Priscilla and Aquila are two lesser known characters in the New Testament. The impression we get is that they were a man and wife team ministry, for the New Testament references to them are invariably as a couple, and not as individuals.
Their ministry was not a high profile, public one, yet it was owned by God for the blessing of souls and the glory of his name. If we were to capture the ministry of this Christian couple in five words, those words might be: instability, industry, diplomacy, bravery and hospitality.
Priscilla and Aquila knew much disruption in their lives. Acts 18 reveals that Aquila was from Pontus, but lived in Rome with his wife. Claudius though had them expelled from Rome, and so they moved to Corinth.
From Corinth they next moved to Ephesus. Priscilla and Aquila therefore knew much disruption. Theirs was an unsettled existence. Behind all the secondary causes of their moves however, was the hand of almighty God himself, for ‘a man’s steps are ordered by the Lord’, who has ‘determined … the boundaries of (our) habitation’ (Proverbs 20:24; Acts 17:26).
Romans 8:28 reminds us ‘that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose’. We see this here in God’s moving Priscilla and Aquila into areas of greater Christian usefulness.
How we cope and adapt to the changes and sudden disruptions which come into our lives can reveal our Christian maturity, or otherwise. It has been well said that those who see the hand of God in everything can safely leave everything in the hand of God.
Some of us crave stability; we don’t welcome change. The providence of God, however, may well be contrary to our wishes. He ensures that we don’t get too settled and comfortable, and ‘stirs up the nest’ (see Deuteronomy 32:11).
A comfortable, settled and stable existence, while welcome, is not always spiritually beneficial, for this world is not the Christian’s eternal home. ‘For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come’ (Hebrews 13:14). The changes we experience — and the losses and crosses — remind us of this.
Scripture records that Aquila and Priscilla ‘worked, for by trade they were tent-makers’ (Acts 18:3). The apostle Paul joined them in this trade for a time in Corinth. Aquila and Priscilla were people of industry, ‘doing their work in quietness to earn their own living’ (2 Thessalonians 3:12).
The Bible enjoins work on us all. Even in Paradise, before sin entered the world, Adam was placed ‘in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it’ (Genesis 2:15). Put negatively, ‘If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Timothy 5:8). And the normal way in which we provide for our families is by working, for work gives us the money we need to provide for our families.
Hence the Shorter Catechism explains the eighth commandment, not so much in prohibitive terms, but by stating, ‘The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others’ (Q.74).
When Apollos preached in the synagogue at Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila discerned that there was something deficient in his theology. ‘He knew only the baptism of John’ (Acts 18:25).
Scripture tells us that ‘when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately’ (Acts 18:26). From then on, Apollos’ preaching took on a new momentum. ‘He greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus’ (Acts 18:27-28).
Priscilla and Aquila’s correction of Apollos is a model of tact and diplomacy. Note that they took him aside privately, and did not humiliate him in public. We all need correction at times. It is, though, sometimes difficult to accept criticism and correction, for we might feel that our critic is just out to ‘get one over’ us, or even just being nasty.
But Aquila and Priscilla give us an example of tact and diplomacy to emulate in our dealings with others. How much strife in our churches has been caused by the right action being carried out in an unloving manner! Paul wrote to Titus, ‘The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness’ (Titus 2:24).
In Romans 16:3-4 Paul describes ‘Prisca and Aquila’ as ‘my fellow workers in Christ Jesus’ and goes on to record that they ‘risked their necks for my life’.
While Priscilla and Aquila’s ministry was not a public, high profile one, they certainly supported those who were in the front-line of gospel ministry. Nothing was too much trouble for them in this respect. They risked and dared for God and for the servants of God. Fearing God, they had nothing else to fear. Here they incarnate C. T. Studd’s saying: ‘If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him’.
Relatively few Christians are called to a prominent, public ministry. There is normally only room for one preacher at a meeting of the Lord’s people. If our ministry is not a high profile one though, we can surely support those who are called to this.
We can pray for preachers and pastors, for preaching is God’s normal means of grace in bringing salvation to non-Christians and edification to Christians. We can give financially towards the printing of gospel tracts. We can prayerfully support Christian radio and other Christian ministry! There’s always ‘a work for Jesus ready at your hand’.
Twice in the New Testament, Paul mentions ‘the church in their house’ (Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19), that is the church — the group of the Lord’s people — which gathered together for divine worship in the house of Priscilla and Aquila.
‘Church buildings’ as we know them did not come into existence until after AD 313, when the Emperor Constantine was converted and the Christian faith became less illicit.
Before that, the early Christians used to meet in such places as caves and houses. One such house was the house of Priscilla and Aquila. They made available their means to the Lord’s people and service. They dedicated both who they were and what they had to God, and God did wonderful things with and through them.
When we dedicate our lives to the Lord, we find that he is able to do far more with them than we can ever do with them. Like the young lad who gave his lunch of five loaves and two fish to the Lord Jesus, the Lord is able to take our apparently meagre means and multiply them beyond our imagination, for his glory and the blessing of others.
Priscilla and Aquila were, humanly speaking, nothing special. But they devoted themselves to God, in response to his saving grace, and God worked wonders through them.
Every Christian is enjoined to do likewise, where we are, with what we have, to the glory of God. ‘I appeal to you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’ (Romans 12:1).
Timothy Cross has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC (www.TimothyJCross.org).