Most Bible readers are familiar with the “heavyweights” of the early Church. We know about Paul and Peter, Barnabas and Mark. But these fellows didn’t do all the work in spreading the Gospel and building the Church. They had help. There were many men and women during the New Testament era that quietly went about doing the work of evangelism in the towns, cities, and hamlets where they lived and worked. We know the names of some of these relatively unknown servants of Christ. People like Julia, Persis, and somebody named Apelles. But there were countless individuals who were never named. In Ephesians 4, Paul wrote something that is very significant to the Christian:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1 – 3 | TNIV)
That’s an admonition all believers from all churches from any time in history need to keep foremost in their minds. The word “then” (or “therefore” in some other translations) points the reader to something Paul had been talking about. He had been dealing with certain doctrinal truths in the first three chapters of this letter, but he had also made it clear that he was a “prisoner for the Lord,” meaning that he was in prison for doing the work of Christ. He wasn’t looking for sympathy, but rather gently making the connection between the doctrines he had just written about and the Ephesians’ responsibility to “live a life worthy” of their calling as he has been doing even though he was in prison for doing just that. The modern Christian needs to understand that no matter what their circumstances, it is their obligation to live lives that proclaim their faith in word and deed.
Sometimes it’s dangerous to live for Christ. Sometimes it’s inconvenient to share your faith with others in public or to serve others in the Body of Christ. Your circumstances are absolutely irrelevant when it comes to pulling your weight as a servant of Christ. No matter what, Christians have been called to be “humble and gentle,” “patient with each other.” That may be hard for some of us during the best of times, but Paul says we all ought to be that way all the time! This how we have been called to live.
In Romans 16, Paul lists a bunch of Christians that had been living lives worthy of their calling.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. (Romans 16:1, 2 | TNIV)
We don’t know much about Phoebe. Her name means “radiant” or “bright,” and she certainly was as far as Paul was concerned. We don’t know all that she did for her church in Cenchreae, but for Paul, her hospitality was worthy of note and commendation. And because she extended hospitality to people like Paul – because she was thoughtful and considerate toward other believers – she deserved to receive that back in kind.
The ministry of hospitality, Acts 18:1 – 4
Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he became acquainted with a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently arrived from Italy with his wife, Priscilla. They had been expelled from Italy as a result of Claudius Caesar’s order to deport all Jews from Rome. Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was. Each Sabbath found Paul at the synagogue, trying to convince the Jews and Greeks alike. (Acts 18:1 – 4 | TLB)
That paragraph doesn’t tell the whole story. By the time Paul got to Corinth, he was a beaten man. He was a discouraged man. His work throughout Europe didn’t go well. Philippi, Thessalonica, Berra, and Athens wore the apostle out. Here he was, a highly educated man, full time Bible teacher and preacher and pastor forced to make tents just to get by because so many of the Christians he came in contact with either too poor to help support the man in his ministry or, more likely the case, just to cheap and thoughtless.
But as is often the case, God took a lousy situation and made it work for His servant. Because he was forced to do some secular work to support his sacred calling, Paul met a couple of Jews who had been kicked out of Rome under the edict of Claudius in 49 AD. Their names were Priscilla and Aquila, and they were also tent makers and Paul worked alongside them for a time in Corinth, and he also lived with them. Their common occupation drew them together. But even more than that, Priscilla and Aquila were living exactly the way they had been called to live. They were being hospitable to a fellow believer even when it was probably difficult for them to be so. God noticed that though, and He honored the couple.
Back in Romans, we read this:
When God’s children are in need, you be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night. (Romans 12:13 | TLB)
Well, this couple in Corinth was doing just that with Paul. Being hospitable to fellow Christians is a fundamental obligation Christians have; it’s the very least we should be doing within the community of faith. This verse isn’t talking about picking up strangers on the side of the highway or taking risks like that. It’s about treating other believers within the Body of Christ with love, compassion, and understanding.
Don’t just pretend that you love others: really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically. (Romans 12:9 – 11 | TLB)
Agape love is what Paul is talking about here, and one way to show agape love to other believers is simply being hospitable. The concept of “love” in the Bible is never vapid sentimentality; it is a vigorous moral action taken; it is something that is done.
Under less than desirable circumstances, this couple that had been kicked out of their home and forced to live and work in a strange town, surrounded by strangers, and having probably lost everything, showed agape love to a fellow believer, who was also in less than desirable circumstances. Neither of Priscilla, nor Aquila, nor Paul was at their best, yet they acted their best toward each other.
Ministry of discipleship, Acts 18:18, 19; 24 – 28
This New Testament Christian power couple did more than just open up their home and their hearts. They actually INVESTED in his ministry in a tangible way.
Paul stayed in the city several days after that and then said good-bye to the Christians and sailed for the coast of Syria, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him. At Cenchreae Paul had his head shaved according to Jewish custom, for he had taken a vow. Arriving at the port of Ephesus, he left us aboard ship while he went over to the synagogue for a discussion with the Jews. (Acts 18:18, 19 | TLB)
They not only traveled with Paul, but just as he worked with them when he first met them in their tent making business, now they would work with him in his sacred missionary work. In fact, when Paul left Ephesus, he left Priscilla and Aquila behind to continue the work he started there. What did this couple do after Paul left? These verses give us a clue:
As it happened, a Jew named Apollos, a wonderful Bible teacher and preacher, had just arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. While he was in Egypt, someone had told him about John the Baptist and what John had said about Jesus, but that is all he knew. He had never heard the rest of the story! So he was preaching boldly and enthusiastically in the synagogue, “The Messiah is coming! Get ready to receive him!” Priscilla and Aquila were there and heard him-and it was a powerful sermon. Afterwards they met with him and explained what had happened to Jesus since the time of John, and all that it meant! Apollos had been thinking about going to Greece, and the believers encouraged him in this. They wrote to their fellow-believers there, telling them to welcome him. And upon his arrival in Greece, he was greatly used of God to strengthen the church, for he powerfully refuted all the Jewish arguments in public debate, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. (Acts 18:24 – 28 | TLB)
Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew who had been converted to the faith, but his knowledge was very limited. Apparently he was an eloquent speaker and defender of John the Baptist’s teaching but not of Christ’s. This wouldn’t do, and it was up Priscilla and Aquila to gently set this remarkable man straight. Apollos was a stand up man and genuine believer, and thanks to the ministry of this couple, Apollos became a powerful evangelist for Jesus Christ.
Apollos and I are working as a team, with the same aim, though each of us will be rewarded for his own hard work. (1 Corinthians 3:8 | TLB)
Discipleship was what Priscilla and Aquila did so well. That coupled with their ministry of hospitality made all the difference in the lives of Paul and Apollos. Like the man who led Billy Graham to the Christ, behind-the-scenes-ministries cannot be ignored. There is NO unimportant work for the Lord; you never know the impact your hospitality or mentoring will have on a believer’s life and influence.
Pastoral ministry, Romans 16:3 – 5
Tell Priscilla and Aquila hello. They have been my fellow workers in the affairs of Christ Jesus. In fact, they risked their lives for me, and I am not the only one who is thankful to them; so are all the Gentile churches. Please give my greetings to all those who meet to worship in their home. Greet my good friend Epaenetus. He was the very first person to become a Christian in Asia. (Romans 16:3 – 5 | TLB)
The hospitality of Priscilla and Aquila was legendary among the early churches. But they didn’t just make tents and welcome traveling evangelists and Bible teachers into their home. They became missionaries who discipled other believers, but they also became a pastors of a church.
This couple, at great personal risk, served the Lord by working with Paul and others and established a church in their home. But it didn’t stop there. At some point, this couple that intersected so often with Paul, eventually returned to Rome and continued their ministry there. In 2 Timothy, we read this single verse:
Please say hello for me to Priscilla and Aquila and those living at the home of Onesiphorus. (2 Timothy 4:19 | TLB)
This amazing couple, that had been kicked out Rome, made the best of bad situations, yet served the Lord with grace and making the most of every opportunity, engaged in various ministries utilizing their spiritual gifts. When they returned to Rome, they experienced what they had offered Paul and so many other Christians: the hospitality of another. We don’t know a thing about this fellow named Onesiphoris, other than he, like Priscilla and Aquila, practiced Christian hospitality. And for his trouble, he is mentioned in the Bible, and believers have read his name for over 2,000 years.