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(Romans 16:3–5) Choosing Third Class

(Romans 16:3–5) Choosing Third Class

Ref: Romans 16:3–5

Have you ever heard the saying, 'No man is an island?' Well the Apostle Paul, spiritual and energetic as he was, would have said the same thing. In Romans 16:3-5, he introduces us to a Godly couple who poured into him as much as he poured into others. Were it not for their persistent ministry, Paul would not have been the Apostle he was.

Additional messages in this series are available here: When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder


“Choosing 3rd Class”

Romans 16:3-5


This week I was shown an article by one of our church staff members who was preparing for her women’s class.  It was a fascinating article about the early days of the stagecoach during the early 1800’s.

I conducted some further research and came up with a fascinating era of travel.

One company had the market tied up – the Abbot Downing Company.  They built a 9-passenger Stagecoach they named the Concord and this would be the number one stagecoach used throughout the country.

The stagecoach was managed by one driver in control of a team of 4 or 6 horses.

The Concord offered three different seating options.  The best seats were on the first bench, closest to the driver, where the least amount of jostling and bumping was felt.  The worst seats were the middle bench which was called a jump-seat where your back support was usually the knees of the other passengers in the back seat; which made the back seat crowded unwanted as well.

No matter where you sat, it was a dusty, cramped, difficult way to travel.

Every 10 or 15 miles there were stations where people could get out, stretch and even have simple meals provided at many of the stations.

The greatest danger was getting killed by Indians or being held up by robbers.  The stagecoach doubled as a mail carrier and it also carried money between banks.  300 stagecoaches were robbed every year.  Because of that, the stagecoach companies began sending along another driver called a Shotgun.

Famous shotgun riders were men like Wyatt Earp, James Hickok and Bill Cody.

To this day we talk about riding shotgun – or riding up front with the driver.

I came across a list of original rules for riding in a stagecoach.

Some of them included the following:

  • Never ride in cold weather with tight boots or shoes or gloves.
  • Wash your feet before starting on a journey (I imagine that was for the benefit of the other passengers!)
  • Don’t smoke a strong pipe, especially early in the morning.
  • Don’t swear, nor lop over on your neighbor when sleeping.
  • Don’t grease your hair before starting the journey or dust will stick there in sufficient quantities.
  • Don’t complain at food stations, the company is providing the best they can get.
  • Tie a silk handkerchief around your neck to keep out dust and prevent sunburn.
  • If the team of horses runs away, don’t jump out; 9 times out of 10 you will be hurt.  Sit still and take your chances.
  • Don’t ask how far it is to the next station until you get there (some things never change!)
  • Expect annoyance, discomfort and hardship.  If you are disappointed, that is, if you don’t experience annoyance, discomfort and hardship, thank heaven.

Adapted from

After all of that, would any of us ever want to travel?

Can you imagine the flight attendant telling us the food isn’t any good . . . okay, some things we already know!  But imagine if she told us at we had a 25% chance of being robbed during the flight or that we should expect discomfort and hardship!

Who among us would ever buy a ticket?

There is one more thing I want to mention about traveling by stagecoach. 

If you did decide to risk your life and health by traveling on a stagecoach – for whatever reason, and thousands of Americans did every year, you needed to know something about your ticket.

You had three options: you could buy a first-class, second-class or third-class ticket. 

The ticket determined not so much where you sat as to what was expected of you if the stagecoach got bogged down on a muddy road.

If you had a first-class ticket, you could stay seated when the stagecoach got stuck.  If you had a second-class ticket, you were expected to get out and walk alongside it until it made it past the muddy area.

But if you were a third-class passenger, you were expected to get out and the stagecoach and push it through the mud.

Adapted from The Laborer’s Journal, “Mud Puddles” by Dwight Robertson, Volume 6, p. 24

You can imagine that 3rd class tickets were only for the poorest and most unfortunate travelers.  These would be the people who would pray for drought, while all the other passengers prayed for rain to keep the dust down and cool off the coach. 

This is analogous to life in general.

Success means remaining seated while others get out and push.  It means being served, rather than serving others.  It means you get to avoid dirtying your hands and your shoes – you’re first class – let others get splinters in their hands.

No one chooses to travel 3rd class.  Who would choose to make their journey more difficult by volunteering to push the others through the mud?

