To Forgive or Not to Forgive in Business

businessman crying lost in depression sitting on street concreteIn business, there are times when we must forgive people who have cheated and stolen from us. Sometimes, that forgiveness may have several zeros on the end of it. Three-figure forgiveness. Six-figure forgiveness. You may have to forgive even larger debts, depending on the size of your company.

Either way, it’s a horrible experience to have been cheated and stolen from in business.

How do you respond in business when people make promises they either cannot or will not keep?

You’ve Been Robbed in Business (and, It’s Awful)

In a rush to get a fancy e-commerce website built for my new health and fitness services startup back in 2011, I hired an unqualified web developer (Mistake #1) and paid him in advance (Mistake #2).

For the level of programming work I needed (or, thought I needed), I received several quotes from reputable web developers in the range of $25,000 to build the initial website. Considering I was a business school student at the time, this was far out of my price range. Plus, I only needed a functional prototype to show investors.

In my search for a less-expensive option, I was referred to a web developer who had a website similar to the one I needed. His site was built for a different industry than mine, but it had the functionality I needed. He promised that he could retrofit his website to the specifications I needed for a $5,000 “licensing fee”. Naïvely and impetuously, I paid the money.

As I soon discovered, he didn’t actually have the skills to build what I needed, nor would he outsource the work to someone who actually was qualified. I waited for my website for six months, hoping this person could deliver on what he had promised. Once he confessed to me that he would not deliver what he had promised, he promptly quit responding to my requests for a refund.

I had never before (or since) felt such intense anger toward an associate in business. At the time, I was soon-to-be-married and should have been enjoying my season of engagement. Yet, my anger toward the person who had stolen my money was robbing me of my joy. Emotionally, it was literally a torturous experience.

The Self-Inflicted Torture of Unforgiveness

Perhaps dealing with a client’s breach of contract with his fishing company, Peter once asked Jesus, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” (Matt. 18:21-22)

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

Jesus then told a sobering story from the business world about a man who had been forgiven a financial debt he could not pay (see Matt. 18:23-34). Despite the mercy shown toward him by his creditor, this man then turned around and refused to forgive a debt that was owed to him. Jesus said that the forgiven man “grabbed [his debtor] by the throat and demanded instant payment… He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.”

The master who had forgiven this unmerciful man said, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.”

Jesus then explained, “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart” (Matt. 18:35).

An Act of Forgiveness Is a Seed of Greatness

As I reflected more deeply on how mercifully God has forgiven me for the sins I have committed, forgiving the person who stole $5,000 from me became much easier. Rather than spending more money, time, and energy to go to court, I just forgave him. The emotional torture I was experiencing—part of the “torture” Jesus promised would happen to those who refuse to forgive their debtors—simply was not worth $5,000.

As is often the case with scenarios like this one, that negative experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When the web development plan crumbled for my health and fitness startup, I decided to learn how to build the website myself. As I learned how to build a basic website, I learned that I wasn’t as passionate about that startup concept as I thought I was. I promptly applied my newly-acquired skills toward building two websites for the purpose of promoting the work of thought leaders.

My act of forgiveness became the seed for the successful book publishing company I have been building over the past three years, which has now published more than 40 life-changing books for the glory of God.

Become a Better Steward… Not a Better Doormat

Now, you are probably thinking, “The Bible also says, ‘An eye for an eye… and a tooth for a tooth!’ You can’t be a doormat in the business world!”

Good stewardship will help to minimize the amount of times the decision to forgive debts will be forced upon you. Let me explain.

In addition to my experience with having $5,000 stolen from me, there have been a handful of other times when I was swindled in business (e.g. clients failing to pay, etc.). As I look back on these experiences, it was my own poor stewardship that opened most of these doors for me to be stolen from. In almost every case, either my contract was not clear, I didn’t do enough due diligence before making the decision, or there were not contingencies in place in the event that the contract was breached.

Reflect on times when you have been swindled and look for ways that you can become a better steward in those area, such as…

  • Asking for the Holy Spirit’s discernment
  • Adding a new clause/contingency into your contracts
  • Over-communicating and being consistent with your payment policies
  • Seeking wise counsel
  • Waiting an extra 24 hours before making a decision
  • Getting detail-oriented people to help with your due diligence

At the same time, offenses will come, and we absolutely must learn to forgive others in business as God has forgiven us (Matt. 6:12). He has forgiven us of debts we could never repay.

Discussion: Have you ever been forced with a decision to forgive (or to not forgive) someone in business? How did you respond? (Comment below)

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