Living with Purpose (Acts 18)

Living with Purpose

Acts 18

Acts 18 reveals three truths about life we’re prone to forget. Your pain has purpose, not always perceived (Acts 18:1 to 3). Your job is a platform, not a purpose (Acts 18:18 to 19). Your ministry may be private, not public (Acts 18:24 to 28).

Who told you the Gospel–a family member? A friend? Were you at camp or a conference? Was it through preaching at church? Or maybe it was a stranger? For me, it all clicked at Hume Lake as I heard a man named Jay Carty preach the Gospel.

Every Christian learned the Gospel from someone else. William Carey, the father of modern missions, was saved while working in a shoe repair shop. Charles Spurgeon turned aside in a snowstorm on his way to a much larger church, to a small church of fifteen people, where the main preacher was missing and an uneducated tailor went to the pulpit—and he heard the Gospel and was converted.

RC Sproul went back to his dorm room for cigarettes, ran into a football player and heard the Gospel. George Shackelford was invited to a Bible study by some coworkers and the Gospel became real to him. Rod Shackelford saw the Gospel transform his parents and heard the same truths at church. Most people, even those who make it into history books, come to Christ by the witness of people you’ve never heard of and will never be famous.

If you follow social media, you know there are many voices clamoring for attention. There are pastors with hot takes on the day’s events. There is no shortage of experts and influencers wanting to shape how you think and feel. If you listen to sermons during the week, you may have your favorite preachers that encourage or challenge you. If you follow the news, you have your favorite and trusted sources to learn what’s going on.

By nature, we are prone to putting a lot of weight into a few men. We naturally elevate people we respect. We think, if only my neighbor could hear Chris Mueller preach. If only my coworker could hear Pat Levis lead worship. If only Jim Evans would pray for my mom, I know her heart would change. If only we could get the President we need in office, the whole country would change.

We read the Bible and see Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Peter and Paul–big names, huge impact. We can think that God mainly uses a few people for great things. But the reality is something else. God’s plan is for you to be faithful and live with purpose. He did not plan for all the heavy-lifting to be done by a few people. The simple reality that you have already declared when you raised your hands earlier is that God uses plain, ordinary people to accomplish His will.

We have been working our way through the book of Acts, tracing the major storylines as the Early Church grows and expands. The Church was established in Acts 2, it grows and expands in Acts 4 through trials, is purified by Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5, is amazed at Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, transformed by the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10, strengthened by the Antioch church in Acts 13 as they send out missionaries, purified by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as they welcome Gentiles as full and equal members of God’s Church, and as we heard last week in Acts 17, Paul is now on his second missionary journey and been pushed to persevere.

And though Paul is dominant in Acts 18, he is not who I want you to focus on today. After a tough road, God encourages Paul with spiritual fruit in his ministry, and with other people who have the same passion. Today, we’re going to look at a couple of the many ordinary people whom God uses to do great things. The story of Aquila and Priscilla should encourage us to live with purpose. And they remind us of what we’re most prone to forget.

Open up your Bibles to Acts 18 and remember what you heard last week. Paul visited three cities–Thessalonica, Berea and Athens. In Thessalonica, as some began to confess Christ, people rioted and a mob attacked the house where Paul had been staying. Paul and Silas left by night and went to Berea. In Berea, after a short period of seeing people saved, the Thessalonians heard Paul was there and they sent people out to shut him down. The Christians there put Paul on a boat and sent him away.

Paul arrives in Athens alone and a bit down. He sees a city full of idols. He preaches in the synagogues. He talks in the marketplace. He reasons with the philosophers. And many are interested, but few believe. Not long after preaching at the Areopagus, Paul exits Athens.

That is where Acts 18 picks up. He is feeling down. He seems discouraged. Everywhere he goes, there is a bit of response–but generally his preaching is resulting in anger or apathy. So alone and downcast, Paul wanders to Corinth–a city known for being wild. And it’s here, 50 miles from Athens, that Paul encounters the couple I want you to notice today.

Look at Acts 18:1 to 3, “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.”

