Wednesday, May 1, 2013

In the Context of Life

Today's Reading
Acts 18:1-11

The Book of Acts provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of the early church. Specifically, we read about the various obstacles that the earliest apostles faced as they went about proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The apostolic leaders, including the apostle Paul, were often reviled and mocked for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus and God's promise of salvation. The experience of Paul in today's reading from Acts 18 is a powerful reminder of the difficulties of ministry during the earliest days of the church. We also learn that Paul did not quite his day-job while exercising his apostlic ministry.
Paul the Tentmaker
We learn in Acts 18.1-3 that Paul began his ministry in Corinth by joining Aquila and Priscilla, who were fellow tentmakers. The trade of tentmaking “would have been appropriate for someone who traveled as much as Paul did since it did not require that he carry heavy equipment from place to place."  However, the tentmaking business was not simply a convenience for Paul, but more importantly, it placed him in the center of the pagan world: the marketplace. As New Testament scholar James Dunn observes, “knowing Paul’s commitment to evangelism, it is probable that he used the time [as a tentmaker] also to forward his missionary work.” R.F. Hock adds: “It is difficult to imagine Paul not bringing up the subject of the gospel during discussions with fellow-workers, customers, and others who entered the shop." It is likely that Paul’s first task after entering into a city would have the establishment of his tentmaking shop, the establishment of a cultural connection. Paul’s interaction with the prevailing culture of his time provided an opportunity to invite the citizens of Corinth, who were primarily Greek, to participate in the new Christian community he was attempting to establish.
God's Sustaining Presence
There are also moments of frustration for Paul as he carries out his apostolic mission in Corinth. We get the sense that Paul is ready to "shake out his garments" and head out of town. But the Lord speaks to Paul and says, "Do not be afraid, but keep on preaching, for I am with you." Once again we hear the promise of God's sustaining presence - the same promise that was given to Abraham, Moses, and Jeremiah, the same promise that Jesus declared in the "great commission" at the conclusion Matthew's gospel. Even when Paul is reviled or rejected on account of his faith, the promise of God's sustaining presence remains!
So, today I invite us to reflect on the ways we are being called to establish cultural connections in our neighborhoods and community. Paul did not separate his "job" from his "vocation" as an apostolic leader, but instead used his work as a tentmaker to further the work of the Kingdom. Perhaps today you find yourself discouraged or overwhelmed and you simply need to hear, as Paul did, the reassuring words from the Lord - I am with you!

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