Apparently, when Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, there were those who believed Christ’s second coming was so imminent that all they had to do was quit their jobs and wait around until his arrival. Paul had no sympathy for such teaching. In fact, he commanded believers to “keep away” from those who lived “irresponsibly” (2 Thess 3:6, 11), reminding them of his own example when he was with them: “we did not eat anyone’s bread free of charge; instead we labored and toiled, working night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thess 3:8). So even when he was with them Paul established this maxim: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat” (2 Thess 3:10).
Many of us have quoted this verse in jest to our children, but the implications of Paul’s words are serious and profound. Whether people misunderstood or misrepresented his teaching of salvation by grace apart from works, or were confused about the time of Christ’ second coming, Paul frequently combated the notion that, somehow, Christians had certain “liberties” that exempted them from the normal responsibilities of life—including work. Surely this is not the case. Already the ancient preacher said, “Whatever you do, do it with all your might,” and both Jesus and Paul worked as craftsman and leatherworker, respectively, for many years. Paul often, even usually, chose to forego his right to be supported by the congregations he served, working for his sustenance instead, so he could offer the gospel “free of charge.”
This is an attitude that should be emulated by all Christians, especially by those in Christian service, including pastors and missionaries. We should not easily take the hard-earned money of those who would support us while refraining from work ourselves. Certainly, we should not listen to those cults who, as Jesus predicted, claim to know the exact timing of Christ’s coming and seek to confuse and distract us from doing our work today:
Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come (Matt 24:11–14).