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Why Paul Refused to Be a “Full-Time Missionary”

Series: 1 Corinthians on Work
Devotional: 3 of 6
Published: April 19, 2021

In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. But 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, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast….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 9:14-15, 22-23)

While the Apostle Paul’s work as a church planter is well-known, it’s easy to forget that he also chose to work as a tentmaker (see Acts 18:2-3).

Today’s passage makes this clear. Paul says he had every “right” to work as what we might call a “donor-supported missionary.” But he didn’t. Why? Paul chose to work as a tentmaker in order to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means [he] might save some.” He did it “for the sake of the gospel.”

Paul understood that those of us who work outside of the four walls of the church are uniquely positioned to spread the gospel, because the workplace is where many of us spend the most time with non-believers!

For Paul, tentmaking would have been the perfect opportunity to build relationships with those outside the church. As Dr. Mark Russell points out, “[Paul’s] 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.” 

Paul’s work as a tentmaker wasn’t out of necessity or coincidence. It was a strategic choice to make disciples. The same can be true for you and me.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a marketer, a nurse, a plumber, or a teacher, you have unique opportunities to make disciples with those you’re surrounded by at work. By serving your bosses, employees, co-workers, and customers through the ministry of excellence, you will “win the respect of outsiders” and earn the right for the gospel to be heard (see 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). 

So go and serve with excellence today and pray that the Lord would open clear opportunities to share the gospel not just with your work, but also with your words.

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