Disciples Instructing Disciples
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Acts 18:18–19:7
I hadn’t planned to start chapter 19 this week. But as I kept re-reading Acts, I couldn’t help but see how closely these episodes relate, especially with Apollos and the twelve men Paul meets. Both events occur in Ephesus. Both know only the baptism of John. So we’re going to push through to 19:7. Then we’ll wait till missions month in September to finish out Paul’s lengthy ministry in Ephesus. Let’s hear the word of the Lord from verse 18 and then pray…
18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. 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. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 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. 19:1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
Declaring God’s Glory to Our Neighbors & the Nations
Every person has an identity. Your identity defines who you are. It drives where you find your ultimate significance. It determines your priorities and moral outlook. God created us to find our identity in him. Rebellious desires once defined us. But God redeemed us in Jesus Christ. He fundamentally changed our identity. Our identity stands in who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Christ defines who we are. We’re God’s worshipers redeemed by his grace. We’re God’s family in the strength of his love. We’re God’s missionaries under his authority. That’s who we are.
Our vision for ministry then flows from that identity. For some time now, we’ve summarized our vision at Redeemer Church like this: we exist to equip God’s people (family) to delight in his glory (worshipers) and to declare his glory to our neighbors and the nations (missionaries). The book of Acts compels us toward that vision. Today, we’ll look at four more patterns that compel us toward that vision.
You may have noticed that Luke covers Paul traveling from Cenchreae to Ephesus to Caesarea to Jerusalem to Antioch then on through the region of Galatia and Phrygia. Then he hits pause on Paul to discuss Apollos’s ministry in Ephesus; then he hits play again in 19:1 when Paul finally returns to Ephesus. 1,500 miles of first-century missionary travels in just a handful of verses! But Ephesus gets all the attention.
Why? Because that’ll be Luke’s primary focus all the way through chapter 20. Paul ministered in Ephesus for two years. In 1 Corinthians 16:9, it says a wide door for effective work had opened to Paul in Ephesus. Luke narrates the beginnings of that missionary work here. In the process, though, four patterns stood out to me that can also mature us in gospel ministry at Redeemer.
1. Humble submission to the will of God should be evident in our mission.
The first is this: humble submission to the will of God should be evident in our mission. In verse 18, Paul stays many days longer in Corinth. Why’d he stay longer? Because God told him to stay longer back in verse 9: “Don’t be afraid, but go on speaking and don’t be silent, for I am with you…”
He also gets a haircut at Cenchreae. He was under a vow. It’s not clear what sort of vow. It shares similarities with the Nazarite vow in Numbers 6. But there’s no way to be sure. We just know that Paul made a vow; that vow reveals submission to the Lord.
Next, he reasons with the Jews in Ephesus. Again, his ongoing passion to preach Christ reveals humble submission. God placed that calling on his life in 9:15. Paul was to carry God’s name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
Most explicitly, though, look at verses 20-21. They really characterize all that he’s up to: “When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. But on taking leave of them he said, ‘I will return to you if God wills.’”[i]
Polytheists will say, “If the gods will.” Muslims will say inshaˈAllah, meaning, “If Allah wills.” But there are major differences with what Paul says. This isn’t a fatalistic slogan—like “whatever will be will be; just go about life without personal relationship with your distant god.” No, the God Paul speaks of is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He’s the savior of his soul, the one who has loved him and adopted him and graciously cares for him in all circumstances. This isn’t fatalism; it’s fatherly.
Sometimes the church has distinguished between God’s revealed will and his hidden will. His revealed will comes to us in Scripture. It’s explicit, so that we know how to obey him in any circumstance. But God’s hidden will can’t be known in advance. We must wait for it patiently, while obeying the Lord in what we do know.
Paul was very much like us. Unless the Lord disclosed it, he didn’t know what the future held for him. But he did know the God who designed that future. He did know that Father who governs all the details; and sometimes he frustrates our plans to give us better ones. Recall 16:6 when the Holy Spirit forbid Paul to preach in Asia. Then they attempted to go into Bithynia, but Jesus didn’t allow that either. “If God wills,” makes sense. God’s will is supreme. As an adopted son, Paul gladly submits his Father’s will in any of the circumstances his Father may give him. They want Paul to stay, but he must move on for now and return later, if God wills.
Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” This ought to humble us, beloved. God’s will is supreme. His plans will bring all things into submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, not ours. Which means our confidence cannot lie in our plans, our strategies, our jobs, our economy, our leaders, our health; our confidence must be in the Lord himself.
