In my previous post (“What about work?“), I said that I was presenting the steps of my argument against paying a pastor based on his position.
The first step begins with Paul’s communication to the Thessalonians. It appears that Paul uses the word “work” in at least two different ways: 1) “work” as a vocation in order to provide support for yourself and others, and 2) “work” as ministry or service.
The second step is presented in this blog post. Specifically, Paul told elders to “work with their hands” (which is separate from their responsibilities to shepherd or care for God’s people) in order to provide for their own needs and the needs of others.
It is important to note that the Thessalonians did (or at least were instructed to) recognize leaders among themselves:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 ESV)
While those “who labor among” the Thessalonians are not called elders or pastors in this passage, the passage itself is very similar to 1 Timothy 5:17, which does mention elders specifically. So, the “leaders” in Thessalonika were either elders, or possibly included elders along with other types of leaders.
So, while Paul recognized that some of the Thessalonians were leaders labor, admonish, and work among the believers there, all of the Thessalonians were instructed to work with their hands in order to support themselves and others. These leaders would have also been instructed to imitate the way that Paul and those with him worked hard with their hands so that other people would not have to provide their bread.
But, there is another passage that seems more clear that Paul expected elders to “work with their hands” (that is, vocationally not ministerially) in order to provide for themselves and others. That passage is found within Paul’s instructions to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20. Paul begins by telling them how they should take care of God’s people. Then he warns them about false teachers. Then Paul says this to that same group of elders from Ephesus:
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:32-35 ESV)
In this passage, Paul appears to tell the elders in Ephesus to work with their hands in order to provide support for themselves and for others who may be weak or in need. Remember that this is presented as following and separate from the instructions to “shepherd the flock of God”.
So, continuing our discussion, does it appear from this passage that Paul wanted elders to “work with their hands” in order to provide support for themselves and others? Does this “working with their hands” appear to be the same as or separate from their responsibilities in “shepherding” God’s people?
Series: Scripturally, we cannot justify paying elders/pastors a salary based on their position.