Are Pay Differences Biblical?

Are Pay Differences Biblical? October 8, 2010

The debate about minimum wage and the varying income classes in the world is a fascinating economic topic.  Interestingly, this topic is one that we can find Biblical references to guide us with our thinking.

We know that pay is essentially determined by the combination of supply and demand – the same supply and demand that determines the price of goods and services we use.   These wages guide us in utilizing the scarce resources of capital and labor – which always have alternative uses (opportunity costs).

But enough with the economics lesson…how about the real questions:

– Are wages fair?

– Are workers being exploited?

– What does the Bible say about that!?

From an economics standpoint, a well functioning society has a variety of skilled laborers who are willing and able to work for different wages.

Differences in pay can often be attributed to differences in skills, experience or willingness to work.  As we’ve advanced as a society, we’ve moved from a labor-intensive workforce towards a more technological/less physically challenging workforce.  This trend led to an increase in demand for educated workers who were trained intellectually, rather than workers who could only provide physical labor.  This simply means that today, the physically intensive jobs are not in demand as they were in the past –meaning the pay will lower for these workers (or the jobs will be exported to those who are willing to work for the lower wage)

Changing wages are normal and are beneficial, especially when used as an incentive for workers.  For many workers, wages will increase with years of experience because of the knowledge they’ve gained from their work.  Even more, workers who take on more responsibility often see a change in wages because of the increased workload they are accepting.

I believe in providing fair wages.  A person should be paid a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.  Technically, fair pay is something that a market economy should establish naturally.  If I told you I’d pay you $2.00 to carry wood for 10 hours, you’d probably decline.  But if I told you I’d pay you $20.00 an hour to help move wood, you might consider it.  The ethical question arises when the employer exploits their workers.

[box]Jeremiah 22:13 says “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages” [/box]

[box]James 5:4 says: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”[/box]

[box]Matthew 7:2 says: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”[/box]

Clearly, we are provided with instructions to treat workers with respect and to pay them a fair wage.  Does that mean everyone should be paid equally?  Not at all!  Although my work is important, I don’t feel that I should be paid more than say a doctor or a lawyer.  Remember, the education factor and skill difference allow for these specialized workers to be paid for their specialty.  They’ve put in many hours of work and these workers’ skill level (in most cases I hope) is greater than a person without that training.

In general, pay differences are what make the economic clock tick – but unfair labor practices and withholding appropriate wages are definitely not  Biblical.

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  • This is a good look at this subject. A “fair” wage does not imply “one that is equal across all workers”. It is just like the parable that Jesus told about the workers being selected at various times of the day, yet receiving the same pay. The employer stated that the wages were fair because they were what was agreed upon – even though each worker received a different hourly rate. Yes, that parable was ultimately about salvation, but can be applied here as well.

    • Thanks for the comment! As long as the worker isn’t being taken advantage of and both parties feel the wage is fair, it makes sense to do business. The rate at which someone will work may vary, but that’s the beauty of the free market!

  • Tim these are some great points and I’ve thought about these verses before. How about on the flip side, people that are overpaid? Do you think Jeremiah 22:13 could be applied to them? Not to get political, but I recently read an article from USA Today (albeit from 2010, which happens to be the same year this post is from) that govt workers now earn twice as much as their counterparts in the private sector, when the pensions, healthcare, and other benefits are factored in.

  • tony

    what about police wages i.e. detroit michigan,if you comment,do your research first.the place in tremendously crime infested.yet the higher ups are cutting pay,raising medical care costs(doctors and those folk are greedy)and so on.

  • Christine

    This is a crucial topic. Unfortunately, I find that American Christians have been conditioned to accept the wordly economic arguments, and that this reflects in how we treat each other as Christians. Instead of studying God’s rules for our economy, we have gravitated toward the likes of the Andrew Carnegies, William Buffets and Bill Gates of this world. We admire the rich, and believe they must deserve what they have. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I see nothing in scripture as to there being any merit in wealth, only that the wealthy are commanded to help the poor. But with our mentality that the rich are somehow more deserving comes the flip side: the poor are somehow less worthy. This all translates into an attitude that not only pervades the world, but the church also. We feel justified in paying wages, as you said, based on supply and demand. Where is that in the Bible? I have seen an almost violent rejection by the church of God’s will in our economics, which is why the US is doing so poorly. Sure, we can pay someone who doesn’t have the opportunity, or even ability, to become an IT engineer, a doctor, a lawyer a wage that won’t sustain his family. And when his child needs healthcare, or he can’t buy enough food, this man can qualify for government aid because he is working, but his wages are so low. Then we complain about our taxes being too high, and people getting “something for nothing”. Is this God’s way? It makes sense that wages will differ, but does that mean God will approve paying someone so little they cannot sustain themselves and have to get government help? We should be ashamed as Christians that this happens regularly among us, that we extol worldly practices of getting and hoarding wealth at the expense of others. We have been no light to the world economically, and we are reaping what we have sown. The church today thinks it is quaint but outdated that in the first century church, “they had all things in common”. We hang on to what’s “mine”, forgetting that we have nothing that has not come from the Lord. If paying low wages is to increase your wealth, with the excuse that someone doesn’t “qualify” for a basic life-sustainging wage, then shame on us. Can we all be doctors? Can we all be corporate executives? Who would serve you , you who are wealthy and think you have the right to downgrade others to pay them in such a way that they must go begging? If any of us wishes to pursue wealth, it is then our duty to help the poor; however we justify not doing just that, and send them to the very government programs we rail against, or even appreciate because that let’s us off the hook. Search the scriptures and your hearts, church. We have become like the world, and we sill share in its judgment.