At the end of his letter to the church at Rome, Paul greets the believers who are working with one another to maintain the unity of Christian fellowship in that bustling city. Among those listed are both men and women, Jews and Greeks. He not only identifies them by name, but in many cases identifies their gifts and affirms them. He encourages them.
This final chapter in the Epistles to the Romans should be seen within the larger context of the letter to the church at Rome. Among other things, he aims to encourage them in the unity they have with one another despite their differences. Despite their different origin stories, they have unity in the Gospel because both Jews and Greeks are on equal footing with God. Both Jews and Greeks are under God’s righteous judgement. While Israel had the law and couldn’t keep it, the Gentiles were a law unto themselves without any hope in the world. In other words, both are guilty of sin and have fallen far short of God’s glory. Moreover, both are saved by God’s divine will, by God’s good grace, and for God’s glory. And now that they are saved they are called to a new life in Christ.
They are fellow heirs of the promised salvation by faith. They are fellow citizens of God's kingdom. They are fellow workers in Christ Jesus.
In fact, this is the way, Paul describes many in Romans 16. But in verses 3-5a, Paul greats Priscilla and Aquila, his dear friends and fellow workers in Christ Jesus.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.
This phrase "fellow workers in Christ Jesus" is the motto of Aquila Theological Institute, because it embodies what we hope to accomplish, and it contains the three pillars of Aquila Initiative: 1) Partnerships; 2) Business in Mission; and 3) Theological Education.
So foundational is this concept, that we believe that we are simply borrowing our approach from God's design for the church. Aquila seeks to see more churches planted, but Aquila does not plant churches, we want to see churches plant churches. But according to Paul's depiction, the church itself is made up of fellow workers in Christ Jesus.
Priscilla and Aquila appear all throughout the New Testament epistles (Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Timothy). Aquila is a native of Pontus, and they are both tent makers (or leather workers) like Paul. Although they are both free-born Roman citizens Priscilla (also, known as Prisca) is most likely from a higher social status, so she is likely to be the business brains behind the family business.
But what is interesting is how they use their trade, education, and financial status for the kingdom. It is possible they moved from Pontus to Rome, to Corinth, to Ephesus, to Rome, and then back to Ephesus. In at least two of these situations (Corinth and then Rome) they host churches in their homes.
They are generous, dedicated, knowledgeable, and qualified. No wonder Paul calls them fellow workers. But let's not overlook that every member of the local body of Christ is a fellow worker with his/her fellow members, serving one another and building up the body of Christ.
Like Prisca and Aquila, we are all fellow workers within the context of our local body of Christ. Like a Swiss watch we are to work with one another for the mission of the church.
Likewise, on a national and global scale we can understand that we are part of the bigger picture of what God is doing to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As churches we need to see ourselves as working together toward the same mission -- God’s mission to advance the Gospel and save a people for Himself.
On the local level God has given us churches within which to serve and use our gifts. On a global scale we send and receive missionaries, we give financially to foreign missions and service, we pray for our bothers and sisters around the world.
But there is also the fact that churches and organizations partner together. In doing so, we utilize each others’ gifts and resources. These partnerships include denominations, sister-churches, and NGO's like Aquila Initiative.
"In Christ Jesus"
Although there is much work to be done, this is no "work's righteousness." This is not an issue of Faith vs. Works. The motivation, desire, and success in the work can only come from Christ. It comes from Him, is empowered by the Spirit, and is to the glory of the Father through the Son. That's why Paul says this work is “IN CHRIST JESUS.”
This phase is central to Paul's theology, and is so powerful for Christian living. Too many Christians understand themselves to have been saved by grace through faith but now responsible for their sanctification. Too many Christians say through their actions, "Thanks for my salvation, Lord, I'll take it from here."
But this is not the Christian life. The Christian life is purchased by Christ, empowered by the Spirit, and for the Father's glory. Imagine if church planters and churches were taught to think this way? Imagine if we stopped trying so hard to produce good works, but trusted in Christ to sanctify us through His Spirit!
This is the goal of Aquila Theological Institute. We want to train church planters to think theologically, to view the work theologically, to engage with the world theologically.