Three Ways to Minister as A Married Couple

Luther was a confirmed bachelor until he was 41. He resisted marriage, and only chose to marry after he had preached on the need for the young ministers of the reformation to get married, against the unbiblical practices of Romanism (how romantic!).

On June 13, 1525 Luther married Katharina Von Bora, a former nun who had fled the convent with a group of nuns who had been convinced of the truth of the reformation. Katie was 26.

Luther was already very famous and a wanted man outside of Saxony. It was an overwhelming thing for Katie to be instantly known as Luther’s wife, but she took up the task with vigor.

A biography of Luther describes the woman behind the great Dr. Luther: “Katharina immediately took on the task of administering and managing the vast holdings of the monastery, breeding and selling cattle, and running a brewery in order to provide for their family and the steady stream of students who boarded with them and visitors seeking audiences with her husband. In times of widespread illness, Katharina operated a hospital on site, ministering to the sick alongside other nurses. Luther called her the “boss of Zulsdorf,” after the name of the farm they owned, and the “morning star of Wittenberg” for her habit of rising at 4 a.m. to take care of her various responsibilities….In addition to her busy life tending to the lands and grounds of the monastery, Katharina bore six children: Hans, Elizabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margarete. The Luthers also raised four orphan children, including Katharina’s nephew, Fabian.”

What is the saying? Behind every great man… It is also true of Martin Luther. Martin and Katie were so close, their hearts so knit together that Luther called Katie “my rib.”

In the New Testament we also find a couple who serve alongside one another. They pop up in six places in the New Testament, and always together. Their names were Aquila and Priscilla.

Acts 18:2 tells us that Aquila was a Jewish native of Pontus, which is in Asia Minor. They lived and worked in Rome until 49 AD when Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, which sent them to the city of Corinth. It was in Corinth that they met the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey. We don’t know for sure, but it might be that Paul led this couple to salvation.

From this amazing couple, I’ve chosen Three Lessons We Can Learn Regarding Ministry Together in Christ.

1. Ministry Together Means Ministering Where You Are (Acts 18:1-3)

Here is the first occasion that the New Testament gives of this ministry couple, and we find out a little about them—they shared the same trade as the Apostle Paul, they were tentmakers or leather workers.

Acts 18:3 says that the Apostle stayed with this couple and he worked with them. Paul worked by day in the trade of tanning hides and sewing together awnings and tents, possibly in the shop that Aquila and Priscilla owned.

At the end of a long work day they would retire to their home, which Paul shared with them while he was in Corinth. On the Sabbath, verse 4 tells us that Paul would move into the synagogue and would reason (lit. dialogue) with those gathered there, mainly Jews and some Gentile God-fearers who had converted to Judaism. Paul also ministered in the agora, the marketplace where all the merchants gathered.

What I want you to see is the way that Aquila and Priscilla were so key to this situation, right where they were. Their whole life, both work and home-life was sanctified for the sake of the gospel. Not only did their business help support Paul and his ministry, it must have been a place of wonderful theological training and edification!

Can you imagine the conversations around the dinner table? Aquila and Priscilla took advantage of the circumstance they were in and used it for the glory of God; using their lives together as a place of ministry help and fellowship for Paul as well as edification and spiritual growth for themselves.

Luther used his dinner table as a mighty tool in the church. It rivaled his pulpit in influence as he gathered theological students around his table to hash out the implications of the gospel. He called them “table talks.” A table and a meal became a place for the mighty Spirit to move.

What could your home and workplace become for Christ? You don’t need to change jobs, or go into full time ministry to be used mightily for God. You and your spouse can look at where you are right now and ask God to take your circumstance and use it mightily for him.

2. Ministry Together Means You Need to Be Both a Student and a Teacher (Acts 18:4, 24-26)

Because we are told that Aquila was a Jew, it is highly possible that so was his wife. They would have gone with Paul to the synagogue every Sabbath and listened to the debates that Paul brought to the people.

Over time, this couple became very well equipped in the gospel and doctrine. They knew their stuff! Their time with Paul was not spent in chit-chat and trivialities. They were focused on learning as much as they could about the Christ.

Acts 18:18-21 teaches us that Paul and Aquila and Priscilla went on to Ephesus together where they had to part ways.

Then in verses 24-26 Aquila and Priscilla met up with a man named Apollos who was a powerful preacher, but his theology was lacking in some areas that are pretty important. Verse 26 says that when this couple heard him, they took him aside and taught him “more accurately.”