Part of the difficulty with acknowledging God’s sovereignty over our planning and living, is that we often doubt his goodness and his wisdom. We’re afraid to say, “If God wills,” because what he wills for us might hurt—we might suffer more, and that can’t be good for us. But the cross of Jesus Christ tells a better story. He is loving, so loving that he gave his only Son for us. And for all those united to Jesus, he really is working all things together for your good.
Of course we can’t see the full picture now! But we can rest assured that he’s good. He’s wise. We don’t know everything; he does. Let’s spend our days humbly submitting ourselves to the will of God in all circumstances. We see it in Paul’s life here. Most supremely, we see it in Jesus’ life on his way to save us: “…not my will but yours be done.”
2. Strengthening Christ’s disciples should characterize our ministry efforts.
Second, strengthening Christ’s disciples should characterize our ministry efforts. Look at verse 22, “When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.” Remember that Antioch is the sending church. He’s returned twice to Antioch now to report how the mission is going. It’s in verse 23 that Paul then departs on his third missionary journey: “After spending some time there [in Antioch], he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.”
He’s putting in hundreds of miles on foot. It’s not convenient. A handful of these churches he’s already re-visited once (Acts 14:22-23). Why such effort to strengthen them all again? Because the goal was to ensure that disciples were moving toward maturity in Christ in firmly established churches. Mere conversion wasn’t enough. Not even gathering them into local churches was enough. Paul wants maturity, strong churches that will carry on the work once he’s gone.
If you look back to 14:22, we find what Paul’s strengthening entailed: “he encouraged them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Then they appointed elders and prayed for them. In 15:32, Judas and Silas strengthen the brothers with many words. In Romans 1:11, Paul wants to impart some spiritual gift to strengthen them. Teaching, encouraging, preparing them to suffer, training leaders, praying, just being there with them—all of it was played a role in strengthening the disciples.
That’s a pattern in Acts that we also find throughout the New Testament. Churches ought to be concerned with strengthening Christ’s disciples. You and I should be concerned with strengthening one another. Don’t assume everybody is strong. We’re not that strong. We’re weak and need each other’s help. We need each other’s presence. We need to hear the truth. We need each other’s rebuke. I need your gifts to strengthen me and vice versa. We must aim for maturity in Christ.
Listen to Paul’s aim for the churches he planted. Colossians 1:28-29, “[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that [Christ] powerfully works within me.” I told you last week that all of us were in ministry. It’s not just the leaders who are in ministry. All Christ’s disciples are in ministry. And together, we should be making efforts to strengthen one another. With teaching, with serving, with encouragements, with prayer—all so that we grow-up into Christ.
Ultimately, this kind of activity points us to the character of our God. 2 Timothy 4:17, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed…” Romans 16:25, “To him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel…be glory forevermore.” Our God strengthens his people. That’s the kind of God he is. By strengthening one another, not only do you become his means for strengthening others; you reflect what God’s like.
3. Instructing one another in the way of God accurately both equips the individual and blesses the mission.
Number three, instructing one another in the way of God equips the individual and blesses the mission. In verse 24, we meet a fella named Apollos. He’s a native of Alexandria. Think North Africa; northern tip of Egypt. Again, Luke emphasizes the spread of the gospel among all people groups.
Apollos is eloquent in speech. He’s competent in the Scriptures. Verse 25 says, “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord.” He knows the difference between the wrong way that leads astray and the right way that leads people to the Lord, to salvation.[ii] He’s also “fervent in spirit”—the same phrase appears in Romans 12:11. It could mean he’s very zealous in his human spirit. Or, it could be translated as referring to God’s Spirit making him passionate, much like God’s Spirit emboldens others in Acts.
It also says, “he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” This makes Apollos different from the twelve men we’ll meet in just a minute. Like Apollos, they’re disciples of John the Baptist. Unlike Apollos, they’re ignorant of Jesus and the Spirit. Apollos has the Spirit and knows the things concerning Jesus. How much he knows, we simply don’t know. His knowledge must be limited in some way; otherwise Luke wouldn’t have added that “he only knew the baptism of John.” But the things he does know concerning Jesus, he gets right even if they’re incomplete.
Verse 26, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Note the difference here. It’s not orthodoxy versus heresy, which would still be entirely appropriate to confront. But here it’s a matter of incomplete knowledge—the difference is between accurately and more accurately. Priscilla and Aquila take him aside privately; they explain the way of God more accurately. They’ve been with Paul for nearly two years. They’ve learned a ton, I’m sure. Now they instruct Apollos.
