Formations 05.19.2019: Teamwork

Acts 18:1-4, 18-21, 24-28

My campus ministers in college were a husband-and-wife team who shared between them responsibilities for the spiritual care of students on two campuses in neighboring cities. As a student-leader, I was privileged to observe them figure out the details of how to make that assignment work. They were an early example to me of the positive benefits of working with one’s spouse to achieve a common goal.

As we look at Priscilla and Aquila this week, I can’t help thinking of other couples whose joint endeavors span the arts (Beyoncé and Jay-Z), sciences (Marie and Pierre Curie), philanthropy (Bill and Melinda Gates), and politics (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert).

I also think of my own parents, who taught for thirty years at the same high school and were both respected and successful coaches (Dad in basketball; Mom in parliamentary procedures). When my mom passed away two years ago, the stack of cards and letters and the seemingly unending phone calls from their former students reminded me in a powerful way of the influence they had on literally generations of students. Would they have been as effective each doing their own thing instead of constantly finding ways to support and encourage each other? Maybe, but I have my doubts.

When Paul arrives in Corinth in Acts 18, Priscilla and Aquila offer him hospitality and provide him an opportunity to earn his livelihood as a tentmaker. On Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, they accompany him as far as Ephesus, where they encounter Apollos, an eloquent preacher in need of further instruction. Priscilla and Aquila take him aside to explain “the Way of God” more accurately.

They served together as equal partners in ministry. If it weren’t for them, Paul’s ministry in Corinth might have turned out quite differently. Apollos’s ministry might not have gotten off the ground at all. Their lasting influence is an example for us all, whether we’re married or not.

Of course, not everyone is married, or will ever be married. Many of the qualities we see in Priscilla and Aquila apply to all of us: hospitality, sacrifice, and the ability to observe and respond to the needs of others.

Discussion

• What lessons can we learn from Priscilla and Aquila’s service?
• What does their example teach us about gender roles in the church?
• What married couples have inspired you through their ministry?
• If you are married, what can you do to enhance your spouse’s service to God and God’s world?
• If you are single, what inspiring qualities do you see in Priscilla and Aquila? How might you follow in their example?

Reference Shelf

Priscilla and Aquila

Wife and husband, Paul’s companions in missions and vocation: Acts 18:1-3, 18-19; Rom 16:3-5, 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19. Both names are originally Latin, indicating Roman connection.

Acts indicates that Aquila was a Jew originally from Pontus, but nothing is said about Priscilla’s race. Some infer from the silence of Acts that she was not Jewish, but Roman. Early citizens of Rome, they were expelled by Emperor Claudius ca. 49–50 C.E. because of Jewish unrest, which Suetonius says was “at the instigation of Chrestus” (Lives 25.4), perhaps a reference to Christ.

In Corinth, Paul met Priscilla and Aquila who by trade were leather-workers (“tentmakers,” Acts 18:3). Tyus began a close relationship as Paul lived and worked with the couple at Corinth for one to two years (Acts 18:11, 18).

Frank Louis Mauldin, “Priscilla and Aquila,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 712.

Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila

Verse 25 states that Apollos is a follower of Jesus, having been instructed in “the Way” of the Lord. The NRSV’s description of Apollos as one who “spoke with burning enthusiasm” is more literally rendered as “being fervent in the spirit he spoke.” Commentators debate whether one should understand the Greek phrase in a psychological sense, referring to Apollos’s fervent spirit (so NRSV), or in a spiritual sense, as referring to the Holy Spirit.

The text also describes Apollos as one who taught accurately “the things concerning Jesus.” Luke adds the curious comment that Apollos knew only the baptism of John, implying at least two things. First, the narrative assumes the influence of John the Baptist to extend beyond Palestine and the duration of John’s life (cf. 19:2-3). Luke does not make much of this, but it offers historians of early Christianity interesting morsels on which to ruminate. Second, Apollos had not been initiated into Christian baptism. Further, the narrator offers no hint that he ever was so initiated.

Though not fully initiated into the fellowship of “the Way” through baptism, Apollos could speak boldly to Jews in the synagogue (v. 26). Verse 25 made clear that he spoke accurately, as well. Though Apollos spoke boldly and accurately, he still had room for growth. Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and “explained the Way of God to him more accurately.” Note that Luke is quite explicit that it was both Priscilla and Aquila who taught this very learned man. He offers no hint that it was inappropriate for this woman to serve as a teacher to this man, offering an interesting contrast with 1 Timothy 3:11-12. The narrator leaves readers with another gap to fill concerning what the couple taught Apollos “more accurately.” Some speculate that it may have had to do with the issue of baptism.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 234–35.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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