I grew up as something of a “daddy’s boy” and embraced a lot of the things my dad loved. I embraced his love for rugby and Western Province, in particular (and, by extension, the Stormers). (I never quite adopted his support of Everton!) I embraced his love for reading and English and that irritating habit of correcting everybody’s spelling and grammar. I also adopted a good deal of his musical taste. While my brother was listening to “Thunderstruck” and “Thriller,” my dad and I were listening to “White Christmas” and “New York, New York.” He loved those 1940s/1950s crooners.
I recently picked up the biography of my dad’s favourite singer and was struck by something the authors note in the introduction. This man’s record sales exceeded 100 million between 1945 and 1970, a period during which his music was outsold only by Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles. In roughly the same period, 131 of his songs charted, with fourteen reaching the number one spot. Seventeen were certified Gold (which means at least 500,000 sales), with one of them being the first song officially certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). He was the first male singer to be awarded the Grammy for Best Vocal Performance (1958) and was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2002). Four of his 33 albums were certified Gold by the RIAA. He was a pioneer of television who hosted an incredible 1,049 shows, even as he appeared as a guest on more than eighty other television programs. In 1959, he signed a two-year television contract worth $25 million. He won three Emmys and was inducted in 1990 to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences hall of fame. After a hiatus in the early 1960s, he eventually returned to the live stage and gave more than 570 live concerts between 1966 and 1994. He was knighted by the Catholic Church and received honorary doctorates from Duke and Niagara Universities. He holds the distinction of having three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one each for his work in radio, television, and music.
When authors Malcolm Macfarlane and Ken Crossland approached their publishers with a proposal for a biography Perry Como, the first question asked was, how many already exist? Incredibly, despite all his achievements, the answer was, none. No one had yet put pen to paper to write a biography of the singer whose career had had such an impact in the entertainment industry.
The publisher’s next question was, why? What horrible scandal motivated this unwillingness to publish the story of his life? Again, the answer was, none. Quite the opposite, in fact. The authors discovered that his “life was so bland and blameless that there was no story to tell.” His biographers describe him as “an ordinary guy who happened to be able to sing. That he could sing better than almost anyone else on the planet seemed to pass him by.”
If I’m completely honest, his biography is quite dull. There was no Frank Sinatra-like scandal in this man’s life. As popular as he was among certain generations for his music, he seemed to go out of his way when he was off stage to stay out of the limelight. He was married to the same woman for 65 years until she died, three years before he did. There was no sensational extramarital affair. There were no children born out of wedlock. He and his wife had three children, whom he vigorously guarded from the public eye. A practising Roman Catholic his entire life, he quietly supported a host of charitable causes, but rarely attached his name to those causes, except when his name could draw support, like his short-lived annual celebrity golf contest to raise money for various causes.
Como knew that God had gifted him to sing, and he used that ability to entertain thousands on stage before walking off stage and fading into the background. Until the next concert.
In many ways, our hidden figures for this study did the same. The dynamic duo under consideration (and, no, I am not talking of Batman and Robin!) walked onto the stage of redemptive history at several points, quietly did what God called them to do, and then faded into the background until the next “concert.” Their names are mentioned, always together, seven times in the New Testament, but they never hog the limelight. It is in their quiet faithfulness, however, that we learn some valuable lessons.
In this study, I want to take a brief survey of the seven times that the dynamic duo—Aquila and Priscilla—is mentioned in the New Testament with a view to learning from them. What is revealed of their lives teaches us at least three important lessons.
A Lesson about Faithful Church Membership
The first lesson we learn from Aquila and Priscilla is that they were faithful members of their local church. We learn from the biblical narrative that they moved around a fair amount for ministry purposes, but wherever they found themselves, they immediately connected to the body of Christ.
We first find this couple in Corinth in Acts 18:1–3. We learn there that they had been expelled from Rome by imperial order when Claudius had “commanded all the Jews to leave Rome” (v. 2). In the early part of the first century, when the Jews heavily opposed the Christian church, the Roman government, motivated by its desire to maintain peace and order, tried to stop the persecution. The authorities, who failed to grasp the distinction between unbelieving and believing Jews, assumed that the persecution was a Jew-versus-Gentile dispute. Claudius believed that expelling Jews from Rome would alleviate the tension, but he failed to account for Jewish Christians being different from Jewish non-Christians. Aquila and Priscilla, who were Jewish, were therefore forced to leave Rome. They relocated to Corinth.
As Paul travelled on his second missionary journey, he came to Corinth, where he met this believing couple. He found good fellowship with them (more on this later) and they laboured with him in his gospel ministry in Corinth for some eighteen months. When he eventually left Corinth to head back to his sending church in Antioch, he took them with him. On his way to Antioch (via Jerusalem), he stopped in Ephesus, where he planted a church. He opted to leave Aquila and Priscilla there to offer some stability to this infant church as he sailed on.
Several years later, as he set out on his third missionary journey, he returned to Ephesus. It is in Ephesus, most believe, that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. He mentions this dynamic duo in his conclusion to that letter: “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 16:19).
Having served the Corinthian church faithfully for some eighteen months, Aquila and Priscilla had fond memories of the believers there and sent “hearty greetings in the Lord” to them. But notice that, while they had relocated, they had immediately joined the church in their new location. Still later, we find them with the church in Rome: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3). Though he had never been to Rome, Paul knew exactly where he would find this godly couple if he was looking for them: in church! Later yet, they were back in Ephesus when Paul wrote to Timothy there: “Greet Prisca and Aquila” (2 Timothy 4:19).
