Every marriage, like every individual, has an identifiable character. What is the character of your marriage? Or, if you are not yet married and hope to be one day, what do you want the character of your marriage to be?

Only a few married couples are mentioned by name in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts two couples are highlighted – the sad story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and the encouraging account of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18). This latter couple are also mentioned in Romans 16:3-5, 1 Corinthians 16:19 and 2 Timothy 4:19. Between the first mention of Aquila and Priscilla in Acts and the final mention in 2 Timothy there is a gap of some 15 years (roughly AD 50 – AD 65). These multiple references over a fifteen-year period give us a rare opportunity to track the character and commitment of this couple over time.

During this period Aquila and Priscilla successively lived and served God in Rome (Acts 18:2), Corinth, Ephesus, Rome again, and Ephesus again – travelling thousands of kilometres around the Roman Empire. None of these cities were easy or comfortable places in which to be a Christian and to seek to serve the Lord. Rome was, of course, the magnificent capital city of a pagan empire, with an estimated 1 – 2 million inhabitants. Corinth was dominated by the temple of the goddess Aphrodite, with its one thousand temple prostitutes. This city was proverbial for immorality – Plato even used the term ‘Corinthian girl’ as a synonym for a prostitute. Ephesus, with a population of 250,000 in Paul’s day, housed the temple of Artemis, regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a very wicked city – among the Greeks it was said that every single person in Ephesus deserved to be choked to death one by one. The philosopher Heraclitus was once asked why he wept and never smiled. He replied, “What else can I do when I look at Ephesus?”

So, you think it is tough to serve the Lord in 21st century Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, etc! What about Aquila and Priscilla in the midst of these large, pagan, immoral and biblically illiterate cities of the first century?

 In spite of the many challenges, they faced in this difficult environment, Aquila and Priscilla model for us a truly godly, gospel-centred marriage. Let me highlight four ways in which they can provide an example for us:

 1. Gospel Mobility

Taking note of the many places they lived and the distances they travelled, traversing the Roman Empire, we may be tempted to think of Aquila and Priscilla as the ‘frequent flyers’ of the ancient world. Did they have a restless ‘travel bug’ that constantly hungered to see new places and try new things? Perhaps their motive was money and business opportunities – did they want to establish a business empire (Aquilacorp?) or set up tent making franchises all around the empire? I don’t think so.

I believe that their mobility was of a different sort altogether. We know that their move from Rome to Corinth was occasioned by religious persecution, as the Jews were expelled from Rome at the command of the Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). We also know that they went with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus and he left them there (Acts 18:19) – most likely this was explicitly for gospel purposes. Certainly, wherever they went, they served the Lord in an exemplary way. So much so that Paul could say of them that they were “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:3,4).

Surely, one of the things greatly needed if the cause of Christ is going to be forwarded in Australia and New Zealand, and if gospel churches are to be planted in new areas, are couples with a true gospel mobility and flexibility. Couples prepared to go, to leave their ‘comfort zones’ and familiar surroundings to be part of the foundations of new churches. Equally, we need couples who, for Christ and the gospel are prepared to stay, to sink their roots down deep in one place and be a long-term part of an existing church, perhaps for life. We should regularly thank God for many couples whose decades-long, sacrificial faithfulness has made an invaluable contribution to their local church and its gospel witness. Too often, in a highly mobile society like ours, people move purely for reasons of bettering their own material situations (better home, better job, better lifestyle, etc). As Christians our moving or staying should reflect gospel priorities, moving or staying thoughtfully, prayerfully, strategically, seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

2. Gospel Hospitality

Wherever Aquila and Priscilla went their home was one of the focal points of their ministry. They viewed their home as one of the ‘talents’ God had entrusted to them to use for His glory and the good of others. Both in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19) and in Rome (Romans 16:5) they opened up their home to be used as a meeting place for the church. As tentmakers their occupation would have usually required a large room to do their work. Perhaps this was also employed for the believers to meet in and worship together.

Priscilla and Aquila’s hospitality was also shown in a very particular way when we first meet them in Corinth. It was there that they first met the apostle Paul, and it was there that they opened their home to Paul so that he could live with and work alongside them. Identifying so closely with the apostle at that time was challenging, costly and potentially life-threatening. Yet they willingly extended hospitality to Paul – sharing his burden for ministry, supporting him in the midst of opposition, encouraging him and working alongside him in the service of Christ.

In this area too Aquila and Priscilla provide us with a great example of a gospel-centred marriage by showing hospitality, a practice often commended to Christians in the New Testament. May God help us to be “given to hospitality” (Romans 12:13), and to do this “without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). Open homes and open hearts, characterised by genuine love, kindness and grace are wonderful testimonies to the grace of God in Christ, and ‘spearheads’ of gospel influence in our communities. Even if we have very little materially our homes can still be a powerful witness to the gospel: “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” (Proverbs 15:16,17)

May the Lord of the harvest raise up an increasing number of such marriages and homes in Australia and New Zealand for the glory of His Name and the salvation of many!

3. Gospel Ministry

When we meet up with Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18:19, they are established in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor, having been left there by the apostle Paul, who later rejoined them for a lengthy, challenging and fruitful ministry there, as recorded in Acts 19. Meanwhile, in Paul’s absence, this couple make another significant contribution to the work of the gospel.

A stranger arrives in Ephesus from the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was an intellectual centre and the home of a library renowned throughout the ancient world. This stranger is a Jew named Apollos and he is an outstanding man in many ways. Apollos is eloquent (v.24). Apollos is mighty or powerful in the Scriptures, an expert in reading and understanding the Old Testament writings (v.24). Apollos has been instructed in the “way of the Lord” (v.25) and teaches accurately the things concerning Jesus (v.25). Apollos, though, is no dry-as-dust academic, but a man who is fervent (literally ‘boiling over’) in spirit (v.25). He comes to Ephesus and begins to speak boldly in the synagogue.

