You aren't going to do some Christian thing, are you?
by Rich Deem

I was at work in the lab recently when some supplies came in. I had ordered two five-column plasmid1 kits from Qiagen. The kits are somewhat heavy, since they contain a few liters of buffers. However, this box was really heavy. When I opened it, I found two 25-column kits, instead of the 2 five-column kits. My first thought was that either our purchasing department or Qiagen had made an error on the catalog number, resulting in the mix-up. However, when I checked the packing slip that came with the order, the catalog number was correct. Qiagen had just shipped the wrong product - they had made a $1,200 error that they would never discover unless told.

These days, the average person in the United States would shrug their shoulders and comment how lucky they were to get the extra bonus. Our lab could use the "gift," since our supply budget is rather tight at this time. I told one of my Jewish coworkers about the error, and his first comment was, "You aren't going to do some Christian thing, and tell them about their error are you?" Well, in fact, I was going to do the "Christian thing." My reason for doing so was because Jesus has established a code of treating others that applies to everything we do. It is known as the Golden Rule:

"Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

The Golden rule is still a radical idea today, and is rarely practiced consistently in secular circles. However, if you were to make a large error that cost you money, you would appreciate it if the person told you about it. In these days, people often think that large companies or the government don't necessarily qualify as people, so the rule can be conveniently put aside.

When I called the Qiagen people and told them they had made an error on my order, I am sure they were expecting the usual complaint from a customer that felt he had been cheated in some way. When I told them that they had made an error in shipping too much product, they were shocked that I had called. They told me to keep one of the 25-column kits and to ship the other one back to them using their overnight shipping account. Our hospital is a wonderful place to work, but the paperwork bureaucracy is considerable. I filled out our shipping request form, which has to go to a couple departments to get signed. It would take several days to get the paperwork back. In the meantime, our local Qiagen representative showed up on one his periodic visits. He had no idea of the problem, since the order had gone through corporate. When I told him that they had sent extra product, he almost fell over out of shock that I was trying to give it back. I asked him if he would do me a favor and take the box and ship it back himself. He was more than happy to do so, and thanked me probably five times for my honesty.

So, in the end, everybody had "won" when the "Christian thing" had been done. We had done the honest thing - being faithful to the spirit of the law of God. Our lab had received 25 columns for the price of 10. The Qiagen people were very happy to get back one of their $800 kits. Even my coworker, who suggested I keep it all, seemed happy the way things turned out. So, if you are a Christian, be encouraged, and do what the Spirit tells you - even if it might "cost you."


  1. A plasmid is a small piece of DNA. In molecular biology, we put certain genes into plasmids to test how they might work in cells. The plasmids are grown in bacteria, which are lysed to extract and purify the plasmid. The kits make the procedure quite easy to do.
Last updated March 31, 2008


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