We were studying 2 Thessalonians the other night and chapter 3 really stuck out to us. Verses 7-12 in particular.
“7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.”
I was wondering what the context that this was written in. It seemed to me that it was telling people to not ask their brothers for funds to pay for their missions and to instead work for it themselves. (So they wouldn’t be a burden to them)
Is this scripture calling out people who rely on donations in order to work full time in ministry?
Is it bad to ask for donations for missions (such as going to china for a missions trip) if you have the means to pay for it yourself?
How does this work with tithing and roles such as pastors?
One of the tendencies we have is to read a statement from scripture that was meant to address a particular audience with a particular history and apply it to all audiences in all places at all times. I remember hearing a passage read every week telling us to lay by in store. We then prayed and passed a plate… but that isn’t what the passage was talking about. That passage was telling those in Corinth to save money so that when traveling workers needed it, they had it and didn’t need to run around asking for donations. In my tribe — and in many others — that passage is ripped out of context and made into a command to give to a general fund each week. If we left it in context, we would actually be much better off. We would be saving money and setting it aside for God’s use and we wouldn’t have to do fund raisers or special collections.
In Thessalonika, many of the believers were refusing to work. They believed that Jesus was returning very quickly and, therefore, there was no reason to work any more. Paul also believed Jesus was going to return quickly but he strongly disagreed with those who had placed their lives on hold to wait for that return. He used his own conduct as illustrative of someone who was waiting for Jesus but who kept working. Paul was not against receiving funds when he needed them — for himself or for those he was traveling to see such as the poor in Jerusalem. Jesus was criticized for taking funds from others (women were said to have accompanied him at times and their money supported him and his followers) and responded with an old Hebrew proverb — “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn.” That came from Levitical teachings on the care of animals. If the ox was working at the mill, he had the right to eat of the proceeds of his work. If the pastor or minister is working honorably, he has the right to eat, to have money to pay his bills, and to thrive as his people thrive. This teaching was always understood to apply to the pay of teachers and priests.
Many people think that sacrifices in the Old Testament burned up the whole animal but that was a very, very rare event. More often, the loss of the animal was the sacrifice. The animal was killed and the priests got part of the meat as their payment. Often, the rest of the animal’s meat and skin was passed out to the people who’d brought the animal.
God never asks for more than we can give, but he also requires that we work for what we have. Even in His welfare systems given in great detail in the Pentateuch, you can see a work requirement. The poor had to glean — food was not taken to them. Money for the poor was given in a block grant. If they wasted it, they weren’t getting more. God intends for us to work, be productive, and then to give to those who cannot work. And if someone’s work does not produce money but benefits the community (such as pastors and rabbis) they were to be paid by those they served. Some churches in other religious tribes take this so literally that they pay the preacher a percentage of the contribution. He has no set pay — he gets only that percentage.
Some churches pay their ministers far too little. I’ve heard a dozen or more church leaders say “We need to keep him humble” as they smiled, like that was a joke. That is tragic. I have almost always been paid fairly (or more) but I’ve seen so many of my fellow ministers suffer with no retirement, no insurance, no benefits, and a tiny salary. Jesus would not approve of that. Even if you just think they are an ox, they get to share in the community’s bounty because they are working for the community.
The questioner asked if it was all right to collect funds for mission trips, etc. if you had the means to pay for it by yourself. Yes, it is. Why? Because people need to give. They don’t have to give to your work and if they don’t, and you can, continue to self-fund. I have been handed money by widows who I knew were living on a very thin income (this was years ago when I was on the mission field). It broke my heart and didn’t want to take it but I was cautioned by several wise men that I had no right to refuse it — those widows had the right to sacrifice and give to causes that were important to them. If I went about preying on widows, that would be a different matter, of course. And if I feigned poverty to gather funds, that would be dishonest. But if I had the chance to go back to Scotland or France to preach for a couple of weeks, would I allow others to give? Absolutely. Could I self-fund that trip? Probably — given time to save. So why would I take funds? Because giving is an act of worship and I have no problem allowing others to worship alongside me for a cause we both believe in.
So… back to that first paragraph. Do I give weekly to a general fund at Eastside? Yes. Kami and I give just over a tenth of our gross income each week to our local church. Is that because we are required to by a couple of verses in Second Corinthians? No. We do it because of the general teaching on giving and sharing as acts of love and sacrifice and worship. We are happy to do it. We give more on top of that to a capital campaign to make our building more usable and welcoming. We give more on top of that to care for children via Compassion International and a couple of orphans’ homes. And we are so, so happy that we can do this. There are times that giving has been very difficult for us, but that is kind of the point of giving. Sharing and giving is supposed to cost us! It is an act of faith as we send our treasures to heaven ahead of us.
I have a little bit put aside for retirement but nearly enough. So far, my plan is to die within six months of retirement or be so nice to so many people that somebody will feed me. I’ll let you know how that works out.