In the business world, it goes without saying, profits are important. Leadership guru, Max De Pree said, “Profit, like breathing, is indispensable.” To speak of profit is to speak of gain. It’s to speak about the benefits that a person or company receives for work. The nature of business makes profit essential. With profit as a goal, businessmen seek to use profit to expand their businesses, which leads to more profit. Profit begets growth, and growth begets profit, and profit begets . . . well, you get the idea.
If the nature of business makes profit indispensable, what about our faith? If gain is vital to organizations built by men and women, then what about an organization built by God? Jesus gives us a clue in Matthew 16:26–27:
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
This verse reveals that Jesus is interested in the profits. And, he’s interested in teaching us how profits are gained. Jesus is interested in profits because he aims to “repay” us based on what we have done. He wants to give us a profit for our work. He does this by teaching us what we are working for. If working to gain the world means we forfeit our souls, then what are we working to gain? Here’s where the nature of business and the nature of our faith part ways. Jesus teaches us how to make a profit in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is no antithesis between profit and loss to the Christian, only synthesis.
Loss is the measurement by which Christ rewards us
Consider how the New Testament calls us to measure our profit by loss.
By seeking the advantage of the many
As Paul ends his discussion on food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 10, he sums up his argument with the words, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Paul is challenging the Corinthians to please God and not themselves.
The highest aim of the Christian life is not liberty, but loss
We are to surrender when our actions prick the conscience of another. Thus, we “give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). The subject of profit and loss comes in verse 33, “Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:33). Profit for Paul is found in seeking the advantage of the many. The word translated as “advantage” (σύμφορον) by the ESV has “profit” in mind (cf, NASB, CSB). So, the profit of the many is measured by Paul’s loss. Laying aside our own profit means others will gain. Paul is teaching us to measure our profit by loss. What profit is found in suppressing our liberties? Paul says, “that they may be saved.” When we forgo our freedoms for the sake of others we clear the path for God to save sinners. Now there’s a profit worth losing for!
By being killed all day long
In Romans chapter 8 we find Paul finishing yet another argument. Paul is declaring the results of justification by faith, and he ends his argument with an exhortation of hope in suffering:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Rom. 8:35–36)
Paul is making it clear that suffering is part of the Christian life. We are being killed all day long. How does loss amount to gain in this passage? Verse 37 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In the things of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword—while being killed all day long—we are more than conquerors. Suffering is an investment in the Christian’s portfolio. We are not promised relief in suffering, but rather we profit from it. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
What does Paul mean when he says we are “more than conquerors?” He means that suffering makes us spiritual heroes. Recall, Paul’s words just a few verses earlier, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (8:28).
When we lose our lives for Jesus, when we suffer for our Savior,
we find overwhelming victory
By counting everything as loss
Paul had an impressive resume. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He even goes as far as to say, “as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:6). I’m not sure exactly what Paul would have gained with such a resume. I can image it would have garnered a lot of respect from his peers. People might have gathered to hear him teach in public. Others may have been interested in his travel schedule, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I assume he might have taken comfort in his deeds. He met every requirement the law had. He could stand blameless before the law of Moses.
Yet, Paul says in Philippians 3:7, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Paul is willing to dump his inherited and earned achievements for Christ. He takes it further, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. . .” (3:9). He is eager to give them up and count them as garbage. And, what of the profit? “That I may gain Christ!” Paul saw what he could gain only when he considered the loss. It was counting as loss, suffering the loss of all things, and counting all things as rubbish that equated to gain. Paul’s profits were measured by the extent of his losses.
An Upside-Down System
Measuring profit by loss doesn’t come natural to me. I want to champion my freedom, flee from persecution, and keep records of my achievements. Sure, I need to be reminded that earning a profit is important. But, what I need to be reminded of most is that Christian profit has little to do with what I want, what I want to encounter, and what I have done. We are not called to measure our profits by liberty, ease, or achievement. Rather, our profits are found when we lose them for Christ.
For more on trusting God in trying times, see our free resource: Suffering Well.
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in June 2020 and has been updated.]