the weblog of Alan Knox

What about work?

Posted by on Oct 6, 2007 in elders, office | 14 comments

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.

1) What about work?
2) What about work for elders/pastors?
3) What about honor for elders/pastors?
4) What about the right of elders/pastors?
5) Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-6-2007

    I think Paul was addressing the Thessalonians primarily. Moreover, what was work in that culture is tremendously different than what is work today. Some of the highest paid in our society today do no work at all “with their hands,” whether they are executives, lawyers, judges, management, teachers, writers, etc… I think ministry can be one’s work and that Paul wasn’t trying to say that you must work a job while ministering.

    The real key is finding out what God is telling you to do and doing that with all your might and for Him. He will then provide for you to do that, whether through a salary, through ownership, through the support of others, or in whatever infinitely creative way He wills.

  2. 10-7-2007

    You’re going to lose your paid pastoral readership if you rock this boat!

    Ok, I’m a music minister/worship leader. Yeah, they’re not New Testament positions. I know that, and I won’t ever try to defend it as such.

    But check out the Old. It’s a Levitical function. Not priestly, mind you. But I’m a guy who’s paid to take care of some of the things that God’s people, Christ’s body, have seen fit to pay me take care of.

    Your seminary position and desire to teach is cut of the same cloth as my position as a paid music minister.

  3. 10-7-2007


    I agree that “work” today is different from work in the culture of first century Thessalonika. However, Paul did seem to differentiate in that culture between what we would call vocational work – work that provides food/money to provide for your needs – and spiritual or ministry work – work that builds up the church. The question of this post is: Did Paul make those distinctions? If the answer is yes, then the next question is: Should we make the same distinctions?

    From your response, it seems that you would answer, “No, Paul did not distinguish between vocational work and minstry work.”


    I hope that any paid pastors who read my blog will be interested in studying Scripture to determine if their vocation of choice is valid or not. And, yes, I would include both your work as a music minister/worship leader and my work as a college professor. If I determine that I am accepting money for something that should be offered without charge, then I want to change my vocation.

    Thus, I am starting with the questions that I indicated above.


  4. 10-7-2007


    I can testify to the fact that unpaid pastoral eldership is a far better way. I have ministered in both situations, and would not accept a paid ministry again, even if I was able. In my experience the congregation sees the elder as one of the ministering members of the body, rather than an employee, one of them rather than a stand-in for Christ. As a consequence they run beside rather than behind.
    I know that many like to think that they have a guaranteed remuneration, but we can also testify that our needs were always met. The Lord really IS no man’s debtor!
    My opinion, for what it is worth, is that it depends on whether one sees ministry as a career or a calling, preaching and teaching as chosen job or an inner compulsion which cannot be rejected, as a means of responding to the call of God or a means of income, a means of humble servanthood or a means of massaging ones ego, etc. I suspect the latter options loom large.

  5. 10-7-2007


    This is a topic that my husband and I have struggled with often. When my husband was a paid pastor, he always struggled with being paid for that position.

    One thing we’ve noticed of our friends, who are in paid ministry positions, is that often they have little if any marketable skills outside of paid ministry. Some would even like to not be paid to do ministry anymore but have no idea how they would support their families if they weren’t. What they could earn by “working with their hands” just wouldn’t pay the bills, or so it would seem. Launching out from paid ministry can be a scary endeavor for them and perhaps reveals an unhealthy dependence on the local believers. I don’t know what to tell them, though.

  6. 10-7-2007

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for sharing some of your experiences with us. I believe there are very sincere followers of Jesus Christ on each side of this issue. Certainly the historical interpretive evidence suggests that a paid vocational pastorate is valid and even necessary. I’m trying to examine the biblical evidence as closely as I can to determine if the historical position is a biblical position.


    Yes, I know many people who would agree with my position (non-paid pastor) in theory, but continue in paid positions because they don’t know any other way to support their family.


  7. 10-7-2007

    Something I find interesting in Paul’s comments is that he says that he apparently had a “right” to be financially supported. I honestly don’t know what he means by that.

    What I do know, however, is that Paul’s teaching (see Philippians 2) shows us that “rights” are not something to be held on to by believers.

    Furthermore, while I have often heard Paul’s comment about the “right” to be paid used by many as a justification for being paid, the statements surrounding that are seemingly ignored. Paul chose not to be financially supported, and said that he was doing that as an example that should be imitated!

    This makes me think that perhaps Paul was not referring to a “right” in the sense of a God-given right, but rather a cultural “right”, or perhaps even a legal “right”.

  8. 10-8-2007


    As you know I wrote a small paper on 2 Thes. 3:6-15 where I discusses these verses in terms of paying a salary to someone for ministry. I have come to some of the same conclusions that you have come to.

