Incentivizing Ethical Behavior

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Deut. 5

Ethics | Increasingly, governments are trying to incentivize corporate ethical behavior. For example, not only have many legislatures allowed companies to consider more than just maximizing shareholder value [1], even the SEC has proffered a new and controversial proposal for whistleblowers [2]. Of course, there is one thing that no government would ever do to encourage ethical behavior – that is, suggest that legal compliance is optional or inconsequential.

Commandments | As Moses continued Deuteronomy’s historical prologue, he recited the Ten Commandments and recalled, “These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly” [3]. He also reminded them of God’s incentive to comply: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” [4].

Compliance | Thousands of years later, however, Paul suggested that legal compliance was meaningless: “[Y]ou also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead … For when we were in the realm of the flesh,the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us … But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” [5]. Thus, when we believe in Christ, we die to the law and are free to be united in Christ, who rose from the dead.

Counsel | When Jesus met the law’s demands, He forever changed our approach to ethics. In Him, we are born again and the law is written on our hearts. Now, in order to obey, we do not look at a list of commandments, but rather we open ourselves to God’s entire counsel, hope in the gospel, and lovingly serve one another. Therefore, although the law is important, we measure our lives by it in a very different way than we did when we were under it. We are in Christ, not the law. Our approach is life, not lists.

Prayer | Lord, Since we could never earn our salvation through compliance with Your law, we thank You that Jesus met the law’s demands. Forgive us for cheapening His grace and cause us to obey Your law as a response of love, not self-justification. Amen.


[1] Traditionally, corporations were only allowed to consider maximizing shareholder value when making decisions. Increasingly, however, legislatures have broadened their scope of “corporate purpose” to allow companies to take a variety of other things into consideration, e.g., their community, their employees, the environment. See, e.g., Wikipedia, “Shareholder Value.”

[2] Reuters, “Republicans Seek Changes to SEC Whistleblower Rule.” 11 May 2011 (noting whistleblowers who skip internal corporate reporting mechanisms to tip off the SEC directly to major frauds may receive 10-30% commission from sanctions).

[3] Deut. 5:22 NIV  |  [4] Deut. 5:29 NIV  |  [5] Rom. 7:4-6 NIV  |  [FN] Special thanks to Allison F. for her faithful work in editing.

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