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Who Does The Ministry?
I had a haircut last week (which I’m sure was the first thing you noticed when I got up). And I discovered this last week that having a haircut is quite a biblical thing to do (unless your name is Samson I suppose).
In Acts 18 we see Paul going off to get a haircut.
As we were reading it, you might have been saying to yourself, “Why do we care about Paul’s visit to the hairdressers? I care as much about Paul’s hair as I do Warwick’s – very little.”
However, the reason for his haircut is slightly different…
It doesn’t say explicitly in the text, but it’s probably likely that Paul has taken some form of nazarite vow in Corinth – perhaps out of thankfulness for being protected in Corinth. He has completed that vow. He goes to Cenchreae on the coast, cuts his hair (which probably meant a short back and sides, and top), and determines, in fulfilment of that nazarite vow, to take his locks up to Jerusalem and present them to the Lord in the temple with a sacrifice. Which is what you did if you were a Jew.
So he leaves Corinth and on the way stops at Ephesus. He has Priscilla and Aquila with him. He leaves them there, and he goes on.
Now we still might be thinking, “So what?”
Well, I think Luke’s point in recording this is to get us to stop and ask this question:
Now Paul is off the scene, what’s going to happen?
For the last few chapters, it’s all revolved around Paul. We might be forgiven if we start to think that it’s all about him, and apart from him there’s not much else going on.
Luke, however, wants to tell us, actually, there are very significant things going on, in the spread of the gospel to the ends of the world, and in the life of these local churches.
There are others who have significant ministries, and they might be people you least expect. Which I think should be an encouragement to all of us.
Who are the ministers at Trinity Church?
It’s not just the preachers. It’s not just the elders. We all are.
Some of the most significant ministries are the ones that happen behind the scenes.
The phone call, the email, the catchup, the meal for others, the hospitable use of your home or resources, the praying, the seemingly insignificant, unseen things, but from God’s perspective not insignificant at all.
Luke takes one of these behind-the-scenes ministries and brings it to the forefront for our encourage that you’re just the sort of person God loves to use to build his church.
In God’s providence, it might be at this time when most of our formal ministries have been put on hold, and all we can do is the phone call, the email, the meal for someone or a gift or a letter or a conversation on zoom, or the praying, this is just what we need to hear.
None of us is going to be an Apostle Paul – in fact, nor should we try. He had a unique ministry as an Apostle.
Very, very few of us are even going to be an Apollos (we’ll see what he’s like in a minute), however, we can all be in some ways a Priscilla or Aquila.
What’s it take to be a minister in your church?
Obviously there is a lot to say about that, but for this morning I want to suggest three principles.
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus (that’s where Priscilla and Aquila are). He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.
Now Apollos was the kind of man who would stand out in any crowd. I think we’ll find ourselves admiring Apollos this morning.
Our text says he was competent in the Scriptures. Other translations use words like ‘well-versed in the Scriptures’, or ‘powerful in the use of Scripture’ which I think picks up a better sense of what Luke’s getting at. Talking about Apollos’ use of the Old Testament of course.
He was also a learned man. He is Apollos of Alexandria.
Alexandria rivalled Athens as the intellectual centre of the earth. The greatest library was in Alexandria. It had some of the greatest philosophical minds, including Euclid and Philo and Porphyry.
Apollos was a wonderful amalgamation, being a Jew, of the Hebrew mentality and the Greek mentality, competent in the Scriptures, competent in learning.
The text tells us he was an eloquent man. He was a spellbinder. He could hold people in the palm of his hand, captive by his words, like few people in history could.
We might think of people like George Whitefield, or Charles Spurgeon, or Alexander Whyte.
There’s another story about a fellow who went to listen to Whyte preaching at his church, only to be disappointed because he got a seat where he couldn’t see Whyte’s face. Then he discovered that it didn’t make any difference, because he could see the galleries and as he looked at the galleries, when Whyte frowned, they frowned. When Whyte laughed, they laughed. When he grimaced, they grimaced.
