Is Making a Profit a Sin?

by Brad Harmon on October 13, 2009 in Entrepreneurs

God Billboard - Marketplace ChristianityHave you seen these billboards with one line messages from God?  When we come home from visiting my wife’s parents we pass by a couple.  It’s a clever marketing campaign.  At first I chuckle, but then a sense of guilt begins to creep in.

Some of the messages are very convicting.  As a Christian entrepreneur, I don’t need a billboard that reads “I Said Prophets, Not Profits! – God” to bring about that same sense of guilt while trying to make a profit. I still have to fight the tendency to feel embarrassed when I slide my invoice across the table to my client.

It’s something that small business owners seem to dread regardless of their faith.  For Christians though, there is an added dimension.  The rise of mega-churches preaching their “prosperity gospel” while selling everything from Bibles to Starbucks coffee in their lobbies has some Christians wondering if we’ve gone too far.

Should we even be trying to make a profit?  Whatever happened to “blessed are the poor” they ask?  They point out that Christ taught us to pray that God would give us our daily bread.  How then, can we ask Him to make us wealthy?

Making a Profit – The Root of All Evil?

Well, let’s look at what the Bible has to say on the topic.  This is the first verse that comes to mind for most of us.

10For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10, King James Version)

It’s such a great verse, but too many misquote it as “money is the root of all evil” leaving out the “love of”.  It doesn’t say that making money is evil, nor does it say wanting to make money is evil.  It’s loving money, or greed, that is the root of all evil.

Despite what Gordon Gekko says in the movie Wall Street, greed is not good.  In the movie, as in real life, those who chase after money are consumed by their greed and find they’ve “pierced themselves with many griefs” indeed.

How Secure is Your Vault? Storing Up Your Treasures

So it’s okay to desire to make a profit as long as I am not greedy?  Let’s hold off on answering that question and look at what else Christ had to say.

19Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, King James Version)

Is it the storing up of wealth that Jesus is concerned about here?  Yes, but it’s our reliance upon this temporary wealth that He is warning us against.  There is no real security in wealth, nor may I add, any real happiness.

Wall street giants are hoping they’re golden parachutes won’t fail them after being shook from their silver-lined clouds by the thunderous clap of this recession.  The sad drama of Hollywood stars and professional athletes is displayed on tabloid covers one ruined relationship after another for the world to see.

Serving Two Masters, Who Will You Choose?

Somehow though, Madison Avenue breaks out the air brushes, paints over the bad parts, and sells it to us wrapped in a pretty bow. The sad thing is that millions still buy into this false sense of security and happiness.

The dilemma becomes where do you attach your loyalty?  It’s hard for us not to follow where we’ve stored up our treasure.  Christ says that

24No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24, King James Version)

As Christian entrepreneurs, we know that the emperor is not wearing any clothes – but do we tell him?  Or do we look the other way?  Do we take a shortcut here and there to stay competitive and preserve our profit?

It’s harder to do if we’ve slapped that Jesus fish on our business cards, but many have compromised despite their advertising their faith.  There are just some roads that Christian entrepreneurs should never go down – regardless of how profitable they may be.  As profits become wealth, this temptation becomes greater.

The Results After This Brief Commercial Break

There’s still more verses to look at before we can answer whether Christian entrepreneurs should be trying to make a profit and build wealth.  How are you doing so far?  Are you asking yourself why you wanted to be an entrepreneur?  Good, it’s something we all should ask ourselves from time to time.

Are you seeking wealth?  Why?  What will you do when you have become wealthy?  Will you be able to handle the urge to rely upon this wealth?

Read the conclusion to this post Will Christian Entrepreneurs Squeeze Through? tomorrow.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Dana@Online Knowledge October 14, 2009 at 6:13 am

What a billboards, it surely invite my attention. 😀

Btw, profit is not an evil as long as we still control it instead profit control us.

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Brad Harmon October 14, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Dana,

Ah, but there's the rub isn't it? You make a great point. Money, profits, wealth are horrible masters and they can easily control you if your are not vigilant.

Brad

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lionslinger October 14, 2009 at 8:55 pm

God has given us the capability to achieve anything we want, including wealth. I don't think God want's his children to rot in misery by being poor, it doesn't make any sense. If you had children, would you allow them suffer in misery? I think not. We have the right to be prosperous, and all the needed tools are bestowed upon us. The only thing that is warned of us is not be controlled by worldly things. He gave us huge brains and the capacity for reasoning, why would He not allow us to use it? 🙂

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Brad Harmon October 15, 2009 at 12:37 am

Lionslinger, Interesting points. They remind me what Jesus said as he continued His sermon, in Matthew 7:9-11 (NIV) He said:

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

There's no doubt that God wants to bless us. This doesn't mean necessarily with material things or possessions, but it certainly does not preclude them either. I talk about this more in the conclusion to this post.

I wonder, is it the brain we have to worry about? Don't we usually know something is wrong while we are doing it? Maybe it is more of a heart issue. It's been said that “the heart wants what the heart wants” especially when it is not for the best. What do you think?

Brad

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lionslinger October 15, 2009 at 2:55 am

I believe in God but there's inside of me that resists how we perceive Him. It's not the heart nor the mind, it's beyond both. I cannot understand the source of good and evil, I cannot understand why I should follow blindly despite the volition bestowed upon me. Why is it much easier for a camel to pass through the hole in the needle than a rich man. Please tell me, did the rich man made his riches out of evil or out of the God-given abilities which he matters to use. What is the use of our intelligence if we cannot use it to the fullest, what is the purpose of our faculties if we are restricted to use it?