Who would willingly allow their journey even more annoyance, additional discomfort and even more hardship?

I am convinced that the church today, more than ever, needs Christians who are willing to travel 3rd class; people who do more than sing, “Make me a servant, humble and meek” but people who are willing to get a little mud on their shoes.

I want to introduce to you a husband and wife who appear in the roll call of Divine commendation.  Of the 30 or so people Paul will mention, they appear first in the list.

I invite you back to Romans chapter 16 where their names appear in verse 3.

The Apostle Paul writes, Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.

The word Paul used for fellow-workers is sunergos which gives us our English word – synergy.  That word refers to different components unable to accomplish separately what they are able to accomplish by working together.

Paul is saying that this couple and I were able to accomplish so much for the Lord, only because we worked together.

Let’s answer two questions.  First, just who were they?  And secondly, where and how did they work with the great Apostle Paul.

In answer to the first, this was a husband and wife who, in a very real sense of the word, were a volunteer ministry team. 

Whenever this couple shows up in scripture, and they show up 6 different times, they are both named.  Luke mentions them 3 times in the Book of Acts and Paul mentioned them 3 times as well.

They present a wonderful picture of what it means to be a Christian couple – two people who not only allowed one another to serve God, but encouraged it.  There is no record that they ever had children – in fact, from the way they seemed to so quickly pack up and move from place to place, it seems most likely that they never had any.

But from the clues we’ve been given in scripture, they served God together through their involvement as volunteers in the church.

The woman’s name was Prisca – mentioned first here in verse 3.  This is the formal Latin name of a woman who could also be called by its more personal form, Priscilla. 

It is interesting that even though Paul stayed the home of Priscilla and Aquila, he always referred  to her as Prisca – the more formal name, where Luke always called her by her more personal and conversational name, Priscilla.

There seems little doubt that Paul, a single man, was careful in all his references to his hostess so that he would remain respectful if not somewhat distant from her in his letters to the church.

Aquila, also a Latin name, meant “eagle”.  He was a generous and successful businessman who, along with his wife had built a prosperous business. 

The homes they lived in were large; built around a spacious courtyard, which was customary for that century.  Their courtyard was large enough to later accommodate the meetings of the church in Ephesus and later still, in Rome.

 Though we are not told how Paul first met Aquila, we do know that it was customary in the synagogues not only for men and women to set on separate sides, but that the men usually sat in groups according to profession or trade. 

John MacArthur, Romans: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 2000), p. 363

Since Paul was a tentmaker by trade and Aquila had a tent making business, they may have met in the synagogue as they sat next to one another.

Perhaps it was when they stood and shook hands while the choir and orchestra left the platform – that they first met.

Whenever it was, that chance encounter was not by chance!

There are four scenes where Priscilla and Aquila are seen either working with Paul or for the sake of the gospel they loved.

The first scene is in Corinth.  Luke provides the details in the Book of Acts chapter 18. 


Turn there and notice what originally brought this couple and Paul to the same city.

Luke writes in verse 1. After these things he (Paul) left Athens and went to Corinth.  2.  And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.

Claudius, the Roman emperor had finally tired of the disruption and conflict Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews.

The first century Roman historian Suetonius mentioned this decree by Claudius and wrote, “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christos), he expelled them from Rome.”

D. Edmond Hiebert, Personalities Around Paul (Moody Press, 1973), p. 37

In other words, to rid himself of the religious controversy that was continuing to boil over because of Chrestus – or Christos - Christ, he issued what came to be known as the Nazareth Decree and expelled all the Jews from Rome.

What must have been terribly upsetting to Priscilla and Aquila, to now be banished from their home and business, but God meant it for their good and ultimately for the good of the church.

One author said, “When Claudius threw them out of Rome, he threw them into intimate fellowship with the apostle Paul.”

Ibid, p. 37

Which was nothing less than Divine Providence.

You might notice in the text that nothing is said about Priscilla and Aquila being Christians.  It simply says that Paul met them in the synagogue where he reasoned every Sabbath, verse 4, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

They may have been unbelieving Jews upon arriving, but they happened to meet the ambassador of grace.

Verse 3 says that because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers.

