Is Profit Evil?
This may seem like a strange question to some, but this was something I personally struggled with for a while without realizing it. At the heart of the paradigm through which I viewed business and commerce, was this idea of the inherent evil of profit. Although it took me a while to recognize this prejudice in myself, it suddenly became clear when I considered the false dichotomy between profit and "non-profit."
For example, at least on a subconscious level, the term "non-profit" sounded more virtuous to me, as if a company that was non-profit was free of the corruption of profit driven businesses. It felt as if non-profits had purer motives. Of course, this is ridiculous because businesses can be corrupt regardless of whether they are for profit or non-profit. Profit, in and of itself, is amoral. Only people can be corrupt.
In the last year, the Bible has taught me that profit is a very good thing. In the kingdom of God, profit is the fuel for production and prosperity, and a key element in God's plan to bless and redeem the world.
Part 1 - Profit is a God-ordained Fruit of Obedience
It's unfortunate that the most misquoted verse in the Bible about money happens to be, "money is the root of all evil," or "the love of money is the root of all evil." This has had a lot of influence on my (and our culture's) perspective of money and profit.
The actual verse says, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:10, NIV) This verse was a warning to wealthy Christians to be careful not to find their security in their wealth rather than God. Instead of being eager for money, they should be eager for God and use money to honor Him.
The narrative behind that misquote has made its way into the psyche of our culture, and for good reason. Just look at the 2008 housing crisis. It revealed to many of us just how greedy and corrupt the business world, financial industry, and government can be. Unfortunately, this has caused some, including myself, to be suspicious of profit in general, associating it with greed, corruption, and evil intent. But this prejudice does not exist in the Bible.
God's command to "be fruitful" in Genesis 1:28 encompasses working, producing, earning a profit, and investing surplus capital in business and commerce to multiply profit further. Profit is a God-ordained fruit of hard work and ingenuity.
Like water running through a mill wheel, this fruit also serves as an agent of production and prosperity.
RC Sproul Jr’s book, Biblical Economics: A Common Sense Guide to Our Daily Bread, uses this very illustration of the mill wheel. He points out that production leads to profit, which leads to surplus capital. When that surplus capital is invested in tools, production becomes more efficient leading to greater profits, and so on.
This is one of the foundational biblical concepts of fruitfulness through production. When we produce, we are obeying God's command to be fruitful and one of our rewards for production is profit.
What do you think? Have you had the same unfounded prejudice toward profits? If you are a business leader, or maybe own your own business, how has your perception of profit affected your thinking or decisions? In my experience working with men, it appears this negative perception has led to a lack of production and unnecessary guilt for many.
Part 2 - Profit is a Gift from a Good God
As I mentioned in Part 1, profit is a fruit from obedience to God in taking the resources He entrusted to us and investing them wisely. He calls us to "be fruitful" in Genesis 1:28 and as we steward His resources wisely in a way that honors Him, He blesses us with increase. I drew on the analogy of a mill wheel to illustrate how profit, like a river, is used as a tool to produce, ultimately leading to prosperity (Biblical Economics: A Common Sense Guide to Our Daily Bread, RC Sproul Jr.).
The problem comes when we circumvent the mill wheel by either consuming all the profit or hoarding it. Many of us live with a scarcity mentality out of the fear of either not having enough, running out of what we need, or feeling inadequate about what we don't have. We compare ourselves to others and are consumed with "keeping up with the Jones's." The desire is strong to obtain things that reflect a certain level of success and status, whether it's our house, car, or expensive vacations. The problem with this thinking is that it is all about us, not God.
In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the parable of the bags of gold where a man entrusted his wealth to three of his servants while he went away on a long journey. Verse 16 says that the first man who received five bags of gold "went at once and put his money to work..." This indicates a sense of urgency, a desire not to waste time but to hurry away and get to work.
Why do you think this man "went at once?"
What was the hurry?
We find out at the end of the story, when the three men settle accounts with their master. The first two men, who were entrusted with five and two bags of gold respectively seem almost anxious to show their master that they had been profitable and doubled their master's money. The master was certainly pleased and rewarded them with more responsibility (v. 21). He also invited his servants to celebrate with him.
The man who buried the gold in the ground came last. Not only did he not earn any profit, but he insulted his master by telling him what a hard and dishonest man he thought he was (v. 24). Not surprisingly, the master did not take that lightly (v. 28, 30).
