Spiritual Nature of the Marketplace
Have you ever wondered why skeptics
who claim they are “not religious” (and don’t want
to talk about it) are happy to have their palms read or admit they
consult the stars; while vocal opponents of churches and traditional
Christianity adopt Zen as a lifestyle or overtly set up yoga classes
in the workplace? Millions of people in the West claim they do not
have any religion, but cults report they are growing faster than most
church denominations. Why is this?
The answer is: the world around us is
multi-dimensional. We are all familiar with 3-D, but there is a
fourth, spiritual, dimension to life. We are both physical and
spiritual beings. The marketplace is more than money, commodities,
jobs, offices and factories. Society as we know it, the turmoils we
see, including wars, political struggles, economic competition,
racial conflicts, crime and family break-up all have an invisible
spiritual dimension. The Bible teaches us that there are forces (or,
rather, personalities) at work in the world that touch the whole
human race. One is God; the other is Satan. Speaking to Christians
in ancient Ephesus about the lives they lived before accepting
Christ, the Apostle Paul said that they had, “followed
the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air,
the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient”,
Everyone is a spiritual being
People are innately spiritual and
(whether or not they recognize it) are involved in a life-long quest
for enlightenment and fulfillment. Men and women without God are
incomplete. Over the years I have worked with many highly educated
and motivated men and women who have sought in alternative religions
the meaning they craved but were convinced they could not identify in
organized Christianity. Their contacts with Christians and churches
left them with unanswered questions and a feeling conventional church
life was not for them.
Each of us has a spiritual side. Not
like creepy ghosts or disembodied spirits that are the stuff of
movies, but created in the image of God, made to receive and reflect
His life. We live because He lives. Kill God (the God
is Dead movement tried) and
we all remain dead spiritually (cf Ephesians 2:1, 5). There is part
of us that only God can fill; if He is missing, emptiness remains.
The human spirit is engaged in an endless search until it re-connects
with the Maker. Like leaving the cord out of the computer and
wondering why the screen remains black after the on/off switch is
Spiritual fulfillment occurs through
relationship with God who came to us as a Man, Jesus Christ. There
is no higher goal, no deeper satisfaction, than knowing the presence
of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. The number one contribution
we Christians can make in our workplaces is to remain connected to
Christ, so that our lives are energized by His life and others can
see the evidence. In the words of a professional tradesman and
part-time preacher who lived in the early Christian era, “It is
no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians
The spiritual dimension of the
There are spiritual forces at work in
our world that want to claim every workplace, home, public service
organization, policy think tank, educational institution and
entertainment medium and bring the population under their influence
and control. They are active across the spectrum of society. They
impose their own truths. They seem to have power over peoples’
lives, standards of living, paradigms and decisions. They gain
“strongholds” in society. Such strongholds include faith
systems, such as Islam, Hinduism and Daoism, with their attendant
fears, superstitions, obligations and compulsions. They are evident
in immoral lifestyles, such as entrenched prostitution, drug
addiction, and racial prejudices. They work through extreme
attitudes toward money, the manipulation and abuse of greed and
wealth and the impoverishment of addictive gambling. They speak to
us through powerful media interests and dominant political and
societal systems, which re-construct truth (“spin”) in
their own image. In business they use corruption, unethical
practices and power struggles to secure indomitable holds over
exactly is a “stronghold”? Let me describe one that I
Possibly the best preserved mediaeval
fortress in existence is the Crusader castle, the Krak Des
Chevaliers, located in modern Syria. This stronghold was never taken
by storm. It incorporated the best military architecture of its
time. Attacked repeatedly by Muslim armies in the late 12th
century, it was strengthened and enlarged until it housed a garrison
of 2000. From the outside the Krak is intimidating in its grandeur.
It has concentric lines of defence, the inner ramparts lying close to
the outer ones and dominating them. Its ramparts are 80 feet high
and there are no footholds for enemies. The
walls were built in such a way that defenders could easily drop rocks
onto the attackers. They were thickened at the base so that sappers
could not penetrate them. There are cliffs on three sides of the
castle. The site did not fall
until 1271, and that was the result of ruses that convinced the
inhabitants to surrender without a fight, not because the castle was
unable to withstand attackers.
