 it cost me to have their guy do NOTHING (and no offense, but, he was about 5’ 9” yet weighed like 400lbs., not sure he could even really get down low enough to actually see under my machine) and then try to rip me off! :( Plus, the attitude I have run into again and again with them on this makes me believe this is SOP for Sears repair; do nothing, lie, get them to buy new and then resell their old thing.

    — Juliet    Sep 3, 12:17 PM    #
  3. I can’t wait to NOT BUY my next washer from Sears. After years of nothing but trouble, my washing maching overflowed again… and I have the service contract which by now, could have paid for a new machine. They should come out immediately in the case of water damage however, they scheduled the appointment 10 days out. My advice, never, never, never buy a sears product. And while I am sharing, their automated voice system is an insult. This is just the tip. My mother ordered a washer and they charged her 3x but never delivered the machine to her house although they tried to tell an 83 year old woman that they did deliver it and she is just saying that they did not. Can you imagine the incompetence. They finally told her they LOST THE MACHINE, three times. LOL – The have an uncaring culture and very bad customer service. Oh, and when they overcharged me for my dryer and I tried to get the credit for the overcharge, it was ridiculous. The salesman told me he ran the credit and it never showed up on my credit card. I finally gave up. Share the message people, share the message.

    — Annie    Oct 6, 08:21 AM    #
  4. Dont’ forget….you can stick it to Sears by boycotting any retail purchases of Land’s End catalog purchases. Sears owns Land’s End. I love their kids stuff, but from now on, it’s LLBean when we need that kind of thing. I had a rebate dispute with them 2 years ago and they have received not one penny of our money since.

    MrsBurns    Oct 25, 10:58 AM    #
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