Q: “I was curious about the Apostle Paul being a tentmaker. That must have been hard work and I know he labored night and day in his profession when he was working with the Thessalonians. I heard a couple of individuals say he should not have to work so hard since he was preaching the Gospel. As he said in 1 Corinthians 9:14, the Lord ordained that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. Could you bring some clarity to this subject?”
A: It is not surprising that some might debate whether Paul was belittling himself by doing his profession during his time with the Thessalonians. According to the Roman culture, only those considered to be a social nonentity, such as slaves and beggars, were the ones who worked with their hands, and that one of Paul’s status would never lower himself to be a simple tradesman.
It is important to point out that the Apostle Paul knew how to be abased and how to abound depending on the environment he was in (Philippians 4:12). Corinth was a place of commerce and those who lived there benefitted greatly from the wealth of their city. Since God was blessing the church in this place, it would only be right for them to share those blessings with the Apostle Paul, as well as others, who not only brought the Gospel to them but were discipling them as well.
In the case of the Thessalonians, Christians were being greatly persecuted and were tasting the poverty that often comes with such oppression. The Apostle Paul was not preaching the gospel to make money; rather, he was preaching the gospel to establish followers of Christ. If he had put any financial pressures on the already oppressed Thessalonians, they would have most likely rejected him and his message. To ensure he did not put any burden on them, he made his own living (1 Thessalonians 3:2-8; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). He clearly stated that it was the Lord who provided all things and that he simply served as an example to them.
Another point of discussion where Paul was concerned has to do with him being a tentmaker. He was not one who lived in tents; rather, he was a city-dweller. Therefore, the question is, did he make tents? He was a “fellow craftsman” with Aquila, which points to the fact they had the same trade. There are couple of terms that could be interchanged with “tentmaker.” They are “leather-worker,” or “saddle-maker.” In essence, Paul clearly worked with animal hides and made leather products that could be sold at the marketplace.
My biological father worked with leather. He made leather products such as beautiful belts and designed some incredible saddles. You need to know he was legally deaf and blind and his hands were what guided him to artfully create beautiful patterns on all of his pieces.
Clearly, Paul was a craftsman who worked with his hands. He was willing to endure much to ensure the Gospel and his testimony were never compromised. It would benefit some of today’s ministers to take note of Paul’s example. It seems that some believe they are here to be served, instead of serving the sheep of the Lord Jesus Christ.