Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
After spending the first twenty-one verses of 1 Corinthians 9 defending his right to raise financial support to preach the gospel, Paul gives us the clearest explanation as to why he chose to continue to work as a tentmaker. In verses 22 and 23 he writes, “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.”
Paul understood that, in order for the gospel to be heard, followers of Christ must first be able to relate to those we are ministering to. And there is perhaps no more effective place to do this than in the workplace where we spend the majority of our waking hours and have a natural environment for building genuine relationships with believers and non-believers alike.
For Paul, tentmaking would have been the perfect opportunity to build relationships with those outside of his immediate social circles. As Dr. Mark Russell points out in his extensive study on Paul’s work, “Paul was a Jew and a Roman citizen of high education so he could easily identify with those from similar backgrounds. His work as a tentmaker was a deliberate strategy that enabled him to identify with another, primarily different, group of people. By participating in [tentmaking] trade associations and guilds he would have become enmeshed in [previously inaccessible] social networks.”
Before the gospel can be heard, the messenger must win the respect of the intended audience. Paul knew that being an excellent tentmaker outside the four walls of the church was one of the most effective ways to win the respect of non-Christians, which is why he encouraged the Church at Thessaloniki and us to follow his example, saying, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
Once we’ve won respect of outsiders, we, like Paul, will be put in positions to preach the gospel in word and deed. And that brings us to the second reason Paul chose to work which we will explore next week.