Is Profit Secular or Sacred?

December 4, 2017

 

“Then the servant who received one talent came and said, ‘Sir…I was afraid and I hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours…’” -Jesus of Nazareth

 

Most spend life trying to break even versus producing profit from the spiritual, emotional, relational, intellectual and physical capital graciously given by God. – Marcus D. Benjamin

 

 

Words mean a lot. Even more so, the association we make with words, means much more. When most hear the word profit, do they make a biblical or secular association? We all know the answer. The term profit is almost exclusively understood as purely secular, and therefore, when people hear it used in a spiritual context, they feel as if the person is overstepping his or her boundaries. This is simply untrue and is voiced by people who are unread in history and general theology. What the masses haven't been taught is that the concept of personal profit, especially from a financial perspective, is historically and fundamentally a biblical doctrine. That caught you by surprise, right? It's true, although this fact has been lost through the past 70 years of rapid secularism. Consider this simple, historical fact.

 

In the ancient world, the concept of profit was exclusively regulated to the ruling class of a particular nation. If one wasn't a Pharaoh, a monarch, a Caesar, or some other ruling title, he (almost never she) and his family were the ones who profited. In addition to the ruling class, the only other classification of persons who had the potential of profit were high-ranking military officials or charlatans. Hence, the basic concept of profit, which is to have more income than expense, was restricted to only 1% of the population, and even that was imperfectly executed.

 

The concept of profit was imperfect, in that, in order to profit one must have the potential of ownership granted by a member of the ruling class. Yes, ownership. If one could not own property, then one could never profit from a financial/material perspective. If you worked for, let’s say, five shekels per day, but you did not own your home, land, or means of labor, then how could you ever profit? The simple answer is you couldn't. If someone in the ruling class wanted the house where you lived, the land you tilled, or even your children, you were obligated to give them up. One could never profit under such conditions. This was the norm among established nations in the ancient world, but for a few exceptions, with the nation of Israel leading the way as an exception.

 

With one statement, one swoosh of the ancient pen, the nation of Israel was separated, at least in principle, from the vast majority of the rest of the world. God provided Moses one statement, in the midst of nine other culture-changing statements that settled the issue of profit from the biblical perspective. This statement, since it wasn't the edict of a human ruler, could not be altered by the death of this ruler. God said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…wife…ox…donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor’s.

 

Wait a minute, so there was a nation in antiquity that, at the directive of God, permitted every individual the right to personal property? Could an individual now own their means of production, and in turn, acquire physical property that was deemed theirs? Millions were not told in school that, under the instruction of God, the nation of Israel popularized and nurtured the concept of personal property rights even if one wasn't a person of nobility or high-rank in the military. While millions across the world understood ownership from a ruling class perspective, here, a small nation of people, nestled in a tiny country in a volatile part of the ancient world, were stewards over a concept that would ultimately change the financial perspective of the developed world in the 17th through the 21st Centuries. If one could have personal ownership, protected by some sovereignty, then and only then, could one profit.

 

Hence, the concept of capitalism, introduced by Plato, Aristotle, and ultimately coined and expanded by Adam Smith, borrowed heavily from the biblical narrative. By simple definition, capitalism is the system of economics where private individuals can own the means of production, distribution and valuation of goods and services. Meaning, without the concept of personal property, capitalism would cease to exist and all property would be owned or distributed by the state (i.e. communism) or a ruling class (i.e. socialism). As stated in Genesis chapter 12 in God’s promise to Abram, this is another example of how “through him (Abram) the entire world would be blessed.”

 

Ultimately, Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy to Abram. Jesus would be the central figure in the unfolding drama of redemption and reconciliation of the world. Jesus, upon whose shoulders the government of God rests, would be the exact representation of God in the world. He would be the faithful son, whereas, the first Adam was the son who rebelled. Jesus would be the central figure of history who, in addition to His climatic act of rising from the dead, reiterated to us the narrative of the kingdom of God, of which, profit was a part.

 

Jesus, who only said what He heard the Father say, gave us a parable that illustrates the kingdom of God perspective of profit and principle. This parable, commonly called the Parable of the Talents, begins with a business owner giving significant resources to three of his managers. Each of whom are to steward what they have been given, based upon their individual ability. One manger receives five talents of gold or silver, the second receives two talents of gold or silver, and the third receives one talent of gold or silver. If gold, using the 2016 price per troy ounce, one talent would be equal to $1.25 million dollars!  Irrespective to whether the actual investment given was a talent of gold or silver, we know the amount was significant. Once the owner distributed the talents, he goes away to handle other business matters for an extended, but undisclosed, period of time.    

 

When the owner finally returned, each manager is summoned to come give an account of his activities. The first manager, the one who received 5 talents, is the first to give an account. He begins, “Sir, thank you for the trust you placed in me. The time in which you were gone was filled with both difficulty and opportunity. I made some good investments and others that were not as good, but despite those conditions, my daily agenda was steady, even when I didn’t see fruit from my labors. At one point, things were so difficult I thought I would lose all the resources you entrusted to me. And guess what, I did. Sir, I lost all five talents you gave to me. That thought of facing you with nothing after the great trust you extended to me frightened me. I studied more, worked harder, formed new relationships and took additional risk. Sir, after much labor and many lessons learned, I am proud to present to you 10 talents.”  With a big smile and a warm handshake and hug, the owner replies. “While I was away, I went to expand my enterprise and as a result of this expansion, I will need someone to manage more of my affairs. You have been faithful over a little, but now, I need you to oversee much more. Enter into my joy.”

 

The owner proceeds to look at the second manager, who began speaking once eyes were fixed upon him. “Sir, I too am thankful for the trust you placed in me. As was just said, the time in which you were gone was filled with both difficulty and opportunity. Initially, I made all good investments. As a matter of fact, the two talents you gave to me grew to 12 talents! That is were my problems started. Because I knew I had substantially increased your talents, I started taking it easy. Some days I would work…well…most days I didn’t work. I simply enjoyed the fruit from my previous good decisions, but that’s when great difficulty came. Because I wasn’t working harder and smarter during the times of success, when difficulty came, I was unprepared. My expenses grew and my resources depleted. During this time, I thought I would lose all the resources you entrusted to me. This thought frightened me, so I began to study more, work harder, form new relationships and take risk. Today sir, I am grateful to present to you 4 talents.”  With a another big smile and a warm handshake and hug, the owner replies. “Just as I said to him, I went away to expand my enterprise and as a result of this expansion, I will need someone to manage more of my affairs. You have been faithful over a little, but now, I need you to oversee much more. Enter into my joy.”

 

After the owner was finished speaking, the third manager rushed into the room, panting and holding his tunic. He began, “Sir, your administrators held me outside because they said you were talking and not to be disturbed. So, as soon as I heard your voice stop, I came rushing in. My apologies for being late. I had to make a trip to the countryside to get your talent from the place where I hid it, but heavy rain washed out the road. My donkey could not make it through the rough patches, so I had to wait several hours until parts of the path dried up. Here sir, is your talent.” Without a smile, the owner asks, “Is this all you have for me?” The third manager replied, “Yes sir, that is the talent you gave to me before you left.” Before the owner could respond, the manager continued, “Sir, after you left, things were good for short time and before I could really do something great with your talent, things got really difficult. I’m pretty sure the other managers have told you about this.

 

I thought about how you have challenged me in the past and I was afraid of losing what you gave to me. Therefore, I decided to go to the countryside and hide your talent in a special spot that only I knew about. Then, at least when you returned, I could get it and present it back to you.” The stoic look on the owners face turned to a frown. He said, “I’m hard on you because you always choose the easy route and not do what is difficult. I get on you because you keep playing it safe instead of taking calculated risk. I hired you as a manager because I saw your potential, but you refuse to see it. I overlooked your laziness hoping that you would take advantage of this opportunity and do something great.” The third manager dropped his head, but the manager replied. “Look up at me. If you would have done just a little thinking, you would have put my money with the merchants and they would have given you some interest on top of my original investment!” Pointing to one of his administrators he says, “Take the talent from him and give it to the first manager.” He looks back at the third manager and says, “Today was your last day working for me.”

 

Certainly, I took some literary license with the story, but the added details do not contradict either the theological implications or the historical context of this parable. So many things could be elaborated upon in this blog, but staying true to the subject of this work, the third manager thought he would satisfy the owner by simply breaking even. He thought, “No loss, no gain, but at least he can have back what was his.” The owner, functioning as an equity investor, didn't want back what was provided. The goal of investment is profit; to gain more than what was once invested by investing in something that will offer increased value.

 

The essence of the parable is this. The Father expects for us to take the emotional, physical, intellectual, relational and spiritual capital (what I call the Five Grace Spaces) He has provided, and through the collaborative work of His Presence, produce a profit.  As stated at the beginning of this blog, the word profit has been mis-associated with secularism, and in turn, understood to only represent a financial term. This is simply untrue. When a parent doesn't have physical or emotional energy to spend time with his or her child, the parent is operating in the red and the child doesn't profit. Likewise, when a wife is void of the necessary insight to function as the wife her husband needs, then she is operating in the red and her husband doesn't profit. Do you get the picture? Profit is a biblical term and its association is much more broad than we have realized. 

 

The Fathers’ perspective is that we take what He has given to us, whether spiritual or natural, combine that with His presence and our individual abilities, and produce a profit that will benefit everything for which we are responsible. This is true even if the profit isn't seen in the present generation. We are to cultivate a sense of attainment that grows from generation to generation. 

 

 

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