It’s been a long time—years—since I’ve had a raise. I work for a Christian organization that doesn’t have a lot of money, so I feel bad asking. On the other hand, I’m starting to feel a little resentful that I’m getting paid the same rate when my skills and responsibilities have grown. Is it ever legitimate for a Christian to ask for a raise? Is that putting myself forward too much? How can I do so humbly?
I appreciate the heart behind this great question. The various emotions you feel all find their roots in Scripture; and, fortunately, Scripture can help us sift them faithfully.
First, a Christian should absolutely feel freedom to ask for a raise. I’m not just saying that as an economist—though economics is surely on your side here. Consider the following examples. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out the 72 and encourages them to willingly receive hospitality from their hosts, “for the laborer deserves his wages.”
Jesus makes his point by bringing in something we already know from the sphere of “regular labor” and applies it to the sphere of kingdom work. He doesn’t merely say, “Accept hospitality because ministry deserves it,” but he reasons that just as laborers in every other context deserves their wages, so do those who labor for the Lord.
Paul makes the same claim in 1 Timothy 5. He quotes Jesus directly, then adds an image from Deuteronomy: “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” The assumption is that the ox deserves to participate in the fruits of its labor. And consider that the more the ox treads, the more it would eat while treading. The “pay” accruing to the ox would grow the more it worked.
Jesus and Paul both make the case that those who labor in word and deed rightly deserve compensation because God desires that the oxen—and human laborers—get their fair share of what they produce. If your responsibilities have increased, and your skills have grown, it is certainly legitimate to ask for a raise.
That said, how can you ask humbly?
Content in All Circumstances
First, recognize that though your work deserves greater pay, as a Christian you can be willing to forego any right you have to higher wages. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes the case that workers, soldiers, farmers—and again, oxen—have a right to pay, as do apostles. But then he adds, “I have never used any of these rights.”
Just as laborers in every other context deserves their wages, in the same way, so do those who labor for the Lord.
Paul feels called to support himself in his ministry to the Corinthians. He presents the gospel “free of charge” so that “I might win more.” In a passage on removing stumbling blocks, it appears he didn’t want his right to income to keep anyone in Corinth from hearing his message. In this context, ministering without pay was a personal calling he sensed from God.
If your employer is unable to pay you more, you can continue to work at your current wage, viewing it as your gift to your organization and those to whom you’re ministering. Not that your employer deserves such a gift, any more than the Corinthians deserved Paul’s free-of-charge ministry. But you may choose to humbly ask for a raise, recognizing that a “no” may not change your desire to continue working there.
Of course, it’s also okay to leave your job if the pay is too low. For many reasons, it might be a wise and godly decision to go somewhere else that pays better. Staying could be a choice that is not good for you or for your employer. Knowing our need for godly wisdom to weigh the right decision should humble us.
Gaining Contentment through Repentance
In Luke 3, John the Baptist tells a crowd to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” and they respond, “What then shall we do?”
John gives specific instructions: everyone, be generous; tax collectors, collect only what you’re authorized to; soldiers, avoid threats or false accusations and be content with your wages. The fruit of true repentance, then, includes generosity, accepting what we’re authorized to receive, and contentment.
As people saved by Jesus—who have freely received God’s precious and costly gift of salvation—we have even greater motivation to be content with what we have in this life. We’re baptized not with water by John but with the Spirit by Jesus (Mark 1:8). Our repentance is wrought not by a compelling example in the wilderness, but by the Spirit’s work in bringing us to the cross.
Let Jesus’s work for you bring contentment with what you have and give you delight in blessing your workplace. Then you can humbly and freely ask for what your labor rightly deserves.