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Partners in Mission

Have you noticed how much competition is part of modern life? It is all around us, influencing us in ways in which we are not even aware.

There is competition between academic and athletic teams of various high schools and colleges. There is competition between politicians, political parties, political philosophies, and sometimes between the various branches of government. There is competition between businesses, and between labor and management.

Often there is competition between denominations, and sometimes between churches within a denomination. At times, unfortunately, there is competition within an individual church between various groups, or between individuals.

And all the while we realize that the emphasis in the New Testament is not on competition—it is rather on such qualities as unity, cooperation, and teamwork.

These qualities remind me of my favorite Bible couple, Aquila and Priscilla. I admire them. I look up to them. I always have. The Bible does not tell us everything about them, but it tells us enough so that we can learn a great deal from their example.

Partners In Mission

Aquila and his wife Priscilla were partners in mission, a ministering team. Shouldn’t we allow them to be our pattern for life together and for service in Christ’s name?

Aquila and his wife Priscilla (also called Prisca) were a remarkable couple. He was a Jew from the Roman province of Pontus on the southern shore of the Black Sea. She was a Roman Gentile (Acts 18:2), some say of noble birth. She was a person of great ability in her own right. Priscilla and Aquila are named together six times in the New Testament, and she is named first four of those six times, suggesting she may have been the more distinguished of the two.

Despite their different backgrounds, Priscilla and Aquila were a devoted wife and husband. Their marriage surely faced many difficulties. They were never able to settle anywhere or put down many roots. Both of them had to work rather hard to make a living. But despite these difficulties, they let their light shine for Christ.

The Team Formed, Acts 18:1-3

I am a teacher. And if I had to give Paul a grade for his second missionary journey up to Acts 18, the most I could give him would be a C+. Let me explain why.

When he started that journey, Paul had unusual difficulty determining the Lord’s will. He tried one place and then another. He had to backtrack twice after following false trails. He had been forced out of Macedonia (northern Greece), and he faced a number of problems there both in Philippi and in Thessalonica.

Southern Greece was not much better. Paul’s work in Athens did not show any notable success. When he finished his sermon on Mars Hill, the people yawned, shrugged their shoulders, and asked, “So what?” I think Paul would have preferred persecution to such indifference! He had left Silas and Timothy behind him to check on the work in Macedonia. He was alone, possibly discouraged, and perhaps also in poor health when he reached Corinth.

If I could have somehow slipped down to walk beside Paul as he entered the city limits of Corinth that day, I would have asked him, “Paul, do you know what you’re getting into? Do you realize what Corinth is like? Do you know that you’re taking on the toughest assignment of your entire life?”

Corinth was the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia, or southern Greece. With a population of half a million, Corinth was larger than Fort Worth, Texas, where I live. That is a large city by today’s standards, but all the more so in Paul’s time. Corinth was a growing, bustling commercial center for both sea and land trade. It was a world crossroads and the center for every type of religious practice and every form of debauchery.

Did Paul realize how crucial his work at Corinth would be? If the gospel could take root there, it could take root anywhere in the world! The fact that a strong, vital church was formed in Corinth ranks as one of Paul’s most remarkable achievements.

One reason the Lord was able to use Paul in such a remarkable way is that while he was in Corinth he had help. He met two refugees named Priscilla and Aquila, who had been forced out of Rome by the Emperor Claudius’ decree against the Jews. Try to imagine. They have to pull up stakes on short notice, sell their homes and businesses for whatever they can get, and completely relocate. Thus Aquila and Priscilla came to be in Corinth.

Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers like Paul. Some people say that women should not work outside the home, but according to the Bible, Priscilla was an early-day working wife. Her vocation did not hinder her devotion to her husband or her commitment to Christian mission.

Paul, Priscilla and Aquila began working together, forming a new gospel team. As we will see in other Scripture passages, Paul was never far from them either in actual presence or in thought, from that time on until his death.

Apparently, Priscilla and Aquila were already believers, and had even served Christ in Rome. However, they blossomed in their association with Paul. There can be no doubt that they deserve much of the credit for the establishment of the congregation of believers in such a wicked place as Corinth.

The Team Teaching, Acts 18:18, 24-28

Roll the calendar forward about one and a half or two years. The time had come for Paul to leave Corinth. He felt the Lord’s calling to return to his home base at Antioch in Syria.

When Paul left Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila left with him. They traveled as far as Ephesus and stayed there when Paul continued on (Acts 18:18-19).

Paul had long wanted to work in Ephesus, as he knew Ephesus would be receptive to the gospel. The believers there begged Paul to stay and work with them, but Paul felt he must first return to Antioch. He promised however, that if they would let him go on, he would come back and stay with them as soon as he could.

I have a close friend who pastors in Tulsa. He and I argue over the most important place Paul ever served. I say Corinth because the work there was so hard. He says Ephesus, because the work there was so fruitful. Significantly, Priscilla and Aquila helped in both places.

And not only were Priscilla and Aquila instrumental in the up-building of the notable Ephesian congregation: They were also able to contribute to the ministry of one of the gospel’s most able spokesmen—Apollos, a learned Jewish Christian from the university city of Alexandria in Egypt.

