Acts 18:24 – 19:7
The best back-handed compliment I ever received was from two ladies who came up to me one Sunday morning after church several years ago. I had recently started preaching in that congregation and I had followed a very learned, Ph.D. professor type preacher. And their take on the difference between me and my predecessor was, “You preach like you aren’t educated at all.” I laughed – they blushed – “that didn’t come out right.” But I appreciated what they meant. All the brilliance and book learning in the world can’t substitute for being able to communicate with people where they are at. I would rather, any day, make plain the power of the gospel than to try and impress people with how brilliant I think I am.
In our passage this morning, that takes in the last of Acts 18 and the beginning of ch. 19, Paul concludes his second missionary journey, stays some time at home in Antioch and then embarks on a third missionary journey.
But in the meantime Luke introduces us to somebody that is fascinating. “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. // When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:24-28). Apollos is a preacher. We’ve all met preachers – most are less than remarkable, some are absolutely overbearing and obnoxious, others are boring and bureaucratic, still others are self-serving and superficial. But most that I have ever met are simply men who love the Lord so much they couldn’t imagine spending their lives any other way than preaching about Jesus and serving his people.
But let me let you in on a little secret – I have not met many preachers who would have responded to correction and teaching the way Apollos responded to Priscilla and Aquila teaching him. Most have ego to spare. That is why Apollos is so remarkable – incredible credentials, deep humility. It is a rare combination.
Luke tells us a great deal about Apollos, and it makes you wish we knew even more. We really meet him only here in Acts and then from a few references by Paul to the Corinthians – but what we do learn indicates that Apollos was an important and influential leader in the early church.
Listen to Apollos’ resume that Luke shares:
A native of Alexandria – If we knew only this, we would still know a great deal, for Alexandria was the great center of learning in the ancient world. It had one of the greatest libraries in antiquity and an outstanding university. The finest learning of Judaism and Hellenism flowed together in this city of scholarship. The wisdom of Plato and Moses intersected in Alexandria. Greek, Latin and Hebrew – rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, medicine, geography and history filled the atmosphere in which Apollos was raised and educated.
Learned man – the word translated “learned” also carries the nuance of eloquence. He not only possessed great substance, but could communicate it powerfully and effectively.
Thorough knowledge of the scriptures – Luke is telling us that Apollos’ learning was not simply a worldly intellectualism, but it was a learnedness in the OT scriptures. And the phrase that is translated here “thorough knowledge” is really a much bolder phrase – Luke literally says he was “powerful in the scriptures.” Apollos was not only a Jew, but a man who knew and lived God’s Word.
Instructed in the way of the Lord – Apollos had been exposed to the gospel and had become a Christian. We’ll learn in a minute that there are some inadequacies to his knowledge and understanding – but apparently his instruction was so convincing and so convicting that he not only became a Christian, but dedicated his life to preaching the gospel.
Luke tells us three things about his ministry:
Spoke with great fervor – he was passionate and enthusiastic – there was an intensity and an urgency about his preaching. And while the translation communicates what Luke meant, I love the literal phrase that he uses to describe Apollos – he literally says, “he was boiling over in the Spirit.”
Taught about Jesus accurately – though his understanding was still incomplete, what he knew was true and he taught it faithfully.
Spoke boldly in the synagogue – he wasn’t intimidated or tongue-tied. He went to the synagogue and preached Jesus to his own people and powerfully defended the gospel.
What we read next though, tells me more about Apollos than all the rest – vs. 26b “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” What makes Apollos so remarkable is that, in spite of his tremendous skill and learning, two qualities seem to be ingrained in his character:
• Here comes Aquila and Priscilla, a lowly tentmaker and his wife – blue collar workers, probably minimal education. And yet, they take him aside to teach him the way of God more adequately.
• How are most preachers going to respond? Insulted, put out, condescending. Arrogance and pride kick in – “Who do these people think they are?”
• But not Apollos – he listens, he learns, he grows. His great learning and skill do not make him unapproachable.
• I don’t care whether you are a preacher or a ditch digger, pride will always diminish your capacity to grow and to serve. Pride is such a barrier to everything that God wants to do in our lives.
• Hand in hand with humility comes another great quality – Teachability. Apollos genuinely loved the truth and pursued the truth, and was open to learning the truth whenever and from wherever it came.
• One of our greatest spiritual dangers is to solidify and finalize our learning – and to assume that we know everything that is worth knowing – that we have arrived at TRUTH and are beyond growing. I don’t care whether you are fresh out of the baptistery or a 50 year veteran Christian, an elder, a deacon, a Bible class teacher, or a preacher – the moment you quit learning and assume you have a corner on the truth – your faith is in danger.
