Missions at Work - Acts 18:1-28
“Missions to our Judea” defines how we go “On Mission” to our local community. It is true the world has gotten smaller since Biblical times, but we can certainly define our “Jerusalem” as our local community, Boiling Springs. It is important that as we study, we think in terms of how these examples can change our focus, so that as we go “On Mission” we can share the “Good News” to a lost world. For today’s study, we will focus on taking the commonality of a certain aspect of your life and then translating that intentionally to making it your mission field. This is the logical first step in becoming a mission-minded Christian. Today, we will use the biblical example of Priscilla and Aquila to see how we can be “On Mission” in our Jerusalem.
Division #1: Aquila and Priscilla team up with Paul.
Acts 18: 1-3
18 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.
Our first division in this study will look at the background of the Aquila and Priscilla and how it came to be that they were residing and working in Corinth. We see that Paul had left Athens and gone to Corinth. While only 50 miles lies between Athens and Corinth, they were VERY different places. Athens was “highbrow”, lending itself to the arts, education, culture and the polytheistic religion of the Greeks, but Corinth was near trade routes that were known far and wide, so Corinth’s identity was for its commerce. Rome had destroyed Corinth in 146 BC but in 44 AD, Rome built it back after seeing its importance, due to its location. Corinth lent itself to be central to land trade routes running north and south, and sea routes running east and west. With the city, only five years old at this point, rebuilding and expansion was probably ongoing, and most people would have only lived there five years or less.
One important aspect of Paul’s missionary journeys was that he endeavored to take care of himself. Corinth would be a perfect place for a tentmaker to build up some cash reserves because his trade could not only be applied to land caravans (tents) moving north and south but also for the shipping industry (canvas for sails) moving east and west by sea. He did have the right, under church tradition (2 Chronicles 31:4) to ask his church plants to support him while he was on the mission field, but he was a skilled craftsman and didn’t want to be beholding to anybody’s support. As a tentmaker once in Corinth Paul found people of similar work and aligned with them. Historically, people of similar trades aligned with each other. They did not act as if one was in competition with the other, they arranged trade guilds and worked together, so we see Paul meeting Aquila and teaming up with him. The pair of Paul and Aquila may SEEM coincidental, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Both were Jews, both were well traveled (Aquila by trade and Paul by mission), both were refugees in a sense (Paul being run out of town after town by the Jewish establishment, Aquila, as you will learn later, had been driven from Rome by the emperor’s edict), and last but not least, they had the same trade, tent making.
At this point, all we know about Aquila was that he was a Jew from Pontus, which is a region north of Syria that sits on the coast of the Black Sea, in modern-day Turkey. We also know that he was living in Italy, and had to leave Italy because of an edict by Emperor Claudius expelling all the Jews from Rome. Historically, from the writings Suetonius in his “Life of Claudius” we know this edict happened in 49 AD, and was because the Jews were arguing and rioting concerning some person called “Chrestus”. (His writing could be referring to Christ) Rather than let the Jewish disagreement and rioting affect the country, Claudius required all the Jews to leave Italy. It is essential that we as a church body learn from this because it is our actions, both singularly and as a whole, that influence the lost world around us. In the books of secular human history, we see that there was so much infighting between Jews and Christians that there were riots and the Roman government expelled all of them from the entirety of Rome. If we do not act according to God’s Word both inside the doors of the church, and out, we run the risk of alienating people who might be open to the Gospel.
Because of the location and reputation of Corinth, there probably would have been a large contingent of Jews there who had left Rome. Corinth’s reputation for trade (they would go where the jobs were) and location (easy to get to from Italy) makes it reasonable to assume there were a lot of Jews here, which then made this city a perfect opportunity for Paul to reach them with the good news of Christ. So this journey Paul was taking to Corinth made perfect sense. He was going to where the harvest was ready; Jews were exiled here and they might be open to hearing the Gospel of Christ.
