Word Study #98 — Gain, Profit, Reward

One place where the result of a “transformed” life (W.S.#97) becomes vividly evident is in one’s attitude toward these concepts. It is common that they are treated as if they were nearly synonymous, but that is seldom the case, although translators have often confused the different words in their texts. “Where you start” exerts a great deal of influence upon “where you come out”: there is a huge difference between the conclusions drawn by the advocates of “pie in the sky bye and bye”, those who prefer their “pie” now rather than later, and a few of us who aren’t convinced that “pie” has anything to do with the gospel message at all!

The traditional translation “gain”, for example, represents eight different Greek words, four of which are used only once or twice. Porismos (I Tim.6:5,6), prosergazomai (Lk.9:16), and diapragmateuomai Lk.19:15), are all classically used of simply earning a living. The idea of earning appears also to be why poieo was rendered “gain” once (Lk.19:18), even though that word is normally taken to mean “to make” (102x), or “to do” (353x). The Luke references are all in Jesus’ parable of the “pounds” or “talents”.

Ergasia, used six times, similarly refers to “one’s business or trade, productive labor, or a company of workmen” (L/S) – this last seen in Ac.19:24-25 – although it carries a different sense in Lk.12:58, which is Jesus’ advice to work at settling a dispute out of court, and Eph.4:19, which seems to fit better with the appearances of pleonekteo (used five times), dealing with greed, fraud, or unfair advantage (II Cor.2:11, 7:2, 12:17,18; I Thes.4:6).

The more common kerdos (n.), and kerdaino (v.), combining the idea of financial profit or advantage (Mt.6:26, 25:17,20,22; Mk.8:36, Lk.9:25, Jas.4:13) with the concept of other sorts of advantage (Phil.1:21, 3:7,8; Mt.18:15, I Cor.9:19-22 , I Pet.3:1) focusing on either conversions to the Kingdom or progress in Kingdom living, is also used, sometimes with the prefix aischro- (“shameful”), to warn against any mercenary motivation for one’s “Christian service”.

Paul is quite blunt in his assessment of such a motivation, in his own example of self-support (II Cor. 7:2, 12:17,18 and Ac.20:34,35, where he simply describes his activity in Ephesus), and his disparaging of those who choose not to follow that example (I Tim.3:3,8; 6:5, Tit.1:7,11). Peter (I Pet.5:2) registers a similar opinion.

“Profit,” on the other hand, also representing eight different words, uses totally different vocabulary, and none of those words make primary reference to financial concerns, with the possible exception of the use of opheleo in Mt.15:5 and Mk.7:11, regarding the support of one’s parents. The classical use of opheleo and its noun form opheleia, includes primarily “to help, advantage, to render service or benefit or to receive such service”, although it also referred to spoils of war (L/S).
The adjective form, ophelimos, adds “useful, serviceable, profitable”, and is applied to physical exercise (I Tim.4:8), godliness (same reference), the Scripture (II Tim.3:16), and good deeds (Tit.3:8).
“To be useful” would probably fit most of its contexts (Mt.16:26, Jn.6:63, Rom.2:25, 3:1; I Cor.13:3, 14:6; Gal.5:2, Heb.4:2,13:9), and even in the frustration of both the Jewish Council (Jn.12:19) and Pilate (Mt.27:24) at the failure of their schemes.
Less frequently used, chresimos (II Tim.2:14), euchrestos II Tim. 2:21,4:11; Phm.11), and ophelos (Lk.9:25, Jas.2:14-16) likewise refer to “usefulness, helpfulness, or assistance.”
Prokopto, speaking of moral or intellectual progress, or physical growth, may be used in a positive (Lk.2:52, Gal.1:14) or negative (II Tim.2:16, 3:9, 3:13) direction, as well as simply of the passing of a day (Rom.13:12.).

Sumphero, more frequently “bringing together” in classical usage, in the New Testament displays primarily its secondary meanings, “to confer a benefit, to be useful, expedient, or fitting”, being rendered 7x as “expedient” (Jn.11:50, 16:7, 18:14; I Cor.6:12, 10:33, 12:1, 12:7), and 6x as “profit” or “profitable” (Mt.5:29,30; Ac.20:20, I Cor.7:35, 10:33; Heb.12:10).

Of course, the “biggie” for the “pie-in-the-sky” folks, is the concept of “reward”, representing two different words: apodidomi, which refers to any kind of payment or exchange – even a bribe! – and misthos , where “reward” is the primary choice of traditional translators, in spite of the fact that the classical usage (L/S) emphasizes “hired service, wages, pay, or allowance for public service, or a physician’s fee” more highly than “recompense or reward.” Both of these terms primarily spill over into the next post: however, a few observations are relevant here.
1. Material wealth is never mentioned as a “reward”, either here or hereafter. In fact, the nature of a “reward” is not specified at all, in most cases, although public adulation is called a “reward” – in a less than admirable sense – in Mt.6:1-5.

2. Some of the conditions leading to a “reward” are:
Mt.5:12, Lk.6:23 – endurance of persecution for faithfulness to Jesus
Mt.5:46, Lk.6:35 – loving enemies, doing good to those who hate you
Mt.6:1-5 – praying, giving alms, privately rather than ostentatiously
Mk.9:41 — offering a cup of water in Jesus’ name
I Cor.3:8, 14 – faithfully building on Jesus’ foundation
I Cor.9:17,18 – preaching the gospel without compensation
II Jn.8 – maintaining faithfulness

3. “Reward” is also used of the consequences of unfaithfulness: (Ac.1:18, II Pet.2:!3, Jude 11, Rev.11:18).

Very interestingly, the only mention of specifically monetary “reward” is the Ac.1:18 reference to the money that Judas received for his betrayal of Jesus! Is that the company you want to keep?

Just perhaps some of us would “profit” from an bit of an attitude adjustment!

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