“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).
We can identify an important aspect of Paul the Apostle’s character by considering the example he set for the members of the Thessalonian congregation. In making these statements in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8, Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had established a standard for them to follow. In other words, Paul did not ask the Christians at Thessalonica to do something he was unwilling to do Himself.
We can uncover some additional insights from this passage if we take the time to examine it’s individual components. For instance…
“you yourselves know how you ought to follow us.” Paul’s conduct among the Thessalonians provided them with a template for life and work. Even though we are far removed from Paul’s in-person example, these verses provide similar directives for modern-day readers of this passage.
“for we were not disorderly among you.” Disorder is not a characteristic of God’s leadership nor should it exemplify those who follow Him. As Paul reminded the church at Corinth, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
“nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge.” A first-century document known as the Didache was written to provide the early church with general instruction and ethical guidance on various aspects of Christian life. A portion of that work applies to our discussion of 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8…
“Let every apostle, when he cometh to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departeth let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he findeth shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.” (1)
Finally, we’re told, “(we) worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.” Paul took care of his own expenses to demonstrate an important lesson: we should not seek to depend upon the charity of others if God provides us with the ability to provide for ourselves. Since Paul was employed as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), it’s probably safe to assume that he put those skills to work during his time in Thessalonica.