My oldest son hates to do the dishes. It’s that hill he has chosen to die on, persisting in resistance nearly every time he is asked to clean the kitchen. “It’s boring!” he insists, as he reverts to a three year old pouting on the floor. I guess I feel the same way sometimes—clamoring to do the more interesting work, leaving the more meaningless tasks to others. Lord knows how traumatic the tedious can be to our sensitive self-importance.

“After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. There he found 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 depart from Rome. Paul approached them, and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade). He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them. Now when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. –Acts 18:1-5

As I read over this passage, the sudden change in Paul once Timothy and Silas arrived struck me. When Paul first arrived in Corinth, he busied himself with tentmaking, not preaching. Except for the Sabbath where he attempted to persuade in the synagogues, Paul spent his time stitching fabric. It is not until his other companions arrived from Macedonia that Paul “became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the Word.”

I’ll be honest, this seems like a misuse of time. Paul was receiving funds from the Philippian church (Phi 4:15; 2Co 11:7-9), so why spend precious time in monotonous manufacturing work, a task that other hands could do just as well.

Some commentators suggest Paul might have been slightly discouraged or depressed, like Elijah in 1 Kings 19:3-6 (see Act 18:9; 1Co 2:3). Considering all the hardships and rejection he had endured, it seems reasonable. Surely the great apostle did not learn to live in contentment (Phi 4:12) without wrestling with it.

Then I ran across a comment by Alexander MacLaren, the great expositor, regarding Paul and his tentmaking:

“Be thankful for your homely, prosaic, secular, daily task. You do not know from how many sickly fancies it saves you, and how many breaches in the continuity of your Christian feeling it may bridge over. It takes you away from thinking about yourselves, and sometimes you cannot think about anything less profitably. So stick to your work; and if ever you feel, as Paul did, ‘cast down,’ be sure that the workshop, the office, the desk, the kitchen will prevent you from being ‘destroyed,’ if you give yourselves to the plain duties which no moods alter, but which can alter a great many moods,” (MacLaren’s Expositions).

This poetic paragraph took me aback (causing me to pause and re-read it several times). Who knows what kind of healing and encouragement took place as Paul fellowshipped with Aquila and Priscilla and worked mindlessly with his hands. It was surely a blessing, a reprieve. Yet, how often do I belittle the simple tasks of life, failing to see the blessed gift of work (Ecc 2:24-25; 3:9-13, 22; Gen 2:15)? How often do I miss the fact that the mundane grants reprieve from challenge and strife?

The walk of the disciple of Christ is a hard road, with many difficult challenges (Mat 24:9; Mar 13:13; Luk 9:23; Phi 1:29; 2Ti 3:12). So if you feel bored in your work, praise the Lord He has given you something simple to do for a season. Take joy in your tentmaking; find contentment in the simplicity of sewing. There is a day on the horizon when you will face lions, bears (1Sa 17:34) and giants (1Sa 17:40-50), but for now enjoy the green pasture and still waters with psalms (Psa 23).

Billy Neal

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One thought on “Tentmaking”

  1. This is so relevant to our world today and the life that we live. God can calm us in the still waters, heal us from hurts and pains and prepare us for bigger things that will challenge us to the max. May we all be more like Paul as he modeled Jesus life.

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