He concluded that the people were one with him in every way. There was such a union that they were a perfect mirror of his mood.
Maybe Apollos was like that.
Some of the commentators speculate that he was the greatest preacher in the New Testament after Jesus himself.
If you mix all of this with the fact that our text says he was fervent in spirit, literally boiling hot or burning; here was a guy who could work up a pulpit sweat.
He epitomised Lloyd Jones definition of preaching as “logic on fire”.
That’s Apollos; passionate, learned, full of the Word, eloquent.
He was a great man who would stand out in any crowd. The sort of person you’d fear when you saw him on the other team in the school debate.
In all of this, though he was at the forefront in many ways, a terrific, charismatic figure … it wasn’t enough.
Having all the skills that us garden variety preachers only dream about, knowing the Old Testament inside out … it wasn’t enough.
In v25, as we read, it says, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.
Now, that seems to be a bit contradictory here. Did he know things concerning Jesus, accurately? Or did he only know about the ministry of John the Baptist?
What was it that Apollos knew exactly?
To say he knew only the baptism of John means, he only knew what John the Baptist had taught; that there was someone coming who would baptise with the Spirit and fire, the Messiah was coming, and the way to be ready was through repentance.
Which is accurate, and we know those things are fulfilled in Jesus, and so it’s true to say that Apollos taught accurately about some of the things that point to Jesus.
He was concerned for the dispersed Jews to get their life together for the Messiah, and that’s all he had.
He didn’t know that the Messiah was Jesus. Not until Priscilla and Aquila explained things to him and then he got it, and then he’s out there in v28 powerfully preaching that the Christ was Jesus. But not before.
Before, he didn’t know anything about the life or death or resurrection of Jesus, about Pentecost or any of that.
He therefore couldn’t go any further than really what John the Baptist preached.
He knew only this much, of the whole story. What he knew was true. He was heading in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough.
It’s almost stating the obvious isn’t it: Christian ministry starts with Christian doctrine – who Jesus is, what has he done, and why does it matter?
How do you know if doctrine matters to you?
Think about the type of preachers you like to listen to.
Is it enough to say, their preaching is really dynamic? They’re so learned and eloquent?
Great skill is not enough.
If you’ve got it, great. Use it.
Remember, that’s just the icing on the cake.
Why would you be satisfied with eating just the icing and not the whole cake?
Now, as I say that, I know that there are people who right at this moment are thinking, “I’d love to be able just to lick the icing off and not have to eat the rest of the cake or biscuit.”
Imagine if that’s all you ever ate. How sick would you get? How malnourished would you be?
Now, again I can see people who are saying, “Well I wouldn’t mind finding out for myself.”
The sad situation today is that thousands and thousands of people in many so-called evangelical churches around the world are being feed nothing but icing. Great oratory, charismatic preachers, funny stories, entertaining shows.
In the end, it’s nothing but sugar and water. And it doesn’t nourish.
We need people to explain to us the way of God more accurately.
What about the Christian music you listen to? The tune’s really catchy. Yeah, but what about the words?
What about the way you assess where others are at in life?
Well, at least they share the same political views as me, or sporting allegiances, or hobbies. Yeah, but how well do they know Jesus?
What about us as a church?
Are we going to be satisfied with people knowing just the bear minimum, or do we want people to grow in their understanding of and love for Jesus, and not just settle for seeing people just get over the line?
Christian ministry starts with sound Christian doctrine. We need to be explaining to each other the way of God more accurately.
Now, there have been a lot of people in history who have been passionate for good doctrine, but, they’ve been real dopes in how they’ve gone about it.
26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
There’s something to learn from their approach to Apollos.
Notice they didn’t stand up and object when they heard something was amiss. They didn’t scorn him. They didn’t reject him. They didn’t try to do anything publicly.
They did however, do something that some of us don’t do very well. They took him aside.
Some of us just like to blurt out what we’re thinking straight away without any regard to how it will be heard. Others of us like to think of any excuse not to say things which might cause potential conflict.
What they did takes courage. Here is learned, eloquent Apollos, but what are they? Tentmakers.