The meaning is clear. This story has everything to do with the character of the man who entrusted his wealth to his servants. The first two servants were anxious to put his money to work because they thought highly of their master and wanted to please him. They were confident in investing the gold because they knew how good the master was.
The last servant was not convinced of his master's good character and, out of fear and a scarcity mentality, he buried the gold that was entrusted to him (v. 25).
As we invest the resources God has entrusted to us, we must remember the goodness of the master, the goodness of God. We have nothing to fear because not only is God good, he is anxious to work on our behalf to bless us with increase. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him." (ESV)
As Christian business leaders we can have confidence knowing that God has gone ahead of us to provide everything we need. He is working behind the scenes, often where we don't see, to bring us victory and demonstrate His goodness.
As we endeavor in all sorts of business ventures let's not forget that profit is a gift from a good God.
Part 3 - Profit Allows Us to Be Conduits of God's Blessing
In Part 1, I noted the false dichotomy between profit and non-profit. There is another false dichotomy I want to discuss that many people believe. That is the idea that there is a significant spiritual difference between profit that is reinvested in business, and profit that is invested in philanthropy. Certainly, there is a difference between how profits are utilized in each of these methods but in God's economy they are not opposites.
Psalm 112:5 says, "Good will come to a man who lends generously and conducts his business fairly." (NIV) God encourages lending generously or investing our surplus capital in business and other ventures. As I mentioned in the previous parts, this is obedience to God's command to be fruitful. We also expand our dominion, or rule, over the earth as a result. By virtue of being a Christian (if that is what you are), your expanded dominion extends God's blessing over more people, places, organizations, etc.
We see this same pattern in Ecclesiastes 11:6, as well as the wife of noble character in Proverbs 31. In both examples we see people who trust God more than their money, therefore their resources are free-flowing to and from them. We are supposed to be conduits of blessing with His resources, whether that is investing surplus capital in commerce or in your local church. When we are stingy, consume all our profit, or hoard it, we prevent the spread of God's influence and blessing.
As Christians, we are meant to be a lightning rod of God's blessing, not a reservoir, and not a consuming abyss like James 5:1-6 describes. Jesus' parable of the rich fool, in Luke 12:13-21, is a great illustration of hoarding. The rich man had an especially profitable year which led him to decide to hoard his surplus, sit back, and take it easy. The man was a fool because he would die that very night and all his profit would go to someone else.
Unfortunately, many of us don't trust the character of God so we struggle between either consuming or hoarding. Both extremes come from a scarcity mentality which is born out of a lack of trust in God. Instead, we are supposed to be stewards of profit, as if it were all God's to begin with and He will eventually settle accounts with us.
He has entrusted us to utilize His resources for His purposes. To do this we need to hold everything loosely, trusting in God's character. When we do, He provides abundantly. When our motivation is to please God with our profit He actually works on our behalf to make us successful (Proverbs 2:7-8).
Proverbs 11:24 and 27 says, "One person gives freely, yet gains more; another withholds what is right, only to become poor...People will curse anyone who hoards grain, but a blessing will come to the one who sells it."
Saving isn't a bad thing, of course, it is also encouraged in the Bible in many places. But there is a difference between saving and stockpiling. Being a conduit begins with trusting God more than our money. Stockpiling indicates a fear-driven, scarcity mentality that leaves no room for being open to His purposes.
In review, clearly profit is not, in and of itself, evil. Profit is... 1) a God-ordained fruit of obedience, 2) a gift from a good God, and 3) profit allows us to be conduits of God's blessing. I think the key for me is to be aware of my subconscious bias toward profit, and to be persistent in viewing commerce through a biblical worldview, versus the popular cultural worldview.
What do you think?
Have you struggled at all in this area? I know I have, especially as it relates to hoarding retirement savings. Or maybe you feel like you don't have enough profits to be a conduit of blessing yet. Maybe you look forward to the day when you have that freedom. Let me know what you think.
In 2013 Mike joined Orchard Hill's Adult Ministry Team as the Life Stage Pastor and Director of Men's Ministry. Prior to Orchard Hill he was an Area Director for Young Life in the northwest suburbs of Chicago for almost 9 years. Mike also served 6 years in the Air Force National Guard at the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis, PA.
A proud Robert Morris University alumni, Mike has a degree in Communications and Media Production. He received his seminary degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and was ordained by Orchard Hill Church in October, 2017.
When Mike isn’t working on home improvement projects he loves spending time with his wife, Lisa, and son, Matteo, going for walks and bike rides together.