We are also introduced to Aquila’s wife, Priscilla. We are not given any lineage for her, other than to say she was Aquila’s wife. We can, however; infer through Luke’s words that she was his workmate and she was a tentmaker as well, given that Luke says in verse 3 that “he (Paul) was a tentmaker as they were”. It also bears stating that there are no references to Priscilla and Aquila in the entire Bible of one without the other.
There also is, however, no mention if Aquila and Priscilla were Christians at this time. The only commonality that Luke records here is that they were tentmakers, like Paul. That they invited him to stay with them speaks to both their heart for hospitality and possibly their family economics. Paul could both help them with their trade and craft, as well as have the fellowship of another Jew who was a foreigner in Corinth. Having another set of hands to help with the work made good economic sense.
Our words & actions are our witness to a spiritually lost world.
Application Question: When have my actions reflected poorly on my witness? Is there anything I can do to rectify the situation? What processes can I put in place to safeguard my testimony?
Division #2: Aquila and Priscilla travel to Ephesus.
Acts 18: 18-21
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. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus
Verse 11 tells us that Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. We can assume that during that time, while he was not preaching, he was still working with Aquila and Priscilla. We do not know if Aquila and Priscilla were Christians before they met Paul or if he led them to faith in Jesus while he stayed with them, but we do know that after a year and a half in Corinth, they were still doing life together. They were working together, and they were worshipping together. By the time Paul left Corinth, a church plant had been started. We see that in verse 7-8 both Titus Justus and Crispus (who was the Synagogue leader) had come to faith in Jesus. Beginning there at the start of his stay in Corinth, a church had been started and was growing.
So after a year and a half in Corinth, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to leave and travel to Ephesus, which is located on the western edge of Syria. If we study this verse for what is not there, we see Silas and Timothy staying behind. Maybe Silas and Timothy were going to stay behind and nurture the church now that Paul was gone, and train and oversee the incoming leadership. We can assume too that Paul was now so joined with Aquila and Priscilla in work and worship that the couple also pulled up roots and went along with him. To what end, we do not know. It may have been a business decision where the economics were perfect to open up a new tent shop in Ephesus, or they could have been urged by Paul to go with him. Maybe Paul saw something in them that was instrumental in planting churches? Maybe after being with Paul every day for 18 months, they could share and evangelize just as eloquently as he could? Maybe he saw patience, kindness, and spiritually maturity in them as a couple that would lend them perfectly to being disciples? Whatever the reason, he knew that wherever they were, they would work together, thrive together, and more importantly be “On Mission” together.
They packed up all their shop, their belongings, their tools, their supplies, their inventory, and headed down to the coast to Cenchrea, to board a ship and travel to Ephesus. The last part of verse 18 also gives us a side note that Paul shaved his head there because of a vow he had taken. There were many types of vows that Jewish people took, but one was probably the “Nazarite” vow. The Nazarite vow was for a specific period of time, and the Jewish man vowed to abstain from wine, all intoxicating liquors, let their hair grow uncut, not enter a house with a dead body nor touch a dead body, or attend any funeral. (See Numbers 6:1-21) Sampson, Samuel, and John the Baptist were all life-long Nazarites, having been pledged as such before their birth.
So we see Paul here at the conclusion of some form of vow, and it was time to shave his head. If he had been in Jerusalem, the shorn hair would have been presented at the Temple along with a burnt offering, a sin offering, and a peace offering, but since he was abroad and his vow had been completed, he shaved his head and continued on his journey. He also could have kept the hair and presented at the Temple in Jerusalem the next time he was there. Depending on the wind, the trip by sea from Cenchrea to Ephesus would take about 10 days. While sea travel was common, most of the sea vessels were specifically made for carrying freight. That being said, this was not like taking a ten-day Carnival cruise; sea travelers were pretty much human cargo.