You can imagine Aquila coming up to Apollos after the gathering had ended in the synagogue, putting his arm across his shoulders (because you were allowed to do that back then), would you like to come back to our place for lunch. My wife, Priscilla makes a mean…
As they’re sitting down over lunch they say to him, “Apollos, great sermon this morning, however, can we tell you about some things that by God’s grace we’ve come to learn?”
It would have been easier for them just to make comments from the side, or to mutter to each other under their breath, “Boy this guy doesn’t even know any more than John the Baptist. Write him off.”
Easier to say, “Well, you know, he’s passionate, he’s in the general, vague direction of what’s right. No need to get him all bogged down on this technical ‘who is Jesus’ stuff. Probably best if we just let him be.”
They don’t, however. They take him aside and explain to him the way of God more accurately.
What we need, and what any church needs, is people with a spirit of grace like this.
We know that Jesus, by his Spirit, works sovereignly. We also know that Jesus sovereignly decides to work through people most cases, other believers.
What if Priscilla and Aquila hadn’t have been the kind of people they were, humanly speaking from ground level? Apollos may never have come to know Jesus properly.
What a wonderful ministry they had.
They had the theological discernment to see that this Apollos character was significantly lacking in his understanding.
They had passion for sound doctrine and for people to have a full and correct understanding of Jesus so that they were concerned enough to do something about it.
They also had the discretion to know the right kind of approach. To be people who are gentle and gracious and careful.
That’s the kind of people that will turn a church upside-down.
Let me just make this side note. You don’t need to be married to do this. If you’re single, you’ll have opportunities to get alongside people in ways others won’t.
However, Luke does give us an attractive picture of a husband and wife offering hospitality and ministering together. We don’t know a lot about Priscilla and Aquila, but what we see here should lead us to pray for all our marriages in Trinity Church.
There are so many voices in a world today competing for our marriages – either distractions or seductions. A marriage, just like singleness, is too precious a gift to spend on selfishness or pettiness or non-intentional living.
We can’t open our homes right now of course, but when these lockdowns are all passed, will we emerge with even more resolve to use our homes, marriages for ministry?
Doctrine matters, discretion matters…
Apollos was admirable too. As we said; eloquent, learned, sophisticated, from Alexandria, he knew Philo, he knew all the allegorical systems of interpretation, he could talk his way around people, and yet he was willing to sit at the feet of a couple of tentmakers, and listen and learn.
It was those qualities that enabled him to become the effective preacher that he did. We read about it from v27,
27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Now, less than half a percent of us are ever going to be like Apollos in terms of powerfully refuting people in public. All of us can be like him in terms of teachable, humble spirits.
He had a disposition that was humble, teachable, open-minded.
I’m convinced that it’s that kind of spirit that is the key any ministry; a continued humility, and a continued ability to learn.
I say that because I can say with certainty that you have some theological error in your system. I’m certain that I have some theological error in my system. There is not one of us who does not need, at one point or other, some brotherly or sisterly correction.
We need each other. Even mighty Apollos didn’t cross to Achaia until the brothers (those in the church at Ephesus) encouraged him.
Here is an example of the importance of the church family, the fellowship of the saints.
To be able to say to each other, “Did you mean to say it just that way? How does your thinking on this fit with these other biblical truths? Do you think that’s really the most helpful way? Yeah, I think you should go for it” ,and so on and so on.
It’s often the small, unseen things that have the greatest or most long-lasting impact.
You don’t have to be up the front to have an effective ministry.
In a world that praises more dominant roles, and with proud hearts that love to be recognised, how can we be satisfied with the behind-the-scenes roles?
When our labour goes unacknowledged, our sacrifices go unappreciated, and our contributions are overshadowed by other roles that receive far greater honour.
When our doctrine’s right. When we know it’s all about Jesus and not about me.
When we remember that when the curtain falls, whether we have sung centre stage or swept in the wings, all that will matter then is that we’ll love seeing the one who wrote every plotline and role come and take the final bow.