The concept of profit is discussed throughout the Bible, but what exactly does it mean from a biblical perspective? As Christians, it’s important that we view profit through the lens of scripture rather than relying solely on secular definitions.
In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the meaning of profit according to the Bible. We’ll look at various Hebrew and Greek words translated as “profit,” examine relevant passages, and consider what they teach us about profit from a kingdom perspective.
- The Bible presents a nuanced view of profit that balances enjoying the fruits of labor with rejecting selfish gain at the expense of others.
- Multiple Hebrew and Greek words speak to profit, each providing insight into biblical views on financial gain.
- Passages warn against profit wrongly gained through exploitation, fraud, or greed.
- Scripture instructs us to labor diligently and enjoy the fruits of our work as a gift from God.
- The pursuit of profit should be motivated by a desire to glorify God and meet the needs of others.
- Kingdom profit considers eternal rewards rather than merely temporary, worldly gain.
As we explore what the Bible says about profit, may our hearts and minds be renewed to align with God’s perspective. Let’s look at profit through the lens of scripture, not solely through a worldly lens.
Examining Biblical Words Translated as “Profit”
To understand the biblical view of profit, we must first look at the original Hebrew and Greek words which are translated as “profit” in English translations of the Bible. Several different words shed light on profit from a kingdom perspective.
Yitron – Profit or Advantage in Hebrew
The Hebrew word yitron (יִתְרוֹן) is used over a dozen times in the Old Testament and is frequently translated as “profit” in English. The literal meaning is “excess” or “what remains.” It refers to the benefit, surplus, or advantage that results from an action or situation.
For example, Ecclesiastes 5:9 states:
Moreover, when they profit, the citizens swallow them up. (NKJV)
Here the idea of yitron is citizens gaining an advantage over authorities. The profit is something extra that benefits them.
This Hebrew word for profit contains no inherent negative connotation. It simply means a positive result or surplus coming from something. The profit can be ill-gotten, as we’ll explore later, but the word itself is morally neutral. It focuses on the end result rather than the means.
Sakan – Profit Through Commerce in Hebrew
Another Hebrew word, sakan (סָכַן) specifically refers to profit made through trade or commerce. It is translated as “traffic,” “trade,” or “profit” in phrases like:
Can a man take fire to his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her shall not be innocent. People do not despise a thief If he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; He may have to give up all the substance of his house. Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, And his reproach will not be wiped away. For jealousy is a husband’s fury; Therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will accept no recompense, Nor will he be appeased though you give many gifts. (Proverbs 6:27-35 NKJV)
This passage equates “profit” through adultery with the profit of a thief made at the expense of others. This unlawful gain comes at a high cost and God will not overlook it.
Onesimos – Profitable or Useful in Greek
In the New Testament, the Greek word onesimos (ὠνήσιμος) means useful, profitable, or beneficial. For example:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV)
Here profitable refers to the usefulness of Scripture to equip believers. Similarly, Paul sent the runaway slave Onesimus back to Philemon and wrote:
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. (Philemon 1:10-11 NKJV)
Though previously unprofitable as a runaway slave, Onesimus now brought usefulness and benefit rather than loss. The Greek word focuses on practical value or profitability.
Kerdos – Greed and Desire for Gain in Greek
At times, the New Testament uses the Greek word kerdos (κέρδος) which specifically refers to greed, a dishonest desire for gain, or the pursuit of profit through craftiness and deceit. For example:
For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:17 NKJV)
Paul contrasts pure-hearted sharing of the gospel with those “peddling” or profiting through deceitful, dishonest practices.
Similarly, Judas betrayed Jesus out of greedy motives:
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him. (Matthew 26:14-16 NKJV)
The Greek word focuses on profit as ill-gotten gain resulting from crafty, greedy motives.
What Does Scripture Say About Profit?
Let’s explore some key passages that reveal biblical perspectives on profit, contrasting righteous and unrighteous profit motives and means.
Profit Through Hard Work and Wise Investments
The Bible clearly endorses enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. Diligent work that creates value and wise investments that yield returns are profitable endeavors blessed by God:
Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment. (Proverbs 12:11, 12:14 NIV)
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? (Proverbs 27:23-24 ESV)
The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5 NIV)
Hard work, diligence, initiative, and wise management of resources and finances are profitable. God rewards those who work heartily as unto Him:
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. (Proverbs 16:3 ESV)
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV)
The Bible clearly endorses enjoying the fruits of your labor as a gift from God. Profit through righteous hard work and financial stewardship brings blessing.
Rejecting Profit Through Exploitation and Fraud
However, Scripture adamantly condemns profit gained by exploiting others, fraud, or greed:
Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. (Jeremiah 22:13 NIV)
Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance. (Micah 2:1-2 ESV)
Rather than exploiting people for financial gain, Scripture instructs us:
Unethical business practices, dishonest schemes, extortion of the poor, fraudulent commerce, and greedily gaining at the expense of others are strongly condemned as unrighteous profit.
Avoiding Partnerships with Unbelievers
The Bible also warns that profit through business partnerships with nonbelievers can lead believers astray:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15 NIV)
While not every partnership with nonbelievers is prohibited, we must approach business relationships with caution, maintaining biblical standards of ethics and conduct no matter who our partners may be. The desire for profit can’t justify unrighteous business associations.
Motives Matter as Much as Methods
Scripture focuses less on creating detailed lists of forbidden business practices and more on condemning unrighteous attitudes and motives behind profit:
Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV)
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 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 6:6-10 NIV)
The Bible’s solution to unrighteous profit is not mere external religious rule-keeping but rather transformed hearts that find contentment in God rather than seeking fulfillment in greedy gain.
Kingdom Perspective: Investing in Eternal Rewards
Ultimately, the Bible calls us to evaluate profit from an eternal perspective. While wise stewardship and enjoying the fruits of labor are blessed, accumulating temporary worldly wealth should not be our highest aim.
Jesus instructed us:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)
Paul exhorts us to generously share our finances for kingdom purposes rather than hoarding wealth:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19 NIV)
True profit from a biblical perspective means storing up “treasures in heaven” through righteous living, meeting needs, and funding gospel ministry. As stewards, we should invest generously in kingdom advancement for God’s glory rather than clinging to temporary wealth.
In light of key biblical principles about profit, how should we live this out as Christians?
- Work with excellence to provide for yourself and family – Scripture affirms enjoying the fruits of your labor as part of God’s blessing. Working diligently and practicing wise financial stewardship are honorable.
- Maintain ethical, moral business practices – Never exploit people or compromise biblical values in the pursuit of profit. Unethical gain brings God’s judgment.
- Guard against greed – Be on guard against a heart of discontentment that constantly craves more. Pursue generous financial stewardship motivated by eternal priorities.
- Care for the poor and disadvantaged – Don’t overlook the marginalized in the pursuit of gain. Be generous and share with those in need.
- Invest in the kingdom – Generously support gospel ministry and store up eternal rewards through giving. Find contentment in having your needs met and being able to bless others.
- Make God’s glory your motivation – In all financial decisions, examine your heart motives. Are you trying to honor God or selfishly pursuing profit? Remember – the Lord searches the heart.
May we gain fresh understanding of profit from a kingdom perspective. And may our profit both honor God and meet tangible needs for His glory and the spread of the gospel.
As Christians, correctly understanding profit from a biblical perspective is vital. Scripture presents a nuanced view that balances enjoying the fruits of righteous labor with rejecting selfish gain obtained by exploiting others.
The Bible utilizes several Hebrew and Greek words to present multiple facets of profit. Passages endorse profit through hard work and wise investment while condemning profit derived through oppression, fraud, and greed.
Ultimately, our heart motives matter even more than outward conduct. And we must filter all profit through an eternal perspective rather than pursuing merely temporary, worldly wealth. May our view of profit align with kingdom priorities for God’s glory.