Once in Ephesus, Paul tells Priscilla and Aquila that he will be leaving them there. Whether or not he had told them of his plans, we don’t know, but we do see that they want him to stay. This is our first verbal evidence of how close they had become. They let him stay with them and work with them, they traveled with him here, and they don’t want him to go. They would be losing their spiritual mentor as well as a third of their workforce. However, Paul, like us, needed to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. God was leading Paul elsewhere, so he had to go. It is sad when we have to say farewell to friends, coworkers, family, and people who are a large part of our lives, but we also must have the attitude that we must be willing to go where the Lord wants us, to serve His purposes. Much like Isaiah said in Isaiah 6:8, “Here am I, send me!”
EXTRA!! EXTRA!! Verse 22 says he was “going up”. REMEMBER that when you read this in relation to travel to & from Jerusalem, it usually denotes going not in a northerly direction, but going higher in elevation.
After making his customary visit to the local Synagogue to share the Gospel of Jesus with the Jews there, Paul boarded a ship headed for Caesarea, which is just north of Jerusalem, and he left Aquila and Priscilla behind in a strategic ministry position. Here is also where some interpretations of the Bible have more detail than others. In the Revised Standard Edition as well as the NIV and NASB, it states that he left, and promised he would return if it was God’s will. However, in the King James Version, it is stated that Paul left Ephesus and headed for Jerusalem to try and make it in time for a feast, probably the Passover.
An “On Mission” believer is willing to “Go”, but is also willing to stay, according to the Holy Spirit’s will.
Application Question: When have I been open to go “whenever and wherever” God wants me to go?
Division #3: Priscilla and Aquila disciple Apollos.
Acts 18: 24-28
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 fervor 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. 27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
Although God calls everyone to some kind of ministry, it does not mean that we can give up our jobs or careers. Even some pastors (called bi-vocational pastors) have jobs outside of the ministry. It is important to remember that we must seek God's wisdom as to how much time we give to work and ministry. God blesses people with jobs/careers to support their daily needs. Often, it is difficult to keep ministry and work balanced, especially when one starts to demand more of your time. Even in your job, however, you can minister to lost souls.
Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt. This city boasted a large Jewish population, and it was the #2 most important city in the region, second only to Rome. Verse 24 tells us that Apollos had “a thorough knowledge of the scriptures”. It was one of his keys to success. He knew what he was talking about. (Keep in mind the scriptures would be the Old Testament writings at this time.) He is also described as being eloquent. Apollos also spoke with “great fervor” which means that he was enthusiastic in his preaching. These qualities that Luke tells us Apollos had would let us know that Apollos was like E.F. Hutton; when he spoke, people listened.
Scripture also tells us that Apollos had been "instructed in the way of the Lord" and "taught about Jesus accurately”. It is unknown as to how he learned about Jesus, but we see that he lacked some understanding of the Christian message, since he knew "only the baptism of John." His message was correct but incomplete. He is a biblical example of a new believer who knows his life has been changed and wants to share it!
Apollos apparently understood that John the Baptist was the forerunner to Jesus, and the time had come for the fulfillment of God’s promises, but that is where his knowledge ended. Maybe he was wondering how to close the loop on his understanding? We don’t know, but we do know that as Apollos was speaking in the Synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla heard him and saw two things. The first thing they saw was that his understanding of Salvation was incomplete. A Christian who exercises discernment knows an incomplete testimony when they hear it. It is not that they spend so much time hearing incomplete ones; it is that they spend so much time focused on the real thing. Anything less than 100% accurate stands out like a sore thumb. They also saw that he was a natural dynamic speaker. With these two bits of information, instead of standing up and yelling across the packed Synagogue and embarrassing him on the spot in front of everybody, they took him aside and invited him back to their house. It was there in a private and one-on-one forum that they explained to him more completely and accurately Jesus’ plan of Salvation. Correction should always be done in private, in a way that does not tear someone down, but builds them up and establishes a bond between believers, so that one can disciple the other. Jesus commanded us to keep fellowship with other believers so we can exemplify His love for us to an unbelieving world.
