A Different Perspective

Paul Misunderstood – The Flawed Tent-Maker Model Of Christianity


I’ve wanted to write about this for a long while, but never really got the inspiration, motivation nor courage to do so until recently.  I read a post from someone, who I have come to respect, on this issue, and I had to disagree with his perspective on the matter.  He made some good points, but his conclusions were off, and I just couldn’t sign my like at the end of the post.

The truth is that I am yet to meet or find someone who I believe has a balanced view on this issue.  Most people are polarised on it, and unable to see the truth in the opposing arguments concerning this issue.  I think WISDOM is what is missing from the equation.

So what is this all about?  Well, it all started when Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth.  You see, before he was called of Christ to go to the Gentiles and preach the Gospel, Paul made tents by profession.  It was his business.  Bread and butter.  Nine to Five gig.  And it was also the business of Aquila and Priscilla.  Naturally, they connected, and his talents were beneficial to the couple (Acts 18:1-3).

During that time, Paul became comfortable again.  He settled back into his old ways, and was not as fervent in preaching the Gospel as he had been.  The Scripture says that “he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Acts 18:4).  He became like many Christians today…he gave God one day a week, and worked the rest for himself.

However, “when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.  And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:5-6).

This brief time of Paul’s life, when he went back to his nine to five gig, is used as a model for how Christians ought to live!  It is the Tent Maker Myth that says that Paul was a tent maker and paid his own way, and relied on nobody and, therefore, we all must work with our hands and pay our own way in Christianity.  But it only takes further reading to know that Paul didn’t believe this myth, nor did his life support it!

Yes, he used to be a tent maker.  Yes, he went back to it for a while.  Yes, it is recorded in the Bible.  But he repented of it, and finally obeyed Christ, who had called him to go to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15)!

You see, Paul was called an Apostle to the Gentiles, as Peter was to the Jews (Gal 2:7-8).  Peter and those with him gave themselves wholly to studying the Scriptures and preaching the Gospel (Acts 6:1-4).  The work was so much, at that point, that they didn’t have to time to carry on with their regular professions, nor even to do the more hands on “serving of tables”.  They gave themselves wholly to Apostolic ministry.

But herein lies wisdom:

1. Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
2. If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
3. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
4. Have we not power to eat and to drink?
5. Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
6. Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
7. Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
8. Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
9. For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
10. Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
11. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
12. If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather?  Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
13. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
14. Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
15. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
17. For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
18. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
19. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.

(1 Corinthians 9:1-19).

Read and understand.  What is Paul saying here?  Paul is attesting to his right as an Apostle of Christ, given to full-time ministry, to receive aid from those who he has blessed spiritually.  It is a right that Peter and other Apostles enjoyed, but which he and Barnabas had denied themselves…  They denied themselves this privilege, because they didn’t want anyone to be turned away, thinking they were doing it for the money!  So though they should have received gladly gifts and provisions from those they ministered to, they worked for themselves, and did not depend on them.

But it wasn’t everywhere that they refused to be a burden.  In many places, they gladly received, and expected that those they ministered spiritual things to would share with them their carnal things!  In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul wrote:

For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong” (2 Cor 12:13).

There are three facts that can be drawn from this statement alone;

  1. Paul did not receive support from the Corinthian Church, though he received from other fellowships;
  2. The fact that Paul was not a burden to the Corinthian Church was a disservice to them.  He said that it was in that area that they were treated as INFERIOR to the other Churches, who Paul received support from.  And he asked their forgiveness!!!;
  3. It was only the Corinthian Church that they made this exception of paying their own way…and that was during the time that Paul was making tents with Aquila and Priscilla, when he should have been making disciples, as called by Christ!

So we can see that it wasn’t right for Paul to have worked for money and not allowed those he ministered to to care for his needs!  It was wrong because he denied them the opportunity to be blessed through giving…and not just giving, but giving to an Apostle of Christ!  Remember Jesus’ words:

He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.  He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Matt 10:40-42).

Does this teaching support the existence of clergy in the Church?  Yes, I reckon it does.  But not in the sense that they will be living as kings presiding over the people, but more like the judges and prophets in the Old Testament, who were not rich, but depended on the generousity of the people they served!  They lived among the people, like the people, but their focus was on receiving the word of God and passing it unto the people.

Well, someone might say, “but in Christianity we are all called into a Royal Priesthood.  So we do not need clergy”.  And I suppose you would be right (1 Pet 2:9).  But wisdom dictates that in any impactful body, there will be order (1 Cor 14:33).

The Apostles didn’t set themselves apart to full time ministry, until they realised that they were being burdened to do things other people could do, which was taking from their time to do what God had called them to do!  And we are all to use our gifts together for the building up of the Church.  By delegating responsibilities, everyone is able to make a contribution, according to their gifts.  Without some sort of order, there would definitely be chaos and no Church!

So what am I saying here?  I am saying that Scripture supports the existence of clergy, i.e those given to full time ministry, who live on the generousity of those they serve.  And there is no support for the myth that EVERYONE needs to work for money to pay for their service to God!  No.  That’s a fallacy, for Christ said, when sending out His disciples: “the labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7).  And they were sent with expectation that they would receive, and with commandment that they should receive with gladness whatever they were given (Luke 10:1-8)!

NO CHRISTIAN is supposed to work for money (Matt 6:24).  Christ told us not to worry about material things, but that God would provide for us if we seek first His Kingdom (Luke 12:22-34).  We are all called to work for God’s Kingdom, and nothing we have is our own, for all is forsaken (Luke 14:33).  Whatever profit we make, whatever gifts we receive, they are for us to use in the building up of GOD’S HOUSE (the invisible spiritual Body of Christ, not a Church building)!

Herein lies more wisdom:

1. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
3. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
4. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
5. So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
6. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
7. Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;
8. Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
9. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
10. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
11. Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
12. Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;
13. Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

(Romans 12:1-13).

If you work with your hands in industry and are profitable, and you are part of the Body of Christ, or an Arm of this Body (being a small or big fellowship), you are supposed to give a generous portion (not a tithe!!! – 1 Cor 9:5-7) back to the Body for the sustenance of the Gospel and ministry to the poor.  You give as you see fit; as you are grateful for all you have received and as you are hopeful and dependent on God’s continual blessing – GIVE (Luke 6:38).

Some may give all, and deny themselves luxuries and pleasures, and live simply (1 Tim 6:7-8).  Some may run profitable business, that require investment and keep some to invest in such business, that they many bring a greater portion to Christ (Matt 25:14-30).  Some may give dutifully a 10th or 20th or more…  We are all stewards of God’s gifts, including our money, our children and our lives…  There is no religion about this, this is spirituality.

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

And so it is that some people will be called into full-time service, to serve the Church as ministers and not labourers.  They could be Apostles or Pastors or Missionaries or Evangelists….  But we should not look down on them because they do not MAKE MONEY!!!  That is foolishness and a fallacy.

That assumes that money is a better reward than salvation!!!  Rather, those who win and nourish souls ought to be held in greater honour than those who simply make money!  Money is needful, and those who make money ought to share with those who do not.  But everyone in God’s House must work (2 Thes 3:10), and the work need not be validated by a paycheck!  Otherwise, housewives would be the least respected Christians when, in fact, their service is invaluable to the home and the Church!

Wisdom is profitable to direct” (Ecc 10:10).

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Prov 4:7).

Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

Photo credit: http://www.whatischurch.com

If you liked this post, you might like LABOUR NOT FOR THE FOOD THAT PERISHES…

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