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The Accidental Missionaries

Aquila and Priscilla did not plan to be missionaries. They didn’t get there by the usual route – a call of God, then being sent out by their church (c.f. Acts 13:1-4). But they became the first known husband and wife missionary team in the Christian church.

Aquila was a Jewish man from Pontus, an ancient region located in what is now modern-day Turkey. Priscilla (also known as Prisca) was his wife. They had their life planned. They had settled in Rome, running their tent-making business there. But the Roman Emperor Claudius had other ideas. He expelled all the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:3).

Aquila and Priscilla then decided to move to Corinth in Greece, another major commercial city. They did not go there because they felt called by God to the city or to its people. They went there partly because the Emperor threw them out of Rome, partly because it was good for business. Neither of those reasons constitute a call to mission!

But then God stepped in and their missionary life started “by accident”! In Acts 18:2-3 Luke records that “Paul found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla.” No explanation is given – where they met, how they met. Paul stayed with them and worked alongside them in the tent business, forming a close friendship.
And so they became important supporters and collaborators in Paul’s missionary work.
Though in Acts 18:5 “Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia”, the important point is that Paul’s relationship with Aquila and Priscilla was not the same as his relationship with Silas and Timothy. The young men were members of his team, he was their leader, he was their mentor.

The relationship with Aquila and Priscilla was different. It was a friendship, one which Paul could enjoy. He could even share with them personal issues that he could not share with Silas and Timothy. Aquila and Priscilla’s role was a kind of Barnabas replacement – Paul and Barnabas had split up in Acts 15. Aquila and Priscilla by accident and God’s leading therefore fulfilled a very vital role at this early stage in Paul’s second missionary journey. Thessalonica and Berea had not been easy for Paul (Acts 17:1-15). Neither in a different way was Athens (Acts 17:16-34). How wonderful to have friends beside him who worked with him, who cared, who were just ‘there’ for him.

Every missionary needs that kind of relationship. It can be a very lonely calling, separated from family and friends. How precious is an Aquila and Priscilla friendship in that situation – both the brother and his wife.
The relationship was so strong that, after their time in Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla travelled with Paul to Ephesus. In Acts 18:18-19, Paul then left them in Ephesus while he continued his journey. They played a significant role in establishing and supporting the Christian community there. In Acts 18:24-26, they encounter a man named Apollos, who was a powerful speaker but had an incomplete understanding of the Christian message. Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately, contributing to his growth as a Christian leader. The inversion of their names (Priscilla and Aquila – 18:18, Romans 16:3) indicates that Priscilla was a woman instructing a young leader (Apollos) in the early church.

Thus they had moved into another missionary role. They were now co-labourers that Paul could trust, co-workers that he could leave behind in Ephesus knowing that they would help to oversee the work, to keep it growing in a healthy way.
Later in Romans 16:3-5, Paul greets them again, indicating that they had moved back to Rome and were actively involved in the Christian community there. Paul mentions that a church met in their house. They had opened their home to the Christian community, providing a gathering place for worship, teaching, and fellowship. They are also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:19, where Paul greets the Corinthian church on their behalf, and in 2 Timothy 4:19, where Paul sends greetings to them.

Their missionary work was accidental, yes! It was also in the will of God, yes! Their partnership with Paul and their commitment to teaching and mentoring others had a significant impact on the growth and development of the early Christian community. Their willingness to teach and to mentor others demonstrates their commitment to mission, their surrender to God’s call for the growth and development of the early Church.

Don’t ever say you do not have a call to mission. God can ambush you just like He ambushed Aquila and Priscilla into a significant call on their lives alongside the apostle Paul. Could you become an “accidental missionary”?

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