On one hand, the desire for profit can reach idolatrous proportions. Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods that,
There are also idols, nonnegotiable absolute values, in every vocational field. In the business world, self-expression is suppressed for the ultimate value, profit.
Profit can be an idol, and competition, especially in the business world, can be cutthroat. But can Christians paint a better vision of the role of profit and competition?
Anne Bradley and Hugh Whelchel discuss this very question in IFWE’s latest podcast (posted above).
Bradley begins by remarking that,
There is a lot involved in thinking about the role of profit in a society that’s trying to bring about flourishing.
She explains how profit and competition can play an important role in efforts to increase and measure human flourishing. She also breaks down familiar, cultural notions of profit and competition, arguing that it’s possible to serve others through the pursuit of profit.
Whelchel follows up by answering the question “how can I love my neighbor if I’m competing against him?”
Drawing from his own business experience, Whelchel dives into the motivations behind competition and explains what makes these motivations sinful or not.
It gets back to what’s the motivation behind the competition. If you’re competing to make yourself look better, that’s sin. We need to be very careful about that. It really gets down to your motivation and why you’re doing it.
He then explores one common, cultural belief about profit that claims a company’s only responsibility is to increase its profits. He argues that this definition doesn’t do justice to a biblical understanding of business, work, and, consequently, profit:
I think it’s unfortunate to lay it out in those terms because it negates the real reason that we’re in business. If you’re a Christian businessperson and you’ve been called to be in business, what is your ultimate goal? […] We work to bring about flourishing. And we can never lose sight of that. When you get that myopic about that being the only reason you start a business, so you can put profit to the bottom line…I just don’t believe that’s a Christian approach to the workplace.
Profit is important, necessary, and a way to measure stewardship (especially if you’re a business), but it’s never the only reason Christians are motivated to jump into the marketplace.
Bradley closes this episode out by offering additional resources for better understanding profit and competition. If you’re a Christian in business struggling with these issues, today’s podcast is a great place to start.