I want to make a confession. Few years ago I don't want to be rich because I was led to believe that being rich constitutes all the elements of vices. But then I realized that I can't help my fellow poor brothers and sisters if I'm poor. With that I promise my self to use all the abilities that God has given me to make myself rich. Because I don't want to leave this life not even trying to be my best and not to be able to be of help to my unfortunate brethren. It doesn't matter if I don't enter the kingdom of heaven. At least in my death bed I I know that God is love. 🙂

________________________________

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Brad Harmon October 15, 2009 at 3:41 am

Great questions. I cover the eye of the needle passage in the conclusion to this post. Come back and see if you think I do it justice.

I think there is a misconception that being rich and making a profit is somehow evil by it's very nature. This is why I am pulling out the “big guns” verses from the Bible and looking at what they really have to say about the topic.

I agree with you that we are often limited by our own perceptions of God, or by those that others would try to impose upon us. A book I discovered this year, The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer, really opened up my eyes as to how small I tried to make God. I would highly recommend this book – it's not always an easy read but it is well worth it.

It is hard for me not to comment on you last two sentences, but it is not really the focus of my blog; however, I would just like to make an observation. Yes, one of God's attributes is that He loves perfectly, but at the same time He is also perfectly just, perfectly righteous, perfectly holy, perfectly merciful, and perfectly sovereign. There is great danger when we focus on just one of His attributes.

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msfreeman October 15, 2009 at 12:08 pm

We have MegaChurchs here and they have book stores and coffee ships and what not, I don't have a problem with them making money as long as:

1. It is helping to pay for the building

2. The funds don't go towards paying for the staff's (preacher and family included) luxuries, cars and what not.

3. The parishioner is being taken care of in their time of need.

My only issue with MegaChurchs is the pastor wouldn't know me from “Adam” well “Eve” in my case. So I prefer to worship in a smaller parish home.

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msfreeman October 15, 2009 at 12:10 pm

The link doesn't seem to work on my name. Here is a link to my site in the event you would like to stop by for a visit 🙂 http://www.freemanlegacyllc.com

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Brad Harmon October 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I love the convenience of the book store and coffee shop in the lobby, but there is just something in the back of my mind that replays the scene of Christ turning over tables of the money exchangers in the temple. I like your thoughts on how the proceeds are spent.

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Brad Harmon October 15, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Have you tried going to the DISQUS site and adding it under your profile? Just click on the avatar beside your name to take you there. I think that should fix the issue.

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Laurie Neumann October 19, 2009 at 9:15 am

Good post, Brad. I have a little different twist on it, if I may.

I totally agree that, as Christian entrepreneurs, we should not become “attached” to our profits. We should always be willing to pass them along to others who need them.

However, I do have an issue with people feeling like we should give all of our services and products away because we are Christian entrepreneurs. I am still running a business, and I love to help others as much as I can. But I don't want to feel like they expect me to give it all away. I do feel we have a right to earn profits from our businesses, but what we do with our profits is what we need to be concerned with.

Honor God first and foremost always!

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Brad Harmon October 19, 2009 at 12:06 pm

It's interesting, Laurie, that you mention this. I have been reading more posts like yours lately, and I feel that this is a growing frustration among Christian entrepreneurs. Is it primarily from other Christians that you feel this expectation?

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monetizemylife October 24, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Hey Brad,

You make some good points in this article and I agree with you almost totally. I just wanted to add some thoughts.

I've been studying scripture, history, and economics for a long long time… and it is my current understanding that running a profitable business is exactly what God would want from you, should you be running a business. In the same way that he would want you to perform your best should you be an employee in another's business. As a christian, I should devote myself to the pursuit of excellence in everything I do. If I run a business, that would be included.

Also, if you look further in the economic structure of our world today and compare it to that of the economic structure of biblical times (or even 150 years ago), you'll soon realize that this thing we call the “Job” has only existed since the late 1800's. There were no employee's to speak of before the industrial revolution. The Job is a modern phenomenon… one I believe to be very destructive to the family unit, but I'll leave that rant for another time. The culture and people's to whom the first scriptures were read and to who they were written, would have been almost exclusively accustomed to what we call “small business” today. I say almost because if one did not make his money from a small business of some sort back then, then he was likely a slave.

People were smiths, leatherworkers, butchers, millers. Jesus was a carpenter. Paul was a tent-maker. You can go through scripture from front to back and see example after example of the men and woman of God who were exclusively business owners. Many of them were very very wealthy.

God provides in many ways, one of them is though the natural order of things that he set into place. Scholars call this providence. When applied to small business and our discussion here, it means that God has given you a skill and a passion that you have turned into a source of income for your family. That is God providing for you. You need to be turning a profit if you are to take care of you family and give to the poor.

So, at the risk of continuing on forever I end with this thought. God doesn't doesn't just want your business to be profitable, He expects it. (Please understand this a general rule and not me proclaiming God's will in all His children's lives. God may have other plans for certain individuals)

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Brad Harmon October 24, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Richard,

Many excellent points. Several of which you will see over the next few weeks and months played out in my posts under this category.

I started The Christian Entrepreneur series of posts (actually it is the whole foundation of my blog) to look at exactly what the Bible has to say about this topic. Hopefully, I will do this in a manner that respects the fact that we must continue to live in this world at the same time we are laying treasures up for the next.

There is a profound difference though between being an entrepreneur and being self-employed. While both are technically small business owners, they are not the same. I believe most of the small business owners in the Bible were self-employed simply trying to provide for their families. The prospect of wealth, and the dangers associated with it, were not their calling.

There are still numerous examples of entrepreneurs in the Bible however. It is from these people that we will learn how we can apply sound Biblical principles in a manner that is both practical and profitable. First, we must get over the common misconceptions about wealth so that is how I chose to start out the series.

I love your comments. I hope that you will be back to share this journey with me.

Brad

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