How does a Christian do his very best in an atmosphere where one person's success means another's failure?
That's a good question. I haven't thought about that for a long time. I used to think more about those kinds of things back when I was in school, about how the free market economy functions.
The reason I advocate for a kind of principled capitalism—if you were to ask me what I think (I don't preach it)—is not that this sort of thing doesn't happen. In other words, I don't deny that Wal-Mart sometimes puts mom and pop grocery stores and mom and pop hardware stores out of business. However, all things considered, I believe there is more blessing, more prosperity at the social level when there's freedom than when there is government control.
Maybe one of the reasons the Lord allowed 70 years of communism in Europe was to show us the price of government control, totalitarian centralized control. It's devastating! It's devastating to human creativity. It's devastating to human achievement. And it is exalting to the powers of the people who have the power. And it has produced the greatest wickedness in the history of the world.
The 20th century was the bloodiest century in the history of the world. And the blood was shed by those who said, "Give us the power to run everything, and we will be your saviors." Well, they saved this tiny little group and they killed everybody else.
And so, when I look at the world, I agree with C. S. Lewis that the best argument for democracy is original sin, not righteousness. In other words, it's better to have everybody checking everybody in their freedom rather than giving power to one little oligarchy to try to control everything and present themselves as your savior. It never works.
So, all that to say, I come at this question as one who am willing to take the risks of business successes making life harder for others for the larger good of culture, the larger good of people in culture.
So on the personal level, I would think that a Christian businessman would not have a narrow, small, competitive attitude, slashing and burning, that says "I'm going to succeed no matter what." He's trying to conceive of a way of doing business, and a kind of product to make, a kind of service to provide that's going to be good for people, really good for people. The product is going to be good, the service is going to be good.
He is a blessing in his city, and he is not eager to put anybody out of business. He wants very much to help things rather than hurt things.
And yet, as he sees his own personnel policies, pricing, efficiencies, and energy making his store grow on the corner, he notices that he is taking customers away from the folks who don't have the same energy, policies, savvy, wisdom, and hard work. It's cheaper at his store, the service is better, the products he sells have better warranties. It's a service that he's giving, and yet it's hurting others.
I suppose if I were that man I would, I hope, go down there and talk to the owner and say, "I don't want to put you out of business. I'll show you everything I know about how to do business and why I think they're coming to me."
In the realm of business, does "love your enemy" or "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or "turn the other cheek" mean that you'll just close up the shop to keep from putting the other guy out of business? Does it mean that you don't do business, because that would be the loving thing to do?
I don't think that's implied, because I think there are different spheres of life: there's the family, with parents and children; business, with employees and employers; education, with teachers and students; and government, with police and citizens and leaders. In each of these four spheres "turn the other cheek" is not what the Bible intends to be the norm. The government bears the sword, parents spank, teachers give Ds and Fs, and police carry billy clubs.
And so, in the business world, the same set of principles of how to do your business in relation to another business isn't identical to how you do your personal life in relation to others.