Calvary Road Baptist Church

“BEFORE HONOR IS HUMILITY”

Acts 18.12-28

My sermon for this evening will cover Acts 18.24-28. Before I get to that passage, I would like to deal with verses 12-23, in an attempt to point out some things that might be interesting and helpful in your future Bible study. Therefore, turn, if you would please, to Acts 18.12 and read with me through verse 17:

12     And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,

13     Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.

14     And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you:

15     But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.

16     And he drave them from the judgment seat.

17     Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.

I want you to note several things in this passage of importance: First, remember from verse 10 that the Lord assured Paul of no physical harm while he was in Corinth. Though the jealous Jews unjustly accused him of propagating an illegal religion, Gallio would have none of it and dismissed the case immediately. As a matter of fact, if Sosthenes (who later accompanied Paul in his travels) was not beaten for siding with Paul before Gallio, then he may have been thrashed by Gallio’s sympathizers simply for being a Jew who tried to settle a religious issue in court, making it Paul’s accusers who ended up being beaten for not vacating the deputy’s presence quickly enough following the trial. Second, we see the term “judgment seat” in verses 12 and 16. This comes from the Greek word bhma and refers to a little platform or raised area where a judge sits and decides the merits of a case brought before him. This word bhma is used in Second Corinthians 5.10, where Paul indicates that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Yes, Christ will judge the life of the believer when he gets to heaven.

Now, read with me, verses 18-23:

18     And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.

19     And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.

20     When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not;

21     But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.

22     And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.

23     And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.

Many people down through the ages have wondered why the Apostle Paul shaved his head according to Old Testament Law, as Luke records in verse 18. Some maintain that Paul backslid and placed himself under the Mosaic Law for a while, though I do not think that is what happened. I rather think Paul had taken the vow of a Nazarite before his conversion, and that the end of that time had now come and Paul concluded his vow by shaving his head in accordance with Moses’ prescription. During the time between his salvation and this shaving of his head, he had not cut his hair, which was required of a Nazarite. This, I think, is what might have led to Paul’s discussion of hair length in First Corinthians chapter 11. If you ask why Paul continued to let his hair grow after he was converted, and why he stuck with the Nazaritic vow, I would answer, “As a testimony to the Jewish people he came into contact with.” Had he broken his vow, some might think he became a Christian simply to relieve himself of the responsibility of fulfilling his vow. Paul had liberty in Christ. Liberty is misunderstood by many, who do not realize that liberty in Christ is the freedom to do right. I think Paul did the right thing, by God’s grace. Also, notice that Paul’s close friends, Aquila and his wife Priscilla, moved to Ephesus with him. Their great contribution to the cause of Christ will be seen shortly. Leaving his two friends in Ephesus, Paul and his party continued on to Caesaria, then to Jerusalem, then to Antioch. We know this from verse 22. The only city in the world you go up to or down from in the Bible is Jerusalem. Wording verse 22 the way he did, Luke had no need to mention Jerusalem by name. Then, Paul went and strengthened the disciples.

It is at this point that Luke’s narrative leaves Paul and his party shortly to deal with some events in the life of a man named Apollos. As we shall see in verses 24-28, Apollos was a wonderfully gifted servant of God, and perhaps the most effective and dynamic preacher of the Word of God who ever lived. To substantiate this view, let me point out that it was Luke, traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, who describes Apollos in terms like these: an eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in the spirit, and that he mightily convinced the Jews. Rarely, if ever, do we read of Luke describing Paul in such terns, probably because Paul was nowhere nearly as effective a public speaker and orator as Apollos. Though mightily used of God, these men were mightily used by God in quite different ways. Paul’s power was often seen through his pen, in personal dialogue, and in debate, while Apollos was nothing short of a Spirit-filled silver-tongued preacher. And Spirit-filled this Apollos was, indeed, as evidenced by the fact that he was a man who stopped at nothing in his desire to be great for God. That he was Spirit-filled is also evidenced by the way in which he sought to be great for God. How does one become great for God? By self-exaltation and pride? No, for that is the way of the Christ-rejecting world. Apollos knew that the way to be great for God was marked by the pathway to humility.

