A Diligent Worker Contributes to the Profitability of the Enterprise (Proverbs)
The Valiant Woman makes sure that the work of her hands is marketable. She knows what the merchants are buying (Prov. 31:24), chooses her materials with care (Prov. 31:13), and works tirelessly to assure a quality product (Prov. 31:18b). Her reward is that “her merchandise is profitable” (Prov. 31:18a), providing the resources needed by the household and the community. The proverbs are clear that an individual worker's diligence contributes to the profitability of the entire undertaking. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want” (Prov. 21:5). The converse example is shown in the proverb, “One who is slack in work is close kin to a vandal” (Prov. 18:9). A lazy worker is no better than someone who deliberately sets out to destroy the enterprise. All of these anticipate Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
When we keep in mind that these proverbs about profit are grounded in God’s character, we see God wants us to work profitably. It is not enough to complete our assigned tasks. We must care about whether our work actually adds value to the materials, capital and labor consumed. In open economies, competition dictates that making a profit can be very challenging. The un-diligent—lazy, complacent, or dissolute—can quickly decline into loss, bankruptcy and ruin. The diligent—hard working, creative, focused—perform a godly service when they make it possible for their businesses to operate profitably.
Christians have not always recognized the importance of profit in the biblical perspective. In fact, profit is often regarded with suspicion and discussed in a rhetoric of “people vs. profits.” There is a suspicion that profit comes not from taking inputs and creating something more valuable from them, but from swindling buyers, workers or suppliers. This arises from an inadequate understanding of business and economics. A truly biblical critique of businesses would ask questions such as “What kind of profits?” “What is the source of the profit?” “Is the profit extracted by monopoly or intimidation or deception?”, and “How is the profit shared among workers, managers, owners, lenders, suppliers, customers and taxation?” It would encourage and celebrate workers and businesses who bring a wholesome profitability to their work. (See the article Economics and Society for more on this subject.)
Not all workers are in a position to know whether their work is profitable. Employees in a large corporation may have little idea whether their particular work contributes positively to profitability of the enterprise. Profitability, in an accounting sense, does not play a role in education, government, not-for-profit corporations, and homes. But all workers can pay attention to how their work contributes to accomplishing the mission of the organization, to whether the value they add is greater than the pay and other resources they extract. To do so is a form of service to the Lord.
The Valiant Woman’s profitable management of her household draws a word of exalted praise. “She is far more precious than jewels” (Prov. 31:10). This is no sentimental metaphor. It is quite literally true. A well-run enterprise can certainly earn profits over the years far exceeding the value of jewels and other stores of wealth.