It is also important to see that when the instruction is done in love, we must be willing to accept it. One thing that great communicators know is that they don’t know everything. Proverbs 15:22 says that with many advisers, plans succeed. Part of being a great teacher is the ability to be taught as well. Teachable people understand that they don’t know it all, and know that the more they learn, the more they can share.
Scripture also shows us that even though Apollos' understanding of Jesus was incomplete, he did not let that stop him from teaching. We must study God’s word, not only to learn more about those that have gone before us but to also give God time to talk to us through His Word. We can never know it all, but when it comes to going “On Mission” for Him, we should give our personal testimonies and tell everything we know about Christ and what He has done for us.
Apollos was then called to go “On Mission” to Achaia (southern Greece near Corinth) and because of Priscilla and Aquila’s training of Apollos, the church in Ephesus wrote letters of recommendation about him and sent them to the church in Corinth. Scripture does not say, but it is not too much of a stretch to assume that the letter was probably signed by Priscilla and Aquila. Can you imagine the reception for Apollos in Corinth? We can assume Apollos received a warm welcome because the church read that Priscilla and Aquila, who left with Paul, were recommending Apollos!
Christians are to disciple others in love, so that relationships are deepened and the body of Christ is built up.
Application Question: When have I quietly and lovingly discipled or brought another person to a more complete understanding of Salvation?
Division #4: Priscilla and Aquila open their home.
1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19, Romans 16:3-5
1 Cor 16:19 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.
2 Tim 4:19 Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus.
Romans 16:3-5 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.
Over the first 3 divisions, we have seen that Aquila and Priscilla were partners in trade, travel, and teaching. Lastly, we see that they were an active part in the ministry of Paul and the ministry of the church. Paul did have a special bond with them. Not only did they have the commonality of the same trade, they shared the same faith and the same desire for that faith to spread.
But while Paul went all over planting churches and ministering to those churches that were growing, Priscilla and Aquila were "On Mission" where they lived. They treated wherever they lived as their "Jerusalem". Whenever they landed in a new town, they became active and played a primary role in the local church.
The commonality they shared with Paul made Aquila and Priscilla very special to him. This is nowhere better evidenced than in the letters Paul wrote to churches.
We see that when Paul wrote to the church back in Corinth, he mentioned that Priscilla and Aquila send their warm regards. Most likely Priscilla and Aquila at this point were still in Ephesus, and this was a church they had planted in their home. At first, learning from Paul, they probably reasoned with folks at the Synagogue (which was where they met Apollos) but after the number of believers converted from Judaism grew, they would have had to meet somewhere else. A large number of converts to Christianity from Judaism would not be welcome. Learning from their exile from Italy, they would not have tried to cause dissension and riots in the Synagogue. They also probably still kept in touch with friends that were still back in Corinth, and Paul knew their home church would be glad to hear about how they were doing.
In Paul's second letter to Timothy, we assume that the church in Ephesus that had been meeting in Priscilla and Aquila's house had now grown to meeting at a regular church building. Aquila and Priscilla were still there when Paul wrote this letter, but we see that Timothy was leading the church full time now. We don’t know the exact details of Priscilla and Aquila’s life. They may not have been called into full-time ministry and their tent-making company may have taken up all their time. They may have also been preparing to return to Italy as the edict forcing them to leave had now expired. Whatever the reason, Timothy was the leader of the church, but Priscilla and Aquila still were important enough for Paul to mention them in this letter.
The last time we hear about Aquila and Priscilla, it seems they are finally back home in Rome. And true to form of an “On Mission” believer, they again have a church meeting in their home. This points to their desire as a couple to continue to be "On Mission". Wherever they went, they played an integral role in the local church. Paul’s letter also includes the fact that they had laid down their lives for him. What he is referring to, we do not know. He also says that they were an integral part of reaching the Gentiles and that all churches (even ours) owe them a debt of gratitude.
Christians “On Mission” serve where they are, in whatever capacity they can, for the furthering of the body of Christ.
Application Question: In what ways can I change my focus so that I stay “On Mission” every day?