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Acts

The Tent Maker

Acts  18:1-17

The city of Corinth had an evil reputation in ancient times. Located on an isthmus, it joined the two halves with a skid way over the land over which boats were hauled. It was thus a meeting place of many cultures. It also was the home of the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of sex. Each night over a thousand priestesses went into the city as temple prostitutes. So evil was the reputation of the place that in ancient plays when a drunken, immoral character was called for, the stereotype used was the Corinthian. We see here how Paul establishes himself in this wicked place, and the church turns it upside down for God.

(Acts 18:1-17 NIV) After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. {2} There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, {3} and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. {4} Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. {5} When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. {6} But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." {7} Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. {8} Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized. {9} One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. {10} For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." {11} So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. {12} While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. {13} "This man," they charged, "is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law." {14} Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. {15} But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law--settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things." {16} So he had them ejected from the court. {17} Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.

The Tent Maker

The Christian today often hears of a "tent making missionary" - one who provides his own support, working at a trade to support himself. Indeed, in Islamic countries, this is often the only kind of missionary who can legally enter the country. It sometimes causes dissension in the church, for there are those who claim that a minister should be a tent maker. Benjamin Harrison (the president) once remarked that it was a disgrace to any Christian Church to hire a paid minister. To understand this more fully, we must see that both the tent maker and the paid minister are both ancient concepts.

Two models

The Jew of this time - and certainly Paul - would have understood two different models of support for those engaged in full time service to the Lord:

·         First, the priest of ancient Israel was to be supported. Detailed instructions for his support were provided. Indeed, a sign of restoration was that the priests were provided for as the Law specified.[1] The priest had no choice about service - it was hereditary. The people had no choice about supporting him.

·         Contrasted to that was the example of the rabbi. It was considered a mark of piety to support yourself entirely while still performing the duties of a rabbi. Paul himself expressed a similar thought[2] - that he "did not want to be a burden." We can certainly understand that idea.

Interestingly, if a rabbi was not able to support himself - for example, due to age - it was considered a mark of piety for a Jew to support him. Paul mentions that this was done for him at Corinth.[3] This was subject to abuse. It often happened that a husband would leave his estate to the synagogue, with the proviso that his widow be provided for during her lifetime. The rabbi who abused this - who "devoured widow's houses" was severely condemned by our Lord.[4] Please note too that becoming a rabbi was considered voluntary - and therefore might require one to become a tent maker. Paul was trained as a rabbi; it would seem natural to him. But this is not the end of the matter.

The role of the church

In this matter there is much potential for abuse. Abuse is best corrected by sunshine and light; the church must perform its role.

·         Because we have examples of both models, it is left to the church to decide which model is appropriate under various circumstances. The issue is not "which model is right" but "which model is appropriate under these circumstances."

·         I know of a church which supported a prostitute (and her daughter) so that she might cease her trade and learn another way to make a living. If the church can do that (and who could deny such a thing?) then surely the higher calling of preaching the Gospel deserves a similar support.

·         Finally, we must consider that the matter is well settled in this: every Christian is to call upon the Lord for his food and drink.[5] The minister is just a specific method of this.

Keeping the eye on the ball

How, then, are we to determine which method is appropriate?

·         Sometimes, as in the case of Islamic countries, the "commercial connection" is the most fruitful. Here Paul works with fellow tentmakers - which gives him an introduction to the commercial society of the city.

·         Sometimes the worker must voluntarily forego all compensation - all the aid to which he is entitled - for the sake of the Gospel. Paul did that for a time here.[6]

·         Sometimes the worker foregoes the compensation as a gift - for, as Paul notes in this context, it is more blessed to give than to receive.[7]

·         Finally, it sometimes is necessary for the spread of the Gospel that no charge of corruption be possible. The tent maker must server as a model to his students.[8]

Do not be afraid

It sometimes appears to us that the missionaries of the New Testament were fearless souls, experiencing neither doubt nor fear. It is not so; otherwise why would the Lord come to Paul and tell him, "Do not be afraid?" We need to examine this more closely, for it bears greatly on our own work.

