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THE GAMBLERS OF CHRIST

Who He Really Is

John 19:17-27
24th October 2004

I do not gamble, and certainly do not take part in the Melbourne Cup sweeps that will plague the nation over the next couple of weeks. Gambling is a desire to gain something for nothing, at another person’s expense, purely on the basis of chance, motivated by greed. These are not characteristics of a Christian. The Macquarie Dictionary adds as a meaning “Gamble — to lose or squander by betting.”

We certainly know how to lose on Melbourne Cup Day. Australian punters gambled nearly $150 million last Melbourne Cup day. Last year three million punters in New South Wales alone lost more than $50 million in our State lost bets while $12 million was lost in Victoria. The NSW TAB took in $47.3 million being wagered on the Melbourne Cup. Of course the majority of wagers lost. It is certainly true that to gamble means to lose or squander by betting. Gambling is detrimental to welfare of the community. This state needs safeguards to prevent further compulsive gambling and social injury.

I call upon the NSW Government prompting to conduct a summit to halt the nation’s addiction to gambling. This year, do not get sucked into participating in gambling sweeps. Your participation dignifies an addiction that ruins many lives.

There is one type of gambling I encourage: the Gamblers for Christ. These are the people who risk themselves for Christian witness: the 295,000 missionaries working in foreign lands, Bible translators, workers among the diseased and leprous; Christian workers among the contagious and highly infectious, national workers in persecuting countries where last year the Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission prepared by Dr David Barrett reported 308,000 killed. These all risked their lives for Christ!

1. MY FELLOW WORKERS.

The Apostle Paul referred to them like this: “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.” Romans 16:3-4 Priscilla and Aquila were introduced in the Book of Acts 18:1-3, 18-19, 26 Where and when they risked their lives for Paul, we do not know, but it was possibly during the persecution in Ephesus where Paul was imprisoned, while they were leading the church there. 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19 At the time of this writing, they were in Rome and a church met in their house in the capital of the Empire. Priscilla is a diminutive of the Latin family name Prisca. Luke favours the name Priscilla, whereas Paul seems always to use Prisca. Prisca is mentioned before her husband on four occasions out of six Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:2; 2 Tim. 4:19 Aquila is first in Acts 18:2; 1 Cor. 16:19 which indicates she either came from a higher social stratum or that she was more able than her husband. Aquila (the name is the Latin for “eagle”) was a tentmaker from Pontus who had evidently settled in Rome.

It was their common trade that brought Aquila and Paul together and began a friendship that lasted. They went with Paul to Ephesus Acts 18:18 and remained there when he went on. They were evidently a fine Christian couple, for they were able to instruct the evangelist Apollos in the faith. Acts 18:26 They had a church in their house in each city where they lived. They travelled widely, due to what was called “the migratory habits of Jews engaged in business”. They were always active in spreading the gospel. Paul calls them his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus”, a term always used in the New Testament of people who worked together in the fellowship of the gospel.

They established a tent-making business in Corinth and a church in their house. Paul stayed with them and worked at his trade. While walking the marble streets of Corinth, I found one shop only in the Central Agora at the end of Lechaion Road which had what I was looking for: round holes in the marble footpath which once held tent poles on which were displayed tents for sale. Paul possibly worked in this tent-making shop. Nearby is the bema, on which the Proconsul Gallio sat in judgement while Paul defended his activities. Priscilla and Aquilla risked their lives for Paul, and he expressed his thanks to them for what they did. This is the only place in the New Testament where the verb “to thank” has a human who is thanked! He adds that “all the churches of the Gentiles” share his feelings, so what they did was widely known. Paul says there was an occasion when he was in great danger in Ephesus. 1 Cor. 15:32; Acts 19-23, 30-31 On one visit to Ephesus, I crawled on hands and knees round the edge of the stage of the great theatre.

The theatre is large, seating 24,000. It was here Paul was mobbed by people intent on killing him. Round the edge of the stage I found square, deep-set holes that once held iron railings and netting to protect spectators during gladiatorial fights featuring wild animals, lions, tigers and bears. Paul has one allusion “I fought wild beasts in Ephesus.” Maybe Priscilla and Aquilla protected him from an arena death.

