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Called to Explain
Winter Quarter: Call in the New Testament
Unit 3: The Call of Women
Sunday school lesson for the week of Feb. 21, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Acts 18:1-26, Romans 16:3-4, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Timothy 4:19
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.” Romans 16:3-4
Our texts invite us once again to appreciate the role of women in our faith. Hopefully, this appreciation will deepen as we study the material. We also will learn the importance of sharing and defending the Gospel. The women in Scripture serve as great examples of both. We will also recognize the importance of supporting ministry, as is evident in those women who followed Jesus.
Important places in our texts
This lesson begins in Athens. Paul was brought to Athens for the purpose of his safety. Athens was a very corrupt and sinful city to Paul. He journeys to the local synagogue and began to teach and preach the resurrection of Jesus. It was most likely against the law to preach on a foreign god, and they arrested Paul for preaching Jesus. He was taken to the high court. Paul gave a defense of himself and his preaching. Paul’s sermon of defense is known as the Areopagus Sermon. It is a dramatic, full account of Paul’s mission. This sermon is known as one of the early steps in the theological development of Christology. Christology is the study of the nature, substance, and life of Christ. Paul reminds them they worship empty, false idols. He uses their altar with the inscription: “To An Unknown God” to challenge their religious life. They do not really know who their god is! Several people followed Christ through Paul’s message. Over time, tensions grew within the Jewish community and Paul left for Corinth.
Fifty miles west of Athens was Corinth. Gallio was deputy here, as Corinth was the seat of Roman government. This area was a major center for commerce. It was a mecca for trade as roads of commerce led into and out of Corinth. It was an isthmus with three sides bounded by the sea. When ships entered a port on either side they stopped. They dared not try to navigate around the isthmus, for the currents were far too dangerous. Quite incredibly ships were carried, over land, from one side to the other. It might have been less than four miles to transport the ships, but imagine what a major task this was in the first century! It reveals the ingenuity that blessed humankind.
Corinth was a religious city. It allowed Judaism, and synagogues had been founded there. However, there were many pagan deities that were worshiped. Therefore, the fields were ripe for the harvest. Paul, the other apostles and followers of Jesus, would take the Gentile world by storm.
It is here that we look into Paul’s methodology
for winning people to Christ:
First, Paul entered the synagogue. Paul always worshiped in the synagogue and used the synagogue as a way to meet people seriously seeking God. Paul usually met very devout Jews. As a Pharisee, he was invited to teach. As people listened, Paul created some controversy but also discovered those with hungry hearts. Usually, someone invited him home to dwell.
Secondly, Paul used his trade as a tent maker. Paul was schooled by a major Pharisee who taught his students to learn a trade. Paul worked in making tents. The marketplace gave Paul another wide-open opportunity to meet future converts and even some new Christians traveling through. Paul worked in a bi-vocational manner. After winning some to Christ he would be invited to dwell.
Thirdly, Paul created a home church. Here, each week, Paul taught the teachings of Jesus. At the core of his teaching was the resurrected Christ, thus proclaiming Jesus was Messiah.
Fourthly, Paul would see that the church became rooted in Christ. Leaders emerged to share the Gospel and keep the church going. Only then would Paul leave for a new area. He never took in converts only to immediately leave them.
Lessons to take from Corinth
Paul used face to face, personal evangelism. He met people! We are not given the conversations in which Paul participated in the market. However, Paul had in mind to live the Gospel and share the Gospel. Paul networked. He met people in the synagogue, market-place, and in homes. Every aspect of Paul’s life was for Christ.
After a year and a half, Paul left for Ephesus on the southwest coast of today’s Turkey. This was the major capital of Rome in the Province of Asia Minor. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. A large Jewish population existed within Ephesus, and they had established a strong synagogue. Paul’s teaching and preaching riled many in the Jewish community. A strong church now existed in Ephesus and controversy was ever-present. A riot finally erupted. Still, Paul had established and rooted a church which would become a major church in Christianity. It must be remembered that the early church did not experience ease when establishing Christianity. There were many battles and struggles, yet here we are in 2021!
Important people in the text
Paul’s ministry spanned approximately from 35 A.D. to 55 A.D. Paul was a Pharisee, schooled under Gamaliel. The length of Gamaliel’s bio and teachings would be too great in this typed lesson. Therefore, I encourage each student to scroll Gamaliel and read the information. He was a great influence upon Paul. Paul persecuted the early Christians in an attempt to defend Judaism against the new sect. Paul could be ruthless (read the stoning of Stephen). Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians when he encountered the Christ. In that moment and moments to come, Paul was radically transformed. Paul the persecutor would now hunt down lost souls to bring them to Christ. From the conversion of Paul forward, the Book of Acts mostly follows the ministry of Paul. Acts is set up according the description in Acts 1. The disciples were to carry the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world. Paul is taking the Gospel into the uttermost part of the world. He is a mighty witness to the power of Jesus to renew a heart and transform one’s total life. Paul did not preach what he had not experienced. His passion emerged from a real, lasting experience with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Paul wrote 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament. He is considered to be the theologian in the New Testament. Paul is aware of the “oral Gospel.” Prior to the writing of Mark, the Gospel was taught and proclaimed. It spread by word of mouth. The stories that later appeared in the Gospels were told and repeated with great care. Eventually, the Gospels were written. The people to whom he preached and taught depended totally upon what they saw and heard. Paul took the truth of his conversion, the truth he learned in the days following his conversion, the oral tradition and “fleshed them out” with theological thought and understanding. We often underestimate the gifts and graces God had bestowed upon Paul. He changed the world with his preaching, teaching, and love of the Church. He would make missionary journeys into Mesopotamia and Syria. At the time of Paul’s death, the Church existed in Rome and was making its way into Europe.
