AQUILA AND PRISCILLA
THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIAN COUPLES
July 2, 2006
All kinds of effort and all kinds of experimenting have been put into finding the secrets to allow congregations of the Lord’s people to survive and to thrive and to glorify God in their very existence. So often all the things that have been looked for are actually found in Christian couples. I was thinking of what Fred said as we have worshiped this morning and thinking in my mind of the congregations I have worshiped with or have been a part of in my past and how much of their lives really did boil down to Christian couples who loved the Lord and loved people and who were at the heartbeat of the life of the Lord’s work in their communities. You can name people like that, too, I am certain. Some of the names you would name are sitting somewhere on a pew close to you, even this morning.
In the New Testament there is a couple like that. William Barclay says that this couple is in the background of the life of the book of Acts and all the letters of the New Testament. There names are Aquila and Priscilla. His name means “eagle” and hers means “little old lady” or depending on if you are talking to her or about her, “little wise lady.” These two people are such a devoted couple that we find them not only in several communities, but we also find them so involved that they are mentioned six times; her name is mentioned four times first; his name is mentioned twice first. You can’t think of one of them in their service in the kingdom without also thinking of the other one’s service in the kingdom. These two people in the places we meet them in the New Testament are reminders of the kind of character and the kind of heart and service which is needed from our homes and from our families in our community here and then all over the world.
Let’s begin our study of Aquila and Priscilla by just looking at the places where we find them. Jon led us in singing “Anywhere with Jesus over Land and Sea.” That literally is true in the case of these two wonderful people. We meet them first in the beginning of Acts 18. The Bible says, “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontas, 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. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Notice a couple of things about these people from this passage. First, they had been living in Rome and now they have come to Corinth. Rome was the center of life in the world at that time. The emperor Claudius held sway. The historian Suetonius tells us that Claudius expelled all of the Jews who were not citizens of Rome out of the city during his reign about AD 49, and that he did so because of the constant disturbances instigated by Chrestus, he calls him. Most scholars I think believe that he is referring to Christ and to the debates that began as people proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ and then the opposition that came. These two people had come from the center of the empire to the commercial center of Greece which was at Corinth. Here it is that they meet the apostle Paul. Behind the scenes in this story is a crucial detail and that is how touchy a time it was in the life of the apostle. You read his letters to the church at Thessalonica and you remember the historical situation. He has been at Athens where some of them have called him a “seed picker,” a “babbler,” and Athens has been the only city in Greece so far that he has not been run out of by persecution. He comes to Corinth alone. His nearest and dearest friends and co-workers are not with him because they are having to attend to crises in other places. Undoubtedly he does not have many financial resources, and in this difficult time what does God give him to help him? Well, he gives him friends, friends who are going to be dear, friends who are going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, friends who are going to be willing to put themselves out for him. And those friends are Aquila and Priscilla. This passage doesn’t say whether they were already Christians when Paul met them. It seems to me more likely that they were and the implication is that they were. But, nevertheless, they were of the same trade as Paul. They were workers; they were industrious; they were energetic. As tentmakers it would mean that they perhaps wove together the kind of cloth that would be used in making tents. Some even believe that they should be referred to as leather workers. They were involved in a business that people’s living depended upon. They could take it with them and work wherever they had to. In this case, look at the unselfishness of these two people and their hospitality.
Though they have been expelled from Rome and had to go to a strange place, and though they have a living to make and obviously not a lot of extra time, and though the apostle Paul has been run out of the towns he has been in before, and clearly in some ways his life has been in danger and things have been said about him, these two lovely people are willing to take Paul into their home. They are willing for him to live with them and work with them and willing to help him while he tries to get it across in a worldly place like Corinth that Jesus Christ is Lord and that our lives ought to be lived in dependence upon him and in submission to him. Clearly their kindness in this way was something Paul never forgot. You will see it in some of the other passages that we will read as we go along.
Having worked at Corinth for a period of time (at least 18 months), the apostle decided to move on. He was going to Jerusalem, but Aquila and Priscilla traveled as far as Ephesus with him (18:18-19). When Paul went on, they stayed at Ephesus, another extremely important city for the progress of the gospel. While they were at Ephesus, a man named Apollos came to town. Apollos was everything different from what they were. They were tentmakers; he was a very scholarly, learned man from Alexandria. They were from Pontus in the northern part of Asia Minor, the south edge of the Black Sea; he was from down in Northern Egypt. He is a man who is known from his eloquence in speaking and presenting the scripture in a very powerful way. As far as I know, there is no record of anything that Aquila or Priscilla ever said publicly. And yet, what a blessing they turn out to be to Apollos. They go to the synagogue and hear him one Sabbath day, and he is powerfully showing from the Old Testament scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. But it becomes clear to them as they listen to him that this man has not heard of baptism in the name of Jesus. He knows only the baptism of John the Baptist. Here it is at least 20 years after the gospel has been preached, and this man doesn’t know the whole story yet.