Satan's attack is certain

So many of us consider Satan's attack to be a surprising thing, as if he somehow picked us out at random. Consider that the more successful you are for Christ, the more Satan will want to attack!

·         After the high point of His baptism by John, Jesus went away into the wilderness - to be tempted. If it applies to Him, it applies to us, certainly.

·         Paul was no stranger to this. If you look at his prior experiences, his consistent pattern is that he is about to be beaten and run out of town half dead. This does not normally make one more likely to speak out.

Satan's methods

Satan uses a variety of methods in his attack. For many of us this comes in the form of the classic temptations: flesh, the world, and pride. But Paul shows us two more here:

·         There is the pressure of physical attack. Paul's ministry has no lack of such things.

·         But for many of us, the attack is not physical, but spiritual. We fear that we will fail. Fearing failure, we never try.

Our defense

Our defense, as always, is in the Lord.

·         We need to keep our eye on the ball. The Lord tells Paul in this instance that he has many to be saved in this city. His work will be done - the only question is who will do it - and what God has decided, who can say no?

·         It does not matter if we succeed or fail. Often in the Old Testament, God tells his prophets not to worry about success or failure.[9] The important thing is obedience; God will provide such success as might be needed.

·         We need to pray for courage - both for ourselves and for others. Indeed, Paul often asks others to pray for his courage.[10]

·         We need to remember that He will deliver us. Paul, at the end of his experiences, tells his young follower Timothy that he is certain God will deliver him.[11] It is the voice of experience. Trials we will have, but ultimately God will lead us through fire and frost - home to Him.

God's Providence

So often our fears come from looking ahead when we should be looking to God. Look at this example; see how God - without the miraculous - saves.

·         God often uses the ordinary methods to save us. Here Paul is taken before Gallio. We know quite a bit about Gallio, for he is the older brother of the Roman philospher Seneca. Seneca was the tutor of Nero, and Nero will execute both brothers. Gallio was noted as a just and fair man, given to charity. It is no surprise then that he refuses to intervene in what, to him, must be a dispute confined within a religion.

·         God will use "coincidence" - that is to say, his providence. Thrown out of the synagogue? No problem, the fellow next door becomes a Christian. Indeed, the phrase "next door" in the original Greek implies that there was a common wall between them. God will not be denied his harvest.

·         God will turn evil to a greater good. Remember that guy Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue? When the Jews have their case thrown out of court, they turn on the head man (Sosthenese) and beat him. You might not think of beating to be a form of evangelism - but it is! Sosthenes becomes a Christian,[12] and quite prominent at that.

Lessons for the 20th Century

There are, it seems to me, some lessons for us in here.

·         First, the question is not "should a minister be a tent maker?" The real question is, "why are so few of us tent makers ministers?" After all, the word "minister" is the same word used for "servant." Each of us who must earn his way in the world faces this question. How often we identify ourselves (especially males) with our job! Do we live to work, or do we work to live and then serve?

Consider it well. If Jesus Christ were to appear before you in bodily form and ask you for 24 hours of your undivided service, you would not have the guts to refuse. But barring the bodily appearance, what's different between that and calling him "Lord?" Should you not then be a "tent making minister" wherever that finds you?

·         Next, do your fears prevent you from doing this? But of what consequence are they? If you ask, "Who will provide?" does he not answer, "Consider the lilies of the field?" If you ask, "what if I fail?" does he not answer, "I asked for your obedient service; success is mine to award. I look upon the heart, not the results."

·         Does it not boil down to this: that we fear to serve because we do not trust him to provide? Is this not simply a lack of faith? Hear then the words of the father described by Mark:

(Mark 9:24 NIV) Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"


[1] 2 Chronicles 31:4-20, for Hezekiah's example.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 2:9

[3] 2 Corinthians 11:9

[4] Mark 12:38-40

[5] Matthew 6:31-32

[6] 1 Corinthians 9:6-15

[7] Acts 20:34-35

[8] 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9

[9] See, for example, Ezekiel 2:6-8

[10] Ephesians 6:19-20, for example.

[11] 2 Timothy 4:17-18

[12] 1 Corinthians 1:1

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