Paul the Tentmaker

To continue with a look at the biblical basis of partnership, I want to consider Paul and his work as a tentmaker. This is a hotly contested issue in the world of missions. Should missionaries ask for financial support, or should they provide for themselves like Paul did in Acts 18, where he made tents during the day and preached in his free time? It is a question I have asked myself many times, especially when I quit my job at the hospital!

There are many different views on this issue, ranging from the extreme of “tentmaking is sin” to the other extreme of “financial partnership is sin.” Both of these views base their ideas on 1 Corinthians 9! After studying the chapter myself, here is what I have found:

1) When Paul made tents, he had a specific reason to do so. In 1 Corinthians 9:12, Paul says, “If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” He did not use what he claimed was a right – financial gifts from the church – because doing so would have hindered the gospel of Christ. Whatever the situation was in Corinth, taking financial gifts would have endangered the spread of the Gospel.

2) Paul says that Christian workers have a right to financial partnership, whether he partook of it or not. The whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 9 is Paul’s defense of his right to ask for financial partnership. In verse 14 he says, “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Not only is it acceptable to receive a living from the gospel, God commands it!

I have come to the conclusion from these observations that, while tentmaking can be a valuable strategic move in certain circumstances, it is expected and even commanded for those who spread the Gospel to receive financial partnership. Financial partners as well can be assured that their gifts are an obedient response to God’s command.

There is one more story from the Bible that I would like to share with you regarding the Biblical basis for partnership. Next month I will talk about the story of Nehemiah.