Fundamentals of Biblical Discipleship Part 3: God is the multiplier
The focus of this section has been individual responsibility and method, but I cannot overestimate this next point. “Without Christ we can do nothing!” We can plan, philosophize, and purpose to do great things for God, but unless He blesses our labors, we will see no lasting fruit. We are powerless in evangelism and discipleship apart from the blessing of God and the convicting and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. God has blessed the ministries of a variety of individuals, who acted based upon sometimes unconventional means. I say that not to encourage us to be lazy or unconventional, but rather to recognize the complete inadequacy of even the most disciplined methodical men. There are some truly wonderful examples in the Bible of the way that God works uniquely in men’s lives to accomplish His purposes. I want to illustrate my point by observing the lives of Aquila and Priscilla whom Paul met in Corinth.
We see from observing Paul’s life and missionary journeys, that it was his custom to go to strategic cities and establish works that would eventually reach their regions. The church of Thessalonica was a prime example. It was a prosperous port city, important commercial center, and the capital of Macedonia. It had a booming population for its day of nearly 200,000 people. Paul wrote to the church later in I Thessalonians 1:5-8 “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.” He commended them for doing the work of evangelism and discipleship thoroughly! Paul literally had no need to preach the gospel in that region, they thoroughly did the work. This is a tremendous example of calculated decision making on Paul’s part and the blessing of Divine reproduction!
In Acts 18, Luke recorded the events surrounding the planting of the church of Corinth. Corinth was a pagan city in deep need of a Gospel witness. After departing from Athens, Paul came to this strategic city. Corinth was the leading commercial and political center in Greece. In Corinth, Paul met a couple who had been deported from Rome because they practiced Judaism. Paul’s interaction with this couple began in their practice of the same trade, tent making. From this interaction, Aquila and Priscilla became grounded disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul thoroughly discipled this couple who previously knew only Judaism. My guess is that they were led to Christ through these interactions. Our story shows us the miraculous side of the process. God used this couple with no “Bible College” or “Seminary” education to be effective servants in churches of Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and Philippi. In Acts 18:18-21 Luke record their interaction in Ephesus. Paul was had such confidence in this couple, that after 18 months or less time with them, he took them with him to Ephesus. Remember that Paul and Barnabas went separate ways over a contention regarding John Mark’s fitness to travel with them! Paul was not only confident in their commitment to Christ and spiritual maturity to bring them with him, but Paul left them in Ephesus to watch over the work that was established. “[Paul] took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila;… And he came to Ephesus, and left them there…And he sailed from Ephesus.” How many converts would we be comfortable leaving to care for the work after such a short time in the faith? Paul was thorough and tenacious, but this couple made the cut in Paul’s mind.
Next, we see their maturity, grace, and wisdom demonstrated in their interaction with a man named Apollos. Apollos would later become a great statesman for the Gospel in Corinth, but notice how he began his ministry. In Acts 18:24-28 Luke records that “Apollos, was…an eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures, fervent in the spirit, and a diligent teacher.” Unfortunately, this man did not know more than the message of John the Baptist. He did not know about the crucifixion and the resurrection. His knowledge was deficient. “When Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly…and, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.” This is a wonderful passage, because it gives us insight into the reason Paul brought this couple and left them in Ephesus. They were bold, effective teachers, and gracious. The Bible never says that they were eloquent people, but we do know that they understood how to approach and help a man whom God would mightily use in the future.
Our story does not stop in Ephesus and Corinth. In I Corinthians 16:19, we see the same couple mentioned again by Paul. This time Paul is in Philippi. As Paul finished his letter to the church of Corinth, he mentions the greetings of a family they knew well. He says: “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” Apollos as well as many in the church knew them well, and had been mightily influenced by their ministry! Do not overlook this critical fact. They saluted the saints with the church that was meeting in their house. They were influential in founding another church, and were influential in encouraging Paul as he was imprisoned at Philippi.
If the Bible never mentioned their names again, it would stand as a powerful testimony to God’s ability to compound the works of men, but we see one more example of their ministry. In Romans 16:3-5, Paul writes to a church that he longed to see, but had never visited. It was Paul’s plan to go to Rome on his way to the unreached peoples of Spain. He wrote the letter seeking the assistance of the church, to encourage them in the Lord, and to exhort them to walk in obedience to the Lord. We do not know how this church was established, but we do know that God used some dear friends in this great city, the capital of arguably the strongest world empire in human history. Paul writes: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.” Paul mentions this couple as a testimony to their faithfulness and the power of God. Aquila and Priscilla returned to the city that was once home. Though deported as Jews, they returned as completed Jews, and were influential in the spread of the Gospel in Rome. Paul’s letter to the Roman church tells us that their was already a thriving church in that city. God is the great reproducer! This couple laid aside the prejudices of their Jewish upbringing and were thanked by “all the churches of the gentiles.” They returned to a place that brought back some possibly painful memories, to establish a church in their house. God took 18 months of ministry and influenced thriving New Testament churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi. We will never know the full value of that time spent in intensive mentoring. Remember that Christ took 11 men who walked with Him for three and a half years and literally spread the gospel throughout the entire known world in their lifetime! God is the great multiplier!