the Marketplace - Case Study 3 – Aquila and Priscilla
Where does “work” stop and
“ministry” begin? Is there a Biblical distinction? Do
we have to go “out of the world” to begin serving God?
Where did this idea come from anyway? Certainly not the Bible. One
version of the New Testament says that, wherever the early Christians
went, they “gossiped the Gospel”. Church planting in the
Book of Acts was almost always undertaken by people who had full-time
jobs and spent the best hours of their weeks in the real world, amid
noise, industry, people, commerce, pain, debate and dysfunction.
That was the norm.
While it is true that “tentmaking”
(serving God while studying, parenting or working in a profession)
divides peoples’ time, it is possibly more effective in the
long-run than many models of full-time ministry. To illustrate the
point, let’s look at some examples from the life and time of
Paul, starting with a married couple called Aquila and Priscilla.
(Read Acts 18 for a partial account of their lives.)
Background – a brief synopsis
of Aquila’s and Priscilla’s life
Aquila and Priscilla were Jews. By
profession, they were makers of tents. They lived in the first
century and came to be close companions of the Apostle Paul.
Originally from Rome (which had a
large Jewish quarter on the banks of the Tiber River), they were
driven out of the city following a decree by Claudius Caesar.
Suetonius tells us that Claudius banished all Jews from Rome because
of alleged disturbances by Jews who followed one “Chrestus”.
Some background will be helpful at
this point. Christianity was probably introduced into Rome by Jews
who were converted at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
These believers, and those won to faith in Christ through their
teachings, were persecuted by their fellow Jews, sometimes
occasioning civil disturbances. During the early decades of
Christianity, the Roman authorities regarded Christianity as a sect
of Judaism. From Claudius’ perspective, it made eminent sense
to solve the problem once and for all by expelling all Jewish
residents of the city
As a result of this decree, Aquila and
Priscilla would have lost most of their business contacts, their
home, savings and security. Expelled from their comfort zones they
Instead of becoming bitter, they got
on with the task of re-establishing their tentmaking business and
attracting new customers in another place. They chose Corinth, a
Greek city with a large Jewish population. After all, they needed
money to live. Everyone used tents and other leather products and
they had portable skills.
However, Corinth was a city with a
reputation for sexual immorality. In classical Greek, to “act
like a Corinthian” was to practice fornication, and a
"Corinthian companion” was a prostitute. Immorality was
practiced as part of the worship of Aphrodite (the goddess of
fertility). One ancient writer described Corinth as a town where
“none but the tough could survive.” It lay on a major
crossroad of the Roman Empire and was a key place to plant a church;
for those who had the strength of character and determination to
It was in this context that Aquila and
Priscilla met the Apostle Paul and ended up in the Bible as two of
Christianity’s first marketplace church planters.
Paul had just set out on his third
missionary journey. Up to this point, he had gone about teaching and
preaching the Gospel around the Eastern end of the Mediterranean,
establishing churches, training leaders and combating false teaching.
He had faced death, opposition on the part of the Roman authorities
and vilification by the Jewish leadership. He had even been targeted
and maligned by jealous Christians. In spite of all this, he had
kept going from city to city. When he arrived in Corinth, he struck
up a long-term friendship with Aquila and his wife.
There is no evidence this couple were
full-time or professional “ministers”. On the contrary,
they worked for a living, as did Paul (at least in Corinth, cf Acts
20:34-35; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:15, 18; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2
Thessalonians 3:8). The
notion of “laity” did not occur during the days of the
New Testament. The early Christians were non- professionally
mission-minded. They usually had a global Christian perspective that
integrated work and ministry, and did not practice a secular-sacred
divide. After all, why should our faith be separated from our work
Like Aquilla and Priscilla, Paul made
tents and other leather goods to earn a living during his travels.
Apart from his training as a Pharisee, he was also brought up with a
trade skill (most Rabbis were bi-vocational and Paul probably learned
tentmaking in his youth). Philippians 4:15 indicates that there were
times when few or no churches supported him financially in his
apostolic work. There were no pay structures, superannuation funds
or medical benefit schemes. So, he made tents and sold them to
The term “tentmaker” has
since entered the evangelical patois and applies to Christians who
are equipped with secular skills and use them to earn a living while
undertaking Christian work, often in so-called closed countries. In
reality, all Christian can be “tent-makers” in their
marketplaces. We can be good at what we do and seize opportunities
to serve God where we are. For some, however, that requires a brand
new paradigm, a reformed way of thinking.
At the end of a year and a half the
Jews in Corinth fomented a wave of resentment and persecution against
Paul and his two friends and they were expelled. They relocated to
Ephesus, leaving a functioning infant church in their wake.