Did not Solomon write in Proverbs “Before honor is humility”?[1] As well, did not Paul show us Christ’s way of being lifted up was by humbling Himself? Sure he did. Read Philippians 2.5-21 when you get home and note that God’s way up is down, and Christ’s way up is down . . . and the way for us to be useful to God is to be humble. Apollos was already great for God. That Apollos became even greater for God cannot be denied. That he traveled the road to greater effectiveness as a servant of God by being humble and patient is a truth that we shall now see.

Notice in Luke’s record of Apollos’ personal journey to even greater effectiveness as a servant of God that four main points are set before us:

First, WE SEE THE GREAT POTENTIAL OF APOLLOS IN VERSE 24 AND THE FIRST PORTION OF VERSE 25.

“And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord”

There were four aspects to Apollos’ great potential:

First, Apollos’ eloquence had great potential for the Lord’s service. It seems either that Apollos was a naturally gifted speaker, or that he had had training in the Greek art of rhetoric. It is likely that both are true of him. However, while many unsaved men are eloquent of speech and never bring glory to God, it is obvious that such abilities of communication can be useful to the Holy Spirit to bless many lives.

Next, Apollos’ schooling was also a factor in his potential for the cause of Christ. There are several possible sources of education that can be seen in the life of Apollos here. That he was from Alexandria, the second greatest center of learning in the world, gives rise to the likelihood that Apollos was trained in Greek philosophy and science. This would gain for him the respect of any Gentile who heard him speak. Then Luke says Apollos was mighty in the scriptures. This means that he was most powerful in his use and mastery of the teachings of the Old Testament. This suggests his training as a youth in an orthodox Jewish home and sitting at the feet of a great teacher of the Law. The third source of training and schooling for Apollos is seen in the phrase that says that he was “instructed in the way of the Lord.” This would suggest that while he had been taught accurately what he had been taught, his Christian instruction remained incomplete. I am convinced that in this passage Luke is showing us someone who was likely trained by one of John the Baptist’s disciples who were actually converted, while we shall see those dealt with by the Apostle Paul at the beginning of Acts chapter 19 were not converted. Thus, Apollos had many sources of schooling that God could use and which God brought into the life of His servant, though there was also a deficiency that needed to be addressed.

The third area of potential is related to Apollos’ spirituality. Luke says that he was “fervent in spirit.” This means that he was boiling and bubbling with zeal for God. This is a good thing. This also reminds me of two things every Christian would do well to keep in mind: First, keep in mind that boiling spirituality is pleasing to God, since Christ hates the lukewarm Christian, according to Revelation 3.15-16:

15     I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16     So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Secondly, Christians must also be cautioned not to fall into the trap many Jewish people fell into of having a zeal without knowledge, Romans 10.2: “For I bear them record that they [Jewish people] have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” Apollos had great zeal, which can be of tremendous potential, but we shall see in a moment that his knowledge was imperfect, as I suggested before. That, of course, can be and so often is dangerous.

The final potential, which Luke brings to our attention, is related to Apollos’ teaching techniques. The Bible says, “he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord.” I like to teach things in detail and with meticulous care. For that reason, I was pleased to read this description of Apollos’ style or technique. You see, this word diligently, in verse 25, akribwV, literally means to teach accurately, with careful attention.[2] To be concerned with the fine points. To tie all the loose ends. This shows Apollos to be a careful man, which is good. God is orderly and is infinitely concerned with the fine details of our lives. It is a great thing for us to be more concerned with fine points and details than we sometimes are, especially when it comes to the teaching and explaining of the Word of God. You see, the Word of God was written in detail. That is why it ought to be taught in detail, and why God’s children are responsible to learn it in detail. So talents, schooling, spirituality, and technique in the life of Apollos are blended together to make this man someone with amazing potential. However, potential means nothing unless one’s potential is turned over to God to use, as Apollos did.

