The first is found in Genesis 23, when Abraham is purchasing a burial site for his wife Sarah.
In verses 6-9, we find that the landowners in that city hold Abraham in very high regard. He emphasizes that he intends to pay the full price - apparently aware that they will offer him a low price because of their affection for him. Indeed, a man does try to offer a field to him for free, even after Abraham has said this. But Abraham once again insists on paying full price, and the deal is made.
Abraham's actions teach us some key lessons that we can apply to business, favors, and relationships in general:
- When people know that we profess to follow God (and even if they don't know it, for they may find out some day), our actions reflect on God - and the impression they get of God from us will impact whether or not they later come to faith in Christ. So, we need to always keep in mind that representing God well is far more important than getting a bargain.
- One way to represent God well through our actions is to anticipate situations in which others may feel obligated to do us a favor they wouldn't do for someone else - perhaps because of our status (e.g. their pastor's daughter) or a relationship (e.g. friend of their son). Then, we should address up front that we do not want special treatment. This way, they won't feel taken advantage of or get the impression that we think of ourselves as better than them.
- Another way is, when we decide to insist on no special treatment, stick with it - don't cave (although some situations may certainly warrant exceptions, like the best friend of your recently deceased parent wanting to do you a favor). This way, they don't think we were only pretending to say that (knowing they would insist in turn) to look nice while actually manipulating them.
Abraham's grandson Jacob is working for his father-in-law Laban as a shepherd, and his pay is that he gets all the lambs whose coats are blemished for himself. Jacob figures out a way to use environmental factors to influence the sheep's mating behavior so that the speckled offspring come from strong parents, so he gets a good flock. God is clearly supporting Jacob in this situation (see Genesis 31:1-3).
Here's what we can learn from his story:
- First off, we must remember a bit of the backstory... Jacob had already worked for Laban for 14 years to be allowed to marry Laban's daughter Rachel, and halfway through, Laban had tricked Jacob, going back on their bargain, and married him to his other daughter instead. Laban had cheated Jacob, and Jacob certainly hadn't been "paid" fairly! So, in many ways, this story is about Jacob getting what he is fairly owed.
- But at the same time, Jacob is not seeking revenge against Laban (after all, he's not poisoning the sheep or anything like that!). The Bible has a lot to say about not seeking revenge, and the fact that God is supporting Jacob here reveals that's not what is on his mind. Rather, again, it's about fairness.
- We also know from Scripture, however, that sometimes we are to give up our right to fairness to represent God well. See 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, for example. But I think it depends on the motive. Are you seeking a fair result only for the fact of getting "your due"...or for some reason that actually matters? In Jacob's case, verse 30 makes it evident that he wanted proper pay in order to provide for his (very large!) family.
- So, putting this all together, here is what I see: It is perfectly acceptable to seek fair compensation/behavior/etc. toward ourselves, so long as our motive is right - not revenge or for the mere sake of fairness, but rather for something that matters in the real world. And I'd like to add that we should always approach these situations with a great deal of prayer, and keeping in mind how to honor God through our response to the situation.