Many of the characters in this series have been people that Paul has sought to draw alongside to encourage and to help grow in their faith. They in turn have been encouraged to imitate Paul in doing likewise for others. This is one of the key characteristics of disciple-making. In the New Testament the word Parakletos is used four times (John 14:16, 26, 15:26, 16:7) of the Holy Spirit and literally means to be called beside. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to draw alongside us and continue His ministry in and through our lives. It is also a pretty good picture of what it means for us to draw alongside the people around us.
There are many good examples of people who draw alongside others to help and encourage them. Think for example of Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings who stubbornly accompanied Frodo all the way from the Shire, to the fires of Mount Doom. Towards the end of their epic journey Sam is wondering whether they will be put into songs or tales:
“Sam: I wonder if we’ll ever be put into songs or tales. Frodo: What? Sam: I wonder if people will ever say, ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.’ And they’ll say ‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.’ Frodo: You’ve left out one of the chief characters – Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo: Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.”The Lord of the Rings
Frodo really did need Sam alongside him and probably wouldn’t have got far without him. This example is about companionship but when we talk about drawing alongside we are thinking more about matters of faith. So we must ask what is our purpose in drawing alongside others? Paul spells this out in his letter to the Philippians, where he is wrestling with his desire to depart and be with Christ, something he says, is better by far. He desires to go and be with his Saviour, but he knows that for their sake, he must remain. Listen to what Paul says about why he is so sure that he must continue with them:
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.Philippians 1:25-26
Paul is always looking to be fruitful in the lives of others – this is part of his disciple-making DNA. Paul says that continuing was for their progress and joy in the faith. Yet Paul doesn’t stop there, but says that this is so that their boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on his account. Wow that is quite the purpose statement! Other versions translate this as ‘take pride in Christ’ (NLT), ‘overflow in Christ’ (AMP) or ‘rejoice abundantly’ (KJV). Paul wants them to delight in Christ and have that delight overflowing in and through their lives on account of his ministry with them. For me this is the vision that gets me out of bed in the morning!
1. Everyday Discipling (Acts 18:1-4):
When Paul came to Corinth he met Priscilla and Aquila. They had recently arrived in Corinth, having been kicked out of Rome by Emperor Claudius:
1 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. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.Acts 18:1-4
We are told very clearly that Aquila was a Jew and a native of Pontus which was quite a long way from Corinth or Rome. He was married to Priscilla, who seems more likely to have been a Gentile, possibly from Rome. Though we are not told either way, I think it is also likely that they were Christians before they met Paul. Firstly, he never mentions them being converted through his ministry like he does with others. Secondly, it would explain their willingness to associate with Paul, having been kicked out of Rome for their connections with Jesus. When Paul arrives he connects with them because of their shared background as tentmakers. It was his natural point of contact and he begins to live and work with them in Corinth.
It must have been quite the experience to work with Paul. Making tents, working with leather and the associated trading that went with their work must have been quite easy to start up in a new location. It was also the platform for Paul to speak into their lives and this time of working fulltime together must have been mind-blowing. Imagine the conversations that Paul must have had with them – the opportunity to ask their questions and share their struggles. This is a fantastic example of what it means to draw alongside others.
2. The Impact of Disciple-Making (Acts 18:18-28):
Paul spent 18 months in Corinth before saying goodbye to the young church there and leaving with Priscilla & Aquila for Ephesus. It seems however that Paul only spent a brief time in Ephesus before continuing his journey onward. However this time, he leaves Priscilla & Aquila in Ephesus, to continue the ministry there. During this time away, Priscilla & Aquila encounter our third star character, Apollos. He was also a Jew and a native of Alexandria which was a key school for Jewish thought in Egypt. It rose to prominence between the 2nd and 7th centuries but our only link in Scripture is this man, Apollos!
