The Review and Herald


March 6, 1900

The Apostle Paul and Manual Labor


Useful manual labor is a part of the gospel. The Great Teacher, enshrouded in the pillar of cloud, gave directions to Israel that every youth should learn a trade. Thus they would be enabled to earn their own bread. And knowing how hard it was to obtain money, they would not spend their money foolishly. Therefore it was the custom of the Jews, the wealthy as well as the poorer classes, to train their sons and daughters to some useful employment, so that should adverse circumstances come, they would not be dependent upon others, but would be able to provide for their own necessities. They might be instructed in literary lines, but they must be trained to some craft. This was deemed an indispensable part of their education. RH March 6, 1900, par. 1

Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, learned the trade of tent-making. There were higher and lower branches of tent-making. Paul learned the higher branches, and he could also work at the common branches when circumstances required. Tent-making did not bring returns so quickly as some other occupations, and at times it was only by the strictest economy that Paul could supply his necessities. RH March 6, 1900, par. 2

Paul had been educated by the most learned teachers of the age. He had been taught by Gamaliel. Paul was a rabbi and statesman. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, and had been very zealous for the suppression of Christianity. He had acted a part in the stoning of Stephen, and we read further of him, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.” But he was stopped in his career of persecution. As he was on his way to Damascus to arrest any Christians he might find, “suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.” RH March 6, 1900, par. 3

Saul converted was called Paul. He united with the disciples, and was among the chief of the apostles. RH March 6, 1900, par. 4

After the ascension of Christ, the apostles went everywhere preaching the Word. They bore witness to Christ's work as a teacher and healer. Their testimony in Jerusalem, in Rome, and in other places was positive and powerful. The Jews, who refused to receive the truth, could but acknowledge that a powerful influence attended Christ's followers, because the Holy Spirit accompanied them. This created greater opposition; but notwithstanding the opposition, twenty years after the crucifixion of Christ there was a live, earnest church in Rome. This church was strong and zealous, and the Lord worked for it. RH March 6, 1900, par. 5

The envy and rage of the Jews against the Christians knew no bounds, and the unbelieving residents were constantly stirred up. They made complaints that the Christian Jews were disorderly, and dangerous to the public good. Constantly they were setting in motion something that would stir up strife. This caused the Christians to be banished from Rome. Among those banished, were Aquila and Priscilla, who went to Corinth, and there established a business as manufacturers of tents. When Paul came to Corinth, he solicited work from Aquila. RH March 6, 1900, par. 6

The apostles counseled and prayed together, and decided that they would preach the gospel as it should be preached, in disinterested love for the souls who were perishing for lack of knowledge. Paul would work at tent-making, and teach his fellow laborers to work with their hands, so that in any emergency they could support themselves. Some of his ministering brethren presented such a course as inconsistent, saying that by so doing they would lose their influence as ministers of the gospel. The tenth chapter of Second Corinthians records the difficulties Paul had to contend with, and his vindication of his course. God had placed special honor upon Paul. He had given him his credentials, and had laid upon him weighty responsibility. And the apostle writes, “I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you,”—because he humbled himself to do mechanical work,—“but being absent am bold toward you.... Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's. For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed.” RH March 6, 1900, par. 7

Why did Paul, an apostle of the highest rank, thus connect mechanical labor with the preaching of the gospel? Was not the laborer worthy of his hire? Why did he spend in making tents the time that to all appearance might have been put to better account? Why waste time and strength in tent-making? But Paul did not regard the time he spent in making tents as lost. As he worked with Aquila, he kept in touch with the Great Teacher. He gave to his fellow laborer needed instruction in spiritual things, and he also educated the believers in unity. While he worked at his trade, he gave an example of diligence and thoroughness. He was diligent in business, “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” He and Aquila and Priscilla had more than one prayer and praise meeting with those associated with them in tent-making. This was a testimony to the value of the truth they were presenting. RH March 6, 1900, par. 8

Paul was an educator. He preached the gospel with his voice, and in his intelligent labor he preached it with his hands. He educated others in the same way in which he had been educated by one who was regarded as the wisest of human teachers. As Paul worked quickly and skillfully with his hands, he related to his fellow workers the specifications Christ had given Moses in regard to the building of the tabernacle. He showed them that the skill and wisdom and genius brought into that work were given by God to be used to his glory. He taught them that supreme honor is to be given to God. RH March 6, 1900, par. 9

By laboring with his hands, Paul was preaching the Word. And he set an example that spoke against the sentiment, then gaining influence, that the work of preaching the gospel excused the minister from mechanical and physical labor. Paul knew that if ministers neglected physical work, they would become enfeebled. He desired to teach young ministers that by working with their hands they would become sturdy; their muscles and sinews would become strengthened. Paul recognized physical work as composing a part of the education he was to give. He realized that his teaching would lack vitality if he did not keep all parts of the human machinery equally exercised. His labor to support himself and others should have been commended, rather than regarded as belittling to his position as a minister of the gospel. RH March 6, 1900, par. 10

The apostle states plainly that if a man will not work, if he does not use his physical powers, neither should he eat. The healthful and equal exercise of all the powers of the being is required to keep the living machinery in the best condition. He who would have every part of the system unclogged by feebleness and disease must use every part of the system harmoniously. The muscles are not to be allowed to become weak through inaction, while the brain carries too large a share of the work. Each part of the human machinery is to bear its burden. RH March 6, 1900, par. 11

After leaving Philippi, Paul went to Thessalonica, on the seacoast. The history of his work there is recorded in the first and second chapters of Second [First] Thessalonians. He labored in the gospel, working with his hands. “We were gentle among you,” he writes, “even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail; for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” “Neither did we eat any man's bread for naught; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.” RH March 6, 1900, par. 12

The Greeks on the seacoast were sharp traders. They had long educated themselves to shrewd practice in deal, and had come to believe that gain was godliness, and that an ability to make money, whether by fair means or foul, was reason why they should be honored. Paul was acquainted with their practices, and he would not give them an opportunity for saying that he and his fellow laborers preached in order to be supported by the gospel. Although it was perfectly right for him to be supported in this way, for the laborer is worthy of his hire, yet he saw that if he was, the influence upon his fellow laborers and those to whom he preached the gospel would not be the best. Paul feared that if he lived by preaching the gospel, he might be suspected of selfish motives in doing the work. He would not give any excuse to depreciate the work of the gospel by imputing selfish motives to those who preached the Word. He would not give any an opportunity to hurt the influence of God's servants. RH March 6, 1900, par. 13