It is the interaction between Apollos and Aquila and Priscilla which is so instructive for us. This couple hear Apollos speaking in the synagogue and their hearts leap! Here is a man who shared the same precious faith in Christ and one who clearly and helpfully proclaimed it. Here was a man who could do many things they could not, who was gifted in many ways that they were not. There was so much potential here, and they really wanted to encourage this man in his life and service for Christ. How would they go about this? They “took him” (quite possibly a reference to showing him the same hospitality they had earlier shown to Paul in Corinth) and they explained “the way of God more accurately”, more carefully, more fully (v.26). He already taught “accurately” (v.25) in the synagogue, but they helped fill in the gaps in his theological understanding of the gospel and its application.

A. T. Robertson comments: “It is a needed and delicate task, this thing of teaching young ministers. They do not learn it all in the schools. More of it comes from contact with men and women rich in grace and in the knowledge of God’s ways.” Here Priscilla and Aquila together help Apollos in their home. There was a richness, depth and reality in their spiritual lives, and they had both benefited from interacting daily with the apostle Paul. C. H. Spurgeon commented: “They taught him the way of God more perfectly, and therefore we may be sure that they were deep-taught Christians themselves.”

We need to note the mistakes they avoided at this point. (1) Just because Apollos was imperfect, Aquila and Priscilla did not write him off as ignorant, immature or hopeless. (2) This couple did not gossip openly in the synagogue with their friends about Apollos’ deficiencies, instead they took him aside and spoke to him in private, and positively ministered to and helped him. (3) Nor did they think “We can’t do anything…let’s wait until Paul returns”; and (4) Apollos, for all his giftedness and knowledge, did not despise learning from ‘tentmakers’. Matthew Henry put it this way: “Aquila and Priscilla were serious Christians that could speak intelligently and experimentally [from experience] of the things of God, though they were but mechanics [tradespeople] … Apollos was glad to receive instruction from them, to be shown by them his defects and mistakes, and to have his mistakes rectified by them and his deficiencies made up.” Such evident humility is foundational for Christ-honouring ministry.

The lives and the words of this godly couple were used of God to further shape Apollos as a man and a minister. He went on to render valuable service for Christ in Corinth (Acts 18:27, 28) – “he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.” Apollos’ ministry, under God, beautifully complemented the ministry of Paul: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Is your home a place of gospel ministry, where the Word of God is communicated and lived out? May God help us to develop such marriages and homes for His glory and the spread of the gospel in our lands and beyond.

4. Gospel Faithfulness 

Aquila and Priscilla were still pressing on in the service of God in 2 Timothy 4:19, fifteen years after we first meet them in Acts 18:1,2. Now they are back in Ephesus labouring alongside Paul’s beloved son in the faith, Timothy. Paul says in Philippians 2:20-22 that he had no one like Timothy, who had served with him in ministry like a son with his father; and there were probably few, if any, in Paul’s circle better equipped to encourage and support Timothy than the faithful Aquila and Priscilla.

In 2 Timothy, his last New Testament letter, Paul is doing it tough. He describes the days in which he is labouring as ‘perilous’ or ‘difficult’ (2 Timothy 3:1). The Greek word he uses here conveys the sense that these days are both ‘hard to bear’ and ‘hard to deal with’. They are times in which many people will not endure sound doctrine but, rather, will turn their ears away from the truth (2 Timothy 4:3,4). It becomes apparent as we read through this epistle that one of the specific things Paul was struggling with was the sad fact of ‘departures’ from the Christian faith.

 Paul knew this and felt it deeply. He was able to speak of “all in Asia” turning away from him (2 Timothy 1:15), and of “all” deserting him (2 Timothy 4:16). He also named many who worked against him or opposed him – like Hymenaeus, Philetus, Phygelus, Hermogenes, Alexander and Demas: many, if not all, of whom formerly supported and worked alongside him.

Do you identify with what Paul is talking about here? Do you know the pressures, some subtle and some in-your-face, to personally ‘desert’ your Lord and His gospel? To be unfaithful to our Faithful God? Do you know the heart-breaking experience of seeing some who were once alongside you in your church, maybe even close friends, or maybe even admired leaders or mentors (whose preaching, writing or counsel meant so much to you), apparently abandon their faith and walk away? Many of us do know this experience. In ‘difficult’ times, under stress and opposition, the days in which we live often seem to shout at us: “Give up!” “Back off!” “Slow down!” “Walk away!”

In such tough circumstances may the Lord give us much grace to be faithful disciples of Christ, like Paul and Timothy; and to be faithful couples, like Aquila and Priscilla. Here this couple were, fifteen years or so after Paul first met them, still serving the Lord and still encouraging His people! Over the years he had seen them “risk their necks” out of love for him, the Lord and the cause of the gospel (Romans 16:3,4), yet they kept coming back for more. No doubt, in the midst of his struggles, disappointments and discouragements, Paul would often have reflected with thanks and praise to God that the Word of God is still inspired and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16,17), the gospel is still powerful (Romans 1:16), and the Spirit of God is still at work saving people and transforming lives. In this connection he could look to faithful people, like Aquila and Priscilla (who were still seeking and serving God after many years), thank God, and press on.

As you seek to serve God where He has placed you in the year ahead, are you, conscious of God’s great love and faithfulness to you in Christ (Lamentations 3:22,23; Hebrews 13:5), determined to be faithful to the Lord, His Word, and His Church? (Proverbs 20:6) Will your life and your marriage be a real example and encouragement to believers around you, not of perfection, but of faith, love, integrity, faithfulness and the grace of God? May the Lord do such a work in our lives that makes us long-term encouragements in His Church.