What did the Apostle Paul do for a living? Why did he need to work since he was an apostle called by Christ?
The Apostle Pauls’ Calling
Paul was originally Saul, as God changed his name sometime after his conversion but when Paul was a young man, he persecuted the Christians with a vengeance, unlike anyone had ever done before. Paul went to the high priest “and ask himfor letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Act 9:2) which the high priest gladly provided, for the Jews desperately wanted to stamp out the “Way” as it was originally called. While Saul (Paul) was on the Damascus Road, “suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:3-5). Wait a second Jesus! Wasn’t Saul persecution the Christians and not Jesus? No, because when others persecute us for our faith, they are in fact persecuting Jesus, because He is the Head of the Church, and we are the body, so if anyone attacks the body (Christians), they are attacking the Head (Jesus). The reason for Paul’s calling is clear as God said “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16) so Jesus was handpicked by Christ Himself to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
God changed Saul’s name to Paul for very good reason as Saul means “destroyer” and that’s exactly what he was doing to the church. He sought to destroy the last vestment of Christianity, even if it meant killing every single Christian in Judea. When God struck down Saul on the Damascus Road, He was going to make him move from being a destroyer of the Way to a proclaimer of the Way. Saul (the destroyer) because Paul, which means “little” or “small” and we could think of it as “humble.” History tells us that Paul was not much to look at. He must have been small in size and unimpressive in appearance, as Paul wrote that “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2nd Cor 10:10) but he wrote that “Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things” (2nd Cor 11:6)
Paul had a trade as a tentmaker and that was a good trade to be in in those days. Paul was trained by the ancient rabbis who believed in teaching the Torah but not for profit but out of love, so Paul, who was skilled in the trade of tentmaking (Acts 18:1-3), worked with his hands to support his own ministry. If you look at the actual Greek word translated “tentmakers” in Acts 18:3 it could be applied to just about any type of leather work as the Greek word for tentmakers is “skēnopoios” which can certainly mean one who makes tents but it could also mean a maker of leather or cloth from goat’s hair or linen which was useful for just about anyone. This was why Paul wrote to “remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:9) and “you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thess. 3:7-8). So when Paul entered new cities with the intent to work with his own hands he was able to stand in line and buy his own food with his own hard-earned money and thus, “not be a burden to any.” In Acts 20:34-35 Paul wrote that “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all these things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Paul loved Christ so much that he willingly endured “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death” (2nd Cor 11:23) where he says “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2nd Cor 11:24-27). Nobody ever questioned Paul’s sincerity and passion for the lost, Gentiles and Jews alike, and today He is present with the Lord and the saints will meet him in person in the kingdom someday. That is, if they have repented and trusted in Christ.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.