Sin in the Camp
We’ve all encountered businesses that don’t place an emphasis on ethics. So many business leaders are more interested in power, wealth, or winning than they are in doing the right thing. As Christian business owners and leaders, we are called to a higher standard. We are called to deal with the sin in the camp, regardless of the potential consequences.
In the book of Joshua, chapters 6-7, we read about Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. First, there is the miraculous defeat of the mighty city of Jericho. Spirits among the Israelites are high until they are subsequently defeated by a much weaker city of Ai. What happened? Why the reversal of fortune?
It turns out someone among the Israelites had broken the covenant God had made with them during the attack on Jericho. As a result, God left them on their own against Ai, and they were sorely defeated. The morale of the people fell and Fear consumed them.
Joshua is the (fortunate?) one that God gave the task of replacing Moses as leader of the Israelites—a TOUGH job! How does he handle the succession from such a great leader as Moses? What can we learn from him?
I encourage you to read the whole account on your own, beginning with Joshua 6:1 and ending with Joshua 7:26. There is much more to learn from this passage, but I have broken Joshua’s actions into the following six steps that I believe we can apply to our current business challenges.
Step 1: Set Clear Guidelines
There is no gray area in Joshua’s instructions to the Israelites prior to the attack on Jericho. In Joshua 6:17-19, he clearly tells them what is to be done with the city, its inhabitants, and everything in it once the city is in their hands. The sin that followed was not due to misunderstanding!
We must do the same in our businesses. It is our responsibility as leaders to make sure the rules and expectations are clear to everyone. New hires must receive clear instruction regarding your policies or they cannot be held accountable to them. Everyone must know your guidelines if you expect them to comply!
Step 2: Stay Close to God
Joshua did not receive instruction from God and then run off on his own to carry it out. He remained close to God. As soon as he learned of the defeat at Ai, Joshua fell before God in submission (Joshua 7:6-10). He did not know the reason for the defeat, but he knew he had to seek God first. God answered by telling Joshua there was sin in the camp.
Our response must be similar. Don’t get caught up in the fact that Joshua had a defeat so obvious that it clued him in to the trouble. Instead, recognize that Joshua had remained so close in his walk with God that his very first reaction was to seek God’s face.
Joshua did not question his general about strategy or even question his own decision to send a smaller force of 3,000 men into battle. He went straight to God as an instinctive reaction. If we are in close communion with God, our instincts will be similar.
Step 3: Trust in God's Provision
In Joshua 7:10-12, God tells Joshua about the sin in the camp. He makes it clear that He will no longer be with the Israelites unless the sin is removed. At this point, Joshua does not hesitate. He does not look for other options. He acts decisively when he delivers the instructions to the Israelites (vv. 13-15).
I don’t know what Joshua could have feared when making this decision, but I know how these kinds of decisions have affected me. When I have caught wind of impropriety in our business, fear has often flooded my mind. Will an investigation lead to a top performer? Will I be forced to terminate someone that is critical to our success?
Joshua may have had similar fears, but he acted anyway. He trusted that his provision was only from God. We must have the same trust in God. If the removal of sin in the camp causes the loss of a top performer, then we have to trust that God will make up the difference. He is faithful.
Step 4: Identify Sin in the camp
Early on the morning after the defeat at Ai, Joshua got up and began the process of determining who among the Israelites had violated the covenant with God by taking the sacred items (Joshua 7:16-23). He followed God’s instruction to the letter by selecting the tribe, family, and ultimately the guilty party, Achan. He quickly confessed to his crime.
When we face situations like this, we likely will not have specific instructions from God on how to select the guilty. At the same time, it is clear we are to investigate and dig until we find the truth.
Waiting it out or hoping someone will come forward on their own is unlikely to occur. We must be proactive if we expect to find the truth. We must see the urgency and dig in.
Step 5: Act Immediately
"...Dealing decisively with violations of core values is not optional." Chris Patton
After narrowing the search down to Achan and hearing his confession, Joshua acted. He did not hesitate. He did not waffle. He did not try to rationalize Achan’s actions. He simply acted (Joshua 7:24-25).
While the punishment was severe and extensive (including Achan’s family), I don’t see that to be the point of what we should learn here. In a business environment, we are not going to stone the guilty. At the same time, our commitment to our core values is being challenged in these moments.
If your core values include integrity, honesty, truth, or other similar ideals, then dealing decisively with violations of these values is not optional. Clearly, you must weigh the violation and determine the appropriate discipline. Just remember that others are watching to see how your scales work. How “core” are your values?
Step 6: Remember
With the sin identified, the guilty party identified and disciplined, the Israelites regained their zeal to pursue the Promised Land. However, this is when Joshua’s leadership stands out even more. In Joshua 7:26, we see that the Israelites stoned Achan to death and erected a large pile of rocks over his body.
This was not simply a grave. This act was in addition to the norm. This was an act of remembrance. In fact, the place was known going forward as the Valley of Trouble. Joshua wanted to make sure that Achan’s actions were remembered and not repeated.
I don’t see us putting up a plaque on the wall to commemorate a dishonest manager and his termination. I do, however, think that we need to follow Joshua’s thought process. We need to figure out the best way for us (and those we lead) to remember how crucial our core values are to our success.
Constant communication and reinforcement of our core values is a must. Talk with new hires about real consequences of infractions. Don’t let the memory of the crisis completely disappear.
This can be a tough passage to read due to the extreme punishment delivered. Don’t let that keep you from learning from Joshua and how he handled the crisis. If you read on past this passage, you will see the continued success of the Israelites against Ai and other cities. God honored their faithful elimination of the sin in the camp. He will do the same for us if we will learn and apply the wisdom found here. He is faithful.
Have you experienced sin in the camp with your business? How did you deal with it? What would you do differently next time? What other advice would you offer someone facing sin in their camp? Which of these 6 steps is toughest for you? Are you prepared to effectively address sin in the camp?
By: Chris Patton
Chris Patton is President of the Mike Patton Auto Family in LaGrange, Georgia. Along with his brother (and partner) Brian, Chris is a third-generation owner and grew up working in every department in the business, beginning at the age of 10. Chris also writes a blog called Christian Faith At Work (ChristianFaithAtWork.com). He is writing it to business owners and leaders who are trying to figure out how to integrate their Christian faith into their businesses. Chris and his wife Kim live in LaGrange, GA with their three children.Read More Articles by Chris Patton