Paul rightly set himself as an example to follow as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). This is why he said to the Ephesian elders, “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me” (Acts 20:34). They had been with him enough to see his tent making skills and did not expect support from the local church. To strengthen this idea that Paul wanted to be an example to others in the church, he says in verse 35, “I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak.” He was even more specific about the conditions he faced in writing to Corinth; “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat” (1 Corinthians 4:11–13a). This statement was not a complaint, but rather a proof of how genuine his apostleship was and that they should not be ashamed to follow his example. As I have traveled around the world, I have seen first-hand many who have never learned good work ethics, and as a result, those in the congregation have lost respect for their leader(s). In addition, they feel that doing any kind of ministry entitles them to be lazy and not properly provide for their own family. Please do not misunderstand my point. There are many in ministry who labor hard at the Lord’s work to the point of great sacrifice. They are the small exception.
Paul made this point clear to the Thessalonians; “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.” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–9).
This issue is never about our comfort or gain. It’s about giving a model to the flock that will represent Christ to each other and to the world in our manner of life and the way we work to support ourselves. There is not space in this blog, but Scripture is replete with teaching on how the follower of Christ should maintain a work ethic that reflects the character of God to others.
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