In contrast to Marxist theory, the Bible does not view it as evil for one person to hire another person and gain profit from that person’s work. It is not necessarily “exploiting” the employee. Rather, Jesus said “the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7), and by this statement he implicitly approved of the idea of paying wages to employees.
In fact, Jesus’ parables often speak of servants and masters, and of people paying others for their work, with no hint that hiring people to work for wages is evil or wrong. And John the Baptist told soldiers, “Be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14).
For some occupations, being employed by someone else is necessary, because some people sell services and not goods. In the ancient world, a maid or a messenger or the laborer in a field would work for someone else; and in the modern world a teacher or a babysitter, or a painter or a plumber, earns money when hired by another person. But the hiring of one person by another is also necessary for a greater production of goods. Many products can only be produced by a group of people working together. In the ancient world, shipbuilding and shipping could only be done by hiring many people, and in the modern world, building airplanes, ships, steel mills, and in most cases houses and computers, and many other consumer goods, can only be done by hiring other people, because the tasks are too large and too complicated for one person alone. But working in groups requires the oversight of a manager, and this is most often an owner who pays the others for their work.
This is a wonderful ability that God has given us. Paying another person for his or her labor is a uniquely human activity. It is shared by no other creature. The ability to work for other people for pay, or to pay other people for their work, is another way that God has created us so that we would be able to glorify him more fully in such relationships.
Opportunities to Worship
Employer/employee relationships provide many opportunities for glorifying God. On both sides of the transaction, we can imitate God, and he will take pleasure in us when he sees us showing honesty, fairness, trustworthiness, kindness, wisdom, and skill, and keeping our word regarding how much we promised to pay or what work we agreed to do. The employer/ employee relationship also gives opportunity to demonstrate proper exercise of authority and proper responses to authority, in imitation of the authority that has eternally existed between the Father and Son in the Trinity.
When the employer/employee arrangement is working properly, both parties benefit. This allows love for the other person to manifest itself. For example, let’s say that I have a job sewing shirts in someone else’s shop. I can honestly seek the good of my employer, and seek to sew as many shirts as possible for him along with attention to quality (compare 1 Tim. 6:2), and he can seek my good, because he will pay me at the end of the week for a job well done. As in every good business transaction, both parties end up better off than they were before. In this case, I have more money at the end of the week than I did before, and my employer has more shirts ready to take to market than he did before. So we have worked together to produce something that did not exist in the world before that week—the world is 500 shirts “wealthier” than it was when the week began. Together we have created some new “wealth” in the world. This is a small example of obeying God’s command to “subdue” the earth (Gen. 1:28) and make its resources useful for mankind. If we multiply that process by millions of plants, millions of workers, and millions of different products, it is evident how the world gains material “wealth” that did not exist before—new products have been created by an employer hiring an employee to manufacture something.
Therefore if you hire me to work in your business, you are doing good for me, and you are providing both of us with many opportunities to glorify God. It is the same way with hiring people to produce services—whether hiring teachers to teach in a school, doctors to care for people in a clinic, mechanics to fix cars, or painters to paint houses. The employer/employee relationship enables people to create services for others that were not there before.
Temptations to Sin
However, employer/employee relationships carry many temptations to sin. An employer can exercise his authority with harshness and oppression and unfairness. He might withhold pay arbitrarily and unreasonably (contrary to Lev. 19:13) or might underpay his workers, keeping wages so low that workers have no opportunity to improve their standard of living (contrary to Deut. 24:14). He might also become puffed-up with pride. James writes about such sins of oppressive employers: “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” (James 5:4).
Employees also have temptations to sin through carelessness in work (see Prov. 18:9), laziness, jealousy, bitterness, rebelliousness, dishonesty, or theft (see Titus 2:9-10).
But the distortions of something good must not cause us to think that the thing itself is evil. Employer/employee relationships, in themselves, are not morally neutral but are fundamentally good and pleasing to God because they provide many opportunities to imitate God’s character and so glorify him.