    Recently I read a post called Awkward Reunion about a vocational pastor who was “ran out of town.” He now sells insurance for a living. Although I think it is difficult for a lot of people who are trained to be vocational pastors, I also think that there are many things they can do. They have a lot of marketable skills that they’ve probably just forgotten about (or maybe even are misapplying).

    Just my two cents.

    God’s Glory,

    The Pursuit Online Store

  9. 10-8-2007

    Hi Alan, very thoughtful post and timely given that this is a Q with a lot of baggage around for people on both sides of the fence.

    I think its good to move away from it’s my money and i’m not giving it to someone else on the one extreme to its my right hand it over i’m doin more holy work for the Lord on the other…

    For what it’s worth i can see times where it is right to pay someone for what they do in terms of leading a church – whilst i’d like to believe in a happy spontaneous just happen world i have come to the conclusion that it takes a lot of work to organise and be accountable for. So where size etc allow it i am happy to see a leader paid for working with their hands – it’s an investment.

    On the other hand coming from a church planting denomination where a lot of leaders are bi-vocational or came in from other jobs/back grounds i am more than happy for them to work to support themselves or go back to work outside of church should the need arise.

    My final thought is to wonder if Jesus and the disciples worked during their 3 yrs together – not that i am trying to set up a Paul vs Jesus debate – i just think it just adds another window to look out from :).

  10. 10-8-2007


    I’ve enjoyed the current posts and discussion. One thing I believe that is often overlooked was Paul’s reasoning for accepting or denying financial support. When examining Paul’s conduct among the churches, we must note not only what he did but also why he did what he did. From what I can observe from Paul’s ministry (and you can help me clarify this), he choose not to accept support when those he ministered to questioned his intentions or were characterized by idleness.

    When we compare Paul’s situation to many of our places of ministry, I think it is fair to say that there are some differences. For example, while each of us may know certain individuals who choose not to work, being content with government support, I cannot name a congregation where idleness characterizes the people to the extent that it did in Thessalonica. As a general observation I do not know of any congregation where several of the members refuse to work and can justify it because they believe they are simply following after their pastor. In other words, while it was important for Paul to provide a tangible example of diligent, hard-working labor to the idle Thessalonians, those in our churches who choose not to work, do so mainly because of the welfare system or because they are not physically able to, not because they believe their pastor is not working. In fact, many of those that we minister to have the opposite problem, they work too much!

    As to the church’s perceived motivations of the pastor, I recognize that in the eyes of some, pastors are in it just for the money. I personally have never been accused of this, and I think it’s because I simply don’t make a large salary. I think what most people take issue with is the extravagant lifestyle that the Benny Hinn’s of this world enjoy. Even still, I recognize that there will always be some who may question the motivations of the pastor, regardless of how much he makes. I think a good solution to this is simply having local, homegrown elders. If a man has served the church for a number of years, knows the people well, and has built a solid reputation among the congregation for his good works and character, I don’t believe they would question his motivations if he were to receive financial support, especially if they recognized his godliness and leadership abilities and asked him to serve in the first place. All this to say that it seems unfair to criticize anyone who receives financial support or to imply that a pastor should never receive financial support regardless of the circumstance (not that I believe you are doing this). After all, from what we can observe Paul himself did not have a strict policy against receiving compensation, and on some occasions did accept support (e.g., the church in Philippi, albeit periodically). What we see in the NT is that Paul had specific reasons for not accepting financial support from specific churches. The factors Paul dealt with may or may not be present in many of our contemporary places of ministry. Because of this I think we need to be careful in making complete prohibitions against pastors receiving support. Once again, thanks for the great post!

    Ben Laird

  11. 10-8-2007

    I agree with your comments. I would not want to give the impression that what I said is a blanket criticism of paid elders.

    I am extremely concerned when anyone, elder or otherwise, separates, so-called “spiritual” ministry, from some other concept of ministry. Does that help to reinforce and legitimize the thinking of many Christians who separate their “spiritual” life from their secular life?

    One of the advantages of working to support ones family, as well as minister as an elder, is that the elders are able to keep contact with the lost,and what is going on in their “world”. Very importantly, the secular workplace keeps the elders’ feet on the ground, helping them to avoid being so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use.

    In my own case, even though having skills in other areas, I chose school bus driving, which opened a wide avenue for ministry to unbelievers; both children and parents.

  12. 10-8-2007


    I plan to deal with Paul’s “right” in the fourth part of this series. Unless something changes, I should publish it early Tuesday evening.


    I remember your paper. Perhaps you should publish it on your blog?


    I agree with your comments about money. Both extremes (It’s all mine… or gimmee yours because I deserve it) are wrong.

    We know very little about how Jesus and the 12 apostles were supported during their three year ministry. We do know that there were at least some women who helped support them. I do not think that Paul’s instructions are contradictory to Jesus’ methods.