NO MATTER HOW GREAT APOLLOS’ POTENTIAL WAS, HE WAS SEVERELY LIMITED IN HIS MINISTRY. THIS IS WHAT LUKE DRAWS OUR ATTENTION TO WHEN HE SHOWS US APOLLOS’ GREATER PROBLEM.

Why greater? Because unless this problem was overcome, his full potential could never have been realized.

His problem was owing to ignorance. This is seen in Luke’s words that say; “knowing only the baptism of John,” verse 25. How is that a limiting factor? Does this mean that Apollos was not saved? Oh, I am persuaded that he was saved, for he was fervent in spirit, and John the Baptist’s gospel message was certainly a Biblical and a saving gospel message. Was Apollos then without spiritual power? Luke indicates that Apollos was fervent in spirit. Besides this, John the Baptist did preach a message that taught men about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He knew that Pentecost would come and that Christ would baptize His own with the Holy Ghost. No, Apollos’ problem was not salvation or spiritual power. He was both saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. His problem was ignorance. He knew only the baptism of John. When Luke uses the term “baptism of John,” he refers to the entire ministry of John the Baptist that dealt with the coming Messiah. John, of course, was the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ. He announced the coming of Jesus Christ. He prepared the way. This suggests to me that Apollos knew of the Messiah’s coming, and probably that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah, but that he either did not know that Christ had suffered and died on the cross, or (more likely, in my estimation) that he had never been properly taught the full significance of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. So you see, in spite of Apollos’ great eloquence, his great training, his great spirituality and his great teaching skills, his message was not incorrect, but essentially incomplete. My understanding is that he knew enough of God’s gospel truth to be converted, but not nearly enough of God’s gospel truth to be truly effective as a gospel preacher. He did not comprehend the great truths of Christ’s victory over death and sin. He did not comprehend the profound impact of the resurrection and of Christ’s ministry of advocating for us at His Father’s right hand in heaven. Apollos discovered that his sole deficiency as a preacher of the gospel and a servant of Christ was being somewhat short in fully comprehending the blessings of the gospel and the accomplishments of the Savior he sought to exalt in his preaching. So you see, he had a crippling problem. If it was not corrected, he would never amount to as much for God as a Bible preacher and discipler of men as he might, he would not be able to climb the mountain tops of preaching to trumpet the accomplishments of the King of all glory.

Praise God, though, that Priscilla and Aquila observed this problem of Apollos’. Remember, these two had lived with and worked alongside the Apostle Paul for a year and a half. If they did not learn a great deal about the significance of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection during that time they must have been asleep. Remember also that God had providentially moved them with Paul to the city of Ephesus. Just think, if they had never moved to Ephesus they would never have met Apollos, and they would never have had the opportunity to help Apollos in the way they did. Help Apollos? You mean to suggest the possibility of these mere working people actually helping the great Apollos? Just wait and see.

IN VERSE 26, WE SEE THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE GREAT PRESCRIPTION THAT DOCTOR APOLLOS ORDERED FOR HIMSELF TO CURE THIS PROBLEM THAT HINDERED THE FULL BLOSSOMING OF HIS MINISTRY.

“And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”

Notice the components that made up this prescription he took.

First, there is one part humility. This is the key. The active ingredient. Without humility, nothing happens. Without humility, Apollos would never place himself in a situation where he could be helped. Aquila and Priscilla had experienced the sublime teaching of the Apostle Paul. Therefore, when they listened to the preaching of Apollos, they realized that this fellow could be an even more effective servant of God than he was, though something was missing. There was a deficiency. Further, they must have realized that they could supply what Apollos was missing. They knew, in their heads, the facts which he needed to know. What is more, they lived their lives by means of the power that such profound truth could provide. Therefore, those two servants of God took mighty Apollos in and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. You know what it took from Apollos for this to happen? Humility. Imagine what it must have been like when they approached him to expose his deficiencies. Most preachers would not sit still for someone to deal with them in that way. As well, most Christians who think they are qualified to correct preachers are, in fact, not qualified. Apollos had to admit to himself that he did not know everything, and that these two exceptional Christians knew more about certain vital gospel truths than he did. Thus, we have here a key. Step #1 to becoming great for God is being humble, being humble enough to allow others to teach you. Not like most folks who want to know but who do not want to be taught by anyone.