Rome was the capital of the world; all roads led to Rome. On the death of the Emperor Claudius in October, AD 54, Acts 18:1-3 his edict of five years earlier of expelling the Jews from Rome lapsed. There was a general return of Jews to Rome about this time and Jewish Christians would certainly be among them. Priscilla and Aquila, may well have gone back, leaving caretakers, in charge of the Corinthian and Ephesian branches of their tent-making business.

2. THE GAMBLERS OF CHRIST.

“Priscilla and Aquila… risked their lives for me.” The term used was a gambling term and Paul also used such a term with Epaphroditus who was imprisoned with Paul. He also risked his all to serve Paul. The Church at Philippi, led by the business woman Lydia, sent money to Paul while he was in prison, and instructed the bearer, Epaphroditus, to remain in prison with Paul as a servant. But he caught prison fever and nearly died. Paul, and Dr Luke, had to nurse him back to health, and then Paul decided to send the young man back to his church together with the letter we called “The Epistle To The Philippians”.

In it Paul writes: “I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.”

Paul was making it easy for the young man. The Church could have treated him like a failure! He had tried, but had to quit because of ill-health. Paul obviously was anxious to get him back, and to have him received in the best light. “He risked his life, he nearly died!” That was no exaggeration. Paul is letting him go with best recommendation possible. The Church does not shoot it’s wounded soldiers! Epaphroditus was good-hearted, keen, willing, but his achievements were limited, his usefulness was at an end, he had to return home before helping Paul because of ill-health, yet he can inspire us! Why? Why are we inspired by people who risked unsuccessfully? Because many have high hopes but poor performance. You may have wanted to serve on the mission field, or in ministry, or in medical work, education, youth work, music ministry or auxiliary leadership, but your hopes were not realised. Your desire was good but poor health or family problems stopped your service.

Like Epaphroditus you were finished. Yet it is better to fail in attempting than merely criticising. Too many people say “They should do something about it …” But you do try to do something about it! The person who fails trying is always better than the comfortable critic. Every great achiever depends upon those who have hopes but limited achievement. Epaphroditus did not do much, but he did cause Paul to write the most beautiful letter of all! Paul needed him as a postman to deliver it!

Priscilla and Aquilla, travelled widely building up the faith of people. They provided the missionaries with hospitality and an opportunity to earn by working their trade. Their support of Paul was outstanding. They did not achieve much but they risked their all in doing it. Epaphroditus “risked his life and nearly died for the sake of the work of Christ, in order to give me the help you could not give!” “Priscilla and Aquila… risked their lives for me.” Others were spectators but Epaphroditus, Priscilla and Aquilla risked their lives! The term “risking” is “parabol-eusamenos”. It was a gambling term meaning to stake everything on the throw of a dice. They gambled everything upon one throw! They staked their lives, risked their necks. The early church had a group called “parabolani”, the “gamblers for Christ”. They visited the infectious, the sick, the prisoners. In 252 AD a plague broke out in Carthage. Bishop Cyprian led the Parabolani among the dying, burying the dead, saving the city at the risk of their own lives! Gamblers for Christ — risking their all for Him.

3. ALL ARE GRATEFUL TO THEM.

“They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.” We are grateful for their example and inspiration. Jesus did that for us. He willing gave up His life that we may have forgiveness of sins and be reconciled with the Father. About the Cross, there were soldiers watching and waiting, throwing dice to help pass the time. “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did.” Then he died. The famous English chaplain to the Armed Forces in World War 1, G.A. Studdert-Kennedy wrote:

“And, sitting down, they watched Him there,
The soldiers did; there, while they played with dice,
He made His sacrifice, and died upon a Cross to rid
God’s world of sin. He was a gambler too, my Christ,
He took His life and threw it for a world redeemed.
And ere His agony was done, before the westering sun went down crowning that day with its crimson crown,
He knew that He had won!”

Jesus gave his life, in the hope that we would respond. And you? What have you risked for him? Are you a safe, comfortable critic, sitting in the scoffers seats? Or have you stepped into the arena and risked your all for Him?

REFERENCES

  • Romans. F.F. Bruce, Tyndale Press. 1966 p268.
  • The Australian dated 9 July 2004

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.