Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our former Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.
This Series explores “business as calling” – what it means, barriers to seeing business as a calling and its implications for followers of Jesus who desire to live out their faith in God not only on the weekend but also in the marketplace.
“It’s nice to have an elephant in the room. There’s nothing more helpful than something everybody’s thinking about.” ~Seth Meyers, Comedian
“I am going to argue that many aspects of business activity are morally good in themselves, and that in themselves they bring glory to God – though they also have great potential for misuse and wrongdoing.” ~Dr. Wayne Grudem, “Business for the Glory of God”
ARE PROFITS AND PROFIT-SEEKING MORALLY GOOD?
“People instinctively know the difference between something done with a profit motive and something done with a love motive.” ~Philip Yancey
Growing up in the sixties amidst the “hippy generation,” I was exposed to lots of antipathy toward the corporate world, including profit-seeking. Many of my contemporaries were anti-establishment and viewed profits as emblematic of greed and, in essence, making money on the backs of others.
Antipathy toward profit continues today. I recently read an article in the Economist regarding Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s newly elected President. In the lead-up to his election, AMLO (as he is known) tried to reassure markets and foreign investors he will not implement anti-business measures but concerns abound. From the article, “But many of AMLO’s allies see stability as the continuation of an unjust status quo. Ricardo Monreal, the leader of Morena in the senate, says that many firms’ profits are too high and that regulations are needed to ‘disturb their accumulation of wealth.’”
As a strong free market advocate both before and after my encounter with Jesus, I’ve never understood questions concerning the intrinsic goodness of profits. Of course as Dr. Grudem acknowledges (quoted above), there will always be opportunities in business for unjust enrichment through unethical behaviour motivated by profit-seeking.
Wearing my investor hat, however, I wouldn’t consider investing in a business I didn’t believe could generate a profit commensurate with its risk profile. With due respect to Philip Yancey whom I admire as a writer and who is a follower of Jesus (see quote), the profit motive and the love motive aren’t mutually exclusive. I don’t think my fellow shareholders would “feel the love” if I told them I wanted to transfer all the return they had earned through risk-taking either to customers by selling my products at cost, or to employees through increased wages, or both!
As followers of Jesus, we must turn to the Bible to determine God’s perspective on profit. As it happens, Jesus actually addressed the morality of profits and profit-seeking. While some have taken this particular teaching of Jesus to be a metaphorical reference to the talents with which God has endowed us, there is no reason to conclude that it doesn’t also apply to financial stewardship.
Sitting with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus tells the story of a man who, prior to going on a journey, entrusted his wealth to three servants. To one he gave five units of money, to another, two and another, one. Upon his return after a long journey, he commended the first two servants for doubling the wealth entrusted to them. When the third confessed he had simply buried the money, Jesus called him wicked and lazy and ordered his money be transferred to the first servant.
In essence, Jesus defined profit and seeking profit as morally good and not seeking profit as wicked. Of course, this philosophy does not apply to not-for-profit organizations for which the good works they perform are the return on donors’ “investments.”
Next week, I will address the moral goodness of productivity.
Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.