Are Profits Evil?

Is it wrong to make money? (Pixabay/mwewering)

The Senate Finance Committee approved its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Tax Foundation estimated expected impacts of the bill on after-tax earnings. A single person using the standard deduction would see their after-tax earnings increase 1.3 percent if they were earning $30,000, 2.3 percent if earning $50,000, and 2.2 percent if earning $75,000. A married couple with two children and earning $85,000 would see their after-tax incomes increase 1.8 percent if using the standard deduction, while the same married couple earning $165,000, if itemizing, would see their after-tax earnings increase 0.8 percent. The only scenario analyzed where after-tax incomes fell, was for a married couple with two children earning $3,000,000 (-0.3 percent).

The Senate and House plans differ. The Senate tax bill keeps seven income tax brackets but reduces rates. But compared to the House version, the Senate raises the standard deduction, increases child credits and decreases the rate for small business pass-through income. The bills of both houses keep the mortgage interest deduction, but the House version has limits. The Senate tax bill eliminates the property tax deduction, while the House version keeps it with a $10,000 limit.

Anytime tax policy is discussed, class conflict erupts. Tension arises between the rich and the poor, the young and the elderly and even the employed and the unemployed. Since this year's discussion involves reformation of business and individual tax policies, tension has erupted between individual and business interests. Some have implied that profits are bad. But, profits are responsible for much good.

The pursuit of profits was the guiding force responsible for the Industrial Revolution and is responsible for much of today's innovation. Profits are responsible for the high standard of living in the industrial world. Profits have been shown to be the only efficient way of allocating a nation's resources. The introduction of opportunities to earn profits has moved China from a middle-of-the-road developing country to an economic powerhouse. Profits allow businesses to increase their workforce and wages, better train their workforce, lift their communities and clean the environment. Higher incomes, from a profitable economy, are often a major motivating factor for youth to receive an education and increase their marketable skills.

Profits, and related higher earnings, are the engine in which churches are built, missionaries are sent and poverty is reduced. A higher standard of living, from profits, allows the creation of safety nets for the poor and elderly and better medical care for all. The higher standard of living from a profitable economy frees time to engage in ministry and service.

The pursuit of profits is and should be constrained. Every business faces resource constraints. But businesses also face, legal, ethical, missional and environmental constraints. Christians in business should always face biblical worldview constraints (opportunities). The pursuit of profits, as well as many other things, can be unethical and even evil. Legal, ethical, missional, environmental and biblical constraints should always be invoked. A solid, biblical, Christian worldview and principles should incorporate all of our decision-making.

The parable of the minas (Luke 19:11-27) illustrates our stewardship responsibility. The story tells of a nobleman that went to a distant land to receive a kingdom for himself. The nobleman called 10 of his slaves, gave them each ten minas, and told them to use them for business until he returned. (A mina was a unit of currency equal to about 100 days' wages.)  Some citizens did not want the nobleman to reign over them.

When the master returned, one of the slaves had earned 10 more minas. The master congratulated him on a job well done and put him in charge of 10 cities. Another slave reported that he had earned five minas. The master put him in charge of five cities. A third slave reported that he had kept his mina safe but had not earned a profit. He excused his behavior by saying he was afraid of his master because he knew that he was an exacting man and reaped where he did not sow. The master took his mina and gave it to the slave who had earned 10.

The parable of the minas presents a number of important business principles. Obviously, the nobleman in the parable is the Lord. The slaves are us.

  • Everything belongs to the Lord. We have a stewardship responsibility, but everything is His.

"for the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (1 Cor. 10:26).

  • People are called to business. The nobleman likely had many slaves, but he only called 10 of them and told them to do business.

"So he called his ten servants and entrusted to them ten pounds[a] and said to them, 'Trade until I come'" (Luke 19:13).

  • The Lord has the power to make wealth. The nobleman gave and took away.

"Then he said to those who stood by, 'Take the pound from him and give it to him who has ten pounds'" (Luke 19:24).

"But you must remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to get wealth" (Deut. 8:18a, NASB),

  • Profits are not evil. The points of the parable of the minas and the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) are to multiply the resources which the Lord has given us. We will eventually be held to account. Faithful stewardship will be rewarded.
  • Everyone must accept the reign of the King.

"But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to reign over us'" (Luke 19:14),

"But as for those enemies of mine, who would not let me reign over them, bring them here and slay them before Me" (Luke 19:27).

Profits are not evil. But, profits can be acquired with evil actions, and profits can be used in evil manners. Profits, like many other things, can be used for good and for bad. Profits, income and wealth can be a blessing or curse depending on how they are acquired and used.

Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics at Oral Roberts University.

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