Profit is a controversial topic among Christians. How much profit is enough? When is there too much profit? How much focus and energy is to be given to profit? Isn’t “bottom-line” economics worldly? Doesn’t it promote all that’s bad and unhealthy in the workplace? Doesn’t a profit-oriented approach feed the greed that tempts all humans?
Further, from a biblical perspective, didn’t Jesus say it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God? And – doesn’t James warn rich people to watch out? And, didn’t Jesus warn us about building bigger barns and storing our profit? (See Luke 18:18-30; James 5:1-6; Luke 12:21)
While all of those statements are true, there is another perspective in the Bible that offers us some balance in how we should view profit. For example, consider the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). While the context for this parable has to do with a discussion about the end of time, Jesus offers at least a blessing to the honorable ability to turn a profit. Also, in the early churches in Acts, people were generous with their possessions and resources (Acts 4:32-37; 11:27-30). The presumption is that these believers had made profits in their businesses and now were able to share with others who had need.
If we think about it, profit is necessary if we are going to have any level of independence. Profit is what enables us to purchase what is needed for our daily existence. It is what keeps us from always depending on others to care for us.
Several years ago, Biola University, in conjunction with Talbot Seminary, hosted a conference in its Leadership Lecture Series on the topic of work. You can access the free 37 videos online at http://open.biola.edu/collections/leadership-lecture-series – an excellent resource for anyone interested in studying the theology of work. In one of the discussions with the audience, C. William Pollard discusses the topic of profit. Pollard is the Chairman Emeritus of ServiceMaster and former CEO of the company. He lamented that pastors often preach on the vice of profit but never preach on the virtue of profit.
Obviously, we must be careful and not let our greed get the best of us. From any perspective, Americans are the richest people in history. Our standard of living, across the board, is higher than any other culture in history. However, Americans don’t consider themselves to be wealthy. In July of 2013, Time Magazine published an article entitled, “What It Means to Be ‘Wealthy’ in American Today,” by Brad Tuttle. The article summarized the research conducted by UBS among 4,450 American investors who have at least $250,000 in investments. Over half of the respondents have more than $1 million dollars in investable assets. Those who have between $1-5 million in assets were asked, “Do you consider yourself wealthy?” Remarkably, 72% answered, “No.”
As Christians we should be able to develop a healthy perspective on profit. Surely we want businesses to “operate in the black.” Our economy depends upon interactions between healthy businesses that are robust and profitable. Individuals who are trying to provide for their families need a certain margin of profit to thrive. So, we can heed the warnings of scripture about our attitudes and desires in this arena while nurturing a positive perspective on profit as well.