How Can I Charge for a Labor of Love?

I would like to draw your attention to a matter that we should all consider in the living out of our faith.  In the letter Paul wrote to Philemon, he makes a defense for Onesimus.  Onesimus was a slave to Philemon who had apparently ran away.  On his journey he apparently ran right smack into the Apostle Paul who had previously converted Philemon to Christianity.  Now Onesimus had his appointment with Jesus Christ through the evangelism of Paul. Now that Onesimus was a believer, Paul sought to return him to Philemon.  Paul asked that Onesimus be received as a brother in Christ, and forgiven of his wrong doings, as Philemon had also been forgiven in Christ.

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides. (Philiemon 18-19)

It is clear that Paul is showing to Philemon that Onesimus should have nothing put to his account, and that Paul himself will reimburse Philemon of any costs that he deemed should be paid by the actions of Onesimus or the costs incurred by his absence from his duties. However; is what Paul says – albeit (notwithstanding, although) I know I do not need to mention that you are indebted to me.  What exactly that debt was is not specified.  However, being that Philemon owned slaves it is not likely a financial debt.  It is more likely that Paul was making a spiritual reference to the conversion of Philemon.  In this manner, Philemon’s very soul would have been what Paul was referring to.  His salvation was brought through the evangelistic efforts of Paul, and Paul was reminding him of the great debt that was relieved when Paul led him to Christ.  In this we see that Paul is reminding him that those who have been forgiven must also forgive.  Moreover we should not add to the debt of fellow believers. 

In the early development of the church the office of the Deacon was established.  Do you know why?  The church was in an uproar because the distribution of needs to the believers was not being distributed properly.  So the apostles told the church to select men to appoint over this duty of distributing to the needs of the church.  These men were the deacons of the church.  It was their responsibility to ensure the benevolence ministry was ran properly.  Now something related to this is the fact that all the believers of the church gave towards the needs of the church and they shared all things in common.  I know where are you going with all of this? I gave you all of this background to say this.  If a member of the body of Christ has a need, and you can assist them, then you should, and you should NOT charge for your services. You should not as a believer put a debt onto any believer’s account for something that you freely volunteered to do to assist them in their time of need.   

If this were the case and the church assisted you, for anything, then you should expect to make amends to the church.  Now I am not saying that if you want to repay the church you cannot, quite the opposite.  You are to assist the church and its body of believers out of gratitude, not debt. Once again I wish to be clear on this matter.  I am not talking about a professional service where it is agreed upon that the believers are in a business agreement.  I am speaking of a need that was requested to the church, and members of the church responded to the need, and then wanted reimbursement.  Especially if the member who is asking for reimbursement has received gifts and support from the church body in the past to cover finances, food, lodging, counseling, or anything else. 

What would the church be like if when you, as a believer and member of the congregation, needed assistance after a personal disaster, or a natural disaster like a hurricane or a fire, and then the church shows up and says we will help you if you pay us?  What of that? Would that be considered the “Christian” thing to do?  Even so, an individual member should never show up to assist another member and then demand money for their services. 

If the offer is made from the requester to pay, that is another matter, and it is not what I am speaking of either.  We who are indebted to Christ are to look after our brothers and sisters in Christ as we would our other relatives.  I would never charge my brother to assist him in moving, or in repairing his home, or even looking after his pets when he was out of town.  To receive payment for such services in his time of need it to strong-arm him.  How is that love? When Jesus said that they will know you are my disciples by you love…. I think we can say that this would be a demonstration of our love. 

We need to be ever mindful of the debt of which we have been forgiven. We also need to keep in mind that most all of us have an inherent debt we owe to our fellow members in the body of Christ. We should be willing to unashamedly seek the assistance of the fellowship, and to freely give assistance as needed to the fellowship with a joyous heart.

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