Likewise, there are strongholds in
peoples’ thoughts, lives and work worlds; areas where Satan
(from the Greek word meaning “enemy”) and strong human
will are dominant. They are like castles, shut up fast against all
invaders, including truth. Those on the inside believe they are
prevailing, not realizing that they are prisoners within the gates.
The Bible teaches that the whole world (its cultural, monetary,
military and political systems) lies under the sway of wickedness (1
John 5:19). Satan is the unseen ruler in the lives of billions.
From the Fall of Adam and Eve, it was always this way, until the
coming of Jesus.
Throughout the Bible, human empires
are also described in spiritual terms. This does not mean they were
not used by physical men and armies; it means, however, that there is
a spiritual dimension to the exercise of hegemonic power. Warfare
between ancient Israel and their enemies was often portrayed
Jesus and the Devil – the
The Bible graphically depicts how
Jesus and the Devil clashed during His earthly ministry. From the
outset of Jesus’ life, He went head-to-head with the strategies
of Satan. Those strategies included numerous attempts to cut off
Jesus’ life and effectiveness, before He could do His work.
Let’s consider some examples.
When Jesus was still a baby the most
powerful man in His country sent soldiers to kill him. While still
an infant, he was taken to Egypt by his parents, to avoid Herod’s
assassination squads. He only narrowly escaped, when Joseph was
warned in a dream to flee Israel. As He grew up, He was tempted in
every area in which we all face temptation (Hebrew 4:15; 1
Corinthians 10:13). He had enemies who set out to kill him, and
ultimately did so.
When Jesus was baptized He was led
(more like “driven”) by the Holy Spirit into the
wilderness, where he had major confrontations with Satan, who tried
every trick in the book to divert Him from His course and lead him
into sin. Yielding even once to temptation would have terminated His
ministry. Jesus called the Devil “the enemy” (Matthew
13:19, 39) and said that he was a murderer from the beginning (John
8:44). Jesus knew what Satan was like.
Part of the record of that period goes
“The devil led him up to a
high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the
world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their
authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give
it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Worship the Lord your God and
serve him only.'"
(Luke 4:5-8 NIV)
Imagine being offered all of the
kingdoms of the world. I have been to Bandar Seri Begawan, the
elaborate capital of the country ruled by the super-rich Sultan of
Brunei. But that is only one tiny pocket in Asia. Satan claimed
ownership of everything, plus the power to bestow power and
splendour. The price demanded of Jesus seemed relatively small. I
have met people who have gone for the high stakes, compromised,
played the game and paid this kind of price to achieve what they had.
Note that Jesus did not challenge Satan in his assertions. He
didn’t respond by arguing that world authority did not rest in
his hands. Ultimate authority is God’s. We need to careful
not to fall for the lie that authority over power and wealth reside
in Satan’s hands and that we have to go along with his and
society’s expectations to get anywhere. For Jesus, the key to
victory lay in submission to God. "It is written, 'Worship the
Lord your God and serve him only'" (4:8; Deuteronomy 6:13).
On His return to Nazareth Jesus
addressed a local synagogue, whereupon the people misunderstood the
message and tried to lynch Him (Luke 4:14-30). On one level, the
opposition was motivated by ignorance and prejudice. On another, it
is clear that the devil aimed at making every possible effort to
Time and again, Jesus life and
ministry were jeopardized by people and spiritual enemies who tried
to curtail His existence and purpose. Satan even tried using the
disciple Peter to talk Jesus out of going to Jerusalem to fulfill his
mission (Matthew 16:23).
In facing down evil Jesus secured a
victory that can be ours, as Christians. However, he also
demonstrated the power and presence of evil in the world.