Paul didn’t have anywhere to live . . . evidently Priscilla and Aquila had been exiled sometime earlier and had already established their tent-making business and were only too happy to find a man who had been a tent-maker and needed work so they boarded him and gave him a job.

They became associated first, by common trade . . . later by common faith.

Can you imagine how long it took for Paul to lead them to faith? 

That’s like inviting Billy Graham to stay in your guest room.

Can you imagine every night at the supper table with the Apostle Paul?  All afternoon in the shop!

One thing is for sure; Priscilla and Aquila will become so skilled in the word of God and in the gospel of grace over the year and ½ that Paul stayed with them, that this couple will later single-handedly straighten out a brilliant Old Testament scholar named Apollos who didn’t have his facts right.

When Paul eventually received money from Timothy and Silas, he stopped making tents and began full time evangelistic work throughout Corinth, verse 5 tells us in Acts 18, “solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.”  That is, Jesus was the Messiah . . . the anointed one . . . God incarnate.

What’s fascinating is that while we’re not told if Paul ever moved out of Priscilla and Aquila’s home, now that he had the money to stop making tents for a living, we do know that when Paul left Corinth for Ephesus, he did not travel alone!

When Paul put out to sea, guess who came along – Priscilla and Aquila.

Scene 2 opens in Ephesus where Priscilla and Aquila are once again involved in the ministry as volunteers.

We discover later that Paul left them in Ephesus to help begin a new work.

And once again, while Priscilla and Aquila were in the synagogue, someone special showed up on the Sabbath day – only this time it wasn’t Paul who would deliver to them the gospel, it was a man by the name of Apollos.  And they would deliver the gospel to him.

Notice further in Acts chapter 18, verse 24.  Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was might in the Scriptures.  25.  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.

In other words, he knew about Jesus as Messiah; he might have even known that Jesus had been baptized by the prophet John; perhaps he knew that Christ’s claim as the Lamb of God was validated by the Prophet John, but he didn’t know about the descent of the Holy Spirit and the creation of this new living organism called the church; he didn’t really understand the finished work of the cross; he didn’t understand the ministry of the Spirit and he hadn’t heard about the exercising of spiritual gifts for the formation and edification of the fabric of the church . . . and a whole lot more. 

In many ways, Apollos was still living in the Old Testament.

The text says in verse 26. and he (Apollos) 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 – or more adequately.

In other words, they told him the rest of the story. 

They took him aside . . . they didn’t embarrass him publicly . . . they didn’t holler out in the assembly.  They didn’t yell at him in the vestibule after the service – they evidently invited him home.

Maybe Aquila grilled pork chops and hotdogs to illustrate the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new covenant.

Here’s this kind couple – tentmakers – inviting to their home the visiting Rabbi . . . who had every reason not to listen to them.

He knew the scriptures – he was mighty in them, the text said.

Furthermore, he had been educated in Alexandria.  The greatest library in the world was in Alexandria – nearly a million books and parchments.  This was the city of Euclid and Philo.  The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament was translated in Alexandria – a translation quoted by Paul and even by our Lord.

He was an eloquent man, Luke wrote here.  No doubt, Apollos had read Aristotle’s famous work entitled Rhetoric.  Apollos could hold a crowd in the palm of his hand.  Luke said he spoke with fervency of spirit (v. 25) . . . the word means “burning” or “boiling hot.”

He exemplified Lloyd-Jones’ definition of preaching as “logic on fire.” 

And after his sermon everyone was slapping him on the back . . . but there, waiting for him in the lobby of the synagogue that Saturday morning was a rather persistent couple who would not let him refuse their invitation to dinner.

Apollos accepted their invitation and he came, more than likely to their home . . . and what’s more, he listened.

Priscilla and Aquila had been discipled well by the Apostle Paul, and now they together discipled Apollos.

By the way, this says a lot about Apollos.  Gifted . . . educated . . . eloquent . . . impressive . . . persuasive . . . but here, the most important quality of his life that literally changed his life – humble.

His host and hostess were tentmakers.  He could have no doubt spent the afternoon at the table of the chief Rabbi – or some dignitaries home.  Instead you can picture him at the table of a man and his wife who give him the next chapter in the gospel of grace.

I am sure that Apollos was forever grateful he was willing to listen to this couple who radically changed his life.

