Sermon preached on Acts 18 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/15/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Priscilla – Fellow Worker in Christ Jesus
We continue today our sermon miniseries on key women of the Bible, and almost draw that series to a close. Next week, I will do a Christmas sermon that will also serve as a concluding message as well to this sermon miniseries. The last few weeks in this series we’ve been looking at women who interacted with Jesus during his earthly ministry. We now move into the final era of biblical history as we look today at the life of Priscilla. Now we enter into the time after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension back up into heaven. Now we are in the time between the first and second comings of Christ. What is unique about this final time of history recorded in the Bible is that we see the formation and advance of the new covenant church. This new covenant church is shown as beginning to fulfill the Great Commission, beginning with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Of all the biblical history, this is the era that has the most similarity with our time. A main difference is that this era had the benefit of the foundational ministry of the twelve apostles, along with the apostle Paul, one untimely born, in his own words. This apostolic witness, included the amazing miraculous workings of the Holy Spirit through these apostles. Yes, we don’t live in the time of the apostles. And yet that foundation has been laid. We are continuing the work of the Great Commission, building upon that laid foundation:
the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Christ Jesus being the corner stone.
And as we come to this part of the Bible, we see that the church’s work of the Great Commission is not something just for the ordained officers of the church. It’s not just for the apostles back then. It’s not just for the pastors and elders today. No, we see in this age of the apostolic witness, that all the Christians were getting involved in this important mission. The everyday lay believer is to be serving in the church, and helping to support this Great Commission. And what was maybe more radical at the time, and still refreshing today, is that this included women. Often feminists get upset that the Bible reserves the ordained offices to qualified men in the church, but that misses a much broader point. You don’t need to be an ordained officer in the church to play an important role in the church’s mission. Most people in the church aren’t going to be ordained officers, male or not. Most people in the church probably don’t even want to be ordained officers in the church. But all of us should strive to use our varying gifts in service to Christ. The New Testament shows that many a woman in this apostolic age did just this. Phoebe, per Romans 16:1, is a noted and honored servant for Christ at the church in Cenchrea. Romans 16 goes on to list many other notable women who were serving the church in different ways. Lydia, in Acts 16 was a founding member by way of conversion for the church at Philippi and supported Paul in that church planting work there. Many other women could be cited as well. And today we will get a chance to look at Priscilla. Her service is commended here and elsewhere in the New Testament, with her name often mentioned first before her husband, possibly especially honoring her service. So as we begin to draw our sermon series to a close on key women of the Bible, we will be reminded of the many opportunities for women of God to serve Christ in his church. And of course, men, don’t worry, we see in this passage the lay ministry of Priscilla’s husband Aquila too, and are reminded of essentially the same point for the men of the church as well.
So, let’s dig in. Let’s begin with considering Priscilla’s background in this passage. Look with me at verse 2. She is married to a man named Aquila. Her husband is a Jew; presumably she was too. Presumably they were both already Christians to by the time they met the Apostle Paul. They were previously living in Rome but now are living here in Corinth where they first meet Paul. It says in verse 2 that they had left Rome when Emperor Claudius had recently expelled all the Jews from Rome. An ancient secular record is suggestive that the Jews had been expelled from Rome on that occasion over conflicts surrounding Christianity. It’s hard to be sure based on the reference, but that would not be surprising based on how we see in Acts how other cities experienced some turmoil between the Jews and new Christian converts. Last chapter in Acts, for example, shows some of that turmoil happening in Thessalonica and Berea. At any rate, we see that Priscilla and Aquila met Paul in Corinth. It seems their initial connection at first was especially professional. Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers. So was Paul.
So with that brief background about Priscilla and her husband, let’s turn now to see how she and her husband served with the Apostle Paul. Paul at this time is on his second missionary journey. He had recently come from Athens and now needed a place to stay and probably was looking for some initial connections in the city. And so Priscilla and Aquila fill that need. Note that Paul stays with them in Corinth, so that means they supported his ministry by opening up their home to him. In verse 11, we learn that Paul ministered there in Corinth for a year and half so it was surely a great blessing that he had a place to stay to do this ministry. But the text is also clear too that a main reason why Paul stayed with them was that they were of the same trade. It says in verse 3 that Paul didn’t just stay with them, but worked. The implication here seems to be that he worked with them in some way. Now, I can’t imagine he opened up some competitive shop from their own home. Rather, it was probably something like they employed him, or partnered together in some way. But the point here is clear. Priscilla and Aquila through opening up their home and through their common employment were a blessing to Paul. It assisted Paul to be able to do his apostolic ministry in Corinth. Note that this passage describes that Paul experienced some tough opposition in Corinth, so the service of Priscilla and Aquila to Paul here would have been especially helpful in the context of a difficult environment. It’s a blessing in a tough missionary environment to have support from other Christians in various practical ways. And so, that’s the first way we see Priscilla serving with Paul.
