II Thess. 3:8. “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.”
Paul continues to present his own behavior as an example for the believers in Thessalonica to follow. This is such practical teaching that it hardly needs any deep study into exact word meaning. Let me give you my “paraphrase according to Linda,” and please note this is not Holy Spirit inspiration. I’m not claiming anything of the sort, and you are free to challenge me if you think I’m wrong.
“While we were there with you, we didn’t eat the food from anyone’s table without doing something to earn it. We worked very hard, to the point of exhaustion, 24/7, so that we would not be a financial burden to anyone there.” (By the way, I don’t believe Paul was whining and complaining here. He loved the work he did. He was simply trying to establish a precedent that God’s people should earn their own bread.)
To eat bread: used in this context, the phrase means to receive maintenance, to get a living. I’m sure that when Paul and Silas were invited to someone’s home for a meal, they did not expect to sing for their supper; nor were they expected to do so by their host. The meaning here is clear, that the missionaries provided their own sustenance and did not expect the people in the church to provide their living.
I need to point out here that there is record of other churches, already established, sending money and other gifts to Paul. You can read about it in Acts, especially concerning the church in Antioch. It is not wrong to help support those who are doing God’s work; it is not wrong to gift them with financial help so that they have the time to evangelize the people and build churches. What is wrong is when anyone who is in “full-time Christian service” expects, even demands, to be so supported, and especially when the work is not moving forward. This is a huge topic for another time. Let me close it off for now with this example: My dad was a pastor for many years. He worked with new and small churches, and there was never much money. His congregations did their best (with perhaps one exception, which someday I’m going to write a book about!) but they just struggled financially. My dad worked part-time outside of the church in order to make ends meet. Nothing wrong with that. Later on, he was able to devote all his time to the work of the church, and that was a great relief to him and my mom. My point is, he didn’t have the attitude that as THE PASTOR, he should live above the means of the people. He didn’t eat prime rib while they had tube steak. I believe his people appreciated that.
It is clear that the disorderly in Thessalonica did demand to be supported, apparently just because they were church members. We aren’t given details, so we can only surmise what their thinking was. Because Paul used the term busybody, we can safely assume that these folks were doing nothing worth being paid for, yet were claiming a right to remuneration based on their own ideas of the importance of their “work.”
That we might not burden any of you: Paul’s goal in his missionary work was to see souls saved. It was not that he himself become wealthy or even financially comfortable at the expense of the people he evangelized.
Again, I need to stress that it is not wrong to take care of God’s workers. Indeed, the workman is worthy of his hire. But, according to Paul’s teaching here, there had better be some evidence of work accomplished before anything is given away.
What a thought!