Part two of Apollos’ prescription was patience. He had traveled about preaching and teaching with great results. Now he had come to realize that there were some things he simply did not fully know, as he ought. His grasp of the gospel, while saving was incomplete, immature, undeveloped, without the depth of comprehension a gospel preacher must have. In order to learn, in order to grow, he had to take time out from his ministry. This meant that he had to patiently sit at the feet of these two very busy working people. What is implied in this is that he could only learn at night, when Aquila and Priscilla were not occupied with their tent making to support themselves, and then occupied for just a few hours before fatigue would force them to sleep. Whether or not Apollos was an impatient man we do not know, but to glean from those two what he must have to develop more fully as a servant of God, he had to be patient. Oh, my friends, how rare a quality this is, especially in addition to his humility. Step #2 to becoming more effective, then, is being patient and being taught at the pace God wants you to be taught. The reason for this is not always obvious to many. In First Corinthians 8.1, Paul wrote, “Knowledge puffeth up.” Learning spiritual truths too quickly usually brings on spiritual indigestion, filling the head so fast that the truth cannot be properly incorporated into godly living. The result is the puffing of pride. Proper spiritual growth takes time. Time requires patience.

The final part of Apollos’ prescription involved the first two parts in combination. It is discipleship. This taking into the home is actually discipleship and allowing people to learn by observation as well as by careful instruction. Those two people actually shared their lives with this man. As well, he allowed them to share their lives in the way they felt was best, not according to any demands he imposed upon them. He submitted himself to them. He did not demand that they submit to him and teach him according to his own preconceived notions. Biblical discipleship really occurs this way. In how many schools do the students tell the teachers how they are to teach? Yet so many Christians who want to be discipled insist that they know more about discipling than the person doing the teaching does! Apollos found the road to greatness for God through the living room of a simple man and woman who were eager to share with him some things about the mysteries of godly living that they knew, and that he needed to know. They certainly did not do things the way Apollos would have done it. They were not as skilled in the Old Testament as he was, and it is unlikely they could teach as skillfully as he could. However, he patiently let them teach him. He let them do it their way.

THIS DONE, AND APOLLOS HAVING LEARNED WHAT THEY COULD TEACH HIM, HE MOVES ON AND LUKE RECORDS HIS GROWING PRODUCTIVITY.

Read verses 27 and 28 with me:

27     And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:

28     For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.

In his growing productivity, we see that others aided Apollos. With his completed foundation of Bible truth, God used Apollos’ great eloquence to help those who were already Christians. Apollos taught them the Word of God and encouraged them through his anointed preaching.

In his growing productivity, he also convinced others. We see this in verse 28, where he mightily convinced the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah spoken of by the prophets of God in the Old Testament. Again, using his great oratorical skills, he did so publicly.

Therefore, we see the ministry of the great preacher named Apollos continually growing. Eventually he went to Corinth and was so mightily used there that some carnal Christians thought him to be a greater man than Paul. Such was silliness, because Christ is not divided. With Apollos, it started with great potential. A potential that Apollos, no doubt, realized that he had. A potential that he, no doubt, was thankful to God for. A potential that he was, no doubt, eager to develop and use for God’s glory. However, there was a problem. Great as he was, there were vital things which he did not know and which he could only learn from a comparatively uneducated tent maker and his wife. He was faced with a dilemma. Does he continue his ministry, trying to cover up this inadequacy Aquila and Priscilla pointed out to him, or does he submit to these two for teaching?

Submission required humility and that in the presence of many other people. Submission also required patience, and that from a man described as of a boiling spirituality. Submission required discipleship, and that from folks less skilled as teachers than he was, but better informed and likely more mature. Thank God, Apollos desired greatness for God rather than for himself. Thank God, his momma had taught him that before honor is humility. Thank God, his example is preserved in scripture for us to follow.



[1] Proverbs 15.33

[2] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 39.



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