One of the striking features of reading again through the book of Acts is to see the regular and consistent nature of opposition and persecution. The gospel is a radical message. We also highlighted this thought in the sermon yesterday (in the passage about Paul and Silas in prison), speaking of the fact that opposition is to be expected and is honestly a rather normal experience for the Christian witness. But along with that point, we also taught that one of the joys along the journey of the Christian life is the friendships that are built – so that we really do not walk the path alone.
In today’s passage we meet a couple of the dearest of such friends that the Apostle Paul met along his journey – a couple named Priscilla and Aquila. Every Jewish boy was taught some sort of trade that could either be a life occupation or, at least, something that one could fall back upon when need might arise. Paul knew the trade of tent-making, as did Priscilla and Aquila … so this circumstance accounts for their meeting one another in Corinth. It is easy to imagine the hours of working together and talking – time where Paul could converse in detail about the things of God’s work through Jesus Christ.
Again, in this ancient crossroads city of Corinth, Paul runs into conflict – or perhaps we should say that the gospel message runs into conflict with Jewish teachings – and Paul gets blamed. Among the Jewish converts was the actual leader of the synagogue, named Crispus. On this occasion as the Jews bring their complaint, the Roman civil authority shows no patience for it, seeing it as simply some internal Jewish debate. Instead of Paul getting beaten, it is the new ruler of the synagogue (Sosthenes) who takes a whipping from the crowd, probably mostly Greeks.
After 18 months of teaching in Corinth, Paul hits the missionary road again, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him to the next stop in Ephesus. As we know from the earlier conflict with Barnabas, Paul was fussy about who were his fellow missionary “roadies.” He had no patience for wimps! Priscilla and Aquila were certainly not that! In fact, Paul left this couple there to work with the new ministry in that city. On this trip, Paul would only stay a short time in Ephesus (looking ahead we know that he will return for a longer sojourn), but now he travels on to a variety of other places as indicated in the text.
Luke brings another important new character onto the stage – a highly-educated university fellow named Apollos. He was from Alexandria in Egypt, which was a center of education. As a man who would stand and teach in the synagogue, his messages were true to the Old Testament Scripture; and he was accurate about the messiah in the same vein of teaching as was heralded by John the Baptist. However, he was unfamiliar with the rest of the story and its fulfillment in Jesus. Priscilla and Aquila take him aside and explain all of this to him. Get the picture here? Tentmakers are teaching the slick university dude! And it works. Apollos becomes a great early spokesman for the cause of the Gospel and heads out on his own tour of proclamation. The message is really spreading now in every direction.
As I see the relationships of these early Christians who had to strive together in hostile conditions, it surfaces what has become one of the great burdens of my heart – that modern American Christians do not feel and understand the rich blessing of mutual association together in the local church. I have seen the different attitude that is necessary for believers together in local churches situated in cultures where evangelicals are a tiny and often despised minority. These Christians live in dependent, covenant relationships with one another (in places like France, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and even England and Scotland … to name a few of the places where I’ve personally seen this). They truly need each other desperately; their lives are deeply intertwined. The worship wars don’t find much traction, and there are no other nearby churches to hop about. There is a plus side to persecution and opposition, as it sorts out important values rather quickly and well. But in any event, we do well to love and appreciate God’s give of the brothers and sisters in Christ around us with whom we have the great privilege of being sojourners together in this world.
In Corinth – Acts 18:1-17
18 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, 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, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6 But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God.8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them off. 17 Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever.
Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos – Acts 18:18-28
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. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.
23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervorand taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 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.
27 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 a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.