“[W]e labored and struggled, working night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you. It is not that we don’t have the right to support, but we did it to make ourselves an example to you so that you would imitate us (2 Thess. 3:8-9).
Paul comments that, while ministering to the Thessalonians, he worked so as to not burden them. He also mentions this in his first letter to them. Clearly, it was important to him.
Paul talks about working in his letters to the Corinthians as well. While he affirms that it’s OK for ministers to be paid, he chose not be supported; he declined what we would call “full-time ministry.” For Paul, supporting himself was intimately connected to living the Spirit of Jesus.
Paul ended up going to prison and was eventually executed. One of his last stops before being arrested was in Ephesus. His parting words were: “You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:34-35).
Paul equated earning his own money with being in Christ’s self-giving image. He wrote to the Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). It was this image of Christ he wanted the Thessalonians to imitate.
In sharing his thoughts on working, Paul isn’t just giving advice to ministers or sharing godly economic principles. He is preaching Christ. He is showing how even his financial decisions embodied Christ. This is Paul’s further message: Everything in our lives is meant to express Christ. Every detail comes under the purview of the living Christ within. Not one thing in our lives is meant to operate outside of Jesus. “In Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Nothing is too mundane or minute; there isn’t a corner or stable in our souls that He won’t come into and fill with glory.
Paul begins chapter three by saying, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the Lord’s message may spread rapidly and be honored….” (2 Thess. 3:1). The message will spread and be honored if Christ permeates all we do. By the same token, the message will be hindered if we preach Christ while preferring ourselves in all we do.
Anytime we think something is beneath the Lord’s notice; anytime we deem something “not spiritual”; anytime we think of daily life as separate from spiritual life; these are moments repentance is needed. The Lord said, “You can do nothing without me” (John 15:5). We can do nothing, not even manage our finances, apart from the Lord. This is a fact. But besides it being a fact, why would we want to do anything without the Lord? As His bride, why would we want to do anything but experience union with our Head more deeply?