An important outcome of Jesus’
ministry was defeating the power of Satan in peoples’ lives
(Acts 10:38; 1 John 3:8). He cast out demons (Matthew 8:16; 10:31)
and set people free from Satanic domination manifested through
sickness. As Jesus sat in his marketplace, watching crowds, animals
and goods come and go, he saw beyond the merchandise and haggling, to
the invisible, spiritual dimension. [Paul and Silas had a similar
experience in the city of Philippi, where the Apostle discerned
spiritual oppression in a young woman’s life and decisively
released her from demonic activity in Jesus’ name (Acts 16
16-19).] It was Satan who put it into the hearts of Judas to betray
Jesus (John 13:2).
Through His suffering, death and
resurrection Jesus exhausted the power of evil. Hounded implacably
to the cross, a place that seemed to spell the end of His mission, He
defeated Satan there (Colossians 2:15). When He rose again all power
was given to Him (Matthew 18:18). However, he did not say that evil
forces had ceased to influence human affairs. They had merely
changed strategies, even though notionally overthrown.
God retains ultimate authority and
sovereignty over His creation. At a local level, Jesus called Satan
the Prince of this World (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Elsewhere, the
New Testament calls him the God of this World (2 Corinthians 4:4) and
“The Prince of the Power of the Air” (Ephesians 2:2).
The battle he wages is not about flesh and blood, but for peoples’
hearts and minds. He makes power seem enticing and achievable. He
seeks to gain authority and control over people. That authority is
secured when it is permitted, as is clear from the story of Job (Job
1:6-2:10). Satan uses fears as well as enticements. He comes as an
angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
The Bible says that Satan wanders
about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
It proclaims that we, as Christians, are more than conquerors through
Christ (Romans 8:37); the Greek word implies “invincible”.
All too often we think that our struggles are with people. Not so.
Our real struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against
spiritual enemies; we need spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6:12). The
Bible states that,
though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the
contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We
demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against
the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it
obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV)
What about our marketplaces?
What does all this have to do with
your marketplace, or mine? Precisely this: if the world in which we
live is still under the influence of Satan, that reality applies to
our workplaces. Demonic beings still take control over peoples’
lives. The world’s economic and political systems remain at
loggerheads with God’s Kingdom (the place where God is King and
“principalities” opposed to Him are disempowered, cf
Matthew 12:28). Many sections of the marketplace are “behind
enemy lines”, so to speak. In the clinical West, the activity
of Satan is usually invisible and is dismissed by skeptics. In lots
of countries I have visited, particularly in the so-called the Third
World, it is highly visible, as in New Testament days. Only the
power of God can defeat him.
Every member of the human race, every
nation, every business enterprise, owes allegiance to a higher power,
whether God or the Devil. Every element of the marketplace that is
not under the Lordship of Jesus Christ is under the lordship of the
Devil. This is the reason fine intellect alone will not win the
battle for the marketplace, where spiritual strongholds have to be
broken down, blind eyes have to be opened, seared consciences have to
be renewed and the authority of Jesus Christ has to be acknowledged
before true freedom comes.
When we become Christians we change
spiritual allegiances. The act of following Christ results in a
“transference” from what the Bible calls the Kingdom of
this World, ruled by the “god of this world” to the
Kingdom of God. The Bible teaches that the “God of this world”
blinds the eyes of non-Christians, to prevent the light of the Gospel
of Christ from getting through to them” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
After deciding to follow Christ, we switch sides and find we have a
new spiritual enemy.
We need to be careful how we live.
The moment we yield small areas of our lives (our thoughts, words,
priorities, attitudes, reactions and decisions) to Satan’s
ways, we permit unbelief, negativity and deception to enter and
assert control. Paul encourages us not to let Satan gain a
“foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). The word here reminds us of
the danger of “giving ground” to an invading enemy.
Power, wealth and positions can be terribly seductive and can prove
stumbling blocks to any Christian.
I am not pessimistic. Satan does not
have any power unless it is permitted by God, for a purpose. As
Christians, we have access to the authority of Jesus’ name and
are promised victory over our spiritual enemies. It is, as David
declared, just as if God is preparing a table for our benefit, to
provide for us, right in the midst of our enemies, showing that He is
in total control (Psalm 23:5).
