Are Christians commanded to physically labor?


I know a Christian is required to work (I Thessalonians 4:11), but since it says "laboring with your hands" doesn't that mean only manual labor?


There are several passages which command Christians to labor.

  • Ephesians 4:28 "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need."
  • I Thessalonians 4:11 "that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you"
  • II Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."

The question is: "Do these passages restrict the type of employment to exclusively manual forms of labor?" The words used by Paul in these passages refer to hard work or heavy labor, but physical labor is not the only type of hard work that exists.

Preaching is a form of heavy labor. In I Timothy 5:17, Paul states that elders are worthy of support, "especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching." The word translated "work hard" is the same one that is used in Ephesians 4:28. Good preaching and teaching is hard work(II Timothy 4:5). Paul invested a lot of effort preaching in various congregations (I Corinthians 15:10-11) and he did not want to find out that his hard work was in vain (Galatians 4:11; Philippians 2:16). As a result, even though preaching is not physical labor, a preacher is worthy of monetary support (I Corinthians 9:1-14). Note especially verse 14, "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel."

Similarly, the role of an elder within a congregation is also considered work (I Timothy 3:1). As Paul told the Thessalonians, "we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake" (I Thessalonians 5:11-12). Again, this is why an elder is worthy of monetary support (I Timothy 5:17-18).

What about other occupations which involve more mental effort than physical efforts, are they considered work as well? Take a look at the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. The servants given talents went out and traded to gain more talents (Matthew 25:16). The word "traded" in Matthew 25:16 is the same word used in Ephesians 4:28, I Thessalonians 4:11, and II Thessalonians 3:10 and translated as work. It appears that investing is a form of work.

"The New Testament utilizes kopiao and kopos to describe hard work, the pains of labor and strain -- both physical and mental." [The Complete Biblical Library: The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary] The New Testament commands that Christians work hard to support themselves. Often that work will involve physical activity, but it is not exclusively physical labor.

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