Some lives are worth further inspection, especially the lives of the saints in God’s Word. In the Bible, there are major and minor, significant and incidental, players. Today, a married couple named Priscilla and Aquila occupy my mind. By patching together the various places they are mentioned throughout the New Testament, the modern reader can find great instruction.
Paul first met this married couple in Corinth. He arrived there from Athens and was, uncharacteristically, alone. Paul’s norm was to travel with a team, but Paul had been in Athens alone and had gone from there to Corinth alone. He had sent word for Timothy (from Thessalonica) and Silas (from Philippi) to meet him there. But when Paul arrived in Corinth his companions weren’t yet there. They eventually brought funds from the churches in Macedonia, but without access to those funds yet, Paul was required to work.
Solitary and with bills to pay, Paul looked for work. He was skilled as a leatherworking tent-maker, so it came as a blessing when he found a Jewish couple who owned a tent-making business there in Corinth. Aquila and Priscilla had relocated from Rome, where Claudius had persecuted the Jews, establishing themselves in the Corinthian community. The book of Acts and several of Paul’s letters make it clear that they formed a bond with the apostle. Here are some lessons we can learn from this Christ-like marriage.
1 Ever together in the service of Christ.
Not even once is Priscilla or Aquila mentioned in the Bible without the other. Where you find one, you’ll find the other. They weren’t solo operators, but together. Effective and fruitful, their fruit was born together. They knew how to disciple together, teach together, host together, and encourage together. Aquila didn’t leave the ministry opportunities to his wife. Nor did Priscilla expect her husband to take care of all their service unto Christ and His church. Instead, they served Him together.
Because they are always together in their service to the Lord, Priscilla and Aquila are exemplary for modern married couples with designs on serving Christ together. It can be difficult working together because marriages are comprised of a man and a woman who are — by design — very different from one another. But once a couple realizes their differences are meant to complement and balance, rather than compete and negate, the other, the ministry work can take off. Serving Christ with your spouse takes extreme comfort in your own skin, and Priscilla and Aquila seemed to have that gracious ease.
2 Not particular about who came first.
Six times this couple is mentioned in the New Testament. Four of those times the wife is mentioned first, while twice the husband is mentioned first. This detail stands out because it hints at the prominence of Priscilla. Some wonder if she was mentioned first because of a royal or upper society heritage. They did travel extensively, all on a leather-workers salary, so perhaps Priscilla had an inheritance they could live off. Regardless of the reason, it is fascinating to see a couple unconcerned about who got the credit, who was listed first.
Because their marriage was biblical, Aquila would have led his wife like Christ leads His church. Gently and tenderly, Aquila would have operated as the servant-leader within his home. But part of that servant leadership came when he accepted the times his wife would shine in her service to Christ. He was secure enough in His calling to know what he was (and wasn’t), which enabled Priscilla to discover her gifts and callings as well. Allowing your spouse the space to shine in Christ takes maturity. Apparently, neither Priscilla nor Aquila clamored for the credit.
3 Savvy financial backers of the church.
The church is filled with all types of socio-economic backgrounds. Every member is a blessing from God. Aquila and Priscilla were successful in business. Their financial success enabled them to travel freely. They could offer Paul a day job to pay his way in Corinth. All of these factors, combined with their generosity, made them a great blessing to the early church.
The church operates well when filled with all types of people. The presence of varied ethnicities, financial backgrounds, genders, education levels, and generations makes the church a truly unique place. Where else can people across such a broad spectrum engage with one another? In a world that increasingly specializes in pursuing only those who think and live the same as you do, the church provides a refreshing contrast. Additionally, the practical aid Aquila and Priscilla gave the church was beautiful. They were able to open their large home to the church, support Paul financially, and travel as missionaries when the Lord called them. They certainly used their income well.
4 Well versed in Scripture.
Eventually, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus while he moved on, promising to return later. While there, they heard a powerful preacher named Apollos. He was highly gifted but had not yet heard more than the message John the Baptist had preached. Lovingly and discreetly, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. Apparently, Apollos believed, because he became a rich blessing to the church in Ephesus and, mostly, in Corinth (see Acts 18:24-28).
But this private ministry to Apollos took a solid understanding of the gospel and the Word of God. Aquila and Priscilla were ready. They had taken their Christian lives seriously, so they knew their Bibles. Giving Apollos a deeper understanding of God’s word wasn’t problematic for them. They need not go out to find Paul because they had listened to Paul. By doing that work, they were able to do this work. This solid married couple had grown in their understanding of God’s Word together, and the church and world were served well as a result. To drink deeply as this couple had is a challenge for modern married couples. It is easy to drink from the cisterns of cheap entertainment and nothingness, but challenging to grow in a knowledge of God’s Word. But the results speak for themselves.
5 Engaged in epic centers for Christianity
It is also worth noting that Priscilla and Aquila served God in some of the major city centers of the Roman Empire. We first see them in Corinth, then across the water in Ephesus, and finally back in Rome. All three places were significant and very urban. But they were comfortable there. Perhaps they were childless — we cannot know — but for whatever reason, they were able to interact well with the culture while embracing their Christianity.
When a family or marriage can serve a city well, it stands in contrast to many. Most couples and families have to flee the city, often because life there does not feel conducive to family life. Sometimes, though, a calling from God will enable a married couple or family to remain in a city. There, they can serve as an example and model to the city around them. Because marriage and family are so broken in our world, this exemplary family life is part of the Christian mission to shine the light of Christ into the world around us.
6 Married servants of a great single man.
Lastly, Aquila and Priscilla’s marriage served a great single man. Paul was not married, and indications are that he came to Corinth in fear. His solitude didn’t help his fear, so when Aquila and Priscilla opened their lives up for Paul, they offered him a great service. In Christ, he was their elder and teacher in every way. Their marriage did not make them better than Paul, but to use their marriage for Paul’s encouragement made their marriage better (see Acts 18:2-3).
This last point serves as a source of great encouragement to today's married couples. We ought to open our lives up to single Christians, including those who — like Paul — are gifted and called and mature in Christ. Even the most mature believers are in need of refuge time and again, and often that refuge can be found in the home of a loving married couple. Meals, laughter, and rest together can be a great source of encouragement to single brothers and sisters in Christ.
Like a diamond, this couple is beautiful from many sides and angles. Let's allow Priscilla and Aquila's example to inspire us in our marital work today.