What a beautiful picture of humility in Apollos. He’s educated. He’s eloquent. He’s competent. Yet, he sits at the feet of a couple of tentmakers who love Jesus and learns the way of God more accurately. Those of you who’re in leadership, or who aspire to leadership; those of you who may be more educated—don’t miss this picture of humility. One of the greatest qualities you can have is a teachable spirit.
But also, what a beautiful picture we see in Priscilla and Aquila, and how Jesus uses his people to instruct one another in the truth. Sisters, God doesn’t permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man in corporate worship. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever help your brother know the truth more accurately. And brother, that doesn’t mean you can never learn from your sisters. Take notes from Priscilla and Aquila. Let’s teach one another the word of God, in all the various contexts the Lord affords us, and not be fearful to correct or condescending when corrected.
Not only will this equip each individual, but it will bless the mission. Look at verse 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 [that’s the only way people get saved—through grace they believe; he helped them…], for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”
What an amazing impact Apollos went on to have in Corinth. Priscilla and Aquila were faithful to play their role, and it blessed the mission. Are you being faithful in your role to instruct one another in the way of God accurately? New Testament mentions several relationships where regular instruction should occur: elders to the church; faithful men to faithful men; older women to younger women; husbands to wives; parents to children; and all to all.
Paul commended the church in Rome on that last one—all to all. Romans 15:14 says, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Are you able to instruct one another? If not, how’re you going to get there? What’re you studying next? Who’re you going to ask for help? Send any elder an email, or your care group leader; and we’d be glad to help point you in the right direction.
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you [plural = church] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” Sunday morning sermon isn’t everything. It’s helpful, but it’s not sufficient to make disciples. If Sunday morning is the only time we’re in the word and hearing the word and speaking the word, then we need to check our first love. Let’s get to where we’re able to instruct one another in the way of God accurately. Not only does it make you stronger; it’ll bless the mission.
4. Ensure all disciples truly know Jesus who gives his people the revitalizing and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
Number four, ensure all disciples truly know Jesus who gives his people the revitalizing and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. This brings us to 19:1. It’s a puzzling text. Some charismatic circles use it to support a “second-blessing” theology, a special post-conversion filling of the Spirit, with tongues and prophecy marking that fullness. Others say, “No way. How can it be a ‘second’ blessing if these guys aren’t even Christians yet?” But framing the question this way distracts from the main point; it also fails to see the unique redemptive-historical situation these men find themselves in.
Paul returns to Ephesus in verse 1. He meets twelve men. They’re called “disciples.” But what sort of disciples? Usually, “disciples” refers to Christians in Luke’s writings, people who know and follow Jesus. But a couple times Luke also calls the followers of John the Baptist “disciples” (Luke 7:18-19). Based on what transpires, that’s likely the best way to identify these guys. Paul asks, “Into what then were you baptized?” They say, “Into John’s baptism.” They’re disciples of John the Baptist.
That’s not a bad thing. Luke 7:29 actually commends those who accepted John’s baptism. Recall the story. John is the last of the prophets. He’s the greatest prophet under the old covenant. He paves the way for Christ; he identifies him for Israel. But leading up to Christ’s arrival, he preached a baptism of repentance. To participate in his baptism was to prepare for Christ’s arrival. Repent, for the kingdom is near!
Then it says this in Luke 7:29, “When all the people heard [Jesus’ words about John], and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” So those who followed John embraced God’s purpose for themselves. Being John’s disciple wasn’t a bad thing at all.
But it was an incomplete thing. Apparently, many who were baptized returned home, some to the diaspora. They never witnessed the fulfillment of John’s words. John said he baptized with water, but one much greater than he was coming; and he’d baptize with the Holy Spirit. But these guys never heard of that transpiring. They never knew Jesus. They never heard of how his cross removed their sins. They never heard of him rising from the dead and sending the Holy Spirit.
That’s why they answer the way they do. Paul asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They say, “No, we haven’t even heard there’s a Holy Spirit.” Or, more woodenly translated, “But whether the Holy Spirit is, we haven’t even heard.” Meaning, they hadn’t heard whether the Holy Spirit ever came; and if he had, how were they to receive him? They didn’t know.
That’s why the debates between charismatics and conservatives over whether they’re Christians or not eventually break down. The answer isn’t so straightforward: on the one hand, yes, insofar as they believed John’s message and sought to follow his teaching. But on the other hand, no, they’ve yet to be incorporated into the new covenant community and receive the promised Spirit. The promised Spirit had certainly come, but these disciples are still caught in the past. So what does Paul do?
