We all seek to profit from our various endeavors. We want a return on our investment of time, effort, work, energy and money. Seeking profit is not wrong. But what is truly profitable?
We spend time working to earn a living and we profit in the form of wages or salary. We profit in the form of earned interest, dividends or capital appreciation as the returns on our investments. Profit, if earned honestly, is good.
Proverbs, the book of wisdom, tells us, “in all labor there is profit” (Proverbs 14:23). But in the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, the wise King Solomon, asks the challenging question: “What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” He concludes, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:3, 14).
Both statements are true. Labor does produce a profit. But what is the real value or profit when it is something that doesn’t last? Thinking about this question gives a poignant perspective on our life-long efforts to earn a living, to make a profit and to accumulate a little wealth. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes also said, “When goods increase, they increase who eat them; so what profit have the owners except to see them with their eyes?” (Ecclesiastes 5:11). And he further concludes, “And this also is a severe evil—just exactly as he came, so shall he go. And what profit has he who has labored for the wind?” (Ecclesiastes 5:16).
James asked the question this way: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (James 4:13–15). The profit and our lives are only for a moment.
Jesus Christ Himself asked this challenging question about seeking profit: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). No matter how much profit a man makes, what is it ultimately worth?
We may also seek to profit in many non-monetary ways, such as pursuing the acquisition of new knowledge and skills through education and training. We seek to profit in fun and enjoyment of sports, hobbies and interests. We seek to profit in joy and happiness received by investing our time, life and love in relationships with our spouse, our children, other family members and friends.
To make profits seem longer lasting, some turn to altruism and works of charity, using their accumulated wealth to help those less fortunate. But even of this noble pursuit, Paul gave us a true godly perspective. “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
So what really is profitable? Jesus Christ explained: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). God is interested in our ultimate profit. He instructs us and corrects us for our ultimate profit. “For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).