Priscilla: A Model for Ministry (Acts 18) from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.
I recently heard a story about a guy who drove his car into a ditch accidentally. It was quite an isolated location and there was no mobile phone reception to call the rescue services. Thankfully, a local farmer saw it happen and brought his horse to help pull the car back on to the road. The farmer hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” Buddy didn’t move. Once more the farmer hollered, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” Buddy didn’t respond. Then the farmer nonchalantly said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!” And the horse dragged the car out of the ditch. The motorist was very appreciative but he was also curious. He said “I am really grateful for your help. I just have one question: Why did you call your horse by the wrong name? The farmer said, “Oh, Buddy is blind – if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn’t even try.” Like “Buddy” we find motivation difficult if we think we are the only ones pulling. That’s why Jesus sent his disciples out in teams of two by two. It iciples out in teams of two. It’ motivated the car bacrove his car into a ditch. s so much easier and more fulfilling to serve in teams isn’t it?
In this last sermon in the series, Jesus and Women, we meet Priscilla the wife of Aquila. In Acts 18, we’re introduced to the ultimate ministry team – Priscilla and Aquila. They’re a married couple who are always mentioned together – three times in Acts 18, then in Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Timothy 4.
The Apostles had wives, and they took them with them when they preached (I Cor. 9:5), but their wives names are never mentioned in Scripture. Aquila’s wife, Priscilla, is.
Significantly their names only ever appear together which suggests they were a team. They were partners in ministry. Indeed Paul commends Aquila and Priscilla as his “fellow workers” who risked their lives for him. Even more significantly, in four of the five places where their names appear together, Priscilla is mentioned first. Let’s find out why. I want to introduce you to Priscilla the disciple, Priscilla the teacher and Priscilla the leader.
1. Priscilla the Disciple
“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks… 18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” (Acts 18:1-4, 18-19)
In the year 52 A.D. the Roman emperor Claudius issued an edict expelling all Jews from the city of Rome. Suetonius, the Roman historian, says, some within the Jewish community were persecuting their Christian neighbours and causing considerable disturbance in the city. Claudius cared little about the reason for the trouble, and even less about who the guilty parties were. He knew they were Jews, and that was enough; so all Jews were uprooted from their homes and banished from Rome, the innocent along with the guilty.
This included a Jew named Aquila, who had migrated to Rome from the province of Pontus on the Black Sea, and he decided to migrate to the city of Corinth. By his side was his faithful wife, Priscilla. We do not know for certain whether she was Jewish or Roman, nor are we sure whether or not they were both Christians at the time. God in his providence uses their profession to connect Priscilla and Aquila with Paul. When Paul arrives from Athens, he makes contact with fellow tent makers, possibly to work with them to provide an income for himself as well. Paul worked so that he was not dependent on the churches he founded. Priscilla and Aquila were hospitable and invited Paul into their home and let him stay with them. Paul had confidence in them and invested his life in them. A lasting friendship was born between them. If Priscilla and Aquila did not know the Lord before, Paul’s stay would have left them in no doubt. No one could be anywhere near Paul for very long and not be affected by his passion for Jesus. Paul stayed with them for 18 months, no doubt instructing them in the gospel. Priscilla the disciple.
2. Priscilla the Teacher
“Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:24-26)
Apollos sounds quite an impressive speaker. Aquila and Priscilla were deeply impressed with him, but they detected a serious flaw in his preaching. Tactfully they made no attempt to correct him in front of everyone at the synagogue. Nor did they try and put him straight over coffee after the service. They had a better way. They invited him home for lunch. I remember vividly one of the first evangelistic conversations I had as a young Christian. After it was over my friend, an older Christian, who’d been with me, took me to one side and said, “Well done, but actually the Holy Spirit is a person, not an ‘it’.” I never forgot. Perhaps it was at the kitchen table that Pricilla and Aquila led the conversation round to the mornings sermon, told Apollos what a blessing his ministry had been, asked him how he had become a believer, and then gently introduced the question of baptism.
Gently and lovingly, they explained how the gospel of the Lord Jesus was the fulfilment of the Hebrew scriptures he knew so well; That John’s baptism was a preparation for receiving Christ; and that Christian baptism was a natural consequence of receiving Christ. What Priscilla and Aquila did would not have been possible had they not been discipled by Paul for 18 months. What they learnt from Paul they passed on to Apollos. They multiplied themselves, just as Paul has done. The purpose of discipleship is not the accumulation of knowledge but multiplication. Disciples are meant to become disciplers. We were born to reproduce. That is why our mission comprises three words – win – build – send. We seek to win people to Christ, build them in the faith and send them to do what? Win people to Christ and build them in the faith in order to… It is only because Priscilla was a disciple that she could become a discipler of others. What Priscilla and Aquila did for Apollos is the norm. Every Christian teacher, whether it be the Apostle Paul or one of our pastors here, is accountable to the plain teaching of Scripture. If you are not sure about something you hear in a sermon, don’t just accept it. Check it out from the Word of God, and if you are still not sure, ask the preacher. The Berean Christians mentioned in Acts give us our model.
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)
Priscilla the disciple became Priscilla the teacher. There is one more dimension to her ministry:
3. Priscilla the House Church Leader
“The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.” (1 Corinthians 16:19)
Given the nature of their trade, Priscilla and Aquila could be flexible where and when they earned their income from making tents. So they left their home in Corinth and followed Paul to Ephesus. He continued travelling while they settled down and opened their home, not only to Apollos but to other believers. In both Corinth and then in Ephesus, their home became a church, a house church. It seems at some point they decided to move back to Rome. Claudius was dead. Once again, their home became a meeting place for Christ followers.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house.” (Romans 16:3-5)
Given the way Paul affirms them by name, and mentions their role “co-workers” and specifically their bravery “they risked their lives for me” we may assume they became leaders within those churches. Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned one more time in the New Testament, in the last chapter of the last book the Apostle Paul wrote.
Their stay in Rome was short, probably because of the gruesome persecution of the Christians under Nero. They returned to Ephesus one final time. It had been sixteen years since Paul first met them at Corinth, and now he was in a Roman prison for the second time. His death at the hands of the emperor Nero was imminent, and he was writing the last paragraph of his long and fruitful life. “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus” (2 Timothy 4:19). Paul is thinking of his dear friends who were then back in Ephesus where Timothy was ministering. It was just a brief and simple greeting. But Paul wanted to be remembered to them in the last hours of his life. Imagine the impression that Priscilla and Aquila left in the mind of the apostle Paul. Their legacy was not the churches they founded in their homes but the model of ministry they demonstrated consistently – evangelism, discipleship and multiplication – winning, building and sending. We have seen Priscilla and Aquila the disciples, the teachers and the leaders. Tradition has it they eventually died in Ephesus as martyrs like Paul. Their blood was indeed the seed of the church. “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
With thanks to Jeff Strite and Timothy Henning for ideas and inspiration. Read their sermons on Priscilla at www.sermoncentral.com