Ellen G. White Writings

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Australasian Union Conference Record

December 1, 1899

The Minister and Physical Work

Useful physical labour is a part of the Gospel. The great Teacher, when enshrouded in the pillar of cloud, gave direction that every youth should learn a trade. Thus, the people would be enabled to earn their own bread. And knowing how hard it was to obtain money, they would not spend their means foolishly.

Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, learned the trade of a tent-maker. There were higher and lower branches of tent-making. Paul had learned the higher branches, and he could also work at the common branches when circumstances demanded. Tent-making did not bring returns as quickly as some other lines of business, and at times it was only by the strictest economy that Paul could supply his necessities.

Why did Paul connect mechanical labour with the preaching of the Gospel? Was not the labourer worthy of his hire? Why did he not spend all his time in preaching? Why waste time and strength in making tents? But Paul did not regard the time spent in making tents lost by any means. While working at his trade he gave an example in diligence and thoroughness. He was “diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”

Paul was an educator. He preached the Gospel with his voice, and by intelligent labour, he preached it with his hands. He taught others in the same way that he had been educated by one who was regarded as the wisest of human teachers. As Paul worked skillfully and rapidly with his hands, he related to his fellow-workers the specifications which Christ had given to Moses in regard to the building of the tabernacle, as recorded in Exodus, chapters 24-27. For his own encouragement, and for their benefit, he repeated to them many portions of the Holy Scriptures. He taught that supreme honour is to be given to God. He told them that the skill, genius, and wisdom brought into the work of building the tabernacle, were given by God, to be used for His glory. He repeated the communications from God to Moses found in Exodus 35:20-35, and chap. 36:1-7. He taught that in this the Most High was instructing men as to the manner in which the necessary work in our world should be done.

After leaving Philippi, Paul went to Thessalonica, on the sea coast. The history of his work there is recorded in the first and second chapters of 1st Thessalonians. He laboured in the Gospel and worked also with his hands. “We were gentle among you,” he writes, “even as a nurse cherisheth her children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail; for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the Gospel of God.” He declares that if a man will not work, neither shall he eat, and by his own example he illustrates his teaching. He says: “Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail day and night, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.”

“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus.” Here he remained three years and six months, “disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Here, also, he toiled at his craft. He writes to the Corinthians, “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labour, working with our own hands, being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” 1 Corinthians 4:9-15.

Lifting up his toil-worn hands, Paul makes his appeal, “Ye yourselves know how that these hands have ministered unto my necessity, and to them that were with me.” Those hands speak to us with remarkable impressiveness.

Why did Paul, an apostle of the highest rank, spend on mechanical labour time which to all appearances might have been put to better account? Why did he not devote his time and strength to preaching the Word? By labouring with his hands Paul was preaching the word. Thus he set an example which spoke against the sentiment then gaining influence, that the preaching of the Gospel excused the minister from mechanical and physical labour. Paul knew that there were many who loved ease and indulgence much better than useful labour. He knew that if ministers neglected physical work, they would become enfeebled. He desired to teach young ministers that by working with their hands, they would become sturdy; their muscles and sinews would be strengthened.

The Gospel of Christ is an educator. It teaches us not to pamper and indulge self and waste the means that should be employed to extend the triumphs of the cross of Christ. There are ministers now dead, whose lives would have been prolonged had they followed the example of Paul in uniting physical labour with the ministry of the Word. Many have yielded to the temptation to indulge appetite. When they should have eaten abstemiously, they were tempted to eat largely of rich foods, though they knew that what they were eating could not be assimilated by the system, but would only be an extra burden to their digestive organs. The unnecessary food taken into the system poisoned the blood, and produced evils that resulted in disease.

The apostle states plainly that if a man does not work, if he does not use his physical powers, neither should he eat. The healthful and equal exercises of all the powers of the being is required to keep the living machinery in the best condition. He who would have a system that is vigorous and not enfeebled by disease, must use every part of the system harmoniously. The muscles are not to be allowed to become weak through inaction, while the brain carries too large a share of the work. Each part of the human structure is to bear its burden.

Paul recognized physical work as composing a part of the education he was to give. He realized that his teaching would lack vitality if he did not keep all parts of the human machinery equally exercised. His labour to support himself and others should have been commended, rather than regarded as belittling to his position as a minister of the Gospel.

E. G. White.

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