24 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 fervour 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.Acts 18:24-28
Apollos is described as a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. This was surely thanks to his beginnings in the school of Alexandria. We are also told that he had been instructed in the way of the Lord, possibly also in Alexandria, or perhaps more likely, having encountered the ministry of John the Baptist. But his knowledge of Jesus seems to have been incomplete, he spoke with great fervour and taught accurately about Jesus, but knew only the baptism of John. Could it be that he had heard about Jesus being the Messiah from John the Baptist, but given that Jesus outlived John the Baptist, he had not understood about the death and resurrection of Jesus or about the coming of His Holy Spirit? We cannot be sure but something along these lines seems likely.
Upon hearing this man speak, Priscilla & Aquila invite him back to their home so that they can explain the way of God more adequately to him. What gets me very excited here is that Priscilla & Aquila were doing just what Paul had done with them. They very gently took him aside and helped fill in the gaps of his understanding and experience. This was highly effective, for when Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, he was encouraged to do so by the church, and in Achaia he was a great help to those who by grace had believed, and he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents and proved that Jesus was the Messiah. In these things we find him quickly turning his energies to making disciples of others.
3. Discipling in the Home (1 Cor 16:19, Romans 16:3, 5):
Paul later returned to Ephesus as recorded in Acts 19 and while there he wrote 1 Corinthians. At the end of that letter there is a greeting from them and the church that met in their home. Likewise, when Paul writes to the Romans we find him greeting Priscilla & Aquila and the church that met in their home. It seems that they subsequently travelled back to Rome after their time in Ephesus. The picture that we are starting to see is of Priscilla & Aquila continuously inviting people into their home (e.g., Paul, Apollos and likely many more). They also used their home to host churches in Corinth, Ephesus and Rome. Despite being lesser known characters, we must conclude that they were very influential people, both to Paul and within the early church. Their use of their home was right at the heart of their ministry and it was a great means for them to serve together as a couple!
Those who know us well will know that for the past two decades we have been thrilled to open up our own home in Southampton to countless people. It has been a key platform through which we have also sought to speak into the lives of others. What we see in the example of Priscilla & Aquila is a lesson in how to minister through the everyday things of life, and the Kingdom potential born out of using what God has blessed us with, in order to bless others.
4. The Cost of Making disciples (Romans 16:3-4):
There is one last reference to Priscilla & Aquila where Paul affirms them as his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. He also says that they were willing to risk their lives, both for his sake and for the sake of the gospel:
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow 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.Romans 16:3-4
It is clear to see the bonds of love between Paul, Priscilla & Aquila. Risking our lives for others is quite a big deal, but it seems that they could see that doing so was a matter of paramount importance. We don’t know the circumstances of this act of love, but some have suggested it could be connected with the troubles he experienced in the province of Asia (2 Cor 1:8-11).
You don’t need to be involved in disciple-making for long to know that there is a great price to pay in doing so. The costs related to our time and resources go without saying. The sacrifice in terms of our reputation or the personal risk associated with putting our necks on the line for Jesus, can be terrifying, but ever so worth it. The cost of putting ourselves at the forefront of what is a spiritual battle in the lives of others is often undervalued. We should not go into these things blindly, but there is much pressure to choose the easy option rather than working for the joy and progress of others.
Priscilla, Aquila and even Apollos were pretty ordinary people who God used in extraordinary ways. The lives of all these characters are inspiring not because of how amazing they were, but because of how amazing God is.
We began by talking about what it means to be alongsiders to the people around us. This is how Paul sought to multiply his life: by investing in others in such a way that they would be able to make disciples, who make disciples. There was a generational impact in how Paul worked and it was a large part of why the gospel spread rapidly like the ripples spreading out from a splash of water. I hope that you too will be encouraged to get alongside someone and see what God can do!
See other posts in this series
- Paul & Ananias: The People God Uses
- Paul & Barnabas: The Power of Encouragement
- Paul & Timothy: Setting an Example
- Paul & Titus: Developing Leadership
- Paul & Silas: Sharing our Lives
- Paul & Lydia: Using our Resources
- Paul & Epaphras: Carrying the Gospel
- Paul, Priscilla, Aquila & Apollos: Generations
- Paul & Luke: Firm Friendship