    Thanks for interacting with my argument here. I would agree with you that Paul’s instructions about work and idleness were intended only for the Thessalonians. However, in my next post “What about work for elders/pastors?“, I show that Paul gave the same instructions specifically to elder from Ephesus. He does not mention a problem of idleness in Ephesus. Perhaps the teaching about “working with your hands” is more general than a teaching against idleness.

    I have attempted to keep motivations (either the motivation of pastors to receive pay or the motivation of others to pay pastors) out of my argument completely. I do think there are dangers related to motivation, but those are sin issues that are wrong whether an elder is paid or not.

    As far as Paul and others receiving support in Scripture, I’m going to deal with this counter-argument in a post that I plan to publish early in the evening on Wednesday. I hope you will come back and interact with us then as well.

    Thank you again for interacting with my argument here. I appreciate the questions and discussions, even when we disagree.

    Aussie John,

    I agree that the dichotomy between “spiritual” and “secular” is not a good thing. Thank you for sharing how God provided support for you through driving a bus. I’m sure you have many stories of ministry opportunities as well. Perhaps you can share those with us sometime.


  13. 2-1-2008

    First question, why do you make a distinction between secular “work” and ministerial “work?” Paul referred to the “work” of preaching as teaching (1 Tim 5:17) using the same word that he used speaking of his own labor in Acts 20. You say, “Again, this is the same term, but it appears that Paul is using it in a different sense.?” It appears that way because of what principle of exegesis? It appears that way to you, it doesn’t appear that way to me so how do we get passed what “appears” to be so based on subjective observation to something a bit more exegetical that can settle the question of appearance?

    Second, your understanding of double honor does not seem to me to take into consideration the full meaning of the greek word “timh.”

    According to BDAG, Timh not only CAN mean “honor conferred through compensation, “honorarium” it probably DOES mean this in 1 Tim 5:17 as these scholars cite 1 Tim 5:17 as an example of this nuanced meaning of the word (See BDAG’s Lexical Entry of Timh). This also fits well with the immediate context. Paul begins to tell Timothy how to qualify and provide for the needs of widows by using the verb “timaow.”

    “Honor (timaow) widows who are widows indeed:” (1 Tim 5:3) The context of the passages makes it clear that the means of honoring this widows is by providing for them fiscally. Paul moves from speaking about widows in verses 3-16 to the verse in questions (v17) and then and then illustrated by the two examples of verse 18: the oxe (compensatory honor) and the laborer who earns his wages (compensatory honor). Your interpretation, (which mimics Viola’s interpretation) provides a peculiar break in the flow of thought from Paul speaking about the compensatory fiscal provisions given to worthy widows to being really very thankful (but not compensatory) for the work of elders and then back to the compensatory examples of the ox and the laborer.


    Finally, your argument appears to cross the hermeneutical arc. You argue that no local governing or teaching elders were given salaries in the NT. This, of course is subject to my disagreements above but let’s say you can satisfactorily dispense with my questions above. Why is this sufficient to show that pastors shouldn’t be salaried today? There weren’t many “salaried” positions for anything. There weren’t bible colleges or seminaries with salaried professors. There weren’t denominational organizations with salaried workers. There weren’t even public schools with salaried teachers. There weren’t professional counselors with salaried positions, the military wasn’t keen toward commissioned and salaried chaplains nor were there salaried managers, executives, consultants, conference speakers or authors (I have often wondered how folks who are so apposed to salaries for pastors justify charging for their books, do they think that Paul charged for his letters?).

    So what makes teaching at a bible college or seminary, counseling, providing chaplain services for the military, managing companies, speaking at a conference, consulting for companies (or churches) or writing books “working with one’s hands” while doing many of the self same activities under the rubric of pastor is illegitimate?

  14. 2-1-2008


    Thank you for the comment. I think most of your questions are answered in other parts of this series, but I’ll be glad to summarize them briefly.

    In this post, I was pointing out that Paul himself makes a distinction between two types of work – that is working by serving others and working with your hands to support yourself. If you read the post called “What about work for elders/pastors?” you’ll see that I discuss Acts 20 where Paul specifically talks about this distinction in “work” for elders/pastors.

    Yes, BDAG does say that “honor” in 1 Tim 5:17 means “honorarium, compensation”. However, it is interesting that this is the only place in Scripture that they associate this meaning to “honor”. I think they could be wrong in this case.

    However, I think you’re making a distinction that I am not making. This series is an attempt to answer the question “Does Scripture support paying a salary to elders/pastors because of their position as elder/pastor?” I do think that financial gifts to elders/pastors are appropriate and scriptural. However, I do not think this is the same as a salary for a position. Instead, it is an individual’s response to the pastor’s serving and teaching.

    Yes, there were salaried positions when the NT was written (see 1 Tim 5:17) – Paul knew the word for “wages” but chose to use “honor” instead. I think there’s a good reason for that.

    I appreciate the response to my posts. I hope you decide to continue this discussion.



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