A second way we see Priscilla serving with Paul, is that she and her husband join him on some of his missionary travels. This is verse 18. After his extended ministry in Corinth, Paul heads out to Cenchrea and then to Ephesus. Priscilla and Aquila come with him. They essentially become missionaries. Keep in mind, we have no reason to believe that Priscilla and Aquila are serving in any way similar as Paul serves. We don’t read of them becoming itinerant preachers or anything like that. They travel with Paul here, and surely are supporting him. They will be a blessing along the journey to those Paul is preaching to, and the newfound churches. In other words, their missionary service was probably somewhat akin to the missionary associates our denominations sends out. We have ordained missionaries in the various fields, doing church planting work and a large preaching ministry. But the missionary associates will come to the mission field as lay Christians and find various ways as lay Christians to bless the church plants and full time missionaries in those mission fields. That is an important ministry to do. One of the greatest needs in a new church plant is to have some more mature in the faith brethren actively involved in the church, besides just the officially ordained evangelist. Surely Priscilla and Aquila would have served such a function as they traveled along with Paul.
And so our second point for today has been to observe how Priscilla has a lay person in the church was able to serve with the apostle Paul. She along with her husband would have blessed, supported, and complemented his ministry. Evidently they eventually make it back to Rome later on, because when Paul later writes his epistle to the Romans, he greets them too in Romans 16. Listen to what he says in Romans 16:3, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” What a beautiful picture we see here in this chapter of some of their working together with Paul for Christ.
In our next point for today, I’d like us to then observe how Priscilla along with her husband served in Ephesus. This is recorded in the last several verses of this chapter. Paul continues on in his missionary journey, but Priscilla and Aquila stay behind in Ephesus. And we see them doing exactly what I was just suggesting they were surely doing in all their missionary travels. They were getting involved in the church’s work wherever they traveled to. In Ephesus, per verses 26-27, evidently this meant involvement with the local synagogue. We’ve seen that Paul always made an effort to reach out to the local synagogues in the cities he visited, to proclaim Christ to them. And so we are not surprised to see Priscilla and Aquila keeping involved in some way with the local synagogue at Ephesus. An itinerant preacher named Apollos comes through. He’s from Africa. He knows the Bible very well and is a powerful and bold speaker. He specifically knew about the Lord and was preaching about the Lord. And yet Priscilla and Aquila realize that he had something missing in his teaching. Evidently, Apollos had only learned about the baptism of John. What all this ultimately entailed, we are not sure. There was something about Apollos’ preaching that was excellent. But there was something about it that was lacking, nonetheless.
And so what do Priscilla and Aquila do? They take him aside, likely the Greek here implies that they had him over to their home, and they explained the way of God to him more accurately. What a lovely way they honor this preacher by privately bringing this information to him. And praise the Lord, as well, for the humility and hunger that Apollos showed for the Word, that he gladly received their instruction. What I love about this is we see immediately the results of Priscilla and Aquila’s ministry in Ephesus to Apollos. Look at verse 27. Apollos then moves on to keep preaching some more, and does some mighty gospel preaching in Achaia. Part of the fruit of that preaching stemmed from the way Priscilla and her husband had poured into him at Ephesus.
But of course the way they served Apollos in Ephesus, was surely just one example of the ways God used them in Ephesus. They were involved in the life and work of the church as believers in Christ. They were working hard in their earthly callings as tentmakers and stepped up to serve as the needs and opportunities presented themselves. What a beautiful picture of the way everyday believers serve the Lord.
Well, as we especially honor and rejoice in the service of Priscilla here, let’s make sure we don’t miss what her service was really all about. We talked of how she served with Paul. We talked of how she served in Ephesus. But ultimately she was serving Christ. All of Priscilla’s labors here, not to mention the labors of her husband, and Paul, and Apollos and others, were in service to Christ. Verse 5, Paul’s ministry was to testify that Jesus is the Christ. Verse 18, Paul’s ministry in Corinth meant he could teach the Word of God for a year and a half. Verse 28, Apollos ministry involved him publically showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. Priscilla’s efforts were a support to the ministry of people like Paul and Apollos who were leading the way in proclaiming Christ and the gospel and teaching the Word of God. Priscilla and her husband weren’t the ones standing up doing the preaching, but they played an important role in that ministry nonetheless. We should not devalue that ministry, because the Bible shows us that this ministry is crucial. It’s why Paul could say that Priscilla was a fellow worker in Christ Jesus.