So effective was the relationship
between Paul, Aquila and Priscilla that they moved to Ephesus
together. Paul called them his “fellow-workers”. They
also became close friends with Timothy, a ministry companion of Paul
(2 Timothy 4:19). After his subsequent departure for Syria they
built up the church in Ephesus, winning people to Christ, encouraging
the downcast, teaching those unlearned in the things of God and
providing leadership for waverers. They functioned within their
callings, making tents, while using their home for church meetings (1
Corinthians 16:19). They were true role models in the marketplace.
Some time after Paul’s
departure, a learned Jewish man from Alexandria (North Africa), named
Apollos, came to Ephesus. Apollos had already accepted the Christian
faith and regularly preached in Jewish synagogues. (It was common
practice for synagogue leaders to open their pulpits to Jewish men
visiting from other places.) He was persuasive, he was bold and
zealous for Christ, he was cultured, well educated and a great
orator. However, he only had half the story. For example, his idea
of water baptism was that it should be done in the name of John the
Baptist. Maybe there were other inconsistencies in the way he
understood the mission and work of Christ. It is not clear how or
where he became a Christian, but there were gaps in his teaching that
When Aquila and Priscilla heard
Apollos preach in Ephesus they liked his message, but realized that
he was not fully conversant with Christian teaching. They got
alongside him, invited him into their home, shared their lives with
him (in private), taught him more fully about Christianity and
encouraged him in his ministry. They became his teachers and
mentors. Because Apollos was willing to learn (an important rider),
he developed a very effective ministry.
A few years later the couple returned
to Rome. We are not told why. In his letter to the Roman believers
Paul sends the couple personal greetings. When it was not viable for
Christians in Rome to have a special place for worship, they met in
Aquila and Priscilla’s home (Romans 16:5).
characteristics of Aquila
Priscilla set an example by the way they lived. Two thousand years
later we are still talking about them. They were heroes of church
planting to Paul and the New Testament church. Having said that, few
Christians know their names. Why is this so? We know all about
Peter, James and John, but very little about these two wonderful
Christians who possibly witnessed to more people about Christ, in
more places, than most of the disciples put together.
something about the portrayal of the inner group of Jesus’
Disciples, and the Apostle Paul, that makes us think they were too
“exalted” for us to copy. I distinctly recall a
conversation between my parents and the leaders of their denomination
in Brisbane (Australia). When disagreement occurred over some
matters of doctrine (the church was experiencing a short-lived wave
of theological liberalism at the time), the head of the delegation
dismissively asked my mother, “Who do you think you are, the
pillars of the early church this way we create an artificial grading
of real Christianity, in which the “A” grade consists of
people mentioned in the Bible and some modern leaders, while the “B”
or “C” grades consist of the rest of us. Such hierarchy
is not Biblical. Nevertheless, churches make icons and stained glass
windows featuring just a few key figures. We name our children after
Priscilla were champions of the early church. They got involved
where they were. They continually looked for ways to serve God and
others. They didn’t complain when they were abused. Nothing
was too hard. Their friendship and encouragement probably helped
Paul cope with his low times in Corinth (cf 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). He
was to write about their collaboration:
Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked
their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles
are grateful to them.” (Romans 16:3-4)
is recorded is only part of the story
On the other
hand, there is something compelling about Aquila and Priscilla, and
it resides in the commonplace. They were ordinary Christians,
sitting in their workshop each day, sewing canvases, haggling with
merchants and selling the finished products (low paid jobs), while
sharing the Gospel with their friends. The locus of their ministry
was the “agora”, literally the marketplace.
I have met many refugees, mainly from
Africa and the Middle East. Aquila and Priscilla would satisfy the
1951 United Nations Refugee Convention definition of “refugees”.
Thankfully, few of us will ever become refugees, in the legal sense
of the word. But there is often more to it than events suggest.
Sometimes we find God behind changes we experience. We crowd our
diaries with so many things we fail to see the world passing by.
Then God pushes us out of our nests. We find change hard. We don’t
like letting go of familiar things. But we need to. Sometimes true
freedom comes when we are disencumbered, when what is close to us
dissolves, loses its sheen or importance, or is ripped away. We
wouldn’t normally ask for radical change, but shouldn’t
be shocked if it happens.
Priscilla took it on themselves to look after new Christians and turn
them into active followers of Christ. They risked their lives
serving God. All of the Gentile churches from east to west were
indebted to them in some way. When they managed to return to Rome
they established a church in that city. Remember, they were what
some people today would call “lay Christians” (ie
non-professionals). They show by their lives that we can all be
effective as examples, making disciples, helping others to grow,
laying foundations and bringing about lasting change in other
peoples’ lives, just by being there.
So, what does all this mean for us?
In the workplace
today we hear a lot today about mentoring (coming alongside
someone and inviting him or her to learn from your example).
