“not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:9).
Paul the Apostle was not the sort of person to live by the motto, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Instead, he affirmed his message to the church at Thessalonica by “practicing what he preached.” For Paul, that meant work in a secular trade as he ministered to the people of that area.
While Paul is widely recognized as a teacher and evangelist, this passage tells us that he also employed his professional skills to provide for his material needs while pursuing God’s call to ministry. Yet even though he engaged in outside employment to support his work among the Thessalonians, Paul also endorsed the legitimacy of full-time ministry as well. Perhaps the clearest expression of that support is found in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians…
“Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).
Thus, Paul’s example reminds us that it may be appropriate to decline to exercise a right if doing so will serve a greater good.
2 Thessalonians 3:9 also implies that Paul resorted to such employment as a means of carrying out his ministry in a more effective manner. This set the right example for the Thessalonian church in several different ways. First, it prevented others from calling Paul’s internal motives into question. Anyone who might seek to delegitimize Paul’s ministry by asserting that “he was only in it for the money” would find that claim undercut by his own example.
From an external perspective, this approach served to contrast Paul’s ministry with others who were serving from a profit motive. Since there were many who sought to peddle the Word of God as a way of making money during that time, this decision set Paul apart from those who viewed religion as a business opportunity.
So just as we might expect from any good leader, Paul taught the Thessalonians what to do and then demonstrated how to do it. As mentioned earlier, this sent a clear message to the Thessalonian church: a God-honoring person must seek to be self-supporting if he or she is legitimately capable of doing so. Paul will go on to reiterate that point in a very direct manner next.