Paul the Tentmaker

Paul found it necessary to flee Berea, leaving Timothy and Silas there, and travel across the sea to Athens. To those men who accompanied him and then returned to Berea, Paul instructed them to tell Silas and Timothy to come to him with all haste. Apparently, Timothy did come to Athens, but because Paul was more concerned about the spiritual state of the Thessalonian brethren than his own well-being, Paul chose to remain alone in Athens, and sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to minister to those brethren’s needs (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). He then traveled to Corinth where he waited for them to join him (Acts18:5).

Before Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, Paul came in contact with a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla and “he came unto them; and because he was of the same trade, he abode with them and wrought; for by their trade they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and persuaded Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:2-4).

It is not really clear whether Aquila and his wife were Christians when Paul first met them, but if they were not, it was not long before they were. They proved to be one of the most loyal of couples to help Paul with his work. He later wrote to brethren in Rome (which city Aquila and Priscilla had later returned) and said they had laid down their own neck for him (Romans 16:3-4). They had not only found common ground in their trade; they found greater common ground in their faith in Christ.

There are many things of a personal nature Paul never revealed to us. He said little about his parents, although there are some things we can conclude from comments he made. We know his father was a descendant of Abraham by blood and a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29). This latter fact within itself suggests that his parents were people of substantial means. Further evidence of this is the fact that although Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, far from Jerusalem, he was sent in his youth to be trained in Jerusalem by Gamaliel, one of the greatest teachers of his day (Acts 22:3). We know Paul had a sister who possibly lived in Jerusalem (her young son warned Paul of a plot against his life and thus helped spare him death at that time) from Acts 23:16. If she did live in Jerusalem, Paul could have stayed with her family during his education there. But there is nothing definite about such, only possibilities.

Still, while Paul was given the best education a Jewish father could hope to give his son, all Jewish fathers of that day saw that their sons, no matter their physical wealth, were taught a trade. Paul’s father saw that Paul was trained as a tentmaker. His preparation for his son proved extremely beneficial to Paul in later life. In Corinth his tent making provided for his own care, and as Paul traveled with others he often provided not only for his own necessities but for theirs as well (Acts 20:33-34).

I have great respect for those men who through the years have worked with their own hands to provide support for their families while still finding time and faith to preach the Word. Many Christians of today take no thought that the comfortable building in which they meet, and the substantial number of Christians who worship with them each Lord’s day owe their beginning to a long-forgotten brother who worked his fields five or six days a week. He then mounted his horse on Sundays to travel several miles to preach and help grow a congregation far from his own home. He likely even received no pay for his work. His only recompense was his own satisfaction that he had tried to glorify God and His Crucified Son. Some sarcastically remark of those country preachers that they didn’t have more than a dozen or so sermons they knew to preach (which may or may not have been true). But those sermons were preached with deep conviction and produced many converts to Christ.

One such man who comes to my mind was Elmer Moore. He was an astute student and definitive preacher. Yet I know of a half dozen congregations or so who profited from the fact that Elmer was a watch repairman by trade, and that trade helped him to teach and strengthen many small, struggling bands of disciples which today are able to sustain their own full-time preachers.

Paul defended the right of a preacher to receive support for his needs (1 Corinthians 9:4-14), and if anyone had a right to have been supported it was he. Yet Paul supported himself and his fellow workers by his tent making, both in Corinth and Ephesus. Since he was called to preach, which stewardship he keenly felt, his reward was that he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ without charge (2 Corinthians 9:15-18).

The difference between a hireling and a real shepherd to a flock is the devotion of a man to the Word — whether supported or not. With Paul there was no uncertainty. He was no hireling; he was committed to preaching the Word, no matter what it cost him! And, make no mistake about it, it cost him plenty, ultimately his life. Such men deserve to be esteemed and remembered.

Jim McDonald

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