At this point there are two extreme actions that could be taken. On the one hand, these two committed believers could have just said, “Well, this fellow obviously does not know the whole truth. He is not telling people the right way to respond to the fact that Jesus is Christ. We will withdraw from him; we will not have any more contact with this man; he is obviously an evil fellow, a false teacher. We will get rid of him.” On the other hand, they could have said, “You know, people see things differently. He has the main thing right. Jesus is the Christ. And even if he is off a little bit on some of the details, it doesn’t really matter because he has the main thing right. It would be wrong for us to nose into his business. It would be rude for us to suggest that there is something more that he might need to take into account. Who are we, tentmakers after all, to be trying to talk with a man like Apollos?” Those are the two extremes. Neither one of them would have been the right thing for a Christian couple to do. These two, instead, think the best of Apollos. This man obviously loves Christ and wants to do Christ’s work. He is a capable, talented man. He has so much to offer. Let’s take him aside. Notice they don’t paint into a corner; they don’t embarrass him. Let’s take him aside and teach him the way of the Lord more accurately. If we can do that, we will have such an ally and a worker in the kingdom of Christ as we have not yet seen. And how blessed the cause of Christ will be. Look at these two folks - in their hearts, their concern, their love for the Lord, their commitment to the truth of his will. What an example they are in that way!
The next time we meet them they are still at Ephesus, and Paul writes back to Corinth where they had worked together first. In I Corinthians 15:19 Paul concludes this letter by saying, “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca (Prisca is the more formal name of Priscilla. If this was Ann or Annie, Prisca would be Ann and Priscilla would be Annie), together with the church and their house (Do you see a pattern developing in this two folks’ lives? They have opened their home for Paul in Corinth and now here they have believers in their house at Ephesus.) they send you hearty greetings in the Lord.” I think that statement is extremely revealing. The Corinthian church had its problems. Paul had heard about these problems while he was in Ephesus, and those problems are the reason for this letter. The problems range all the way from divisions to immorality to problems in families to abuses in worship, etc. People like Priscilla and Aquila could have thought in an angry way, “What do those stupid Corinthians think they are doing? We spent 18 months working with Paul over there and we have helped them to see Jesus. They ought to know better than this.” But when Paul writes back he says, “Priscilla and Aquila send you hearty greetings in the Lord.” They have not merely been trying to build a congregation numbers wise. They have actually loved those people back at Ephesus. These folks are a part of their lives. There is a warmth and an affection that they have for their brothers and sisters in Christ at Corinth.
Notice that we meet them next at Rome. They have gone from Rome to Corinth to Ephesus and now look at the greetings in Romans 16:3 in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. He says, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house.” Here we are with Paul expressing his gratitude and appreciation to Aquila and Priscilla as his coworkers in Christ. This man and woman, this Christian couple, are coworkers with the apostle Paul. He says here that they have risked their necks for my life. As far as I can find, we are not told expressly in the New Testament where that happened or when it happened. Some people suppose that it happened in some of those experiences that Paul went through either at Corinth or Ephesus. We do know from Acts 18 that in Corinth Paul had faced some reasons to be afraid. Maybe just by their extending hospitality to him or by teaching the same gospel that he taught they had put themselves at risk. They risked their necks. In a world where we want to find a congregation that suits us but we don’t want to risk anything, where we want to do the Lord’s work, we want to bear fruit in his kingdom, but we don’t want to be at risk. We don’t want anyone ever to hurt our feelings. We don’t want any demands made on us. We don’t want to be put out. It is enlightening to read of a couple that risked their necks for the sake of Paul. Paul said, “I’m not only grateful for them, but all the churches of the Gentiles are.” That is another way of saying there are going to be a whole bunch of people from the Gentile background (maybe from the Jewish background, too) who are going to show up in heaven owing their souls to a couple that was willing to risk their necks for the cause of Christ – Aquila and Priscilla.
And then notice the last time we meet this couple is in Paul’s last letter – II Timothy 4:19. In this passage written from 16 to 18 years after the first time Paul met these two people, he takes pen in hand and he says, “Greet Prisca and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus.” I want to make one simple observation from that. The last letter, Paul’s life is at stake, he knows his departure is at hand as you will read in verses 6-8 of this same chapter, and a time when he feels alone – nobody took his side at this first defense. He looks back over his life and he sees loyal friends who have stood with him, been with him and still are. He thinks first of Priscilla and Aquila. These two people have shared so many successes, heartbreaks, moves here and there and hours and hours of labor for the cause of Christ with the beloved apostle Paul.
Now take those passages and let’s make two or three applications that will be helpful for each of us to bear in mind. What do we learn from the influence of this Christian couple? First, we learn to be couples like that. If you are not married, marry somebody who loves Christ more than he or she loves you. Marry somebody who is willing to risk his or her neck for Christ. If you are married, be the husband or wife who would fit into a couple like this. The church owes folks like you so, so much, and you can be a blessing to a congregation if you will establish a home which has as open a heart and as open hands as this home had.
Secondly, I want you to notice with me from this passage the glory of ordinary people and what they mean to the church. Aren’t you like me in this world? I get to thinking sometimes that there is no place for people who are not handsome or not talented or who can’t run fast and jump high or who don’t have a lot of money. Don’t you think that sometimes? Look at these two tentmakers. They have to go from one town to the next. They have to work for a living. It is not exactly a glamorous job. We don’t know anything about their education or training, but look how much they do. There is a place in the Lord’s service for ordinary people like me and like you.
Third, I want you to see the kind of love that can develop over time as people work side by side in the master’s service. Look at the affection, loyalty and love that existed between Paul and Aquila and Priscilla. In the world today we are looking for closeness. We want to belong; we want people who will be there for us. Remember that we have to invest ourselves in relationships so that can happen. These people did. Think of the influence of a Christian couple. If people like that have blessed your life, tell them. If you want to begin to be that kind of blessing to other people, won’t you decide to begin it this morning? If you need to become a Christian and we can help you, won’t you come while we stand and sing together?