Taylor explores Paul’s perspective on work
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – New Testament scholar John Taylor explored how the Apostle Paul’s perspective on work can inform Christians in an age of battles and arguments stirred up by disagreements about this subject.
“Some of the most earnest philosophical debates, the wildest political storms, and even the worst wars of the last 200 years have had their origin in arguments over work,” Taylor, associate professor of New Testament, said during the Land Center Lectures on the Theology of Work and Economics at Southwestern Seminary, Oct. 11. Even today, millions of people are concerned about work—or about the lack of work.
“Even now in this country,” he said, “with over 12 million unemployed, over 20 million underemployed, over 46 million people being fed by the government, with degree inflation forcing more and more people into indebtedness and delaying entry into the workforce and with household incomes falling, finding a biblical approach to work is of vital importance.”
During his lecture, Taylor explored the theme of work in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. In the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians, he said, Paul discusses the “genuine conversion” of the Christians in Thessalonica. As he looks back on his time with the Thessalonians, he remembers their “work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope.” Their work, labor and endurance provided evidence for their genuine conversion.
““Paul is saying that their work, labor and endurance are rooted in their faith, their love, and their hope in Jesus Christ,” Taylor said. “Christian work is not faith, but it reveals faith. Christian labor is the labor of love. It is motivated not by selfish desire, but by love for others. Christian endurance comes from our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. … Work is not who we are, but reveals who we are.”
Taylor added that, according to Paul, work is a “relational activity, … rooted in trust in Jesus and motivated by love.” As evidenced by the Thessalonians, this Christian work, labor and endurance begin at conversion.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:8-9, Taylor said, Paul defends the genuine nature of his ministry, and he does so by reminding the Thessalonians of his work.
“His work was his defense,” Taylor said. “It demonstrated his love for the Thessalonians. … He did not want to be a burden. His work, then, established his ethical credibility.”
This passage also suggests that Paul proclaimed the Gospel while he worked. In other words, “his work provided a context for his Gospel proclamation.”
In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, Paul encourages his readers to grow in love and, immediately afterward, he tells them to support themselves through their own labor. This passage, Taylor said, does not build an individualistic foundation for work, but it establishes work on a foundation of love.
“I work out of love, so that I will not be a burden on others, so that my witness to the world will be maintained, so that I will then be able to be very generous toward others,” Taylor said.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 Paul calls the church to urge idle members to work, and in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 he tells them not to associate with fellow believers who refuse to work. In both passages, he also reminds believers to continue doing good to others.
“Paul recognizes that there will always be cases of genuine need,” Taylor said. “Even when love and generosity is abused by the idle, the church is called to continue in doing good to all.”
To listen to Taylor’s lecture and to learn more about the Land Center Luncheon on Work and Economics, visit www.swbts.edu/landcenter