By David Wise
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” – Rom. 16:3-4
We are first introduced to the godly couple of Aquila and Priscilla as Paul arrives in Corinth in Acts 18:2. They were Jewish tentmakers who had fled Italy under the discriminatory decree of Claudius Caesar expelling Jews from Rome. The couple comes in contact with Paul because they were of the same profession (they were tentmakers), and Paul comes to reside with them during his ministry in Corinth (Acts 18:3-4). They are presented initially as simply quiet, unassuming disciples of Christ, but these simple tentmakers had a profound impact on the kingdom of God and on the first-century church.
Paul ministered in Corinth for eighteen months after his initial arrival at the beginning of Acts 18, and when he leaves, Aquila and Priscilla journey with him. Paul stops briefly in Ephesus, but Aquila and Priscilla remain there and settle in that city (Acts 18:18-19). In Ephesus, there came up an eloquent and zealous believer, known as Apollos, but despite being instructed in the way of the Lord to some degree, he was ignorant of the full gospel message since he only knew the baptism of John. When the faithful couple of Aquila and Priscilla hurt a slightly uncertain sound, they lovingly brought Apollos into their home and expounded unto him the full gospel of the finished work of Jesus Christ – “when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” (Acts 18:26) Having the full gospel message Apollos was successful in converting many to the truth that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:28) and had a very successful ministry later in Corinth (Acts 19:1, 1 Cor. 1 & 3). Unfortunately, many today would hear a young brother preaching something that wasn’t quite right (simply due to ignorance, having not heard the full truth), and would try to immediately distance themselves from him. However, we should learn from the godly example of this couple to lovingly bring a zealous, but somewhat ignorant, young man under our instruction and attempt to “expound the way of God more perfectly” unto him. May we be found ministering to others who do not “perfectly” understand the truth, following the example of this godly couple.
Paul arrives back in Ephesus where he resides and ministers for three years. During that time, the church at Ephesus met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Paul’s first canonized epistle to the Corinthians was written from Ephesus – “Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (1 Cor. 16:19). This godly couple’s home was the focal point and meeting place of the church at Ephesus, during the establishment and growth of one of the most prominent and devout churches in the New Testament – the church at Ephesus. They no doubt set the example for the Ephesus church as they lovingly welcomed their brothers and sisters into their home to minister to them, just as they had done earlier with Apollos.
Maybe three to four years after penning 1st Corinthians, Paul writes an epistle to the church at Rome, where he commends Aquila and Priscilla specially again. This couple was originally from Italy, and it appears that by this time, they had made their way back to their homeland to build up the church at Rome, which was now also meeting in their home. “Greet Aquila and Priscilla… Likewise greet the church that is in their house.” (Rom. 16:3-5) It appears that they were instrumental in the church at Rome, just as they were at Ephesus, again hosting the church in their own home. How amazing is it, that two of the most pivotal churches in the early church at two different locations – in Ephesus and in Rome – both met in the home of the same godly, devout couple!
Paul commends Aquila and Priscilla further for their commitment towards him personally. He says that they both had “laid down their own necks”, they had literally risked their own lives, for the protection of Paul and for the furtherance of his ministry. It’s one thing to be willing to be a martyr and give your own life for Christ, but what a commendation to be so sold out for the kingdom that they were willing to risk their own lives for the Apostle Paul! That is truly exhibiting Christ’s command to love one another as ourselves and to lay down our lives for our friends – that was lived out by Aquila and Priscilla on the behalf of Paul. He thanks them for their sacrifice on his behalf, and then he gives them one of the most impressive commendations (in my opinion) in all the New Testament. Paul says that “all the churches of the Gentiles” also give thanks for their commitment and sacrifice for the church and for the kingdom. The godly life of Aquila and Priscilla (and sacrifice for the Apostle Paul’s sake) was known so well throughout all the Gentile churches, and their manner of godliness was so impressive, that all the Gentile churches gave thanks to God on their behalf! Think about how many Gentile churches had been planted by this time around 60 AD, and every one of those churches knew Aquila and Priscilla by name and gave thanks to God on their behalf. Wow, what a testimony!
Another important point taught to us by Aquila and Priscilla is how the husband and wife are a complimentary team in regards to ministry. Every time one is mentioned in the New Testament, the other spouse is mentioned as well (six times total). Three times Aquila is addressed first (Acts 18:2, Acts 18:26, 1 Cor. 16:19) and three times Priscilla is addressed first (Acts 18:18, Rom. 16:3, 2 Tim. 4:19). They traveled together, they instructed Apollos more perfectly together (“they” taught him together, Acts 18:26), they hosted the church at Ephesus and Rome in their home together (1 Cor. 16:19, Rom. 16:5), and they even risked their own lives together (Rom. 16:3). While God did place the husband as head over the wife and gave the man the authority to teach in a public way in the church, it’s a beautiful thing to see a wife compliment the teaching ministry of her husband in the manner that Priscilla did to Aquilla. We also see the beautiful picture of how the husband and wife are truly one flesh, in how Aquila and Priscilla are always presented together in every reference. Furthermore, they promote the equality in the kingdom of God – “male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28) – as they are both addressed interchangeably.
The impact of Aquila and Priscilla in the early church shows us that the rank-and-file believers are what really make the church grow. While from our perspective one member of the body may appear more visible and therefore more important to the church as a whole, I believe rather that it’s the Aquilas and Priscillas, it’s the rank and file godly couples in the church, and it’s the ordinary tentmakers among us that can have the most profound impact on the kingdom of God. We have a tendency to say, “if I’m not a hand in the body, then God has no use for me in the church or in the kingdom” (read 1 Cor. 12:12-25 for context). However, Aquila and Priscilla teach us that it’s oftentimes the “ordinary rank-and-file believers” who can have a great impact on the kingdom, so profound an impact that literally hundreds of churches all knew them both by name and knew their godly manner of life. After all, it was those ordinary tentmakers, who the greatest Apostle in the New Testament ascribed with saving his own life and living such a godly life that all the Gentile churches glorified God for them!