Apollos listened and learned well!  He would go on to Achaia and later to Corinth where his ministry would become legendary.  He would be greatly used in the church.

Paul would later write to the Corinthians that he had sewed the seed of the gospel in Corinth, but Apollos had watered it and God had brought forth great fruit.

Priscilla and Aquila weren’t finished in Ephesus. 

A while later on we know that Paul returned to Ephesus where he played a significant role in the life of the church there.  While at Ephesus, Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers and just so happened to write these words, “Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.  (I Corinthians 16:19)

Several second century documents add that Paul was also lodging in their home once again.

So here this couple is again . . . hosting a church in their home, as well as the itinerate preacher named Paul.

It is obvious from scripture that their home belonged to God.  Their lives belonged to God.  Their occupation was only a means to an end for the glory of advancing the cause of God.

For Paul, his friendship with Priscilla and Aquila was so critical in the support of his ministry and work, that after learning what we have learned about this couple, it’s hard to imagine Paul without them.  And it’s hard to imagine the possibility of Paul serving the way that he did without their financial assistance, physical assistance . . . no doubt spiritual encouragement and prayer support as well.

One author suggested that there are at least 4 different kinds of people in the church.  There are people who sap vision – they drain any possibility of vision from ever getting a foothold.

There are those who appreciate vision – they cheer form the sidelines but ask that you not involve them.  They like what you’re doing with those children, or that ministry, or that outreach ministry – just don’t include them or their financial support . . . but they’ll want you to know that they appreciate what you’re doing.

But then there are those who share vision.  They speak the same ministry language.  They have the same heart-beat for God’s work.  They are willing to make the same sacrifices as you. 

They would never think of remaining in the stage coach while you got out and pushed.  No . . . they’d get just as dirty as you would, grateful to come alongside and push with you.  Nothing would make them happier than joining you ankle deep in the mud.

That was Priscilla and Aquila. 

The third scene where we find this godly couple mentioned is in Romans 16:3.

3.  Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.  We’ve got the same third class ticket.  Notice verse 4.  who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.

In other words, all the believers are grateful for what this couple did to evidently save the life of Paul.

I wish Paul had given us a clue, but he didn’t – we don’t know when they risked their neck for Paul.

The word used by Paul – hupotithemi – can be understood in this context to literally mean, they “placed (their neck) under the axe of the executioner.”

Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 384

We don’t know when it occurred – perhaps it was connected to the riots in Ephesus when the mob was filled with rage.  They  may have come looking for Paul at their home and they covered for him as he made his retreat to safety.

Perhaps it was during one of the difficult times he referred to as a trial because of the plotting of unbelievers to harm him. (Acts 20:19)

We don’t know.  But whatever happened, Paul never forgot their act of heroism for his own life and remained grateful to them for the rest of his life.

What we do know that when Paul left Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila left for Rome; perhaps for their own safety.

No doubt Paul and they had talked about his plans to travel to Rome and help the church there.  There isn’t any doubt in my mind that Priscilla and Aquila went ahead of Paul to Rome to set up their tent-making business and prepare a home for Paul.

What we do know is that Priscilla and Aquila did make it to Rome and they did impact the church as usual.

Notice embedded in his greeting to Priscilla and Aquila he writes in verse 5 in Romans 16, Also greet the church that is in their house.

Ha – greet the church that is in their house!

What a couple . . . what humble, available, sacrificial servants for the cause of Christ.

For the sake of time we won’t turn, but the final scene where you discover Priscilla and Aquila is back in Ephesus, working with a young pastor and former disciple of Paul, Timothy, who is now pastoring the Ephesian church.

But that fits, doesn’t it?!

It didn’t surprise me to learn that since Paul can no longer use Priscilla and Aquila in ministry, since he is under house arrest and only a short time from his martyrdom, Timothy, his son-in-the-faith and leading pastor has with him, helping him like they helped Paul years earlier, this remarkable, faithful couple.

Paul writes to Timothy his final letter, and at the end of the letter, the first people Paul says hello to are, of course, these two dear friends. (2 Timothy 4:19).

Is this all there is from Priscilla and Aquila?

Oh no . . . their sons and daughters of life heart and faith have been moving the church forward for the last 2,000 years.

They advanced the church in Corinth and today, they advance the church wherever they live.