If you think about it, every teacher was at one time a student. And that is where everyone needs to begin—sitting under the authority of the Word of God and walking in obedience to what it says. Priscilla and Aquila sat patiently under Paul, soaking up what he offered to them. They saw the need to be students first.

I once had someone in our church who said that they didn’t feel like they were being spiritually fed at our church. But here was the problem—our church has three preaching services a week (Sunday morning and evening, and Wednesday night) along with Sunday school classes, Bible studies, discipleship groups, and other ministries, all of which were available to this person. But he didn’t take advantage of any of them except for Sunday mornings, and at this service his attendance was sporadic. I told him, “We’re serving up the Word, you’re just not coming to supper.”

What about you? Are you a student of the Word? Husband, are you stopping your wife from getting fed under the guise of wanting “family time?” You’ll regret it. And wife, are you dragging your feet about your husband being at church so much? You’ll regret it.

And beyond your own spiritual benefit, the church will be poorer for it. Because you cannot give what you do not have. You can’t teach what you don’t know. You can’t lead where you have not first gone yourself.

Sometimes church members complain about the ministries of the church, but they don’t see their own part in it all. How can the Lord use you in your immaturity?

And those who are laboring need you! The church needs godly couples who love Christ and His Word. We need more people like Aquila and Priscilla who can come alongside the Apollos’ of the church and teach them more accurately.

Are you a student of the Word? Could the leaders of our church ask you to come alongside them to help teach and lead this church?

3. Ministry Together Means Working with a Kingdom Focus (Rom 16:3-4)

At some point Priscilla and Aquila moved back to Rome and became an active part of the church there. According to Romans 16:5, they used their home as a meeting place for the church.

Paul called them sunergos, fellow-workers. These two were more than a couple, they were team workers. They didn’t see their part in the church as building up their own little kingdom. They were part of something much bigger.

That meant that their view of this life was much more than living to make a buck. Even though we were told that they were tentmakers back in Acts 18, it is never mentioned again. I’m sure they kept practicing their trade, but they weren’t defined by that fact. Their life wasn’t about being the pre-eminent tent-makers of Rome. They were part of the mission of the Church, and that was where they focused their love and energy.

This is shown in what Paul says about them in verse 4. He tells that whole church something that we wonder how many knew before he wrote it—that Aquila and Priscilla risked their necks in order to save Paul’s life. We don’t know how they did this or any of the circumstances, but it is there, locked into Scripture for all eternity. Priscilla and Aquila were bold enough to be willing to die for the sake of the gospel, and they knew that Paul was a key player in God’s plan. They were so sold out that they would rather have died than to see Paul die. It didn’t happen, but they were ready to take a bullet, so to speak. That’s how focused they were.

They didn’t let pettiness, selfishness, career, ambition, or anything else derail them from the mission. They didn’t care who got the credit, they were working for the same goal—to see Christ magnified through the proclamation of the gospel to the whole world.

In her book, One with a Shepherd, Mary Somerville describes the attitude that God calls us to. Writing from the perspective of ministry together, she writes: “My marriage is unique in that I am one with God through Jesus Christ and that makes me uniquely one with Bob [her husband]. We have a complete oneness that those outside of Christ cannot experience. We have one Savior and Lord, one name, one new family, one goal, one Word to guide us, and one focus of our lives—to glorify God. We have the Holy Spirit living within both of us to empower us to love each other sacrificially and to help us work through all hinderances to our oneness. With Christ in our lives there is hope for any difficulty we face. By his grace we can forgive as we have been forgiven. The Spirit knits us together and gives us a new heart that desires to serve Christ and give sacrificially to one another in love.”

And even though Mary Somerville is writing as a pastor’s wife, there is nothing that she wrote that isn’t true of all Christian couples serving God in all capacities from the perspective of either husband or wife.

If God calls you to any ministry, he calls you together. You may not serve together (i.e., elder, teacher, nursery, etc.) but you’re marriage brings you together to mutually support and care for one another in every ministry.

Ministry together means:

1. Ministering Where You Are

2. You Need to Be Both a Student and a Teacher

3. Working with a Kingdom Focus

What are some steps you can take to make these things happen?

1. Begin developing a family culture around the Word of God. Not just reading but discussing the Word. Husbands with wives. Moms with children. Dads do this with the family. Grandparents with children and grandchildren. Use that dinner table for the glory of God. Discuss the sermon on Sunday. Make your meal a theological feast, even if its around peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!

