The last couple of weeks it seems like our national news has been dominated by a couple of things: Gay wedding cakes and religious freedom laws. As gay people are gaining the right to marry, many Christians feel like they are losing their religious rights and freedoms, while the media does nothing but point their cameras at this tension. As all this is going on our great country is becoming more and more divided. And right now it’s becoming divided all over cake…
In Acts 18:1-3, we read about the apostle Paul and learn what he did for a living. It says, “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 tent makers by trade.”
As Paul’s missionary journeys took him from Jerusalem to Ephesus, from Ephesus to Rome, from Rome to Spain. Several times he traveled from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and making disciples. Along the way Paul made and sold tents to support himself and his ministry.
At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot of Christians in the Roman empire. Actually, during this period of history a vast majority of the Roman empire was pagan. And Paul made and sold tents to the pagans.
If you go your whole life and never learn anything else about ancient Roman paganism then you need to know this: They worshiped idols and as part of their religious festivals they would often have drunken sex orgies, where people of the same sex would often engage in sexual acts on each other. More than likely Paul’s customers would set up their idols for worship in the tents that Paul made, and perform same sex sex acts on each other during their drunken orgies as apart of these religious festivals.
Paul was not ignorant of this. This was so engrained in the culture and it wasn’t hidden. These people did it openly, unashamed. And Paul sold tents to these people knowing what they would be doing inside of his tents.
Did Paul endorse idol worship? No.
Did Paul endorse drunkenness? Promiscuity? Fornication? Homosexuality? No. No. No. And no.
Paul did not support any of these things that the pagans did. However, Paul did allow the pagans to financially support him and his ministry as he traveled the Mediterranean, evangelizing, creating disciples, and starting churches.
But for Paul tentmaking wasn’t just his cash cow, it was a part of his ministry. He used tentmaking as a tool to get into the lives of the people in the community where he was planting a church. A great example of this is found in Acts 18 where Paul meets Priscilla and Aquila, who are fellow tentmakers and who are Jews (vs. 2-3). They weren’t Christians, yet. In verse 18, Priscilla and Aquila accompany him on a mission trip to Syria. And by the time we get to vs 26, we see Priscilla and Aquila discipling Apollos. Somewhere along the way, between verse 3 and verse 18, Paul converted them. He used tentmaking to get into their lives.
There’s no doubt that as Paul was traveling all across the Roman empire that some of these nasty, drunken, hot and horny pagans came to know Jesus Christ as followers and disciples just because Paul chose to do business with them!
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul addresses idol worship. He tells us not to partake in it. But in verses 23 and 24, Paul says this:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”
There was absolutely no law against Paul making tents and selling them to pagans. And actually it was helpful! It funded his ministry so that he didn’t have to solicit money from the members of the churches that he was planting. It was also edifying. In other words he was building up the kingdom of God here on Earth by evangelizing to the pagans, Jews, and Greeks, discipling them, and then sending them out to evangelize, make disciples, and by sending them out!**
Contrary to popular belief, selling a gay couple a wedding cake won’t damn you to hell. It’s no different than Paul selling a tent to a pagan. But judging by how some Christians are acting you would think that’s the case!
Our problem is we don’t see the big picture. We’re too focused on ourselves. We’re not seeking the good of our neighbor. We’re only seeking our own good. We’re too busy fighting for our “religious rights” & fighting for our “faith & freedom,” instead of fighting for the souls of the sinners that are lost, dying, and on their way to hell.
In John 8:36, Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” Christ has set us free! Yet, we’re not living free in Christ. We’re too busy trying to live free in religion. He who the Son sets free is free, indeed, but if you’re fighting for your “religious freedom,” then perhaps you’re not really free, indeed?
The Apostle Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Quick question, Christian: If you’re busy fighting for your religious liberty, where is the Spirit of the Lord?
We are no longer slaves, but sons. We are fellow heirs with Christ. That means we are free. And if we are free, then freedom is something that we no longer have to fight for. We walk in it. Looking at the Christian world around me, here lately, I don’t see too many walking in it. They’re too busy fighting for that their in bondage to—Religion.
Nowhere in the New Testament are we ever commanded to fight for our rights. You can search and you can dig deep from the Book of Matthew to the Book of Revelation, and you’re not going to find it.
To put things in proper historical perspective, the entire New Testament was written during a time of intense religious persecution. It was written at a time when Christians were crucified on crosses like Christ was. Some were impaled on stakes and lined along the road. Some were burned alive. Others were brought into the Roman Colosseum and fed to the lions as a spectator sport. (This was done for entertainment!)
While Jesus walked the earth, the Roman government ruled Israel. Due to the intense religious persecution the Jews, people lived in constant fear that the Romans would put an end to their sacrifices at the Temple or would shut down their holy feast. There were uprisings where Jews were fighting against the Roman soldiers because they felt like they had to in order to protect their religious liberties to offer sacrifices and worship.
They were eager to escape the religious persecution that they were under. This is why in John 6:15, after Jesus feeds the 5,000, they were ready to make him king. This is also why in Acts 1:6, Jesus’ very own disciples asked him, after he rose from the dead, if now was the time that he was going to restore the Kingdom of Israel. They wanted Jesus to lead them against their religious persecutors: The Roman Government.
Here we are, today, 2015, and there some of us are looking to Jesus to lead us against our religious persecutor: The United States Government.
Please, keep all of this in mind the next time you open up Romans, chapter 13:1-7, where the apostle Paul encourages the church in Rome, not to fight for their rights as Christians, but instead to submit to the very Roman government that’s persecuting them.
Seriously, search the New Testament! Dig into church history. You’re not going to find one New Testament saint who ever fought for religious liberties or encouraged others to fight for their freedom of religion. They had more important things to do like fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing as well?
We’re supposed to be seeking his kingdom and his righteousness, first. But instead we’re too busy trying to protect our own little religious kingdoms. We’re too busy trying to protect our “freedom to practice our faith” instead of just having faith in the One who set us free.
Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 that we wrestle not with flesh and blood. It’s amazing that in this fight for our “rights” & “freedom” we do. And what we do in the process is push away the very ones who need the freedom and the kingdom that we’re supposed to represent.
But we don’t really represent the freedom or the kingdom of Christ. We don’t really represent Christ when we do that. We think we do, but we’re not. We’re only representing our own sick, twisted self-righteous selves when we act like that. That’s not Jesus!
Let me ask you a couple more questions as I bring this to a close: In your own personal quest for religious freedom how many sinners have you pushed away from Christ?
How many have you shoved in the direction of hell?
Because you’re certainly not saving anyone from the fires of hell by refusing to bake them a cake or refusing to make them a tent.
Eric Johnson wears many hats! Husband, father, organic church planter, pastor, preacher, conference speaker, worship leader, songwriter, cancer survivor, and a semi-retired professional stand-up comedian, Eric has been really blessed over the years to have the following artists close the show for him: Hawk Nelson, 7eventh Time Down, The Josh Gilbert Band, and Shinebright. Eric makes his home in majestic mountains of Bristol, Tennessee, with his amazing wife, Crystal and their son, Kyle. Follow him at @EricIsGuitarted.