“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.” Acts 18:1-3 ESV
Through the Bible, Acts 18-19
This morning I came across a fascinating article called “Going for the Gold: The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games” on the website biblearchaeology.org. The Isthmian Games, were a big deal, second only in prestige to the Olympics in Athens, and they were held every two years. Corinth was a sports crazy town all the time (think Boston), but during the Isthmian Games, the frenzy hit the next level. People came from all over the world to watch the Games, which consisted of boxing, wrestling, running, the discus and javelin throw, and even singing. In AD 66, Emperor Nero himself competed in the singing competition. His concert lasted several hours, and he had his soldiers block the exits from the theatre so no one could leave. He won (shocker)!
This paragraph in particular caught my attention:
Since there were no permanent accommodations at the site, the people stayed in tents in the surrounding fields. Fixing or selling tents would have given Paul and his new found colleagues, Aquila and Priscilla, ample employment as well as opportunities to share the gospel with those attending the Games.
This is where we see the genius and the practical strategy of Paul. Paul looked for three things when he sought to establish a new church. First, he tended to begin new work along important trade routes so the gospel could spread in every direction from that strategic point. There was no more strategic city than Corinth, which was situated on a narrow isthmus (hence, the Isthmian Games) between the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas. Today, a canal connects the two bodies of water, but in Paul’s day the streets were lined with shops, taverns, and brothels catering to the sailors taking good overland from one port to the other.
Second, Paul always looked for a synagogue and a strong community of Jews. Corinth had this (see Acts 18:4-5). He consistently sought to present the gospel to Jews first, and then would turn to the Gentiles when the Jews rejected it (Acts 18:5-7).
Third, Paul always looked for a way he could support himself. Yesterday, when we read 1 and 2 Thessalonians, you might have noticed how Paul emphasized not wanting to be a burden to the people he was preaching to (1 Thessalonians 2:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9), working with his hands (1 Thess. 4:10-12); and that if someone wasn’t willing to work, they shouldn’t be allowed to eat. For Paul, this was central to his ministry.
So the Isthmian games gave Paul a perfect opportunity to advance the gospel according to his standards of ministerial ethics. These first century tailgaters needed tents, and Paul and Aquila and Priscilla were happy to provide them. They heard the gospel. And when the Games were over, they took the gospel back home with them. No wonder Paul stayed there a year and a half (Acts 18:11)!
There are so many lessons for us today. As we think about beginning new work, we don’t just throw a dart at a map and pray that God will bless wherever it lands. We can be strategic. We can go where the people are. We can use the gifts we’ve been given, even the ones that aren’t obviously related to ministry. We can develop a reputation for hard, honest work in the community. And we can call other believers alongside us to both encourage us and partner with us. I am thankful for these models of bivocational ministry.