Too often throughout the history of Christian missions married couples in missions have been discouraged, defeated, and even destroyed due to the innumerable stresses, pressures, temptations, sins, sufferings, sorrows, pains, physical and spiritual.
Paul in Corinth and a married couple in missions:
Paul left as a commissioned apostle/missionary (a sent-out church member for the sake of dedicated missions efforts) from Antioch on the Orontes River in Syria (Acts 13:1-4; 14:26 “commended”; 15:40 “committed by the brethren” for the work the Holy Spirit had for him). Eventually Paul went among the people of Corinth on a second missions journey, during which v he ministered, worked, and shared about Jesus by “reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath” and later in a house next door (Acts 18:1-7). When people finally believed there (perhaps including Titius Justus, Crispus and his household, and many other unnamed Corinthians), they were baptized and taught by Paul for 1.5 years (Acts 18:7-11). Towards the end of Paul’s time in Corinth, Luke calls the group of now-discipled, baptized believers “the brethren,” which clues us in that this group was a church or at least becoming a church (Acts 18:18).
In this account of Paul in Corinth we see the process of missions in narrative form:
1) engage people in relationship
2) share the good news of Jesus
3) disciple believers
4) form and develop a church.
Notice that during this entire ministry time—approximately 1.5 years—Luke especially mentions an important couple in the life of Paul and his ministry
Paul met the husband, Aquila, whom it says he worked with him making tents (Acts 18:2-3). After leaving Corinth, the couple and Paul traveled to Ephesus where Aquila and Priscilla remained while Paul traveled back to Antioch before his third missions journey (Acts 18:18-22, 26). They all traveled together from Corinth by boat across the southern Aegean Sea to Ephesus. What I find interesting is Paul’s willingness to leave the invitations of the Ephesians saying, “I will return to you again if God wills” (Acts 18:21). In Paul’s missions efforts, surely an eager audience would call for his time and attention. Paul left Ephesus for a return trip to Antioch, his commissioning church (Acts 18:22).
But a remaining question is why did Paul leave the Ephesians without evident reluctance?
Evidently Priscilla and Aquila were a very active couple in missions efforts in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. Perhaps the remaining presence of this missions-partner couple gave Paul confidence to leave the missions efforts for a time. I believe the subsequent disciple-making and church forming which occurred in Ephesus while Paul was absent lends support to propose that Priscilla and Aquila were missioners who received the trust of Paul for the missions work.
Let us survey Aquila and Priscilla’s activity and see what transpired under their influence:
- Priscilla and Aquila worked together making tents with Paul for a time (Acts 18:2-3).
- The couple along with Paul traveled from Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19).
- The couple heard Apollos speaking about Jesus in the Ephesus synagogue, and “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:25-26).
- The couple had a church meeting in their house in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19).
- Priscilla and Aquila are called “fellow workers in Christ” by Paul (Romans 16:3).
- They risked their lives for Paul’s sake at some point (Romans 16:4).
- Later they also had a church meeting in their house in Rome (Romans 16:5).
- Even later, the couple returned from Rome to Ephesus, where Timothy also ministered later (2 Timothy 1:3).
Following the encouraging example of Priscilla and Aquila, married couples should be in missions
The discussion about this biblical couple is predominantly imaginative based upon the limited amount of biblical data, but the creative conclusions give us encouragement for married couples in missions to be used fruitfully in fulfilling our respective role in God’s mission. It’s not complicated, or at least it shouldn’t be. So here are 2 simple ideas that can be applied in many different aspects of your life as a married couple in missions.
- Partner together as friends, fellow disciples of Christ, in life, work, ministry, missions, whatever it is that you are able to work together in. As a married couple, you are one, which means you are able together to support and encourage each other with different strengths where alone you are weak. I hope my wife is my eternal best friend: that eternal relationship drives me to be her intimate friend and fellow disciple in life and the leading of God in our lives. It is a joy and privilege to work alongside her, to share the joys and sorrows of missions with her.
- Partner with others—married and single—as appropriate and relevant to your life and missions. A married couple embodies the gospel in ways that are important to witnessing to the truth and relevancy of the good news about Jesus. Their relationships with Jesus and each other have great potential to communicate to others healthy relationships of marriage and family, which are used as metaphors for the church in Paul’s letters as well as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his people throughout Scripture. The family environment is a critical base for discipleship, as this intimate relationship between married couples also is a base for the faith in our churches and in the mission of God.
Paul to the Roman believers: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house…” (Romans 16:3-5).
My prayer is that married couples in missions will follow Priscilla and Aquila’s courageous sacrificial living for the sake of missions, which was so highly commended by Paul.