Biblically Based HR Principles

By Wallace Henley

The era of the 1960s has been lambasted for the destructive philosophies and behaviors it foisted on society. But there were some good things that happened in that turbulent decade as well—the civil rights movement and end of racial segregation, and a new way of regarding employees.

In earlier times the view of “human capital” was strictly functional. Employees were not seen as human beings, but of mechanical components of an enterprise. The result was sometimes inhumane practices. The shift occurring in the ‘60s was toward the humanity of the worker. HR development emerged as a formal area for research and application. Enhanced benefit programs and improvements in the workplace resulted from the new view.

Today’s corporate and economic environment calls for an even greater focus on the people whose God-given gifts, talents, and skills enable an enterprise to perform its services, produce its products, and stay profitable. The upheavals and rapid change in our time impact employees with uncertainty and a sense of instability. In a sense a company must “minister” to these needs.

The Bible provides important principles that will help a business establish best practices with regard to employees and workplace issues. Remember, God’s law-system was given to His original covenant people for their national and social well-being. God’s laws lead to a high quality lifestyle in society at large and the workplace. Here are six key principles to help mold employee policy:

1.  The Share Principle

This truth is found in Leviticus 25:5-7—

And don’t store away the crops that grow naturally or process the grapes that grow on your unpruned vines. The land is to have a year of total rest. But you, your male and female slaves, your hired servants, and any foreigners who live with you may eat the produce that grows naturally during the Sabbath year. NLT

For a business the “crops that grow naturally” and “grapes that grow on your unpruned vines” are profits and dividends that accrue from past successes. Bonuses, profit-sharing and other incentives drawn from a company’s historic performance should be shared with employees, based on their own productivity and commitment to the company and its community of customers, management and fellow workers.

2.  The Gleaning Principle

This great practice is closely related to the Sharing Principle, and is revealed in the beautiful story of a near-destitute widow named Ruth:

Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.  One day Ruth said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the fields to gather leftover grain behind anyone who will let me do it.” And Naomi said, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech… When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!” (Ruth 2:1-3; 15-16 NLT)

The Gleaning Principle had actually been established in Leviticus 19. There, in verse 22, we read, “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I, the LORD, am your God.” (NLT)

The principle we bring forward for application in business to day is that workers should be able to “glean” when their companies enjoy an “abundant harvest.” If there is the expectation that cutbacks, lay-offs and salary reductions may come with hard times, there should also be the anticipation of bonuses and other forms of “gleaning”—like extra vacation time and bonus days—when the company is enjoying success.

3.  The Stranger Principle

Though the Jews constituted the original covenant nation, God’s intention always was that all people would have opportunity to be in the same special relationship with Him (e.g., Exodus 12:48). This is reflected as early as the Old Testament, and its revelations about God’s desire for inclusion of “strangers” in the blessings enjoyed by the covenant people.

For example,

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” …You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  (Leviticus 19:33-34; 22:21 )

It’s easy for employees to feel alienated and estranged from the top echelons of a company’s leadership. When workers feel like strangers, morale will be low, conflict frequent and turnover high. Every new worker enters as a “stranger,” but solid companies will have specific strategies for assimilating them into the corporate community.

Further, executives, managers, supervisors, team leaders and others with leadership responsibility for those under them should remember that they themselves were once in the lower ranks, and treat those who report to them as they wanted to be treated when in a lower position.

4.  The Worthiness Principle

“The workman deserves his support,” says Jesus. (Matthew 10:10 AMP) He was sending out His followers to take His ministry and message to people spread over the villages and towns of the region. Jesus told those who were undertaking the mission not to take provisions with them, but to receive what people would give them. The inference was that Jesus’ followers were performing a service for the people who would hear and respond to the Gospel, be healed, and/or set free from demonic oppression. Jesus’ disciples would be performing a service, and thus deserved compensation.

A modern company’s compensation policies should be based on the understanding that employees are being paid for their services to the business and its customers. This will guide salary and benefit levels as well as provide a standard for raises and reductions. Compensation is linked to productivity, therefore outstanding employees should enjoy the benefits in higher pay, while average performers compensated on a lower level, and under-performing workers dismissed.

The Worthiness Principle also should frame the attitude about compensation held by executives. They should recognize workers are compensated because of the important contributions they make to the company’s success. That is, productive employees earn good compensation because they deserve it. This insures a corporation will not treat its workers as beggars and employees will have a positive attitude about the gifts, talents and skills they bring to the job, resulting in morale-building self-esteem.

5.  The Equality Principle

One of the Bible’s most remarkable stories is that of Onesimus, the runaway slave. It is remarkable because Paul’s counsel to Philemon, Onesimus’ “employer” demonstrated an entirely new paradigm in the Roman world, where slaves were often viewed as sub-human.

Apparently Paul and Onesimus had met in Rome, where Onesimus had fled. Perhaps through their relationship, Onesimus becomes a follower of Christ. The decision is made that he will return to Philemon, also a Christ-follower. Onesimus will carry a letter from Paul, advising Philemon how to treat Onesimus. Paul writes:

“My plea is that you show kindness to Onesimus. I think of him as my own son because he became a believer as a result of my ministry here in prison. Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart. I really wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf. But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. And I didn’t want you to help because you were forced to do it but because you wanted to. Perhaps you could think of it this way: Onesimus ran away for a little while so you could have him back forever. He is no longer just a slave; he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, give him the same welcome you would give me if I were coming.” (Philemon 10-17 NLT)

We learn much from Paul’s Spirit-inspired instructions to Philemon that will guide in formation of best human resource practices for today’s companies. First, employees must be seen as human beings, even the under-performers (as Onesimus apparently had been). Second, workers are to be regarded as equal in human value to the owners and top executives of the company, and treated accordingly. Third, when an employee fails, if at all possible, management should seek to restore the worker, and provide him or her with another chance.

6.  The Responsibility Principle

The Responsibility Principle is stated bluntly by Paul when he writes, “Whoever does not work should not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

The problem Paul was immediately addressing was that some in the church at Thessalonica had become so stricken with “Second Coming fever” they had left their jobs to wait for Christ’s return. They had become a burden to others, who had to feed them.

The attitude is expressed in modern culture in the form of egalitarianism. Many wrongly equate egalitarianism with equality. However, here’s the subtle and vital difference: Equality means all human beings deserve the same opportunity to succeed in life. Egalitarianism holds that all people deserve the same outcomes, irrespective of what they have done with the opportunities extended them.

In the workplace it’s important equality not deteriorate into egalitarianism. A company who treats its employees by the preceding principles we’ve seen in the Bible should also be able to expect their employees to be responsible in their work, behavior and attitudes.

Businesses can survive Globequake-induced turbulence when there is a culture built on solid values that form not only their relationships with their customers, but their treatment of their employees as well.

Wallace Henley is a pastor, journalist, former White House aide, leadership consultant, and author of “Globequake,” among other books. He teaches Apologetics at Belhaven University and can be reached at