At Work

Is "Tent-Making" Enough to Create Real, Christ-Honoring Value for the Community?

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The other day, I talked to someone who explained their friend’s career by saying that, “She’s going to China to be a tent-maker and teach at a school.”

By “tent-maker,” she was referring to Paul’s career as he traveled while preaching the gospel.

While Paul and his companions shared the good news, he says in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 that they “Worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to [anyone], while we proclaimed the gospel of God.”

Too often, our modern interpretation says that Paul earns money by making tents for the sole purpose supporting his real ministry of witnessing to Christ.

This view is too narrow, because it doesn’t see that the tent-making itself creates real, Christ-honoring value for the community.

Christians outside of vocational ministry too often feel that they need to clarify or justify their purpose, as if to say, “My work isn’t spiritual, so to prove that I’m a ‘Christian’ I need to make clear that my real mission is to preach the gospel.”

Should we view teaching students (or any job) as simply a means to proselytize those who don’t know Christ?

As if educating the next generation wasn’t a mission worthy of this girl’s life. As if pouring out her time and talents to help some of the poorest children in the world wouldn’t honor Jesus enough to qualify a ‘life well spent.’

Instead, let us bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus in our entire lives.

A passionate schoolteacher in rural China (or America for that matter) can do that just fine.

So can a pastor in Mississippi.

And a construction worker in Manhattan.

And a boss in San Francisco.

If Paul had not been a preacher and apostle, he would still have been a witness to Christ simply by the way he engaged in making tents, toiling for the sake of the community and working for the good of others around him.

Paul never says that everyone should follow his example of preaching.

But he does say everyone should follow his example of working to help the weak and being generous in giving, as Jesus himself taught.

The goal of the Christian life is not to work hard enough and make enough money so that we can support a church or missionary with our free time.

The goal of the Christian life is to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus. To serve our neighbors. To redeem culture. To work. And rest.

And do whatever we do, in word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God.

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  • bing98507

    Good observations and insights, Austin. Christ and His Apostles taught that God has given a diversity of gifts and callings to His people. After 23 years in the “work world” and now 10 years pastoring, I think I get this better now than in my earlier careers. The last time I taught this subject to His congregation at our church, I tried to emphasize that serving Christ in our jobs doesn’t mean that evangelism on the job is what gives our work value. Rather, simply that our work is done well for Him. As our God is a Worker whose work product (creation) He declared good and who does all things well, Christ is interested in the actual labor-product-service that we execute unto Him. Sharing the good news of Christ is what we do from the platform of work done to the best of our ability for Christ.

    • Well said, thanks! And you raise a good point. We can’t stop at just doing good work, we must also share good words.

  • Mike Thornell

    Thanks Austin. Consistent excellence displayed in our work will be noticed by coworkers often providing opportunity for sharing Jesus in our workplaces.

  • Scott Rae

    Austin–A good word here on tent making, thanks. You’ve hit on another way our churches cheapen the value of our work. Well said.

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