In Paul’s day, Rabbis were trained in understanding the scriptures and in debating the spiritual and theological issues of their time. But they also learned a trade so that they could make a living wherever they went. Paul was a tentmaker. And Acquila, with his wife Priscilla, were also tentmakers.
Now some traveling teachers in the Greco-Roman world would attract followers who would pay to become their disciples. But evidently Paul did not live this way.
In fact, you could say that Paul actually bent over backwards NOT to collect for his services. Instead, he decided to work with his own hands.
In the midst of his argument about why the Corinthians should not eat meat offered to idols, Paul uses his own practice of self-support as an example. Let me summarize his argument from chapter 9 of 1st Corinthians. “Even though I have the right to be supported materially by those who receive spiritual benefit from my apostolic ministry, and even though other apostles DO receive such support, I have decided not to exercise my rights. Instead, after I’ve finished my day job preaching the Gospel, I work with my own hands to generate the income I need to live. I do this so that no one gets a confusing message from me: ‘Salvation is a free gift that you cannot earn, now give me money for preaching.’ I am guided by the ethical principle that love for my brothers should guide my behavior towards them, not superior knowledge of my rights.”
Notice he hints at this attitude in Philippians 4. To paraphrase his words: “Thanks for sending the gift of monetary support. I don’t ask for money, but have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I find myself. I am more interested in the benefits that your generosity gives to you. May God supply all of your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus!”
As an aside, it’s interesting to think about Paul as tentmaker. Tents were temporary structures that you live in only when traveling through to a more permanent home. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in tents because they were aliens in a foreign country. But the writer of Hebrews tells us that they were “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11: 9).
In the natural world, we are like “aliens in a foreign country.” We are traveling through to our true home, designed and built by God.
And it is also interesting to note that Paul’s spiritual vocation was “a wise master builder” (1 Cor. 3:10). He laid the spiritual foundations for the church, the structure that will last—all while he made tents by lamp-light to support his work.
Why am I talking about this subject? Because this is exactly where I find myself these days. Notice that it has been since September 2013 since I made my last Blog entry. During that time, God has moved me completely out of paid vocational ministry and into a full-time secular job. And what am I doing? Property development and construction. I am helping to build buildings.
But, in the Spirit, God has been placing me in peoples’ lives for their long-term development. So, my day job is construction, but my all-the-time job is building the Kingdom.
Where has God placed you in your life? Consider it tentmaking in the Kingdom.