He ensures they know Jesus. Why? Because Jesus gives the promised Spirit to all who believe in him. That’s why Paul shares the rest of the story. He points them to Jesus in verse 4: “John baptized with the baptism of repentance telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” Jesus must become the object of their faith. The one who was to come has come! He died. He rose. He reigns. And he gives the Spirit to all who trust in him.
Look at verse 5: “On hearing this [i.e., on hearing about Jesus], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
What’s the point? Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to all who identify with him. If you don’t identify with Jesus, you won’t receive the Holy Spirit. If you do identify with Jesus through repentance and faith and baptism, he will give you the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit will mediate God’s revitalizing and empowering presence.
That doesn’t mean you’ll speak in tongues and prophesy, necessarily. Luke’s purpose here isn’t to say every Christian must speak in tongues and prophecy, else it’s questionable whether they’re full of the Spirit. Not at all. The Spirit fills people in other instances in Acts and they don’t speak in tongues or prophesy.[iii] If God means for some not to speak in tongues or prophesy when he fills them with the Spirit, let’s not build a theology or a denomination that makes it the criterion for all.
Moreover, the Spirit doesn’t always produce the same kind of verbal communication? In Acts alone, we’ve also seen visions and dreams,[iv] instruction,[v] guidance,[vi] insight to truth,[vii] wisdom to defend the gospel,[viii] encouragement,[ix] spontaneous praise,[x] preaching,[xi] teaching,[xii] evangelism[xiii]—there are all kinds of verbal ministries that the Spirit produces in his people.[xiv]
Here’s the bigger question: do you know Jesus Christ; and are you sure you know him? Maybe you’ve called yourself a disciple. Maybe you’ve even given others the impression that you’re a disciple. Maybe you even want to be a disciple, and you’ve gone through all the motions of Christianity. You know all the lingo and the rituals.
But when it comes down to it, you just don’t really know Jesus personally. When it comes down to it, you don’t know the presence of his Spirit bearing witness with your spirit that you are a child of God (Rom 8:16). You don’t experience the love of God poured out in your heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). You don’t put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit, because he’s just not there (Rom 8:13). Your cry isn’t “Abba! Father!” because the Spirit of adoption isn’t in you (Rom 8:15).
Friends, Romans 8:9 says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to [Christ].” This is not something you can do. It is something—or better, someone—you can only receive by the grace of God. If that’s you, humble yourself before the Lord and put your trust in Jesus Christ. Renounce your old ways and set all your hope in his person and work. When you do, he will give you his Holy Spirit.
Perhaps you already have the Spirit. You’ve tasted the power and peace of his presence. Jesus is your treasure and your life. To you I say, never ever stop depending on Jesus for the Spirit’s strength and help. The Bible says we live by the Spirit (Gal 5:25). But also we must continually be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18); we must be led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14). We must walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16) and pray in the Spirit (Eph 6:18). That just about sums up the whole of our lives as believers. If Jesus blesses his people with the Spirit, never stop depending on him for the Spirit.
And then walk in the Spirit—Galatians 5:16. That means you’re not controlled any more by your sinful urges. The Spirit gives you new, reformed urges to live the Lord’s way. In all circumstances you pray, you trust, you act on what’s right in his word—and all while enjoying the reward of his presence. Beloved, if you’re in Christ, we have the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit.
[i]Paul would sometimes include language like this in his letters. He was making plans to come visit churches—he longed to be with people face to face. But in his planning, he would say things like this: Romans 1:9, “For God is my witness…that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” Or 1 Corinthians 4:19, “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills”—the exact same phrase that James uses (cf. 1 Cor 16:7).
[ii]Cf. Luke 1:79; 3:4; 20:21; Acts 9:2; 16:17. Since Apollos knows the baptism of John, this may be connected closely with “the way of the Lord” John proclaimed.
[iii]E.g., Acts 4:8, 31; 7:55; 9:17.
[iv]Acts 7:55-56; 9:10-18; 10:10-20; 16:9-10.
[v]Acts 11:28; 13:2.
[vi]Acts 8:29; 10:19; 20:22.
[vii]Acts 5:3; 13:9.
[x]Acts 2:4, 10; 10:46.
[xi]Acts 4:8, 31; 5:32; 9:17; 18:26 [Apollos is “fervent in the s/Spirit”].
[xii]Acts 9:31; 13:52.
[xiv]Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 43-44.
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