Don’t miss this simple point: Wherever you read of Aquila and Priscilla, you find them connected to a church. We live in a day when many people say foolish things like, “I’ve left the church but not Christ.” You find no such arrangement in the New Testament. In the Bible, God’s faithful people are always connected to a church. It is an exercise in futility to disregard Christ’s bride and yet try to remain faithful to him.
At the most basic level, Aquila and Priscilla teach us the biblical call for faithful church membership. It is never the will of God for his people to be separated from his bride. The Bible knows nothing of lone ranger Christians. Be assured of this: If you profess faith in Christ, he intends for you to be in covenant relationship with other Christians in the context of local church membership.
A Lesson about Serving Church Membership
But Aquila and Priscilla were more than members in name only. They were not members who were content to have their names on a membership list somewhere. They were members who sought opportunities to serve. Consider some of the ways in which they did this.
Our first introduction to this couple shows that they served in terms of hospitality and generosity:
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.
We know from elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 9:1–18) that, while he had every right to expect financial compensation from the churches he planted, Paul—at least in Corinth—chose not to demand this right. Instead, he chose to work with his own hands to meet his material needs. And he found generous partners in this regard in Aquila and Priscilla.
Since he had chosen not to receive financial compensation from the church in Corinth, Paul needed to find an alternate source of income, and he found it in the business of Aquila and Priscilla. This couple ran a tent-making business, which, when established with a regular customer base, could be quite profitable. They allowed Paul to work for them to earn a living. And not only did they generously share their income; they also graciously opened their home.
Aquila and Priscilla are perhaps best-known to for their teaching ministry, as we will see in a moment but, before they became teachers, they were church members who served through generosity and hospitality.
This couple’s hospitality extended to the entire church. Both in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19) and in Rome (Romans 16:5) they opened their home for church gatherings. They were willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of hospitality to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Aquila and Priscilla also served by discipling others in the faith. When Paul left Corinth, he took his tentmaking friends with him (Acts 18:18) but soon found it necessary to leave them in Ephesus, where a church had been planted that needed some mature influence (Acts 18:19). While they were serving the church in Ephesus, a Jewish-Egyptian travelling preacher named Apollos passed through the city. Luke records what happened:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Interestingly, the church in Corinth would later uphold Apollos as one of the celebrity preachers that some of the members followed (1 Corinthians 1:10–17), though no one was chiming in, “I follow Aquila and Priscilla.” And yet Apollos would not have been who he was apart from their ministry. They allowed God to use them where they could be used but were happy to fade into the background when that was most beneficial to the church’s ministry. They did not pursue position, power, or prestige. They simply looked for ways to serve God faithfully in the church in which he had placed them.
Christian, you don’t have to be a pastor or a church planter or a missionary to serve God. Your generous, hospitable, disciple-making service as a faithful member of a local church can have far-reaching impact for the glory of Christ’s kingdom.
A Lesson about Sacrificial Church Membership
Finally, we learn from the New Testament that the dynamic duo were sacrificial members. “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life” (Romans 16:3–4). We would love to know exactly howAquila and Priscilla “risked their necks” for Paul’s life, but the text doesn’t fill in the details. What they did is less important than that they did it. Their service to Christ cost them.
Jesus taught that the faithful Christian life is the sacrificial Christian life. He taught that those who will be his followers must deny themselves and take up their cross to follow him (Matthew 16:24–28). While we often think of sacrifice as the willingness to lay down your life (as was the case with Aquila and Priscilla), it is interesting to study the concept of sacrifice as it is used in the New Testament. Here, briefly, are four things that the New Testament describes as acceptable sacrifices to God.
First, we sacrifice—as Aquila and Priscilla did—through generosity. Paul described the Philippians’ sacrifice for gospel advancement as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). The writer to the Hebrews exhorted, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). Whether sharing generously for the cause of missions (as in Philippians) or generally to meet the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ (as in Hebrews), God is pleased with the sacrifice of generosity.
Second, we sacrifice by confessing Christ. The writer to the Hebrews charged the church, “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:14). The Hebrew Christians were under immense pressure to deny Christ and to instead return to Judaism, but the writer charged them that maintaining a firm profession in the face of pressure was a sacrifice that honoured to God. For decades, it has been easy to be a Christian in most of the Western-influenced, but increasingly biblical Christianity is being sidelined as outdated and bigoted. We honour God by faithfully confessing Christ even when all the pressure is on us to deny him.
Third, we sacrifice by living holy lives. Peter wrote of the “spiritual sacrifices” that we offer, which are “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5) and defined those “spiritual sacrifices” in this way: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11–12). When we live lives that reflect Christlikeness, God considers it an acceptable sacrifice.
Fourth, we sacrifice with transformed minds, which are reflected in transformed lives:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
In many ways, Romans 12:1–2 sums up the sacrificial Christian life. But notice that the motivation for our “living sacrifice” is “the mercies of God.” It is only those who have experienced the mercy of God by the sacrifice of Christ who can offer their bodies “as a living sacrifice.” Christ gave everything—his blood, his sweat, his tears, indeed, his very life—for us. Can there be anything too demanding in return? When we think that we would love to serve God more faithfully if only our health would allow it, or our schedule would allow it, or our finances would allow it, let us remember that no sacrifice is too outrageous when we consider what Christ gave for us.
So, let us learn from this dynamic duo—Aquila and Priscilla—what quiet faithfulness looks like. Let us, like them, commit to being faithful members, serving members, and sacrificial members as we offer to God ourselves as living sacrifices, considering the great sacrifice that he paid for our redemption.