An Example Worth Following
David Bahn-Reflections Podcast
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
6 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. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 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. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
– 2 Thessalonians 3:1-12 [ESV]
What do St. Paul and Jesus have in common? They both provide powerful examples of what it is to be completely devoted to God. Jesus did so by nature. He was true God from eternity. And although he “learned obedience” according to Hebrews 5:8, he did not learn it by making mistakes or stumbling in his obedience along the way. Consider this explanation:
Jesus “learned obedience” not in the sense that He was prone to disobedience and had to bring rebelliousness under control, but in the sense that He fully entered the human experience. As a child, He obeyed His parents (Luke 2:51); as an adult, He obeyed the Law (Matthew 5:17) and fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). All His life, Jesus completely fulfilled the Father’s will (John 8:29; 15:10; Hebrews 10:9). He knew what obedience was prior to His incarnation, of course, but He “learned” obedience on earth by experiencing it. In every situation, no matter how difficult, the Son was obedient to the Father. – Got Questions Website
Jesus is a perfect example of obedience, faithfulness, love, and life. Paul is also an example. He holds himself out as one here. He held himself out as an example, “to give [us] … an example to imitate” (v. 9). He was not of the do as I say, not as I do, brand of teaching, leadership, or discipleship. His particular example here is to have worked diligently without leaning on any of these new believers for financial support. He was working for their benefit at his own expense. He was a tentmaker, and used the proceeds from that craft to support himself while sharing the Gospel message with the people there. He did not seek to get rich at the expense of those he was seeking to convert.
On the other hand, however, he did receive support from believers who wanted to invest in him and God’s missionary work through him. Especially noteworthy was the generous and faithful support of the people of Philippi. More than once they sent gifts in support of his work. And when he wrote to Timothy he makes it clear that the laborer is worthy of his wages. Jesus taught the same to the Apostles (cf. Luke 10:7,1 Timothy 5:18,Matthew 10:10,Leviticus 19:13,Deuteronomy 24:15). There is no biblical call for a life of poverty as a servant of Christ.
There is, however, a call to diligence, effort, faithfulness, and even fruitfulness as followers of Jesus (cf. Matthew 25:14-30). Paul is an example of such a life, completely devoted to the mission of God. He is now leaving them an example. It is not that everyone has to become an international missionary like Paul was. Jesus told his disciples to sell their possessions, take no provision for their journey and declare the presence of God’s kingdom wherever they went. He told them they were to accept food offered to them because the laborer is worthy of his wage (see above). He told the once demon-possessed man from the area of the Gadarenes (Luke 8), that he should not come with Jesus, but go back and tell his family what God had done for him.
The example of Jesus and Paul is for us to seek God’s reign and rule, be fully devoted to Him, no matter what our vocation, and live productive and peaceful lives. We’ll never do it as perfectly as Jesus did. Not even many missionaries today are as sold-out as was Paul. But we can all follow the example of obeying God, loving Him and our neighbor, and living a life of repentant faithfulness. In the words of Paul, “May the Lord direct [our] hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”