And this was an important, and serious, message. When people rejected Paul’s preaching of this message in Corinth, look at what he tells them. Verse 6, “Your blood be upon your own heads.” In other words, that’s how serious this message is. Paul and Apollo proclaim Christ, because apart from Christ every person is condemned to the judgment of hell. This is the message that we continue to proclaim as well as a church. All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of this sin is death — that eternal death of damnation, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth forever. Apart from Christ, a person has an unthinkable future. Apart from Christ, we are all condemned criminals that God will punish. But that is why Paul and Apollos and us preach Christ. We proclaim that Christ came to take on the sins of all who would trust in him. We proclaim that the law leaves us condemned. But in Christ, we can be set free from the condemnation of the law. We can be saved. The Bible calls us to repent of our sins and put your faith and trust in Christ as you Savior and Lord.
This is the ministry that people like Priscilla were supporting. The very visible public preaching ministry needs people like Priscilla supporting it in various ways. The life and health of the church need people like Priscilla. Brothers and sisters, this is the take home point for today. This important message needs to be proclaimed. Disciples needs to be made and trained with the Word of God. But you don’t need to be an ordained pastor or elder to participate in that ministry. We have a snapshot here in this passage of ordinary lay Christians using their gifts to bless the church. As some final application, let’s review some of what Priscilla and her husband did to support the ministry of the church, and try to apply that to us. I’ll mention five brief things.
First, they served wherever they providentially were. I’m sure Priscilla and Aquila weren’t excited to be suddenly kicked out of Rome; they probably liked Rome since they later returned. But from there we see that wherever they seemed to end up, they appear to be getting involved in the life of the church. From Rome to Corinth on the way to Ephesus, in Ephesus, and eventually back to Rome again, they appear to be serving. Probably elsewhere too for all we know! And this is even despite threats of persecution. They served in places that had varying degrees of hostility to the faith. Let us also serve wherever we providentially find ourselves to be.
Second, Priscilla served with her husband. Mind you this is an application, especially geared to the married couples now. But they seem to have made a real good team. They keep getting mentioned together, for example in how they helped to get Apollos up to speed. Don’t underestimate the value and ways that a husband and a wife can serve the Lord together. If you are married, look for ways you can serve together and complement each other’s service.
Third, they served with their homes. They opened up their home to Paul. Later they presumably had Apollos over to their home. Our homes are a blessing from God that can be a tool for ministry. Use them as God provides.
Fourth, they served God with their jobs; their earthly callings. Their tentmaking business allowed them to provide some kind of opportunity for work for Paul. That helped in Paul’s practical needs as a missionary. This kind of thing seems pretty important to Paul, because in his other letters we see Paul make a point out of how he really enjoys to be able to work and earn money instead of having to always rely on financial support from the churches, which would have been the normal for a missionary. And so think about how your earthly callings can be used in supporting the work of the church. There are more obvious ways of course, like through the finances they bring. But there may be some more creative ways too. Keep that in mind as you labor in our callings.
Fifth, Priscilla and Aquila served as missionaries for a season, though not as ordained ministers, but in some kind of support role. I can only imagine how much of a blessing it is to our own missionaries when some of our OPC individuals or families go and serve for a time in one of our mission fields — not as preachers, but in whatever capacities and gifts they have to serve. That’s going to be a big blessing to whatever new church is being planted, and it’s going to be a big blessing to the full time missionaries there on the field. Of course, that is not something that everyone or every family can easily do. Different seasons in your life might lend themselves more to something like that. For Priscilla and Aquila, this would probably one of those seasons. They had just gotten expelled from Rome, so they probably were not overly tied down yet to Corinth. They could probably decide to pick up and join Paul in his missionary travels for a time, more easily than others could. Keep this in mind at the different seasons of life that you find yourself in. There may be times where you can go and help in a mission field for a time, or even here locally to go help in a new church plant for a time.
Well, brothers and sisters, I hope you have been encouraged from this passage. We live in the same general time frame as did Priscilla and Aquila. There is work to be done in the church during this time for people like Paul and Apollos. But not everyone is called nor probably even wants that kind of ministry. But there is work to be done, nonetheless. I thank the Lord for how I see our church fulfilling this call. There are countless ways our church members serve. Be encouraged from today’s passage that these ways are important. See the value of your service. Be encouraged to press on in them even if you’re doing one of those jobs that might not get a lot of public credit. The Lord knows your service, and that is whom we are ultimately serving anyways. What a joy is to be a part of such an important job as the Great Commission. To make and train disciples of Christ. That is what God has made us — disciples. He is training us right now. And part of that training includes how we pour back into others the ways he is pouring into us. Praise be to God for the beauty of how he has so orchestrated all of this in his church. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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