Ellen G. White Writings

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The Review and Herald

March 13, 1900

The Apostle Paul and Manual Labor

Mrs. E. G. White

“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus.” Here the apostle remained three years and six months, “disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Here he toiled at his craft also. He writes to the Corinthians: “I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labor, working with our 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. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”

Lifting up his toil-worn hands, Paul makes his appeal to the elders of Ephesus: “Ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” Those hands speak to us with remarkable impressiveness. Paul is not speaking mysteries. He is appealing to their knowledge of his manner of life. The great apostle was not ashamed nor afraid of work, and he did not treat this subject as in any way lowering to his work in the ministry.

The opinion of men has, in many minds, changed the order of God, and men have come to think that it is not fitting for a man who works with his hands to take his place among gentlemen. The Lord's purposes are not the thoughts and purposes of men. In the beginning God created man a gentleman, which means a man who can do work cheerfully. Men have worked hard to obtain money; and having gained wealth, they suppose that their money will make their sons gentlemen. But many such men fail to train their sons as they themselves were trained, to hard, useful labor. Their sons spend the money earned, without understanding its value. Thus they misuse a talent that the Lord designed should be used to accomplish much good.

The public opinion is that manual labor is degrading. But men may play as hard as they like at cricket, or baseball, or in pugilistic games, without being degraded! Satan is delighted when he sees human beings using their physical and mental powers in that which does not educate, which is not useful, which does not help them to be a blessing to those who need their help. While they are becoming experts in games that are not of the least value to themselves or others, Satan is playing the game of life for their souls, taking from them the precious talents God has given them, and placing in their stead his own evil attributes, which not only destroy them, but through their influence destroy those who have any connection with them.

Satan's work is to lead men to ignore God, to so engross and absorb the mind that God will not be in their thoughts. The education they have received has been of a character to confuse the mind, and eclipse the true light. Satan does not wish the people to have a knowledge of God; and if he can set in operation games and theatrical performances that will so confuse the senses of the young that human beings will perish in darkness while light shines all about them, he is well pleased.

The word of God lies at the foundation of all true education. Jesus Christ, who offered up his life that he might give to the human family a correct knowledge of God, gave to the church in the wilderness the education that would be for their highest good in this life, and would qualify them for the kingdom of God. He taught them that to love God and keep his commandments is the whole duty of man.

The name of the Lord is to be glorified in the virtuous, honest, godly character of those who believe. If men walk humbly and prayerfully with God, co-operating with him in the work of salvation, righteousness will be the fruit they will bear. The apostle in his day regarded idleness as a sin, and those who indulge this evil today disgrace their profession, and bring reproach upon the gospel of Christ. Through their influence many are turned away from righteousness and truth. We are warned not to associate with those who by their course of action lay a stumbling-block in the way of others. “If any man obey not our word by this epistle,” the apostle Paul says, “note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” If he refuses the admonitions of the Lord's servants, he will bring ruin upon himself, and must bear his own sin.

The custom of supporting men and women in idleness by private gifts or church money encourages them in wrong habits. This course should be conscientiously avoided. Every man, woman, and child should be educated to practical, useful work. All should learn some trade. It may be tent-making, it may be some other business, but all should be trained to use their powers to some purpose. And God is ready to increase the capabilities of all who will educate themselves to industrious habits. We are to be “not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.” God will bless all who will guard their influence in this respect.

As a child and youth, Jesus worked with his father Joseph, and learned the carpenter's, or builder's, trade. His trade was significant. He was the character builder, and as such all his labors were perfect. At the age of twelve, on his return from his first visit to Jerusalem, his parents lost him, and, returning to Jerusalem, they sought him, sorrowing. They found him in the temple, sitting among the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. He was imparting light to their darkened minds, and all who heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. When his parents saw him, and heard his questions and answers to the dignitaries of the temple, they were amazed, and scarcely knew what to say. His mother said, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” “How is it that ye sought me?” he answered; “wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” As he said these words, he raised his hand to heaven. Divinity flashed through humanity. His countenance was lighted up like the face of an angel. His parents did not understand his words. They were a mystery which they could not fathom, but a solemn awe fell upon them. “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: and his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

The gospel of Christ is an educator. It teaches us not to pamper and indulge self, and waste the money that should be used to extend the triumphs of the cross of Christ. There never lived a more energetic, self-sacrificing disciple of Christ than was Paul. He was one of the world's greatest teachers. He crossed the seas, and traveled far and near, until a large portion of the world had heard from his lips the story of the cross of Christ. But although he had planted many churches, he refused to be supported by them, fearing that his usefulness and success as a minister of the gospel might be interfered with by suspicions of his motives. He would remove all occasion for his enemies to misrepresent him, and thus detract from the force of his message.

The apostle would give an example to his brethren, thus dignifying and honoring industry. When ministers feel that they are suffering hardships and privations in the cause of Christ, let them in imagination visit the workshop of the apostle Paul. While this chosen man of God is fashioning the canvas, he is earning bread that he has justly earned by his labors as an apostle of Jesus Christ. At the call of duty this great apostle would lay aside his business to meet the most violent opponents, and stop their proud boasting, and then he would resume his humble employment.

God never designed that man should live in idleness. When Adam was in Eden, means were devised for his employment. Though the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, yet he that deals with a slack hand will become poor. Those who are diligent in business may not always be prospered; but drowsiness and indolence are sure to grieve the Spirit of God, and destroy true godliness. A stagnant pool becomes offensive, but a pure, flowing brook spreads health and gladness over the land. A man of persevering energy is a blessing anywhere.

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