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Tent-making and Galatians 6:6

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Question:  I am not a scholar. How can I get simply information about the disciples and people that were in homes for small fellowships. How did they make a living. Like with Lydia she made dyes and was she one of the women that followed the disciples.  Thank you.

Response:  Scholar or not, you demonstrate from your answer that you are looking to the Word for these answers, and that is really the only place to look. One thing I can tell you straight away is that there is really no other significant source of contemporary information about these sorts of things other than what is found in Acts and the epistles. The earliest good source on the Church outside of the Bible is Eusebius, and he didn't write until the fourth century, got a good deal of his info from the Bible and from those who had speculated before him based on nothing but the Bible, and really has little if anything to say on this issue you ask about as far as I am aware (Eusebius is available in an English translation with facing Greek text in the Loeb Classical Library series). The Apostolic Fathers provide some small evidence for Church polity in their own day, but nothing I can recall about the support for ministry during the days of the apostles. This brings us back to my original point: what we know about all this is what we can glean from the Bible, and in fact we know rather a lot from that true source. Without any question, it is a biblical principle that believers in any organized fellowship are responsible at some point for providing a living for those who minister the Word to them.

Let him who receives instruction in the Word share in all good things with him who gives instruction.
Galatians 6:6

Galatians 6:6 is an important verse for the Church in our day precisely because it is so little understood, so little appreciated, and so little applied, a fact that marks out our Laodicean era as filled to the brim with false priorities. To take but one example, I have a good friend who has sacrificed dearly for the better part of his adult life to prepare and then to make available good, solid teaching of God's Word (and he is a gifted man). Today he finds himself working in a secular job (with the disadvantage of having started some thirty years behind where he would have had he not made the teaching of God's Word his priority). Far from being a fault, he made the opportunity available to have the fresh water of God's Word plentifully available, but over time there haven't been many serious and consistent takers. Trouble is, there are very, very few groups of Christians, whether inside or outside of denominations, who really want this. They may want someone with credentials, but they are generally not interested in getting deep into the Word. Very often, even when there is a passing interest in such things, the limited resources which small groups have (and usually it is only very small groups which have a genuine corporate interest in serious Bible teaching) are often allocated in what I would call short-sighted ways. To wit, people yearn for a building, or, if they have one, for a bigger/better building. Since serious Bible teaching always drives more people away than it attracts (a unique feature of the truth), this often leaves the pastor shorted.

What I tell people who ask for advice in such situations is that the first responsibility for any group of people who wish to have their own Bible teacher/pastor is to support that person in an acceptable manner before even thinking about spending money on anything else whatsoever. The whole point in gathering together as Christians is for the nourishment of the Word, and if a group of people decide to make the commitment to a sole source (i.e., hire a man), then that is their number one responsibility. As the Galatians 6:6 verse makes clear (and also 1Cor.9:3-14; 1Tim.5:17-18), this was a problem from the early days of the Church, for even the apostles were often given short shrift when it came to material support. It is interesting to me that Gal.6:6 is given in the context of Christian good works (verses 7-10), and in that context it is placed first by Paul, the implication being that to devote care, concern, and financial resources to general works of charity without first having taken care of your own pastor is a huge misapplication of truth. That would seem to stand to reason, but this has nevertheless always been a problem even among otherwise very dedicated Christians (the principle of familiarity breeding contempt seems to apply here: Matt.13:57).

One final point on this. "All good things" in Galatians 6:6 refers to everything such a teacher-pastor might have need of. That may or may not include financial support (generally it would), but it would certainly include other things as well such as respect (1Tim.5:17), prayer (Rom.15:30; 2Cor.1:11; Phil.1:19; Philem.1:22), and encouragement (1Cor.16:17-18; 2Cor.7:4-7; 7:13; 2Tim.1:16; Philem.1:7), to name a few that come to mind.

You might also look at these links:

Does the Bible require financial support of pastors?

Pastoral Support, Pastoral Preparation, and the Purpose of Assembly.

Pay the Pastor

The best example we have of self-support among the apostles is, of course, that of Paul and his companions (Acts 18:3; 20:34-35; 1Cor.4:12; 9:6-18; 1Thes.2:6-9; 2Thes.3:8-10). As to the occupations of believers, we have every reason to believe from the information in scripture that they earned their livings in a way analogous to what we do today, namely, they worked at the jobs and professions that were available to them and to which through talent and circumstance they were suited. You mention Lydia; we know that Prisca and Aquilla were tent-makers by profession like Paul (Acts 18:3); scripture gives us no reason to believe that the Ethiopian eunuch changed his profession as an official of that country, or that Philippian jailer changed jobs after salvation, or that the Roman centurion Cornelius of Acts 10 left the Roman Army. Certainly, it was difficult for believers to belong to certain professions whose professional organizations participated in cult worship of one sort or another, but other than this complication we should surmise that believers of the first days of the Church faced the same challenges we face in balancing a working life with a dedicated Christian life. At times, of course, persecution was also a factor (See the link: Historical examples of persecution [from Peter #25]). That is a major reason why in the very first days of the Church there was a need for sharing everything in common from the standpoint of simple survival (Acts 4:32-37), a situation which will come up again during the Tribulation for some believers.

This is not to say that people haven't written about this subject. You might check out Merril C. Tenney's New Testament Survey (especially parts 3 and 4) for an overview of what we know from the Bible about the situation in the early Church. For the situation with contemporary Jews see Alfred Edersheim's Sketches of Jewish Social Life, and for a general survey of the life and times of the Bible, Merril F. Unger's Archaeology of the New Testament is very good (the title is somewhat misleading - it is not a technical book).

I hope this is all of some help to you. I am encouraged by your continued dedication to the Word of God.

In Him who supplies all of our needs according to His glorious riches in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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