2. Tolle lege! Take up and read! We all need to be better students of the Word. That is primary. But after you have feasted on the Word, you cannot stop. Pick up good theological books. I know that many people think that they don’t have the time, but I will let John Piper convince you that you really do:

Now, I know what you are thinking: I don’t have the time or the ability to get anywhere in books like that. So I want to show you something really encouraging. When this was shown to me about four years ago by my pastor, it changed my life. Most of us don’t aspire very high in our reading because we don’t feel like there is any hope.

But listen to this: Suppose you read about 250 words a minute and that you resolve to devote just 15 minutes a day to serious theological reading to deepen your grasp of biblical truth. In one year (365 days) you would read for 5,475 minutes. Multiply that times 250 words per minute and you get 1,368,750 words per year. Now most books have between 300 and 400 words per page. So if we take 350 words per page and divide that into 1,368,750 words per year, we get 3,910 pages per year. This means that at 250 words a minute, 15 minutes a day, you could read about 20 average sized books a year!

3. Come alongside those already serving, including your spouse. Support them in regular prayer. Provide them resources that will help them and give them plenty of encouragement. In this way, you will have a part of their ministry.

May the Lord take all of us and make us into more Aquila’s and Priscilla’s. O how the church could use more like them. Focused not on our own agenda, but on the greatest mission this world has ever known, making our great God known to every corner of the earth!

Putting the Cookies on the Right Shelf

Have you ever sat in church and been frustrated by the sermon? How about bored? Have you ever been completely confused? If you have been any of these things, you’re not alone. Although we preachers sometimes like to think that only those who are “less spiritual” or aren’t interested in “the deep things of God” are the problem–but truth be told, many times its the preacher who is at fault. It reminds me of the pastor who stopped his sermon to tell a little boy to wake up his sleeping father. The little boy replied, “You put him to sleep, you wake him up!”

If you’re a pastor or preacher and you have seen the stifled yawns and the impatient looking at watches, I’d like to help in one area that you might need to consider–your target audience.

I have been blessed (and not-so-blessed) to hear hundreds of sermons by seminary students as a professor of preaching for 12 years. Some were confusing, others were boring, while some were too scholarly, and others were simply biblical history lessons. A good strong cup of coffee was helpful in getting through some days in preaching lab.

J. Vernon McGee used to say that a preacher needs to put the cookies on the bottom shelf where they can be reached. By this he meant that preachers and teachers need to make sure that their sermons are accessible to the common man. Dr. McGee died over 30 years ago, but his radio teaching is still popular all over the world because he made sure to teach at a level that was easy to understand.

One way to help sermon preparation hit the target of listeners is to make sure that the cookies are not only on the lower shelf, but also on the right shelf. By this I mean that every teacher and preacher should understand his audience’s spiritual maturity in order to teach in a way that everyone is fed. In a healthy church there will be several levels of spiritual maturity–unbelievers, new believers, spiritual “teens,” and spiritually mature. If you aim your teaching only at the mature, the unbeliever and the immature will be confused and not get anything out of the teaching. If you aim at the unbeliever or the spiritual infant, you will find that your more mature listeners will become frustrated, and bored.

If you are stubborn and only supply a steady diet of spiritual steak (sometimes raw) or spiritual baby food, you will find that those that are babes in Christ or those that are mature will eventually leave your church because they are not being fed in a way that benefits them. That’s not their fault, it’s yours. So what is the answer?

Put the cookies on the right shelf. In each sermon, and I’d even say in each teaching point, make sure that you speak to every level of maturity. Make sure you use theological language for the mature, but define it for the immature and growing. Give application for those that are still learning how to apply the Bible for themselves. Stretch the younger in Christ, but make sure you patiently explain the difficult concepts. Use illustrations to shed light on abstract truths, and make sure that you point to Christ so that the unbeliever can hear the message they need most: how to be saved.

When you put the cookies on the right shelf, everyone will be fed. And a well fed congregation is a happy congregation.

Christ’s Intense Love in the Storms of Life

Jesus Lover of My Soul— Charles Wesley (1740)

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,

While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.

Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;

Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

 

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;

Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.

All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;

Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

 

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?

Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;

Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,

Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

 

Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find;

Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.

Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness;

False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace.

 

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;

Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.

Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;

Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity.