But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jeremiah 2:11; ESV)
In business we often talk about "the bottom line" - a reference to the final monetary result of something. People often want to know whether or not in the end they will make or lose money. Unless a profit is earned in the long term, the project should be scrapped. The way Jeremiah uses the term is not exactly the same as this, because obviously he is not primarily referring to monetary or material gain. He is using the word "profit" to speak of benefits as in whether or not a certain course of action will result in positive benefits to the people doing them. His statement expresses his bewilderment at his people. Why would anyone pursue a course of action that would not profit them in any way? Yet that is exactly what his people were doing.
What makes his observation that much more bewildering is that they turned from that which would have resulted in a profitable life and gave it up in exchange for that which would not be profitable. It's one thing when a business is on a profitable course and due to unforeseen circumstances experiences a downturn. It's another when everything is going well and the business owners make intentional choices to undermine their business. But this is exactly what Jeremiah's people were doing with regard to life. And this is what so many of us are doing with our lives today.
Cultures that have a biblical heritage need to especially hear Jeremiah's words. Through the Bible we have been given access to a profitable way of life. God, through his written word, has revealed how we can live lives of great benefit, not only for ourselves but for all those around us. Far greater than business profit, we have the opportunity to benefit our generation in every way and yet we instead undermine ourselves and others by giving up on God's ways for lifestyle choices that don't profit.
All around us are voices telling us how to live: how to spend our time, how to present ourselves to others physically and emotionally, what to fill our minds with, who our friends should be, what our standards should be, how to spend our money, what constitutes a legitimate education and career, the value of marriage and children, and so on and so on.
But then there's God's voice, heard primarily through the Scriptures. Through his revelation he has given us all we need to live a profitable life. Why trade the lasting benefits of biblical godly living for the cheap, destructive, wasteful, deceit of what the world has to offer?
I understand how difficult it can be to wholeheartedly embrace biblical living when the pressure to conform to the ways of the world is so strong. But we need to see this for what it is. A vivid illustration of this is my recent experience participating in a small prolife demonstration. The aggressive reactions of some people to our graphic portrayal of what abortion does to unborn children vividly showed how our society has exchanged the true profit of the gift of children for a misguided concept of freedom and fulfillment. When a society embraces the notion that our purpose on earth is to satisfy our personal pleasures, then the responsibility of having children must be avoided at all costs. Little do we know how much we are undermining our very existence through our self-focused choices.
Trading the biblical call to serve God for our personal pleasure is not confined to the abortion issue. Selfish individualism may be the highest value in much of the world today. The carrot of self-gratification is leading our generation, supposed God followers included, down a most destructive path.
Jeremiah reminds us that it doesn't have to be that way. The reason why he confronted the people of his day as he did was not to mock them, but to help them. We don't need to allow the destructive forces and deceptive promises of the world to control our lives any longer. As we turn back to God and his ways, we can live the profitable lives he designed us to live.