To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:20-23)
The apostle Paul is one of the great heroes of the Christian faith—the man the risen Christ chose to help spread the gospel and accelerate the growth of Christianity throughout the world. While Paul’s work as an effective preacher is well-known, what the Church almost never talks about is the fact that throughout his career planting and preaching to churches, Paul also worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:2-3).
The lack of discussion in the Church about Paul’s work as a tentmaker appears to be a symptom of a deeper problem—namely that many Christians tend to treat some callings (such as preaching) as more eternally significant than others (such as tentmaking). But Paul’s own writings make clear that he never fell for this unbiblical myth. As we’ll see throughout this devotional series, Paul didn’t view his work as a tentmaker simply as a means of financing his preaching ministry. He viewed his work as a tentmaker as a core component of his strategy to make disciples of Jesus Christ. But before we more deeply explore why Paul worked, it’s critical that we understand what wasn’t motivating Paul to work as a tentmaker.
First, it’s important to point out that Paul did not need to work as a tentmaker. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes it abundantly clear that he had the right and the ability to live as a “donor supported missionary,” focusing 100% of his time and energy preaching the gospel in the churches and synagogues. But he chose not to exercise that right. In 1 Corinthians 9:15, he says, “I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me.”
Not only did Paul not work out of necessity, he also appeared to work tirelessly—far more than was needed to fund his preaching ministry. In 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8, Paul says he worked “night and day,” and in Acts 20:34 it says that Paul earned enough money to provide for others, suggesting that there were at least seasons of Paul’s career as a tentmaker in which he was earning far more than he needed to support himself.
So, if Paul could have raised support to finance his preaching, why didn’t he? Furthermore, why would the great preacher spend more time than was necessary in his work as a tentmaker?
As we will see over the next three weeks, Paul didn’t view his work as a tentmaker as a distraction from his work to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Rather, he chose to work as a part of a deliberate strategy to “become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22), to preach the gospel in word and in deed, and to disciple other believers. And this, as we will see, has tremendous applications to our own work today.