When I mentioned to my husband that I was thinking of doing a blog series on identity, his response was a pleasant surprise to me—turned out he was just getting ready to begin a study on identity with his college group. Though I think our approaches ended up looking pretty different, we did talk quite a bit together about the topic. I always benefit from picking that brilliant man’s brain, but there was one session in his series that especially piqued my interest. He went to the book of Acts and explored the shifting roles and occupations of Paul, Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila—offering them as positive examples of the relationships between identity, vocation, and kingdom living.
I never heard him give the message, so I’m sure it won’t come out the same, but here’s my slant on it…
Paul, of course, was the powerful and passionate apostle—hand-picked, taught, and sent out by the risen Jesus himself (Acts 9; 2 Cor. 12:2-4). He could theologically manhandle the best of ’em and his ministry was backed by the miraculous power of God (Acts 19:11). But in Corinth, he took up residence with a tent maker and his wife—sharing in the labor of their common trade and benefiting from their support. He befriended and personally invested in this outwardly unimportant couple for a year and a half (Acts 18). Paul recognized and embraced his apostolic office and authority, but his identity was not so wrapped up in it that he was afraid of associations and occupations that didn’t flatter his position.
Priscilla and Aquila were a Jewish couple, tent-makers by trade, who had recently been expelled from Rome by order of the emperor Claudius. They settled in Corinth, met the apostle Paul, became his disciples, opened their home to him, and supported his ministry. Through his mentoring, they too, became leaders in the church—first in Ephesus, and later back in Rome (Acts 18; Rom 16). Their employment as business people did not prevent them from giving the best of themselves and their resources to the kingdom of God. They derived their income from making tents, but that did not define who they were or what they lived for.
Apollos was a very well educated Jew from Alexandria—one of the premier intellectual centers of the time. He was an eloquent speaker and apparently a rather charismatic personality. He came into Ephesus boldly and accurately proclaiming the teachings of John the Baptist. When Priscilla and Aquila (comparatively uneducated people) heard him preaching, they took him aside and helped to fill in his “theological gaps”—and Apollos submitted himself to their instruction! (Acts 18) He was eager to grow in the knowledge of the Lord, and he didn’t allow his talent and education to prevent him from sitting at the feet of tent-makers for a season. After being better equipped, Apollos went on to effectively preach the gospel in Asia Minor and Greece, powerfully refuting the Jews who claimed that Jesus was not the Christ.
So what can we learn from these folks?
Paul, Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila adjusted their vocations according to what most benefited the kingdom of God.
Apostle became tent-maker. Tent-maker became Pastor. Master-debater became a student.
If we seek to define our identity by a particular vocation, interest, or activity, it shows. We will allow that role to be the highest gauge for where and how we invest our lives. We will limit which parts of ourselves we are willing to offer to God—according to what we believe is expected of our position or profession. And heaven forbid we should ever be called upon to lay it aside for a season—because our identification with that vocation will raise up as strong of a resistance as any economic incentive ever did. Giving it up would be tantamount to a full-blown identity crisis.
If, however, we find our identity in God, we are free to take up and put down according to his leading, and Kingdom priorities. When we know who we are, we don’t do what we do because we have something to prove. We do it because we have something to offer.
We are children of God, heirs of the kingdom. Do we live like that’s true?