Aquila and Priscilla – we first met them in Corinth with Paul. 18 months later when Paul sailed to Ephesus they traveled with him and stayed in Ephesus. It’s here that they meet Apollos – apparently their introduction is in the synagogue where they hear him proclaiming Jesus to the Jews. But what they hear concerns them because there is something missing. And they approach Apollos and make a request of him – to let them teach him more about Jesus.
Notice what they didn’t do:
• They weren’t intimidated by Apollos’ great learning and eloquence.
• When they heard the inadequacy in his understanding, they didn’t just pass it off as unimportant. It quickly became obvious that for all of Apollos’ knowledge of Scripture and the way of the Lord, his understanding of baptism was lacking – not just a matter of opinion, but lacking something essential to the faith of the gospel. They didn’t pretend it didn’t matter what people believe.
• They didn’t regard him as an opponent. They didn’t challenge him to a public debate, they didn’t write him up in one of the brotherhood journals, they didn’t talk about him behind his back and gather a group of people to work on getting him out of Ephesus. They didn’t do any of that.
• And one last thing they didn’t do – they didn’t reject him. They didn’t cut themselves off from him and cross him off their list of the faithful. They did just the opposite.
What they did do:
• They invited him to their home. Think what a difference that made – rather than assaulting him in the foyer in front of two dozen people, they offered him the hospitality of their home and talked with him in privacy and trust.
• They believed in him – they assumed he was genuine in his love for the Lord and in his desire to preach the truth. They counted him a disciple, a brother, an ally. Most confrontations begin with an adversarial relationship – you’re wrong, you’re dishonest, and I’m going to expose you. But we see in Aquila and Priscilla a love for, and a desire to encourage and strengthen Apollos.
Every preacher needs an Aquila and Priscilla in his life. Someone who loves him and believes in him, but who also is willing to challenge and teach him and help him keep growing.
Just for a moment, let’s notice the technical aspect of what the inadequacy of his understanding may have been. Luke tells us that he “taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” He may have been one of those multitudes at the Jordan river, who was traveling through, or on a Passover pilgrimage – baptized by John, instructed about the Messiah, but then back home before getting the rest of the story. Perhaps he learned about Jesus from one of those disciples of John who was there. Whatever the case, he knew only the baptism of John – it was a baptism for repentance – it was preparatory. It wasn’t wrong, it just wasn’t complete.
And we see the effect of the inadequacy when we come to Acts 19 and Paul arrives in Ephesus where Apollos had taught (by now Apollos has traveled on to Corinth.) Paul meets a group of disciples (we assume they were converted by Apollos prior to his being more fully taught by Aquila and Priscilla, but then didn’t have opportunity to be more fully taught themselves.)
[ I know it’s a lot of assumptions, but we’re trying to piece together how they came to be in the situation they were in – the situation itself, Luke makes pretty clear.]
Paul asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a HS.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul explains to them what John’s baptism was about and why it was inadequate. And then Luke writes, “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.”
A couple of things seem really significant about this encounter:
1) It really does matter what we teach about baptism – when baptism is not understood and practiced in a biblical way, it is not adequate. Paul didn’t just brush off their misunderstanding of baptism and say, “Well I’m sure it’s all okay with God.” When they were taught the truth, they responded by being baptized.
2) Specifically, the thing that was inadequate about their baptism was that they had not received, nor had they even heard about the Holy Spirit. What’s ironic is that we will often question a person about whether they were baptized for the forgiveness of sin, or were baptized by immersion, but I have never heard somebody asked whether they had received the Holy Spirit. And that to Paul is crucial. When Peter is preaching to those first converts on the day of Pentecost he tells them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That and several other New Testament passages make it clear that baptism is the moment in which the Holy Spirit begins dwelling in the heart of a believer. And that, as important as the forgiveness of sins is to baptism – it is just as important that we understand that the indwelling Holy Spirit is a part of baptism.
I want you to leave this morning with 4 thoughts:
1) Every one of us needs to keep learning and growing. Even a brilliant and eloquent preacher like Apollos was humble and teachable.
2) It really does matter what you believe. Just because we live in a culture of “anything goes” doesn’t mean that everybody’s opinions and beliefs are equally valid. Don’t accept everything you hear as true just because someone claims to speak with the authority of the Bible. Know what you believe – and when you find yourself in error – change.
3) It also really does matter how you treat people who disagree with you. If you love them and treat them with respect and gentleness, you might be launching them into a more powerful and effective ministry – like Apollos. Someone who, if treated the other way could be alienated and lost to the Lord.
4) It is so important that you share your faith, courageously and confidently.
Posted on Sun, November 14, 2010
by John Roberts