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Paul The Tentmaker

After these things Paul departed from Athens and
went to Corinth.

And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus,
who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla
(because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome);
and he came to them.

So, because he was of the same trade,
he stayed with them and worked;
for by occupation they were tentmakers.

And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath,
and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:1-4)

A tentmaker is one who made tents. The ancient craft of tentmaking consisted of cutting and sewing cloth together, frequently goat's hair, and also attaching the ropes and loops. Such skills and crafts were passed from father to son. It was the traditional custom of the Jews to train their children in some family trades. This was the way many parents passed down their inheritances and estates as they taught their children how to continue in the family business.

Below are two Jewish sayings:

  • He that teaches not his son a trade is as if he taught him to be a thief.

  • He that has a trade in his hand is as a vineyard that is fenced.

An honest trade, by which a man gets his daily bread and butter, is not to be despised by others. Paul, though a Pharisee trained under the strict teachings of Gamaliel, had since his youth learned how to make tents. Gamaliel was a famous teacher. He was honored by the Jews as "the glory of the law," and was the first to be designated "Rabban," which meant "our master."

I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. (Acts 22:3)

Paul did not forsake the art of tentmaking even when he was ministering the Word of God! His native city of Cilicia exported Cilician cloth, a cloth of goat's hair. Paul was a very good tentmaker. He made tents for soldiers and shepherds, using cloth, leather or skins. He also made the outer coverings of the tents for the use of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers by occupation. The apostle Paul did not at once launch into the evangelization of Corinth. Instead, he joined Aquila and Priscilla in making tents during the weekdays. It was during the Sabbaths that he devoted himself to preaching in the synagogue. An inscription had been found in Corinth dating back to the first century, which read, "Synagogue of the Hebrews." Maybe that's where Paul's pulpit ministry was.

It was customary for Jewish rabbis not to receive payments for their teachings. Therefore, Paul, a rabbi, made tents for a living. Though he was a scholar and a preacher man, he was also a master of the tentmaking trade. Paul made excellent tents!

As an apostle and church-planter, Paul should be entitled to receive some living allowances from the churches he had planted, and from the people to whom he preached. But when he first preached the Gospel, only the believers in Philippi supported him financially. No other church did so.

How grateful I am and how I praise the Lord that you are helping me again.

I know you have always been anxious to send what you could,
but for a while you didn't have the chance.

Not that I was ever in need,
for I have learned how to get along happily
whether I have much or little.

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.

I have learned the secret of contentment in every situation,
whether it be a full stomach or hunger, plenty or want;
for I can do everything God asks me to
with the help of Christ Who gives me the strength and power.

But even so, you have done right in helping me in my present difficulty.

As you well know, when I first brought the Gospel to you and
then went on my way, leaving Macedonia,
only you Philippians became my partners in giving and receiving.

No other church did this.

Even when I was over in Thessalonica you sent help twice.

But though I appreciate your gifts,
what makes me happiest is the well-earned reward you will have
because of your kindness.

At the moment I have all I need-more than I need!

I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me
when Epaphroditus came.

They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that pleases God well.

And it is He Who will supply all your needs
from His riches in glory
because of what Christ Jesus has done for us. (Philippians 4:10-19)

Besides preaching the Gospel of Christ in Corinth, Paul had to work daily to pay for his living expenses. This was praiseworthy! He did not ask for money from those he was ministering to. He gave freely just as Christ did. He came to serve, and not to be served. He was industrious and diligent. He was excellent in his preaching and writing ministries even though he was not being paid. He knew Whom he was serving! The King of kings and the LORD of lords. He could not do anything lesser or inferior. The wages of love are not paid in dollars and cents!

If I am a poor speaker, at least I know what I am talking about,
as I think you realize by now, for we have proved it again and again.

Did I do wrong and cheapen myself and
make you look down on me
because I preached God's Good News to you
without charging you anything

Instead I "robbed" other churches
by taking what they sent me and
using it up while I was with you
so that I could serve you without cost

And when that was gone and I was getting hungry,
I still didn't ask you for anything
for the Christians from Macedonia brought me another gift.

I have never yet asked you for one cent,
and I never will.
(2 Cor. 11:6-9)

Paul had never asked the Corinthian believers for a single cent, and he never would. Corinth had a very bad reputation. The phrase "to act like a Corinthian" means to fornicate, and the phrase "Corinthian girls" means "harlots." The Corinthian church was plagued by many problems including sexual immorality and incest within some of the church members. Many of the Christians there were terrible, troublesome and very gullible.

You seem so gullible:
you believe whatever anyone tells you
even if he is preaching about another Jesus than the one we preach,
or a different spirit than the Holy Spirit you received,
or shows you a different way to be saved.
You swallow it all. (2 Cor. 11:4)

Paul had to share his heart out with them by telling them what he had undergone in order to share the Good News with them (2 Cor 11:23-31):

They say they serve Christ?

But I have served him far more!

(Have I gone mad to boast like this?)

I have worked harder,
been put in jail more often,
been whipped times without number, and
faced death again and again and again.

Five different times the Jews gave me their terrible thirty-nine lashes.

Three times I was beaten with rods.

Once I was stoned.

Three times I was shipwrecked.

Once I was in the open sea all night and the whole next day.

I have traveled many weary miles and
have been often in great danger from flooded rivers and
from robbers and
from my own people, the Jews,
as well as from the hands of the Gentiles.

I have faced grave dangers from mobs in the cities and
from death in the deserts and
in the stormy seas and
from men who claim to be brothers in Christ but are not.

I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights.

Often I have been hungry and thirsty and
have gone without food;
often I have shivered with cold,
without enough clothing to keep me warm.

Then, besides all this, I have the constant worry of
how the churches are getting along:

Who makes a mistake and I do not feel his sadness?

Who falls without my longing to help him?

Who is spiritually hurt without my fury rising against the one who hurt him?

But if I must brag, I would rather brag about the things that show how weak I am.

God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who is to be praised forever and ever,
knows I tell the truth.

Paul also told them (2 Cor. 4:7-10):

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed;
we are perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed--
always carrying about in the body
the dying of the Lord Jesus,
that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Paul supported himself by making tents so that he might not be burdensome to those he was serving:

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us,
for we were not disorderly among you;
nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge,
but worked with labor and toil night and day,
that we might not be a burden to any of you,
not because we do not have authority,
but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.

For even when we were with you,
we commanded you this:
If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.

For we hear that there are some
who walk among you in a disorderly manner,
not working at all
, but are busybodies.

Now those who are such we command and
exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that
they work in quietness and eat their own bread.

But as for you, brethren,
do not grow weary in doing good
(2 Thess. 3:7-13)

Though Paul himself was a great apostle, he chose to work with Aquila and Priscilla because he found them to be very diligent in the things of God. In fact, later, both of them became Paul's fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They even risked their lives for Paul:

Greet Priscilla and Aquila,
my fellow workers in Christ Jesus
who risked their own necks for my life,
to whom not only I give thanks,
but also all the churches of the Gentiles. (Romans 16:3-4)

Herein is a great example of seeking true kingdom workers. Unless they proved themselves to be faithful in little things, they would not be faithful in greater things. Unless they are helpful and useful in the earthly matters, they would be complete misfits for the heavenly tasks ahead!

It is wise to be in good company where we could work together in the vineyards and marketplaces for the good of the kingdom as we serve God together in His white harvest fields, widening our knowledge of Christ and deepening our love for Him and others.

The apostle Paul is truly fulltime. He is a great example for us to follow.

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Written on:
6 October 2005