When Paul is feeling down, God allows him to find this couple who are going to be like a drink of cold water on a hot day–refreshing and encouraging him. What Luke recorded about Aquila and Priscilla is a great encouragement. We see that they are a couple who lived with purpose, just as we are called to do. There is nothing particularly special or unusual about them, other than their faithful choice to live out their purpose in life. Their ministry in Acts 18 reveals three truths about life we’re prone to forget. Each mention of them reveals a biblical truth that we are quick to forget.

1)  Your pain has purpose, not always perceived  Acts 18:1 to 3

Paul leaves Athens because he was discouraged by the response of people there. Whether he took the 4-hour boat ride or walked the two days, he had some down time to think, reflect and pray. He is alone with his thoughts as he arrives in Corinth and short on funds, so he goes to the market area where tents are sold and hooks up with other tentmakers.

The Jews had a saying—”If you don’t teach your son a trade, you teach him to be a thief.” Every Jewish boy learned a trade, even those training to be rabbis. Paul learned leather work, which was predominantly tent making and repair. Maybe you’ve heard of tentmaking ministries? This is the origin of the phrase. So, discouraged and with no friends and little funds, Paul goes looking for work. And this is where he meets Aquila and Priscilla, a couple who’d recently arrived in Corinth.

Aquila was from Pontus (northern Turkey), but they were in Corinth because they’d been kicked out of Rome. Luke describes him as Jewish, to help us understand what’s said next. It was 49 AD when Emperor Claudius decreed that Jews should be expelled from Rome, because of the teachings of a Jewish man named Chrestus (which is how they pronounced Christ). We can’t be 100% sure, but it seems likely that without any apostles visiting, there was a growing presence of Christians in Rome, such that Claudius learned about it, determined it was dangerous, and kicked them all out. So Aquila and Priscilla left the friends they’d made and moved away.

Now I would bet that most everyone has had to move away from friends at some point in their life. That is hard. It takes time to make new friends–and you can feel very lonely in a new place without any. But pretend you owned a restaurant and the city said—“Actually you need to shut down your business and leave. And the closest place you can settle is El Centro.” You can imagine that it would be hard to restart your restaurant.

This was a painful time for Paul. And an even more painful time for Aquila and Priscilla. They had left their friends, shut down their business, and their church had been dispersed. But God had purpose for their pain. Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”

Genesis 50:20, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” This is what I meant by #1, your pain has purpose, not always perceived (Acts 18:1 to 3). Aquila and Priscilla had no idea the plans God had when they were packing up their house in Rome. They couldn’t have known who they would meet in Corinth as they set up shop there. They were seeking to be faithful in the midst of a nightmare. They were trusting the Lord without knowing His plans. God had purpose for their pains, though they couldn’t perceive them.

And right now, some of you are walking through deep waters. You feel weighed down and in a dark place much of the time. You are worried about what’s going to happen next. You cry out to God about your pain and you can’t see how it will get better. You don’t understand why God has allowed your life to go this way.

Acts 18 teaches us that your pain has a purpose, though you may not perceive it. When Aquila and Priscilla met Paul, God’s plan began to be realized. But take comfort that they didn’t see it. They had lost money in the transition. They had lost friends. They just trusted God.

First Peter 3:14 to 15, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.”

Then also 1 Peter 4:19, “Those who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” God often leads us in ways that aren’t clear as we talk, but seem best as we look back years later.

Paul partners with them. They appear to have already been believers. And they begin to develop a friendship. Paul and the two of them would be together for about two years–working, resting and ministering together. They would’ve been in the synagogue each week as Paul tried to reason with the Jews there. And Paul, for the first time on this missionary trip, begins to see great fruit. He had feared ministry in Corinth, but this incredibly immoral city was receptive to the Gospel.

When he finally set sail, Aquila and Priscilla go with him. Look at Acts 18:18 to 22, “After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21But on taking leave of them he said, ‘I will return to you if God wills,’ and he set sail from Ephesus. 22When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.” So here’s the second truth we’re prone to forget . . .

2)  Your job is a platform, not the purpose  Acts 18:18 to 19

When Aquila and Priscilla landed in Corinth, they had set up shop and begun to build relationships. They invested into the church there and maintained relationships with people there for years to come. When Paul leaves Corinth after a couple years of ministry, Aquila and Priscilla head out with him. They travel across the Aegean Sea and land in Ephesus. It takes two days and is yet another step removed from where they were.

