When Marriage Becomes a Ministry that Touches the World
Introduction: Good marriages don’t happen automatically. They require a lot of work and a few good models to learn by. Let me introduce you to a couple whose marriage was among the best in the Bible—Aquila and Priscilla. We run into them several times in the New Testament, but the key passage is Acts 18, when Paul arrived in Corinth on his second missionary journey. Let’s study it.
Aquila and Priscilla
Acts 18:1: After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. I don’t think Paul was in good shape. He was battered physically and emotionally. In Acts 16, he had been whipped in Philippi and escorted out of town. In chapter 17, he’d been run out of Thessalonica, then out of Berea, leaving behind his associates. Traveling alone, he arrived in Athens, but found few people interested in his message. Now he had trudged 50 miles on to Corinth, where he didn’t know a soul. He entered the city “in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3).
Corinth had an excellent location for shipping, with two ports. Masses were coming and going. This city was notorious for its sexuality, sensuality, and depravity. The entire city worshipped Aphrodite, the goddess of pleasure and the patron goddess of prostitutes. Her temple stood on the acropolis looking down on a city gripped by runaway immorality. To this city of commerce and wickedness Paul came exhausted and alone.
Except he wasn’t alone. God had already placed a remarkable couple in that city. He ordained that a lonely man—a single missionary—and this incredible couple should be on trajectories that met in the wicked streets of old Corinth.
Verse 2: There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus… Aquila was from Pontus, which we remember from the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in the Upper Room, and some Jews from Pontus heard the Gospel (Acts 2:9). Perhaps Aquila was among the 3,000 converted that day. You can draw a line from Acts 2 to Acts 18.
Verses 2-3: …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, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.
This couple had their own business as leathercrafters and tentmakers. By artisan training, Paul was a tentmaker; and since he was penniless, he evidently went looking for a job. Aquila and Priscilla hired him on the spot.
Verse 4: Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Soon Paul’s companions, Silas and Timothy, caught up with him, bringing financial gifts from Macedonia, which allowed Paul to devote himself fulltime to preaching.
Verses 5-8: When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah… Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
Despite these encouraging events, Paul was still fearful, so God intervened and gave him a special message:
Verse 9: One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
What an encouraging verse when we feel alone in our culture. You may be the only Jesus-follower in your school, workplace, or family. But the Lord has many people who will be coming to Himself. His Spirit is already working in their hearts. So we shouldn’t be afraid or discouraged. Rather, we must keep preaching.
Verse 18: Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila….
Aquila and Priscilla packed up their gear, hauled it all to the dock, joined Paul on his tour and jon his anticipated campaign in Ephesus.
Verse 19: They arrived in Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is. God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.
Paul left Priscilla and Aquila as an advance team. He left them in Ephesus and they began sowing the Gospel there, and they made a huge impact on one man in particular.
Verses 24-28: Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandra, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 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. 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 of a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
Notice Priscilla’s name comes first. This couple is mentioned seven times in the Bible; they are always mentioned together; and five times Priscilla’s name comes first—Priscilla and Aquila. We get the idea she was the natural leader and the primary teacher. They mentored Apollos and taught him the Gospel and turned him into one of the most eloquent preachers of the New Testament era.
This is the last we see of Aquila and Priscilla in Acts, but Paul mentions them three more times in his letters:
- Romans 16:3-5: Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets in their house.
- 1 Corinthians 16:19: The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets in their house.
- 2 Timothy 4:19: Greet Priscilla and Aquila….
You and Me
Aquila and Priscilla show us how God wants us to think about marriage. It is a divinely-ordained partnership for whatever He wants us to do. We should be Kingdom Couples. We may not always live up to it, but this is arguably the Bible’s best model for a marriage that morphs into ministry. In God’s view, marriage is a mechanism for multiplying ministry. God brings people together to serve Him. He strategically partners us with someone who has corresponding interests and complimentary gifts, and He sends us to do the work He had prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
When Jesus-followers get married, they get married for Jesus. They say, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done in our home and in our marriage, just as it is done in heaven.”
It’s as though God looks down from heaven and says, “Oh, there is that man, and he can do something significant for Me.” And He says, “There is that woman, and she can do something wonderful for My Kingdom.” But then He says, “Wow, if I put those two people together I’m going to have a Kingdom Couple. I’ll be able to do more with them in partnership than either of them could ever do alone.”
Priscilla and Aquila viewed their marriage as a partnership ordained by the Master as a ministry to whosoever crossed their pathway. Vocationally, they were not missionaries, although they did missionary work. They were not counselors, although they did counseling. They were not pastors, although they hosted the church in their home. They were not evangelists, though they spread the Gospel like crazy. They were business people and tentmakers; but whatever they did, they did for the Kingdom, for the Gospel. They did it for the glory of God.
We often think of marriage as a relationship that will keep us from being lonely, or enable us to have a family, or allow us to have children. Well, there’s no indication Priscilla and Aquila had children; we don’t know about that. But they understood there is a deeper aspiration for marriage than happiness and fellowship and procreation. God has placed us on this planet to do something for Him; if He leads us into marriage, it’s because He knows that in our case we cannot adequately fulfill that purpose alone.
You say, “But my husband (or wife) isn’t very serious about serving Christ.” Well, the Bible addresses that in other passages, and you cannot be responsible for someone else’s decisions or maturity or attitude. You can only be responsible for yours. But sometimes it helps if we’ll talk about it and say, “How do you think God wants to use us together? How can we be a Kingdom Couple?”
It helps if both of you study the Bible every day, pray together, and serve together in a church. We have to get started with the process wherever we are.
Recently a friend gave me the story of her father, Paul Schlener, who was stationed aboard a Navy vessel caught in Typhoon Cobra in 1944. This was the disastrous Pacific hurricane that capsized three Navy destroyers and cost the lives of nearly 800 sailors.
Schlener was tossed around like a rag doll and as terrified as a man can be. He wasn’t ready to meet God. But his ship survived, and as soon as he made it back to San Francisco he found a church and received Jesus as his Savior.
But Schlener didn’t know how to tell his girlfriend, Jessie, what had happened to him. One night he borrowed his brother’s 1937 Ford and took her on a date. All night, he tried to muster his courage to share his testimony. Finally about 9 o’clock, he pulled over the curb between street lights so they were sitting in darkness. As best he could, he told her what had happened. He told her he loved her, but he didn’t know what to do now that he was a follower of Christ and she wasn’t. Then he just said, “What do you think?”
Jessie said nothing, and Paul was in agony. Finally he reached for the starter, and that’s when he heard a little sniffle. Looking over, he saw a tear glisten from the glow of a streetlight half a block away. Jessie told him she would like to know Jesus.
“Hang on!” he shouted. He punched the starter of that old Ford, pressed the accelerator, and left a strip of rubber on the street. He raced through town like a NASCAR driver and got lost and drove around half the night before finally finding his brother’s house. He banged on the door until everyone was awake.
“Jessie wants to become a Christian,” he said, and “I don’t know how to lead her to Christ.” Paul’s brother did, and Paul and Jessie became a kingdom couple. They devoted forty years to extraordinary overseas service for Christ. They just started where they were and let God use them [adapted from Paul Schlener, When Sea Billows Roll (Paul L. Schlener: 2010), passim.]
We’re not all going to end up overseas or in vocational ministry, but every marriage should be a Power Partnership for Christ. Every couple should be a Kingdom Couple, for according to Luke 10, Jesus loves to send out His workers, and He loves to send them out two by two.