Today we get to the crux of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, the reason he wrote it. It turns out that some of the believers who were convinced that the glorious return of Jesus was imminent had decided to take every day as a vacation day. No longer did they work the fields or labor at their jobs instead they bounced around living off of others. Be careful not to be too hard on them in your own thoughts, for they were probably very pious people who genuinely believed the final judgement was around the corner. Still Paul makes clear the value or work.
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
Paul obviously sees the value in work and in each person being a contributing member of the community.
What is interesting is that Paul sets himself and his group of evangelists apart from the rest of the community. Paul says that although they had the right to be supported by the community they chose not to exercise it.
….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.
So Paul gives up his right to support from the community in order to be a good example to them. But why did Paul have this right in the first place? What does the right to support from the community imply? Remember, under the Old Testament it was the Levitical Priests who had the right to support from the community. A part of all the tithes to the Temple went to them. Thus, Paul’s right to support from the community is recognition of his priesthood.