I put in your notes a rough chronology of their travels.

Rome  49 ad       Corinth 49-52ad      Ephesus 52-55ad    
Rome 56-??ad     Ephesus ??-67ad

We don’t know when they landed in Rome, but we know from Acts 18:2–they left there and settled in Corinth around 49ad. They lived, worked and ministered there for about three years, then traveled with Paul to Ephesus. We just read in Acts 18:19, they stayed in Ephesus while Paul returned home to Antioch. As Paul begins his third missionary journey, Paul returns to Ephesus and writes 1 Corinthians in 55ad.

First Corinthians 16:19 describes Aquila and Priscilla now hosting the Ephesian church in their house. They send super warm greetings to the believers in Corinth. At the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, Paul writes Romans from Corinth. And in Romans 16:3, he greets this dear couple who are now living in Rome. This was around 56 ad, and they are now hosting a church in their new house in Rome.

Romans 16:3 to 5, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; 5also greet the church that is in their house.”

Fast forward eleven years to Paul, who’s now in Rome in jail and awaiting death. He writes to Timothy, who’s in Ephesus–and we see that Aquila and Priscilla are back in Ephesus, living and ministering there (2 Timothy 4:19). This couple moved around. We don’t know if they were a multinational tentmaker, or if they moved their business from city to city, but here is what we do know. They were not pastors. They were never paid by a church. They simply worked a job and poured out their lives into ministry. They knew what we are prone to forgetting–your job is not the purpose of your life (Acts 18:18 to 19). It is only a platform to provide for your family and minister to others.

I love capitalism, but its lie is that we are earning for ourselves. We head to work and find our value and identity there. We define ourselves and others based on their job and their income. Last week, I was at the doctor’s office. One of the first questions asked by the nurse, was exactly matched by the doctor when he came into the room—”So, what do you do for work?”

But Christian, your job is not your identity. You may be an amazing teacher, salesperson, doctor, police officer, driver or whatever–but your job is not the purpose of your life. It is only a platform. It is a means to an end. And the end is not retirement. God provides work and income and money for people, so that they can use it for others.

Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Everything that God has given you, whether it’s a rented room or a vacation home–it is all a stewardship. It is a platform for you to show off Jesus Christ and His greatness.

Aquila and Priscilla clearly used their work for Kingdom purposes. They moved in order to invest into others. They hosted churches in their homes. We’ll see shortly that they invested into individuals. Could someone look at your life and see a similar commitment? Do you use your income, your free time, and your possessions to minister to others?

Some of you are starting families, and the car seat count is growing. Many of you are in peak earning years. A few are retired and living off a fixed income. No matter your present situation, you have a choice of how you’re going to live. Will you put ministry first? Will you serve the Lord above your own pleasures?

Faith Bible Church was started by a bunch of men who were committed to working hard at their jobs, then ministering with all their free time. They brought their young kids to student ministries. They hosted events and Bible studies in their homes. They woke early and stayed up late, studying the Word and praying. They shared their faith at work and in their neighborhoods. That was the norm when we started FBC. That is why we have always been a lay-run church. That belief that your job is a platform for ministry, and not the purpose of your life, is part of the DNA of our church.

I worry about it every time we send a man to seminary or hire an intern. It’s right and fine that we do those things. First Timothy 5 affirms supporting men for ministry. I just don’t want us to forget this truth–your job is a platform for ministry, not the purpose of life.

Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” And 1 Timothy 6:9 to 10, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Now look at Acts 18:24 to 28, “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

Apollos is amazing–he deserves his own sermon. He was an Egyptian man, from the second largest city in the Empire. If Rome was the capitol of government, Alexandria was the capitol of learning. The city had a large Jewish population, with a synagogue so large that somebody stood in the middle and waved a flag for people in the back to know when to say, “Amen.”

Apollos was well-educated, gifted and knew the Scriptures quite well. He was bold, willing to speak, and full of faith. Verse 25, he was “fervent in spirit”, which means to boil up or be on fire. He seems to have already been a believer, and was accurate in what he said, but incomplete in his knowledge. What he lacked is unclear from the text. He clearly didn’t know about the coming and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He may not have known about the inclusion of Gentiles. Maybe he didn’t know all the facts of what happened after Jesus’ resurrection.

