“Who have for my life laid down their own necks”
In these studies of Paul and his companions we certainly cannot overlook the lovely husband and wife team of Aquila and Priscilla. Their initial meeting with Paul is described in Acts 18:1-3. “After these things Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth; and found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla: (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome); and came unto them.”
Paul had just come from Athens where he had disputed with the Greek philosophers and preached to others as he had opportunity. A few are named who did believe but in the main his ministry among these worldly-wise was fruitless. At least there is no record of any church being established at Athens. Paul may have had the Athenians in mind when he wrote: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. … Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (I Corinthians 1:18,20).
When Paul came to Corinth it appears he was somewhat depressed and discouraged. In I Thessalonians 3:1 he speaks of being alone at Athens, and later he expressed his feelings when coming to Corinth, for he wrote: “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (I Corinthians 2:3). He was alone and awaiting the arrival of Silas and Timothy. He was greatly in need of human companionship and it was at this time that God brought into his life this dear couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who would be his lifelong friends and helpers. What a comfort it must have been to the apostle when he was brought to their home, and what blessed fellowship as they worked together each day and talked about the things of the Lord.
Priscilla and Aquila were originally from Pontus, a rich province on the shores of the Black Sea. Jews of the dispersion resided there and were addressed in one of Peter’s epistles. Some of them were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and were in Peter’s audience. Aquila and Priscilla had but recently been in Rome but were forced to leave Rome when the Jews were expelled from that city by the edict of Claudius Caesar. Perhaps they were on the way back to Pontus and stopped and set up shop in Corinth to replenish their finances. It would appear, however, from some of the references to them, that they were persons of some means. There at Corinth they met Paul, it may have been in the synagogue or in the marketplace. One of the things that brought them together was their common trade, for by their occupation they were tentmakers.
Paul had a trade because all Jewish boys, no matter how wealthy the family, were taught a trade. Of course he was well educated otherwise, probably at the university in Tarsus and then in the rabbinical school in Jerusalem where he studied at the feet of Gamaliel, the great Hebrew scholar. Paul had been taught to be a tentmaker and he often supported himself in the ministry by working at his trade. He reminded the Thessalonians that this was the case when he was in their midst. He wrote, “For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail; for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God” (I Thessalonians 2:9). And again he wrote, “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought, but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you” (II Thessalonians 3:8).
Paul sometimes used the language of a tentmaker. For instance, a verse often quoted is II Timothy 2:15 and one of the lines is “rightly dividing the word of truth.” The Greek “ortho tomounto” means “rightly cutting” or “straight cutting” the word of truth. Paul had come from Cilicia, noted for producing goat’s hair cloth used in tentmaking, and when he was at work he had to cut the tent panels straight if they were to make good tents. It is good there are still some of the Lord’s tentmakers today; those who are willing to work with their hands to carry on a ministry for Christ. Some may be inclined to look down on these tentmakers as though they were somehow inferior to so-called fulltime workers. But no, these blessed tentmakers are to be praised. They are not in the ministry simply as a profession but are engaged in it out of a deep conviction, and willing to sacrifice in order to reach others with the Word of truth.
Corinth was the capital of Achaia. It had been destroyed in 146 B.C. but rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. Located on an isthmus, Corinth had two seaports, one facing Europe and the other facing Asia, so it was a city bustling with commerce and a meeting place of East and West. Being a great commercial center it had a large Jewish colony. The estimated population at that time was about 200,000 free men and 500,000 slaves, the same ratio as in most Greek cities. Corinth was noted for its wealth and wickedness, and it was characterized by both luxuriousness and licentiousness. There were 1,000 prostitutes used in connection with the heathen worship at the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, or a better name would have been lust. To call one a “Corinthian” meant they were given over to a life of dissipation and debauchery. Little wonder Paul wrote, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10). Then he could add, “And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (vs. 11). Where sin abounds grace doth much more abound. The church at Corinth was indeed a miracle of grace.
There are six references in the New Testament to Aquila and Priscilla. In half of them Priscilla is named first. It may be she was the more learned of the two and even of a noble family. This husband and wife team were truly laborers together, the two become one, and it is of interest to note that neither one is ever mentioned apart from the other. They were an effective team and demonstrated the power of a united effort, as the Scripture states: “How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight” (Deuteronomy 32:30). Whether the two were believers before meeting Paul is not known. Some feel that if they were brought to Christ through Paul that Luke would have recorded that fact. This, of course, is no conclusive proof as Luke had to write what the Holy Spirit moved him to write. They did, though, learn some wonderful new truth through Paul. We have seen what a blessing Aquila and Priscilla were to the apostle as this matron and her husband took him into their home and gave him their friendship and fellowship. But Paul in turn was a great blessing to them as he unfolded the wondrous truth he had received from the risen Lord Jesus. How thrilled they must have been as they heard of God’s grace manifesto, that He is bypassing Israel and reaching out in grace to all everywhere and offering to save any sinner who will put their trust in His Son. Surely Aquila and Priscilla rejoiced to learn of their position in Christ as God’s dear children, and to know they were no longer under Israel’s law but under grace. They had been a blessing to Paul but they were doubly blessed through him.