They never make the spotlight . . . they are behind the scenes . . . humble servants who have opened their hearts . . . and their homes.

They are willing to travel through life 3rd class.

They are the people who are willing to get out of the pew and push.

There are three characteristics of Priscilla and Aquila have traveled down through the centuries . . . from Corinth to Cary . . . from their church to yours.

These are the characteristics of Christians who willingly choose to travel 3rd class:

First, are willing to sacrifice personal safety.

Let’s start with the most dramatic thing first – they were willing to die. 

Like Priscilla and Aquila, these Christians are willing to lay their lives on the line – and around the world today there are Christians who are dying by the thousands because they will not deny that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life.

They place their neck under the axe.

For most of us here today, we don’t experience or even understand that characteristic.

Let’s move from the dramatic to the realistic.

Christians who choose 3rd class are willing to sacrifice personal profit. 

They view their occupation as a means to an end – a means to support and advance the cause of Christ.

They are more interested in their standard of giving than they are their standard of living.

To put it in crass terms, these are people who are willing to give away their stuff . . . to have their carpet permanently stained by a middle school Bible study . . . to have their food eaten by guests . . . to give their advice for free . . . to offer their skills for use at little or no charge at all. 

These are the Christians who seem to give away more than they ever receive and you wonder why they always seem to be smiling.

These are the sons and daughters of Priscilla and Aquila.

Without mentioning any names, I was introduced to Priscilla and Aquila last Sunday.  They were visiting Colonial from out of town – here to see some of their family.  They introduced themselves to me in the visitor’s reception after one of the services.  We chatted briefly about their work – their love for the Lord and His cause and then, this gentleman casually said to me, “I heard you mention that you all are needing a little more money to finish these buildings . . . how much do you need?”  I said, “Well, we need $300,000 dollars to finish the top floor of the student center . . . that will complete these two buildings that we desperately need.”  To which he responded, “I’ll bring you a check tomorrow for $300,000.” 

I couldn’t sleep this past Sunday night . . . if he had been a member of this church I might never have known . . . I don’t know what people give to our general fund or our building fund. 

I really didn’t know if it would even happen.  But this past Monday, he came into my office and wrote out a check for 300,000 dollars. 

I’ve wondered if I should’ve said, $400,000!

Uplanned and unexpected . . . a husband and wife who love Christ and care about His church.    

These are the Christians who could travel 1st class, but choose instead to travel with a 3rd class ticket – they are willing to get out and push!  They sacrifice personal safety . . . personal profit and one more . . . let’s make it even more practical.

Christians who travel 3rd class are willing to sacrifice personal convenience.

Imagine, about the time Aquila established his business in Corinth, they had a decision to make.  Start over again in Ephesus or stay in Corinth.

They decided to get out of their coach and slog through the mud with Paul.

And about the time they got established in Ephesus, they had another decision to make.  Stay in Ephesus or get muddy again in Rome.

And when they finally got settled in Rome they had a decision to make . . . would they get their boots back on and travel back to Ephesus and help Timothy or say, “enough is enough.”  We’ve done enough . . . we’ve given enough . . . we’ve moved enough . . . it’s time to settle down and enjoy the scenery.

Not them . . . they were willing to sacrifice their personal convenience for the sake of Christ.

As one author put it, “The future of the church is in the hands of ordinary Christians who aren’t afraid of mud puddles.”

The Laborer’s Journal, p. 26

I agree.  May God give us men like Paul and Apollos and Timothy.  But may He give us Priscillas and Aquilas who make the ministries of Paul and Apollos and Timothy possible by opening their hearts and their homes.

People who are willing to mess up their shoes and alter their plans and withdraw from their savings and clutter up their calendars with the needs of others for the sake of Jesus Christ – these are the people who move the church forward. 

 Christians who willingly choose 3rd class.

Ladies and Gentlemen, wherever you find effective, productive ministry – look behind the scenes – away from the spotlight – and you will discover the children of Aquila and Priscilla – they are the ones with mud on their shoes and aprons around their waist, activity in their hands, and people on their hearts . . . they are the servants of Jesus Christ.

And they gladly serve Him, by gladly serving you and me.

May the sons and daughters of Priscilla and Aquila multiply here and around the world for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God.

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