Last time we were looking at verses 12 to 23 of Acts 18. We read how Paul, Priscilla and Aquila travelled from Corinth to Ephesus. And, as was his normal practice, Paul went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. He was trying to convince them to believe in the Lord Jesus. But he didn’t stay long in Ephesus even though the people there wanted him to stay longer. He wanted to get back to Antioch as soon as possible. But before he left, he told the people in Ephesus that he will come back to them if it’s God’s will. And do you remember last time that we spent a bit of time thinking about the difference between God’s revealed will and his secret will. There are some thing God has revealed to us and we can know those things. And there are some other things which he keeps from us and we can’t know them until they happen. We know his law, for instance, and how he wants us to live as his people because he’s revealed it to us in the Bible. But whether or not it was God’s will for Paul to return to Ephesus was kept from Paul. So, while he may have hoped to return to Ephesus, he did not know whether or not it was God’s will for him to do so.
So, Paul left Ephesus. But though he was leaving, Priscilla and Aquila were going to stay there.
We stopped at verse 23 where we’re told that Paul remained in Antioch for some time. This was his base, if you like, from where he launched his first and his second and now his third missionary campaign. And sure enough, having spent some time in Antioch, Paul left once again and set out from there to go and visit some of the churches he had planted in the region of Galatia and Phrygia.
Verses 24 to 26
Luke now introduces us to this man, Apollos. And we’re told several things about him. First of all, he’s a Jew. And he had come from Alexandria. Alexandria in Egypt was the second largest city in the Roman Empire and, according to one historian, was the leading intellectual and cultural centre of the Hellenistic world. Visitors to Alexandria could visit the museum and it’s library which contained as many as 400,000 books.
Apollos must have fitted in well in Alexandria, because we’re told that he was a learned man. In other words, he was smart and had been well-educated. And we’re told that he had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. In other words, he knew the Old Testament well — better than most.
But not only did he know the Old Testament well, he’d also been instructed in the way of the Lord. In other words, he had received formal training from someone on the way of salvation by Jesus Christ.
Some of you may be aware of IVP, the Inter-Varsity Press, which publishes Christian books. Most of their titles are written for a popular audience, which means they’re not heavy books or very hard to understand. And usually most people will be able to pick up an IVP book and understand what it’s saying and benefit from it. However, IVP also publishes books which are for more serious readers. They’re for the academic market. So, they’re a bit heavier and harder to understand and they’re really for the students and staff in theological colleges. Now, the reason I’m telling you this is because those academic books, written for more serious readers, are published under the imprint ‘Apollos’. By putting the name ‘Apollos’ on them, IVP is saying that these books are for Christians who are a bit like Apollos in the book of Acts who was a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and who had received some formal training in the way of the Lord.
But, of course, I’ve heard many lectures given by men who were very learned and who possessed a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and who had received formal training in the way of the Lord, but who were dreadfully dull. Rather than inspire you, they’d send you to sleep. But Apollos wasn’t like that. Look at verse 25 where it says he spoke with ‘great fervour’. You know, he spoke with enthusiasm and passion. We might say that his heart burned within him and he was on fire for the Lord. He was an enthusiastic speaker.
But, of course, not only have I heard well-educated men who are boring, but I’ve also heard passionate speakers who talk rubbish. They’re full of zeal, but not of knowledge. Apollos wasn’t that either. Look at what else Luke says about him. He tells us that not only did he speak with great fervour, but he taught about Jesus accurately.
That’s what we want, isn’t it? We want preachers and teachers who are able to speak with fervour because they love the Lord and are enthusiastic about the message; and who are also able to teach others accurately. We want passion and knowledge, fervour and accuracy. And so, we should pray to the Lord to raise up men like this to teach in our churches. And we should pray for the students in Union, asking God to make them like Apollos.
And sure enough, look at verse 26. He spoke boldly in the synagogue in Ephesus. Just as Paul had done, so now Apollos tried to convince the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue that Jesus is the Christ.