One of Singapore’s three Prime Ministers is known as the
aware of the propensity of children to imitate what they see and
hear, in terms of language, attitudes, values and character. We hope
(and sometimes dread) that they will end up just like us. Like
mother ducks, when we turn around, we find them following in our
footsteps. We act as role models, for good or for bad. Someone has
said that, “Young people today are looking for a hero to
follow, a cause to believe in and a flag to fly. Without that they
move aimlessly in a world of boredom that has only one dark exit”.
That is why
tragedy strikes when a pop star or sporting hero falls through drug
addiction or relationship scandals, when dominating leaders prove
corrupt, when parents discover they have been poor models as their
kids copy them and go astray. Without the right examples, the next
generation will grow up without wisdom, vision, integrity or the
ability to discern what is right and do it. With the right kinds of
examples, however, they will break through confusion and despair and
learn to make the right decisions and build their futures with hope.
Allow God to use you to mentor others.
As Christians we
need (and often need to be)
role models whom others can trust, whose judgment they can safely
follow. Not mere managers, telling people how to think and what to
do (lamentably, there are far too many in this category), but real
leaders whom others will follow. Jesus is in heaven and we are on
the earth. We are living out the realities of the Kingdom of God
among our peers. The Holy Spirit has come to empower us to be the
People of God. If Jesus called His generation “evil and
adulterous” (Matthew 12:39) I wonder what He would call this
one. The sins of Corinth are common in our day. Society needs
examples of practical Christian living, men and women whose personal
victories inspire others to resist compromise and to lively wholly
for Christ. You can be such a role model.
circumstances throw you together with others, learn to ask, “What
is God’s plan in all this”. It is easy to sink into
despondency when reverses occur. But there is a plan, a purpose.
Start to approach issues with, “Speak Lord” (1 Samuel
3:10). If our purpose comes from God, we will be prepared to be
vulnerable, by human standards.
Be willing to
serve others. The Bible says that everyone looks out for their own
interests (Philippians 2:21). We need to be people like Aquila and
Priscilla, willing to serve those around us and conscious of their
needs, prepared to serve God in practical ways, flesh and blood
examples “living in the house next door” of the love and
message of Christ. Every one of us is in a situation where we can
influence others, where we can be role models, inviting people to
follow us as we follow Christ.
Pray for an
anointing to be effective where you are. Some churches pray and
anoint their members for Christian work in the marketplace. Why not?
Working full-time in a non-Christian environment can be as much a
“calling” as being clad with denominationally badged
Maybe you have
never thought of it like that, but it is a Biblical model that we all
need to take seriously. It works, first, by drawing closer to Christ
so that we can become disciples worth following, then reaching out
and investing our lives in others, ministering to them and making our
interests and priorities intersect with God’s purposes, for His
Like Aquila and
Priscilla, we also need a right understanding of ministry, in terms
of serving God and working with unbelievers, which Jesus usually did.
You can be used by God to equip, train and encourage others for
ministry at their places of work. That will involve a Biblical
appreciation of vocation, the nature and purpose of work and
spiritual values and when and how to mix faith and work sensitively
and effectively. As Christians we derive our purpose and value in
work from God, not from the teachings of Weber (1864-1920; Weber
encapsulated his ideas in The
Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,
published in 1904-05, Emile Durkheim (the Father of Sociology,
1858-1917) or other philosophers who have studied the subject. We
are more than wage slaves (Marx) serving the interests of capital.
We are slaves of Christ, serving others (Ephesians 4:28) as though we
are serving Him.
Like Aquila and
Priscilla we can also maintain integrity despite the prevailing
(usually immoral) climate. Serving God in Corinth, where illicit sex
and shady business practices were common elements of accepted, but
degrading, religious and economic practices, would have been much
harder than in more conservative societies like ours. Sometimes we
feel we are the only Christians where we work, study or bring up our
children. The lesson from Aquilla’s and Priscilla’s
experience is that the pressures of where we live, work and play
should never stop us “being” Christians where we are.
Heroes in action
the Gospel is our bottom line. It starts with communicating with the
Holy Spirit at home, at school or university and on the job. Being
the People of God involves being much more than mouthpieces of
Christian clichés and parrots of doctrinal statements we don’t
necessarily understand. It means knowing what we believe (and why),
developing relational skills that work, managing conflict the right
way, handling change and recovering from setbacks on the basis of
faith in God.
You may not be a preacher, church
worker or home group leader, but you can serve God where you are.
You may not feel particularly strong when the pressure is on, but the
Holy Spirit living inside of you can give you the strength and wisdom
to be effective. Ask God to show you how your life can speak into
the lives of others, even when you don’t open your mouth.
Be a hero of the
Christian faith, like Aquila and Priscilla. You don’t have to
be a charismatic leader in mission or a Western church to make a
difference in someone else’s life. You can make connections no
one else can, in your marketplace. All it takes is the first step.
The rest is up to God.