Paul supports himself yet puts his ministry first
Based on Acts 18:1-22
1-3. Why has the apostle Paul come to Corinth, and what challenges does he face?
IT IS the latter part of 50 C.E. The apostle Paul is in Corinth, a wealthy trade center that hosts a large population of Greeks, Romans, and Jews.* Paul has not come here to buy or sell goods or to look for secular work. He has come to Corinth for a far more important reason—to bear witness about God’s Kingdom. Still, Paul needs a place to stay, and he is determined not to be a financial burden on others. He does not want to give anyone the impression that he is living off the word of God. What will he do?
2 Paul knows a trade—tentmaking. Making tents is not easy, but he is willing to work with his hands to support himself. Will he find employment here in this bustling city? Will he locate a suitable place to stay? Although faced with these challenges, Paul does not lose sight of his main work, the ministry.
3 As matters turned out, Paul stayed in Corinth for some time, and his ministry there bore much fruit. What can we learn from Paul’s activities in Corinth that will help us to bear thorough witness about God’s Kingdom in our territory?
“They Were Tentmakers by Trade” (Acts 18:1-4)
4, 5. (a) Where did Paul stay while in Corinth, and what secular work did he do? (b) How may Paul have come to be a tentmaker?
4 Some time after arriving in Corinth, Paul met a hospitable couple—a natural Jew named Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, or Prisca. The couple took up residence in Corinth because of a decree by Emperor Claudius ordering “all the Jews to depart from Rome.” (Acts 18:1, 2) Aquila and Priscilla welcomed Paul not only into their home but also into their business. We read: “On account of being of the same trade [Paul] stayed at their home, and they worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.” (Acts 18:3) The home of this warmhearted couple remained Paul’s place of dwelling during his ministry in Corinth. While he was staying with Aquila and Priscilla, Paul may have written some of the letters that later became part of the Bible canon.*
5 How is it that Paul, a man who had been educated “at the feet of Gamaliel,” was also a tentmaker by trade? (Acts 22:3) The Jews of the first century apparently did not consider it beneath their dignity to teach their children a trade, even though such children may have received additional education as well. Having come from Tarsus in Cilicia, the area famous for a cloth named cilicium from which tents were made, Paul likely learned the trade during his youth. What did tentmaking involve? The trade could involve weaving the tent cloth or cutting and sewing the coarse, stiff material in order to make the tents. Either way, it was hard work.
6, 7. (a) How did Paul view tentmaking, and what indicates that Aquila and Priscilla had a similar view? (b) How do Christians today follow the example of Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla?
6 Paul did not consider tentmaking his vocation, or career. He worked at this trade only to support himself in the ministry, declaring the good news “without cost.” (2 Cor. 11:7) How did Aquila and Priscilla view their trade? As Christians, they no doubt viewed secular work as Paul did. In fact, when Paul left Corinth in 52 C.E., Aquila and Priscilla pulled up stakes and followed him to Ephesus, where their home was used as the meeting place for the local congregation. (1 Cor. 16:19) Later, they returned to Rome and then went back again to Ephesus. This zealous couple put Kingdom interests first and willingly expended themselves in the service of others, thereby earning the gratitude of “all the congregations of the nations.”—Rom. 16:3-5; 2 Tim. 4:19.
7 Present-day Christians follow the example of Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla. Zealous ministers today work hard “so as not to put an expensive burden upon” others. (1 Thess. 2:9) Commendably, many full-time Kingdom proclaimers work part-time or do seasonal work to support themselves in their vocation, the Christian ministry. Like Aquila and Priscilla, many warmhearted servants of Jehovah open their homes to traveling overseers. Those who thus “follow the course of hospitality” know how encouraging and upbuilding doing so can be.—Rom. 12:13.
“Many of the Corinthians . . . Began to Believe” (Acts 18:5-8)
8, 9. How did Paul respond when his intense witnessing to the Jews met with opposition, and where did he then go to preach?