However, having said all those good things about Apollos, Luke adds one negative. Just one. At the end of verse 25 we learn that Apollos only knew the baptism of John. Do you see that? Now, it’s not entirely clear what Luke means by that. But perhaps the point is that — since John’s baptism was about looking forward to the coming of the Saviour, and since the Saviour has now come — then there’s no need for anyone to be baptised now. Perhaps Apollos thought baptism was something that John did, and there’s no need to continue the practice now. In other words, he hadn’t heard that the Lord Jesus had commanded the church to make disciples by baptising them and teaching them. So, while he knew the Scriptures well and was able to teach about the Lord Jesus accurately, he didn’t know this one thing.
But Apollos is the ideal student, because in verse 26 we see that he was humble enough to be instructed by Priscilla and Aquila. Instead of thinking he knew it all, he was prepared to learn from them and to let them explain to him the way of God more adequately.
So, there’s something else we can pray about: that our students for the ministry, and that our ministers, will always be willing to learn more; that we’ll always be trying to understand the way of God more accurately so that we can be better teachers.
But Apollos is an example for all of us as well. You see, some Christians are satisfied that they know it all. Or they know enough. And when they come to church, they don’t come to learn but to assess the quality of the sermon. Like judges at the Olympics, they’ll judge the sermon and the preacher. And at home, over lunch, they discuss how well the preacher did today instead of discussing the message and the things the Lord is trying to teach us.
We don’t want to be like that. Instead we want to be like those who come to the service because — although they’re spent a lifetime studying the Bible — they still want to know more. They know they don’t have a perfect knowledge of the Scriptures and they want to know their Bible better, and they want to know the Saviour better. And so they’ll come to church gladly and they’ll listen carefully because they want to understand the way of God more accurately.
So, there’s another point for prayer. That all of us will be students of the word, eager to learn more about the Lord Jesus just as Apollos learned it from Priscilla and Aquila.
Verses 27 to 28
Look now at verses 27 and 28. The time came when Apollos was keen to move on to the region of Achaia. And we read that the brothers in Ephesus — in other words, his fellow believers — encouraged him to do so. They understood that — since he was such a good teacher — then he could be of great use in other areas of the Roman Empire. And so, they wrote a letter to recommend him to the believers and off he went.
Now, if you glance down to verse 1 of chapter 19, you’ll see that he ended up in Corinth. And back in verse 28 we’re told that when he arrived there, he was a great help to the believers because he was able to refute the Jews in public debate. In other words, he was able to answer their objections and to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
Let me finish with two brief points. First of all, we should compare and contrast Apollos and Priscilla and Aquila. All three loved the Lord and were willing to serve him. But whereas Apollos was able to teach with fervour and was able to vigorously refute the Jews in public debate, Priscilla and Aquila served the Lord in the background. They weren’t teaching in the synagogue. They weren’t preaching in public. But they met with Apollos in private and were able to explain some things to him that he didn’t know. And when Apollos thought about going on to Corinth, they encouraged him. So, if you’re not a public speaker, don’t worry: God doesn’t call everyone to be a preacher. But if there’s someone in our congregation who is a bit like Apollos, and they’re able to teach with fervour, then perhaps you can be a Priscilla or an Aquila, and you can guide them and encourage them. There was an elder in my home congregation who used to give me good books to read and often he’d meet with me to encourage me and to pray for me. He had a great knowledge of the Bible, but he wasn’t a public speaker. But he helped me to understand the Bible better.
And finally, if you read the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, you’ll see that Paul refers to Apollos. In chapter 3 he wrote that while he (Paul) planted the seed of God’s word among them, Apollos watered it. That is, Paul was one of the first to go to Corinth and preach the gospel. And after he had left, Apollos arrived and continued the work that Paul had begun. He continued to teach them to ensure that the believers grew in their faith and knowledge. Paul planted. Apollos watered. But, of course, Paul makes the point that it’s the Lord who makes it grow. And so, once again we need to pray to the Lord to bless the preaching of his word in order to make the seed of his word bear fruit in all our lives.