Paul’s ministry at Corinth began in the synagogue where he boldly disputed with both Jews and Greeks. With the arrival of Silas and Timothy he was further emboldened. However, when the Jews opposed and blasphemed he left the synagogue and went next door into the house of a devout Gentile named Justus and there continued his work of preaching Christ. Perhaps Paul was a bit dismayed at this particular time and even thinking of moving on. We know Paul is the pattern saint but he was still a man of like passions as we. On the one hand was Jewish opposition and on the other hand were the Greeks who said the gospel message was moronic. Then too, the immorality and open sin which was evident on every hand, and which was abhorrent to his nature both as a Pharisee and as a Christian, was also a disturbing factor. Elijah of old felt that he alone was left to serve Jehovah, but the Lord reminded him that He still had thousands who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Paul may have felt alone, and the Lord, aware of his need, spoke to him in a night vision, saying: “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). It has been said the Lord took a census and saw those whose hearts would be opened and who would respond to the good news of salvation. Paul and his companions, with this word of encouragement from the Lord, continued giving out the Word with renewed zeal. For a year and a half Paul stayed at Corinth and souls were saved, some of whom are named, and a church was established.
When Paul left Corinth and went to Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla accompanied him and when the apostle continued on to Jerusalem these two remained at Ephesus. We have already seen that shortly thereafter Apollos appeared and Priscilla and Aquila took him under their wing and instructed him more perfectly in the way of God. They had learned some special secret truth from Paul and now they were passing this truth on to others. This ought to be true of all believers. We take in so that we may give out. If we have been taught and blessed by the truth concerning the unsearchable riches of God’s grace, then we should not keep it to ourselves but should seek to share it with others. There are many ways in seeking to make the truth known. All are not preachers and able to speak publicly, but all can pray for open doors for the gospel and for open hearts to receive it. Many can give in support of those seeking to make known the rightly divided Word, and some can follow the example of Priscilla and Aquila and use their home to reach others.
In the several references to Aquila and Priscilla it is evident that even though their work as tentmakers kept them on the move they always remained in close touch with Paul and were actively serving the Lord in the various places where they sojourned. We have visited them in Corinth and Ephesus, and a bit later when Paul wrote the Roman epistle, we find them back in Rome. Their tentmaking and pilgrim lifestyle reminds us that we believers are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, and with each day’s tramping we’re nightly camping a day’s march nearer home.
Among the many fine attributes possessed by Aquila and Priscilla, and for which they are to be admired, was the gift of hospitality. They met Paul and took him right into their home and were a strength and solace to him. They met Apollos and took him right into their home and shared the truth with him. Then in two places Paul refers to them and mentions “the church that is in their house.” This phrase is evidence that wherever they lived these two made their home a shelter for those who named the name of Christ, a place where God’s people were ever welcome. It may be as we approach the end of the age and as the darkness deepens that we in America will have to return to these house churches, even as in China and other countries today. This may be a good thing, for it would surely guarantee the church would be less worldly and more spiritual. With their costly structures many churches have become little more than a social club, and most of the time given to activities that have little or no Scriptural warrant. In the home churches the emphasis would be where it belongs; on worship, prayer, praise, and the preaching of the Word.
Priscilla and Aquila, in opening their home to the followers of Christ, opened their home to Christ Himself, for He said: “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). Also, in thus opening their home they showed not only their generosity and hospitality but their heroism as well. Their home became the meeting place of the Christians and this could at any time bring violence or death. That they were true heroes is shown by Paul’s statement when he wrote: “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” (Romans 16:3-4). This facing of danger on Paul’s behalf likely happened during the riot at Ephesus when the apostle’s life was jeopardized. What a selfless couple were these dear saints of God who faced danger and hazarded their lives on behalf of the Lord’s messenger. How fortunate that Paul should have companions like them. Paul himself gave thanks to God for them as did also all the churches of the Gentiles. And we today give thanks for them and for their Christ-honoring lives, and for their labours and sacrifices which enabled Paul to complete his ministry so that the truth could come down to us in all its purity and power. In the verses quoted above Paul refers to Aquila and Priscilla as “my helpers in Christ Jesus.” What a wonderful friend and companion is a helper. A true helper is one who is willing to take orders and not seek any glory for self, one who can always be depended upon, and one who is ever ready to help whatever the task may be. Paul was blessed by having many such helpers and Aquila and Priscilla were chief among them. Thankfully we have many such among God’s people today, and may the Lord increase their number.
The last reference to our beloved partners is in II Timothy 4:19 where the aged apostle, shortly before his martyrdom, wrote: “Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.” May our hearts and lives be as dedicated to the Lord as were theirs.