8 That Paul viewed secular work as a means to an end became obvious when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia with generous gifts. (2 Cor. 11:9) Immediately, Paul “began to be intensely occupied with the word [“devoted all his time to preaching,” The Jerusalem Bible].” (Acts 18:5) However, this intense witnessing to the Jews met with considerable opposition. Disclaiming any further responsibility for their refusal to accept the lifesaving message about the Christ, Paul shook out his garments and told his Jewish opposers: “Let your blood be upon your own heads. I am clean. From now on I will go to people of the nations.”—Acts 18:6; Ezek. 3:18, 19.
9 Where, then, would Paul now preach? A man named Titius Justus, likely a Jewish proselyte whose house was adjacent to the synagogue, opened up his home to Paul. So Paul transferred from the synagogue to the house of Justus. (Acts 18:7) The home of Aquila and Priscilla remained Paul’s residence while he was in Corinth, but the house of Justus became the center from which the apostle carried on his preaching activity.
10. What shows that Paul was not determined to preach only to people of the nations?
10 Did Paul’s statement that he would henceforth go to people of the nations mean that he completely turned his attention away from all Jews and Jewish proselytes, even responsive ones? That could hardly have been the case. For example, “Crispus the presiding officer of the synagogue became a believer in the Lord, and so did all his household.” Evidently, a number of those associated with the synagogue joined Crispus, for the Bible says: “Many of the Corinthians that heard began to believe and be baptized.” (Acts 18:8) The house of Titius Justus thus became the location where the newly formed Christian congregation of Corinth met. If the Acts account is presented in Luke’s characteristic style—that is, chronologically—then the conversion of those Jews or proselytes took place after Paul shook out his garments. The incident would then speak volumes about the apostle’s flexibility.
11. How do Jehovah’s Witnesses today imitate Paul as they reach out to those in Christendom?
11 In many lands today, the churches of Christendom are well-established and have a strong hold on their members. In some countries and islands of the sea, the missionaries of Christendom have done a great deal of proselytizing. People claiming to be Christian are often bound by tradition, as were the Jews in first-century Corinth. Still, like Paul, we as Jehovah’s Witnesses zealously reach out to such people, building on whatever knowledge of the Scriptures they may have. Even when they oppose us or their religious leaders persecute us, we do not lose hope. Among those who “have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge,” there may be many meek ones who need to be searched for and found.—Rom. 10:2.
“I Have Many People in This City” (Acts 18:9-17)
12. What assurance does Paul receive in a vision?
12 If Paul had any doubt about continuing his ministry in Corinth, it must have disappeared on the night when the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a vision and told him: “Have no fear, but keep on speaking and do not keep silent, because I am with you and no man will assault you so as to do you injury; for I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9, 10) What an encouraging vision! The Lord himself assured Paul that he would be protected from injury and that there were many deserving ones in the city. How did Paul respond to the vision? We read: “He stayed set there a year and six months, teaching among them the word of God.”—Acts 18:11.
13. What incident might Paul have thought of as he approached the judgment seat, but what reason did he have to expect a different outcome?
13 After spending about a year in Corinth, Paul received further proof of the Lord’s support. “The Jews rose up with one accord against Paul and led him to the judgment seat,” called the beʹma. (Acts 18:12) Thought by some to be a raised platform of blue and white marble full of decorative carvings, the beʹma may have been situated near the center of Corinth’s marketplace. The open area in front of the beʹma was large enough for a sizable crowd to gather. Archaeological discoveries suggest that the judgment seat may have been only a few steps from the synagogue and, therefore, from Justus’ house. As Paul approached the beʹma, he may have thought about the stoning of Stephen, who is sometimes referred to as the first Christian martyr. Paul, known then as Saul, had approved of “the murder of him.” (Acts 8:1) Would something similar now happen to Paul? No, for he had been promised: “No one shall . . . injure you.”—Acts 18:10, An American Translation.
14, 15. (a) What accusation did the Jews launch against Paul, and why did Gallio dismiss the case? (b) What happened to Sosthenes, and what might have become of him?
14 What happened when Paul got to the judgment seat? The magistrate occupying it was the proconsul of Achaia, named Gallio—the older brother of the Roman philosopher Seneca. The Jews launched this accusation against Paul: “Contrary to the law this person leads men to another persuasion in worshiping God.” (Acts 18:13) The Jews implied that Paul had been proselytizing illegally. However, Gallio saw that Paul had committed no “wrong” and was not guilty of any “wicked act of villainy.” (Acts 18:14) Gallio had no intention of getting involved in the controversies of the Jews. Why, before Paul uttered even a word in his own defense, Gallio dismissed the case! The accusers were enraged. They vented their anger on Sosthenes, who had perhaps replaced Crispus as the presiding officer of the synagogue. They seized Sosthenes “and went to beating him in front of the judgment seat.”—Acts 18:17.