Aquila and Priscilla
This married couple had come from Italy to Corinth. The Jews from Rome were expelled by the Emperor Claudius, both Christian and non-Christian Jews. Aquila and Priscilla had come from Italy to Rome at this time. They had become faithful, devoted followers of Jesus and were well respected. They were the kind of couple that today we would address them by both names. We all know couples we refer to by both names. They were so bound together in marriage and faith we rarely could say Aquila without saying Priscilla.
Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers, and so was Paul. They entered into a meaningful, special relationship. They became Paul’s right hand in ministry at Corinth. Every pastor knows the value of those who desire more than anything to serve Jesus. Their integrity even led to a sense of moral leadership among the Christian community. If we study the ministry of Paul, we quickly learn that Paul was rarely, if ever, alone. God had raised up men and women who supported him in ministry whether in achievement or struggle. They followed Paul to Ephesus, and Paul left them after some time to care for the church. This was an enormous responsibility, and Paul chose two in whom he utterly trusted. No one would leave their children with someone unless they trusted them. The churches were Paul’s children, and he loved them like a father and mother. He knew had to establish order, and he knew how to nurture.
Apollos had arrived at Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was the largest Greek cultural center in the world. Apollos was well educated in Alexandria. He would have studied Scripture in a systematic manner, as the philosophies of the Greeks flavored his understanding. He spoke with clarity and power. He was to be a preacher with great gifts and graces. He would later relocate to Corinth.
Apollos’ Greek background would have greatly supplemented Paul’s more Jewish background. The book of Hebrews sounds like it was written by Apollos. However, the Church and tradition assign it to Paul. However, through the Book of Hebrews we see the melding of Judaism, Christianity and Greek thought. The Church was becoming just that. We are rooted in our Jewish roots established in the Old Testament, and that has been enlightened by great Christian thinkers in the first and second centuries. His teaching and preaching were accurate and passionate.
The mention of Apollos receiving only John the Baptist’s baptism is important. Aquila and Priscilla both noted that the Holy Spirit was absent in Apollos preaching. Privately, they instructed Apollos. This could not have been an easy meeting. Apollos had already received great respect. It isn’t easy to be corrected when everyone is praising you. However, we know something of Apollos’ spirit when he receives their message and is baptized with the Holy Spirit. Until that time, Apollos was God’s child and used by God. However, so much of his teaching and preaching were from the head. However, the spiritual dimension seemed to be missing. The reception of the Spirit’s baptism enlivened a facet of Apollos that made him one of the greatest of leaders in the Early Church.
From the beginning of this lesson, we can sense the importance of realizing God’s sovereignty in life. God has chosen Paul; though not a perfect man, a perfect choice. Paul was steeped in Jewish law and the reality of life after death. He was a Pharisee. He had also been trained to be a tentmaker. He had everything he needed to become the Apostle of apostles. Paul needed people like Aquila and Priscilla. This was a devoted, passionate couple with gifts and graces that complemented Paul’s ministry. They believed in Christ and each other. Their gifts and graces contributed to the Kingdom of God. They contributed in every way, and I believe especially regarding the area of nurture. Their taking Apollos aside, with great sensitivity, and sharing with the need of the Holy Spirit, certainly reveals that tender heart both possessed.
Apollos was also a great example of God’s sovereign will. Paul also needed someone with a clear message and the ability to proclaim that message in the growing Gentile church.
The Church’s Refinement
It is important to realize Paul was a man in process. We often forget his walk with Christ refined his own life. He grew in understanding and wisdom, and he deepened in trust. Near the end of Paul’s life, we can hear the utter serenity and contentment of Paul. He knew from where he had come, and where he was going.
The Church likewise has been in process. We have come through prosecution, turmoil, heresy, and numerous other obstacles. But she is still here! Time changes her shape and methodology, but she stands on the same Gospel that gave her life. God has reared leaders for his Church to sustain her, enrich her, and lead her into the day of God’s Kingdom.
When you hear of “the sovereignty of God,” of what do you think? How do you relate your life to being part of God’s sovereign will? Do you believe that we today know the powerful refinement through which our Church has passed? Do we see ourselves and the Body of Christ still being refined? How? Can you name the people God raised up in your life that greatly contributed to your faith? What made them different? Can you recognize those God has entrusted to your care? Can you understand how God is using you for that purpose? Leaders come and go; what and who remain the same through the ages? Does the Church engage in ministries that proclaim what is eternal in life?
Almighty God, we have heard the Gospel, we have believed, and we trust. Use our gifts and graces, received through the Spirit, to contribute to the reality of your Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for bringing us into your holy Church. We stand in that great line of witnesses and pray that we might be used to draw others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.