Apollos was well-trained in rhetoric and philosophy. He had a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. He was “fervent in spirit,” meaning either that he was full of enthusiasm or that he was energized by the Holy Spirit.

Apollos was on a missionary journey. Interestingly, someone who knew only the baptism of John was able to teach concerning Jesus (Acts 18:25-26). Yet something was lacking in Apollos’ understanding of the gospel. Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos speak boldly in the synagogue in Ephesus. I have a feeling that afterward they invited him home for lunch. Then they lovingly, patiently explained to him the way of the Lord more accurately.

Perhaps they shared with him some of Paul’s approaches to Scripture interpretation. Perhaps they told him the rest of the story of Jesus, the part that John the Baptist had not known about when he was executed. Obviously, their help made Apollos’ arguments for Jesus as the Messiah even more effective.

Some people suggest that women should not teach, or that they should not teach men. However, Priscilla helped to teach the great Apollos, and in the home, too, which was the gathering place for the congregation’s public worship (1 Cor 16:9). Imagine learning at the feet of Priscilla and Aquila!

Paul had gone on his way, but his team of faithful workers continued their service at Ephesus. When Apollos went on to Corinth, the sisters and brothers in Ephesus encouraged him. They wrote him a letter of recommendation. He was a tremendous help to the work there, and was unusually effective in working with Jews. But remember, a large part of the reason Apollos served Christ so well was his contact with a dedicated man and woman who had been his teachers. Their lives had merged in mission for Christ.

The Team Building-Up Churches, 1 Corinthians 16:19

Roll the calendar forward again. Paul stayed at Antioch only a short time. As soon as he could, as he had promised, he made his third missionary journey back to Ephesus. Ephesus was the center of almost all of Paul’s third missionary journey. While he was there, he wrote one of his letters to the believers in Corinth. Near the end of the letter he mentioned his devoted companions, Aquila and Priscilla, who were once again serving with him (1 Cor 16:19).

From various biblical passages we know Priscilla and Aquila believed in the local church, and were committed to its support and strengthening. Wherever they went they established a church in their home. Priscilla and Aquila also used their material means for the cause of Christ. Perhaps they were better off financially than some other believers or perhaps their home was larger. But they were not selfish; they were open-hearted and open-handed. They made their home available for the Lord’s service.

The Team Courageous, Romans 16:3-5

Roll the calendar forward one last time. Paul stayed in Ephesus two or three years, then he made a hurried trip further west. He visited Corinth again, during which time he made still another reference to his two friends in his famous letter to the Romans. By this time, Priscilla and Aquila were back in Rome. Perhaps they had returned there after the death of the Emperor Claudius in AD 54. However that may be, Paul’s brief reference in Rom 16:3-4 lets us in on still another aspect of the character and devotion of two of the Lord’s most faithful servants. First, he called them fellow-workers in Christ Jesus.

One summer Sunday I preached in Roaring Springs in the Texas panhandle. I went home for the afternoon with the local Justice of the Peace. We watched some football on TV then he drove me around to show me the community. When we returned to his home, he went into his office and brought out something he wanted to show me. I knew in a moment what it was. I had never seen one, but I had read about them often. It was under a glass frame. I still get chills when I think about it. It was a Congressional Medal of Honor. I recognized it immediately by its distinctive shape, and by its wide powder-blue ribbon. His son had received it for bravery in combat during the Korean War, in which he lost his life. It was easy to see how much it meant to the aging father.

I believe an even greater honor than that medal would be to have Paul call me a fellow-worker in Christ Jesus. You might pin any number of medals on me, but that one would mean the most.

Paul also said Priscilla and Aquila had put their lives on the line for his sake. They had risked themselves, facing the danger that was intended for him. Paul gave thanks to the Lord for them. In fact, all the churches of the Gentiles gave thanks for them. What a way to be remembered!

We don’t know when or how Priscilla and Aquila risked their necks for Paul. Perhaps it was in Ephesus during Paul’s major visit there. We don’t often consider the importance of courage, do we, when we think of qualities for the Lord’s service? The nominating committee does not mention it when discussing prospective workers. But courage was a trait Priscilla and Aquila had in abundance.

Conclusion

The Bible’s teaching about partners in ministry and mission is especially appropriate for a group like CBE and for times such as these. Living in West Texas has helped me to realize this. The largest part of our country was settled by pioneer people who succeeded only because husband and wife, in fact all family members, formed a team that worked together to tame the land. This has always been true in rural areas, as well as in farming and ranching communities. The typical pattern in our country’s history has been for the wife to take her place right beside her husband, labor by his side, and devote herself in equal measure to their mutual goals.

This is why I see Priscilla and Aquila as our models. They were partners in their business life, of course, but they were also partners in their spiritual life. They were a missionary team, partners in ministry.

Aquila and Priscilla. Few Christians are familiar with even the little bit of information that we have about them. Yet they represent the best of the early church. They stood beside the Lord’s better-known servants, showed courage in the face of difficulties, dedicated their home to Christ’s work, and merged their lives in the mission of founding and building-up churches wherever God took them.

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