15 Why did Gallio not prevent the crowd from thrashing Sosthenes? Perhaps Gallio thought that Sosthenes was the leader of the mob action against Paul and was therefore getting what he deserved. Whether that was the case or not, the incident possibly had a good outcome. In his first letter to the Corinthian congregation, written several years later, Paul referred to a certain Sosthenes as a brother. (1 Cor. 1:1, 2) Was this the same Sosthenes who had been beaten in Corinth? If so, the painful experience may have helped Sosthenes to embrace Christianity.
16. What bearing do the Lord’s words, “Keep on speaking and do not keep silent, because I am with you,” have on our ministry?
16 Recall that it was after the Jews had rejected Paul’s preaching that the Lord Jesus assured Paul: “Have no fear, but keep on speaking and do not keep silent, because I am with you.” (Acts 18:9, 10) We do well to keep those words in mind, especially when our message is rejected. Never forget that Jehovah reads hearts and draws honesthearted ones to himself. (1 Sam. 16:7; John 6:44) What an encouragement that is for us to keep busy in the ministry! Each year hundreds of thousands are getting baptized—hundreds every day. To those who heed the command to “make disciples of people of all the nations,” Jesus offers this reassurance: “I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matt. 28:19, 20.
“If Jehovah Is Willing” (Acts 18:18-22)
17, 18. What might Paul have reflected on as he sailed to Ephesus?
17 Whether Gallio’s stance toward Paul’s accusers resulted in a period of peace for the fledgling Christian congregation in Corinth cannot be ascertained. However, Paul stayed “quite some days longer” before saying good-bye to his Corinthian brothers. In the spring of 52 C.E., he made plans to sail away to Syria from the port of Cenchreae, about seven miles (11 km) east of Corinth. Before leaving Cenchreae, though, Paul “had the hair of his head clipped short . . . , for he had a vow.”* (Acts 18:18) Afterward, he took Aquila and Priscilla with him and sailed across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus in Asia Minor.
18 As Paul sailed from Cenchreae, he likely reflected on his time in Corinth. He had many fine memories and a basis for deep satisfaction. His 18-month ministry there had borne fruit. The first congregation in Corinth had been established, with the house of Justus as its meeting place. Among those who became believers were Justus, Crispus and his household, and many others. Those new believers were dear to Paul, for he had helped them to become Christians. He would later write to them and describe them as a letter of recommendation inscribed on his heart. We too feel a closeness to those whom we have had the privilege of helping to embrace true worship. How satisfying it is to see such living “letters of recommendation”!—2 Cor. 3:1-3.
19, 20. What did Paul do upon arriving in Ephesus, and what do we learn from him about pursuing spiritual goals?
19 Upon arriving in Ephesus, Paul immediately went about his work. He “entered into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” (Acts 18:19) Paul stayed in Ephesus for only a short time on that occasion. Although asked to stay longer, “he would not consent.” When saying good-bye, he told the Ephesians: “I will return to you again, if Jehovah is willing.” (Acts 18:20, 21) Paul no doubt recognized that there was much preaching to be done in Ephesus. The apostle planned on returning, but he chose to leave matters in Jehovah’s hands. Is that not a good example for us to keep in mind? In pursuing spiritual goals, we need to take the initiative. However, we must always rely on Jehovah’s direction and seek to act in harmony with his will.—Jas. 4:15.
20 Leaving Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus, Paul put out to sea and came down to Caesarea. He apparently “went up” to Jerusalem and greeted the congregation there. (Acts 18:22; ftn.) Then Paul went to his home base—Syrian Antioch. His second missionary journey had come to a successful conclusion. What awaited him on his final missionary journey?
See the box “Corinth—Master of Two Seas.”
See the box “Inspired Letters That Provided Encouragement.”
See the box “Paul’s Vow.”