In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9)
In Acts 18:1-3, we are given a front-row seat to the third and final reason why Paul appears to have chosen to work as a tentmaker: so that he could effectively disciple other Christians. In these verses, we are told that, upon arriving in Corinth, Paul met Priscilla and Aquila, “and because [Paul] was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them” (Acts 18:3). Many theologians believe that Priscilla and Aquila had already converted to Christianity by the time they met Paul. But by working shoulder-to-shoulder as tentmakers, Paul was able to disciple the couple and bring them further along in their faith.
In his book, The Missional Entrepreneur, Dr. Mark Russell, says, “It is very possible that Paul taught [Priscilla and Aquila] how to blend workplace excellence and effective evangelism. They became tentmaking missionaries themselves, traveling on to Ephesus no doubt still practicing their trade and teaching the Way to people like Apollos. Paul modeled teaching in the context of daily life, which made spiritual instruction seem natural and flowing rather than forced and uncomfortable as it is commonly perceived. Due to this style…[Paul’s] converts became teachers and their converts became teachers and the positive feedback cycle continued.”
As we saw in the first week of this series, Paul didn’t work because he needed to, and he didn’t just do the bare minimum amount of work necessary in order to fund his “real ministry” of preaching within the four walls of local churches. Paul chose to work as a part of a deliberate strategy to “become all things to all people,” to preach the gospel to unbelievers in the workplace, and to disciple fellow Christians.
But in 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul alludes to another reason why he worked, saying, “we worked night and day…in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” Through God’s Word, we can hear Paul saying those same words to us today. Whether you’re a tentmaker, an entrepreneur, an artist, a salesperson, a stay-at-home dad, a janitor, or a teacher, your work, like Paul’s, is not something separate or disconnected from the work of making disciples. The Lord has called each of us to use our chosen vocations in intentional ways to win the respect of outsiders, to preach the gospel, and to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Let that truth and Paul’s example challenge and inspire you as you go about your work today!