I’ve posted a few times concerning “church employment”, especially paying salaries to vocational pastors (for example, see “Employment” (and comments), “On Being Honored“, “Are Pastors Part of the Body“, “Advantages of non-hired, local leaders“). This post is one step in my argument from Scripture that elders/pastors should not be paid a salary based on their position. In this post, I would like to talk about “work”.
First, consider these two passages from 1 Thessalonians:
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 ESV)
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)
Notice that Paul uses the same word (“work”) for “working with your hands” (that is, supporting yourself) and in the sense of serving others, what is sometimes called “ministry work”. However, even though Paul uses the same word, he differentiates between the two “types” of work.
In the first passage, Paul urges all of the believers to “work with their hands”. One of the reasons for this is that Paul wants them to “be dependent on no one”. From the context, it seems that Paul has in mind that believers should work vocationally in order to support themselves.
In the second passage, Paul encourages believers to esteem those who labor, admonish, and work among them. Again, this is the same term, but it appears that Paul is using it in a different sense. This is not the type of work (i.e. “with your hands”) that would allow someone to “support” themselves. Instead, it is serving one another, teaching one another, studying Scriptures, etc.
Here are two other passages from 2 Thessalonians dealing with work:
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 ESV)
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 ESV)
Again, Paul uses the same term (“work”) in two different senses. Importantly, in the second passage, Paul instructs believers to “keep away from any brother” who does not “work with their hands” in order to support themselves. He offers himself as an example of one who worked with his hands, and says “You ought to imitate us”.
Now, context is very important. Many commentaries will explain that there were some lazy believers in Thessalonika who were sitting around waiting for Jesus to return – they were not working with their hands. However, does this mean that this passage is only relevant to people who do not work because they are waiting for Jesus’ return? Every passage of Scripture is delivered within a context. But, within that context, believers can learn truths that are general. Reading 2 Thessalonians 3, the general teaching seems to be: “work with your hands in order to support yourself and others”.
So, do these passages apply to any believer? Does this mean that all believers should “work with their hands” in order to support themselves and their families? Do you think that Paul had “ministry work” in mind when he said “work with your hands”? Do these passages only apply to believers who are not elders/pastors?
Series: Scripturally, we cannot justify paying elders/pastors a salary based on their position.