“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”Proverbs 14:23 ESV
The term “toil” suggests the idea of hard work. There are two important implications that arise from the use of this term. First, “hard work” necessitates that one, in fact, work. This precludes the idea that any progress can be made by those who are unwilling to be active and involved. Second, “hard work” and “toil” are terms that urge workers to acknowledge the pain involved in making progress. Those who are unwilling to spend and be spent for the sake of progress will never make any.
The term “profit” carries with it the idea of a valuable reward received in return for one’s labor. While this term at first may suggest an application in secular work, the principle within this proverb applies much more broadly. It is not only in the business world that “hard work pays off” but in all areas of life.
The universality of this principle is what emphasizes the contrast that follows. This proverb contrasts “toil” with “talk.” While verbalizing intentions is by no means wrong, it also falls painfully short of producing that which is right. Only actual action does that. Since merely talking about right things does not produce right action, conversation alone leaves gaping holes that only diligent effort can fill.
This proverb paints a particularly bleak picture with the term “poverty.” The picture is that of a life devoid of the things which nourish it. It is a life characterized by lack and unending need. In this picture, “profit” and “poverty” form a second contrast. Just as talk leaves gaps that only toil can fill, poverty is the result of a life in which nothing profitable is accomplished.
Like the helpless, languishing soul on the side of the road, those who will not work lead a life perpetually absent the very things that would otherwise enrich it. Those who only talk about working never make a profit. Those who only talk about maturing never grow. Those who only talk about progress never make any. Instead, they lead lives that ultimately reward them with exactly what they spent: nothing.
The applications of this proverb ought to sober the people of God when it comes to personal application of Scripture within a community of Christians. It is good to discuss Bible passages, but stopping short of discussing how to practice Bible passages is a great failure. It is good to desire the conversion, commitment, and continuing development of disciples within the body, but only diligent effort ensures disciples such an outcome. It is good to talk about progress in the work of the local church, but only communities of Christians who work hard will make any.
Those who will not work hard should not expect to be rewarded for the work they did not do. This principle thus discourages the idea that a church can reap the rewards of the work a preacher actually does. It discourages the idea that many Christians will grow because a few were diligent. It discourages the idea that talking about the work that needs to be done is the same as doing it.