But look again at verse 26, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” As soon as Apollos began to teach in front of others, Aquila and Priscilla heard him and knew he needed help. So they invite him over to their home, or maybe out to shawarma, and they have a hard conversation.

Apollos, the educated, bold preacher is sat down by a tentmaker and his wife. And because Apollos is a humble man, he listens and accepts correction. And this is the third point, which has been sneaking up on you . . .

3)  Your ministry may be private, not public  Acts 18:24 to 28

Apollos is going to go big–he is going to be adored by the Church. But whose ministry was required for this to happen? Aquila and Priscilla. This quiet, ministry-minded lay couple is behind the man of God that Apollos develops into. Their instruction of Apollos is like throwing gas on fire. He starts blazing all the more brightly for Christ.

Maybe because of his time with Aquila and Priscilla, he wants to go to Corinth. And the church in Ephesus supports him going, writing him letters of introduction. Once he gets to Corinth, Apollos is so effective and loved that people will brag for years to come about being baptized by him. He is an amazingly gifted evangelist and preacher. He was particularly effective at witnessing to Jews. In fact, some think that he may have been the author of Hebrews. And as important as he would become to the Early Church, Apollos would be nothing without the private ministry of Aquila and Priscilla.

Sometimes, we wrongly elevate the public ministry of Chris or Patrick or some other preacher or writer or Christian leader. And we forget that the private work of ministry–in homes, on the patio, in the bleachers is of incredibly high value. A lot of longing for a greater platform for ministry is the result of blindness to the incredible opportunities and responsibilities around you now.

Aquila and Priscilla were aware of how God had made each of them. We don’t know their spiritual gift. It may have been giving, but we can be sure it wasn’t teaching. They always appear in a support role to others. And from all we see, they embraced how God made them. They were comfortable with a private ministry. They embraced working behind the scenes.

I traveled with Layne and Natalie Higgins to New Zealand some years ago to help run a VBS as Onekawa Bible Church. They did a great job and we had a fun time. One of the things I was amazed and encouraged by was how much Layne flourished in serving others. We gave him opportunities to be up front and leading, and he would do it when helpful, but his preference was to be behind the scenes, supporting and enabling whoever was leading. He was happier, less stressed and more fruitful. He has no desire to be up front, and loves to serve alongside someone who is.

First Corinthians 12:7 and 11, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. . . 11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

The Spirit of God made Layne. He gave Layne all the gifts required for him to be maximally effective. And He made you. He has crafted you in a way that will serve the church best and maximize His glory. Do not think that you need to serve and look just like someone else you admire. Your ministry may be private, not public–but that doesn’t make it less valuable.

First Corinthians 12:21 to 22, “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

I would argue that without Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos would never have been effective. They were critical to his success. Rather than destroy him for being imperfect, they ministered to him and made him stronger. They helped him become a trusted man of God.

So if you are a Christian, hear me now. We need you. The church needs you in order to be healthy. You don’t need a public, visible ministry platform to be used by God. The most important ministries are the ones hidden and private.

You may not know it, but there is an older couple in our church who prays regularly for each community group and its members. I am convinced that our CGs are healthy, largely because of them and their faithful prayers. However you are gifted, live with purpose. That is the main lesson we see in Aquila and Priscilla. Their whole lives were spent on mission, serving the Church while living life.

Are you living with purpose? Or have you forgotten the outsized influence that other unknown Christians have served in bringing us all to faith, and in sanctification. You don’t need a public ministry to be effective. Your job is not your purpose in life. Your pain is not pointless.

God has appointed how you’re made, what you do in life, and what happens to you along the way–all so that you can bring Him maximum glory. Do not think that God needs someone special to accomplish His will. He is looking for you to be faithful in living out your purpose.

Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” And Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Paul’s third missionary journey took him to Corinth, where he meets Aquila and Priscilla. Too often, we think that God needs special people to accomplish great things. The reality is that God is looking for faithfulness. Some of the most amazing works of God are the result of ordinary people being faithful to the Lord.

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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