I led a seminar for a group of university students a few years ago on ‘being a woman of God’. Obviously the subject of relationships came up (as it will with most groups of women!) We started talking about how they felt about singleness, marriage – all that stuff – you know it! What struck me (and I’m not easily surprised after 10 years of student work) was that a number of them told me that they knew it wasn’t the ‘right’ answer but they thought it was better to be divorced than to have never got married. Their reasoning was that ‘at least someone loved me enough to marry me once!’
Many of us are terrified that God might ask us to be single – and if we are married we can be a bit smug (Bridget Jones has a point you know). I had a party once themed, ‘the outfit you’ve always wanted to wear’ and one of my (very lovely) married friends joked “that’ll be wedding dresses for the single girls won’t it!”
Please don’t miss hear me – I’m not saying all ‘singles’ are desperate or all ‘marrieds’ smug – as more and more of my friends have married and we’ve had honest talks about those relationships even a romantic singleton like me has realized what hard work marriage is. The compromise and sacrifice are immense. I am in awe of the commitment they have made. I’ve seen some grow in their faith and others struggle. Marriage has consequences as well as singleness
So single or married, happy about it or not, how can we view our relationship status? Who can we look to, to inspire us in that?
Acts 18; 1-4
“After these things he (Paul) left Athens and went to Cornith. And he found a Jew named Aquilla, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tentmakers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Acts 18; 18-19
“Paul having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquilla. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. They came to Ephesus, and he left them there.“
Acts 18; 24-26
“Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus. Being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Pricilla and Aquilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of the lord more accurately.“
Romans 16; 3-5
“Greet Prisca and Aquilla, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also the churches of the gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house.
1 Cor. 6;19
“The churches of Asia greet you. Aquilla and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.”
2 Tim 4;19
“ Greet Prisca and Aquilla, and the household of Onesiphorus.”
Priscilla (Prisca) was the wife of a Jewish tentmaker, Aquilla, and is mentioned a number of times in Paul’s story and letters. There are several things that are interesting about her and potentially inspiring for us.
Firstly this lady had quite a few stamps in her passport. (Well she would have if she had had one!) Expelled in a wave of anti-Semitic persecution from Rome, then moving from Corinth to Ephesus with Paul, she and her husband must have learnt to be flexible, to trust God with their location and provision. And wherever they ended up their response was the same – to share the gospel and to plant churches, welcoming new converts into their home to teach and disciple them. Whatever circumstances got thrown at her Priscilla served the gospel of Jesus and his people – even risking her life according to Paul!
Makes me a bit ashamed of how often I’ve thrown my toys out of the cot when circumstances got a bit difficult!
Another thought is that the (few) women held up in the biblical texts as leaders often seem to be single (like Phoebe) – or their husbands are incidental (like Deborah).
What is really interesting and has been noticed by lots of commentators is that usually in a biblical ministry team the senior partner is named first, ‘Paul and Timothy’ for example. That Priscilla is named before her husband in 5 out of 6 references implies that she was probably the senior partner in the ministry team, perhaps with the stronger gift. Not what you’d expect in first century society eh? In fact not really what you’d expect even today!
This team of theirs, funded by making tents, seems to have had a double ministry function. Hosting churches was one, but they were also teachers, explaining the gospel more fully to Apollos to equip him for his ministry. Even in churches today verses like ‘I do not allow a woman to teach a man’ (1 Tim 2;12 ) are used with regards to women’s gifts and yet Paul seems to encourage and honour this woman’s teaching.
It presents us with a dilemma about which bible verses are universal (apply to all time) and which are specific to a single situation. Does the Timothy passage mean that all women shouldn’t teach the Bible for all time? Or is there something going on in Ephesus that Paul is addressing, a specific problem with specific women there?
Priscilla has learnt – presumably from Paul – ‘the way of the Lord’ and is passing that on. She teaches an Egyptian man who turns up with half the gospel, and Paul’s approval of her ministry in 3 of his letters suggests he doesn’t have a problem with that!
There is something else about Priscilla and Aquila that I’m really impressed by. That is how generous they are. Not necessarily in financial terms (although their hospitality suggests that too.) But in the fact that they recognise when a gifted guy comes onto their patch and rather than try to control him, close him down or see him as a threat, they go out of their way to equip him. To push him forwards, to make him more effective in his ministry.
Now I know that in principle we all agree with that, -encouraging others to grow and learn is a good thing.
But what about if they become more famous or mature or are more gifted than us?
When they are promoted beyond us?
Become leaders of some sort when we don’t?
When our mentees surpass us, leave us behind, make us look like amateurs?
One young dancer I know has been bullied by older colleagues because she is good at her job. Clearly they felt insecure and threatened by her talent. That is heartbreaking because all she really wanted to do was encourage them and show them Jesus. She wasn’t aiming to usurp them or take their job. It makes me sad that she feels she can’t pursue her career as a professional dancer because she isn’t prepared to become thick skinned or hard hearted. (I’m certain God will use her anyway.) But are we willing to be those who give a leg up to those following us and let them reach higher or stand taller than we do ourselves? Or do we feel intimidated and resentful of that?
Apollos clearly goes on to have an powerful ministry (1 Corinthians 1.12 ) and a key part of that is no doubt the teaching he received, but there isn’t a lot of glory in being the teacher, the encourager, the person that pushes others to believe in their own God given potential. Yet Pricilla does it – in tandem with her husband.
Aquilla must have been a pretty secure kind of guy! Not only to work with his wife but to let her use her gifts and to come second in the pecking order. I do appreciate arranged marriages were the order of the day, but it does raise some good questions for us singletons to consider. What kind of man do we want to marry? Lots of the young women I know and work with are desperate to marry. To be fair, I understand that. Few of us long to be single – we mostly want a man to love us, to be a team with. But do we want to marry at any cost? To marry anything breathing, with XY chromosomes?
Now THAT’S the kind of guy we need. One who is not threatened by our gifts and passion for Jesus. To be part of a team like that would be great. What allowed Priscilla to be herself is (partly at least) a man of God who encouraged and believed in her! A husband who doesn’t love Jesus or believe in our callings will inevitably not allow us to become part of a dynamic team like this. Our marriage choices will impact not just the lives we do lead but the lives we don’t as well.
Please hear me, I don’t say any of this lightly. As a 39-year-old single woman I do understand alone, I do understand fear of never having children, I do want to be loved and bought flowers and have someone always in my corner. I also understand that plenty of us make the choice to marry a really great guy who doesn’t know Jesus because we fall in love or there are few ‘decent’ Christian men in our circles. But those choices do effect what we can do for God. It doesn’t mean we can do nothing – of course not – all I’m saying is that part of Priscilla’s strength, her ministry, her function as a role model, is also in her marriage to a man of God, and a secure one at that.
And for the ‘marrieds’ – these two worked together for God. They used their gifts to complement each other. They were a powerful combination. Is that how your marriage is working? A friend once said to me ‘marriage either halvesor doubles what you can do for God’. I think there’s a lot of truth in that – so are you halving or doubling your partner’s potential? Are they halving or doubling yours? How could you encourage each other to be all God made you to be? Or do insecurities and little jealousies creep in? – Worth a thought, and a conversation I reckon!
So – some things for us to consider when we make covenant choices, like marriage. And when we try to live them out. Whether or not we are leaders and teachers, married or single, Priscilla is a great role model. Hospitable, a generous encourager and discipler of others who works with her husband to further God’s kingdom in the places He moves them too.
True of you too?
Definitely things to aspire to!
© Ruth Perrin 2009. Last revised on 24 August 2009
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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