Nor am I suggesting that we withdraw
from the world’s systems, as though interacting with them will
cause us to stumble. We cannot simply withdraw. I am saying that we
need to be aware of what is going on and ensure our driving force is
God. Over many centuries people who have withdrawn into caves,
monasteries and exclusive churches have discovered, to their chagrin,
that the power of evil is everywhere, including in their midst, and
that it is not seclusion, but daily surrender to Christ, that makes
and keeps us free.
Strategies and responses
How can we know what is occurring
behind the scenes, and protect ourselves, while influencing the
marketplace for Christ?
Be aware and discerning
We need spiritual discernment to know
what is going on. When Paul met a man named Bar-Jesus,
who was an attendant of a Roman proconsul in Cyprus named Sergius
Paulus he quickly
discerned that he was a sorcerer and false prophet and publicly
denounced the man’s evil ways (Acts 13:6-12). It was the Holy
Spirit who enabled him to see that Bar-Jesus’ opposition to his
preaching lay in spiritual forces motivating and energizing him.
Later on, Paul emphasized this point when he wrote to the church at
Corinth saying that his preaching was not based on human wisdom, but
an exercise of supernatural power (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
Only Christians have the capacity to
discern spiritual strongholds from God’s perspective. I once
read a commentary on Ephesians that stated, “We no longer fear
demons in the stars”. The writer was explaining that belief in
the supernatural world was obsolete among liberal Christians. It is,
however, one of the fundamentals of Biblical Christianity. The Holy
Spirit can raise our awareness and enable us to tune in to the
spiritual world around us. We believe that Jesus conquered Satan and
gives us the power to resist the devil, so that he will flee from us
2. Love people
Regardless of what people got involved
in, Jesus loved them. From my perspective, there is too much
harshness and lovelessness in sectors of denominational Christianity.
Jesus had compassion on all who came to him, even if they initially
hated him. He forgave his persecutors and prayed for them from the
cross. He said His truth was able to set them free (John 8:32).
We must be established in grace, even
if we become morally outraged at elements of human behaviour, and
their consequences in human experience. This means loving cranky
neighbours, homosexuals, tyrants, Muslim fundamentalists, hypocrites
and those who target us and our way of life, in the same way, without
any reservations, as Jesus did. The Bible teaches that the world as
we know it will pass away. God loves those in our marketplace; he
can set them free, change their hearts, give them a new beginning and
make them our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Instead of being judgmental and
legalistic, let’s try the love of God the Father who sent Jesus
to save us. We may not feel we have much time - work life is usually
rushed - but every seed has the capacity to grow and change lives.
That may or may not make an immediate difference; however it is
better than denying hope to people for whom Jesus died. Love can
result in colleagues being set free from spiritual deception and
slavery. Spiritually alive Christians should be contagious.
3. Proclaim Christ
We are called to proclaim Christ.
Paul said that he was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it
was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). He may have been
ashamed at the actions of some of his fellow-Christians (including
fellow-preachers), or his own weaknesses, but never the message. It
is our privilege to share Christ with people in our marketplace. The
Truth of who Jesus is will break down strongholds and see people set
4. Live out your victory each day
Christ has set us free, from the power
and guilt of sin. He has delivered us from the Devil’s
Kingdom. His power and victory are ours (1 John 5:1-5). His
presence is with us, and in us, when we enter our marketplaces every
day. In the midst of those marketplaces, we can live above the
chaos, emptiness and despair. We need to stand fast in the freedom
we enjoy in Him (Galatians 5:1).
If we are living in our victory, we
can be passionate about our work, reflect our relationship with God
and come across as “normal” in a culture that feels
spiritual failure. After all, there is no reason to separate the
part of us that loves God and the part of us that physically operates
in the marketplace. Integrated faith and work are made possible
because this is precisely what Jesus Christ did. He is our model, as
well as our strength.