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Acts 18:24-19:20: The Need for Training and Correction Print E-mail

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Our growth as a Christian is a lifelong journey.  We never ‘arrive’ while on the earth.  In fact, we will only ‘arrive’ when we arrive in glory.  Sometimes I wish I could tell you that your pastor has learned all that he needs to know about the Bible and Christianity, but that would be a lie (although sometimes I am tempted to act like it).  The truth is, we never need to stop growing as followers of Christ.  Such growth will involve correction and training from the Word, as Paul teaches us in 2 Timothy 4: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (v. 16).  We do not just read Scripture to find support for what we already believe (although we do find that at times).  We read Scripture and go to Bible studies and listen to sermons and live life with other believers to be trained and corrected, to grow in our faith.

We see such training and correction going on in Ephesus in our passage this morning.  Paul spent some time in Ephesus at the end of the second missionary journey (18:19-20).  When he left, Priscilla and Aquila stayed in the city.  Luke picks up the story with them this morning and then moves on to Paul’s return to Ephesus.  Each of the stories that we see here involve either correction or training (and some involve both).  Let’s look at how this plays out in the city.

The training of Apollos (18:24-28)

We are introduced to an important teacher in the early Church in verses 24-25.  Look at those with me.  Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, a city of great learning like Athens.  Luke notes that he was eloquent and competent in the Scriptures.  He was apparently a good speaker who could make his arguments convincingly.  He knew the Bible and had been introduced to Jesus at some point.  Luke says that he spoke about Jesus accurately and he came to Ephesus to teach others about Him.  But look at what happens in verse 26.  Even though Apollos was competent in the Scriptures and taught about Jesus accurately, that did not mean that he had ‘arrived.’  He had only been taught about the baptism of John and was probably lacking in other areas that Luke does not mention.  So Priscilla and Aquila taught him the Word more accurately.  He had more to learn.  How many of us would be tempted to think that being competent in the Scriptures is enough?  How many would settle for teaching about Jesus accurately?  Not Apollos.  He was humble enough to be taught more accurately.  When Priscilla and Aquila took him aside (notice they did not do it publicly), he received their teaching and their training.  He did not assume that he had it all figured out (an error often made by the young) or that he could not learn more (an error often made by those who have been Christians for a long time).  No, he was humble and willing to learn more, which he did.

So what happens?  Look at verses 27-28.  Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, where Corinth was located.  When he got there, he was a great encouragement to the believers.  He was able to refute the Jews and teach them how the Scriptures pointed to Jesus.  Perhaps it was his training with Priscilla and Aquila that had equipped him to be so effective.  He had humbly received their training and the Lord used him greatly in Corinth to encourage the believers and to debate with the Jews.  His study and his growth in the knowledge of the Lord prepared him for such ministry.  No matter where we are on the spectrum of growth in the Lord, we can always learn more and be better prepared for future ministry.

Training of ‘disciples’ (19:1-10)

We find Paul returning to Ephesus in chapter 19, where he encounters some ‘disciples.’  Look at verses 1-3.  It seems that when Luke describes these men as ‘disciples’ he is describing how they appeared to Paul when he first met them, because as soon as Paul starts asking them questions it becomes fairly plain that they were not actually disciples of Jesus at this point (which has led some to conclude that they were disciples of John, but that does not seem to fit the language best).  Paul asks them about the Holy Spirit and they tell him that they did not know that the Spirit had been poured out.  They were apparently ignorant of what took place at Pentecost.  Then Paul asks about their baptism and they tell him that they had only received the baptism of John.  Paul recognizes from this that they need to be taught more about Jesus, which is what he proceeds to do in verses 4-5.  Look at those with me. 

It is hard to know exactly what these men believed, but Paul teaches/reminds them that John told his followers to believe in the One who came after him, namely Jesus.  John was not the Savior.  He was meant to prepare the way for the Promised One.  And he did that.  He pointed his followers to Christ, the One who would live a perfect life and die on a cross for their sins.  He told his disciples that Jesus must become greater and I must become less (John 3:30).  He wanted them to be followers of Christ, to believe in Him and receive His baptism, the baptism of the Spirit.  Apparently these men had not heard about that or did not realize that Jesus was in fact the One that John had spoken about.  But when they heard Paul, they put their faith in Jesus and were immediately baptized.

Luke then describes what happened next.  Look at verses 6-7.  There is controversy surrounding these verses.  Some teach that these men were already believers in Jesus and that they spoke in tongues and prophesied upon receiving the baptism of the Spirit.  Yet, it is difficult to conclude that these men were true followers of Christ since they had not received the Spirit at this point.  After Pentecost, the New Testament always connects belief in Jesus and the receiving of the Spirit.  It seems that what takes place here is unique only in the sense that they immediately speak in tongues and prophesy at their conversion.  But as we have seen and noted already, as the gospel spreads to new places and new people, the Lord often gives evidence of their acceptance through these visible manifestations of the pouring out the Spirit.  We see that at Pentecost (Acts 2), at the home of Cornelius (Acts 10), and in the current passage.  Thus, instead of speaking of a second work of the Spirit, I think it is better to use the language of repeated fillings of the Spirit for service and ministry.  Every believer is baptized by the Spirit at conversion and every believer experiences subsequent fillings of the Spirit in their life.

These believers receive more and more training from Paul in the next couple of years.  Look at verses 8-10.  Paul is eventually forced out of the synagogue, but the Lord once again provides a place for him to preach and teach, which he does for two years.  And what is it that Paul is teaching?  Luke tells us that he was teaching the word of the Lord.  The people in Asia needed to hear the Word and so Paul taught them.  In this way, the believers in Ephesus, including the twelve men who were baptized, were trained in the Word.

Correction of Jewish Exorcists (v. 11-16)

The city of Ephesus was known as city of magic and spells.  The occult was prevalent among the people.  It is this background which helps us better understand what Luke tells us about next.  Look at verses 11-12.  The Lord was making it plain that Paul was speaking the truth and that true power rested in the gospel.  In order to push back the darkness, the Lord was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul.  It was a display of power to bear witness to the truth of what Paul was teaching about Jesus.  And it caught the attention of many in the city.  Luke tells us about a group of Jewish exorcists who wanted the power that Paul possessed.  Look at verses 13-14.  These men were capitalizing on the darkness in Ephesus and they figured if the name of Jesus could help Paul, then surely it would help them.  So they attempt to use Jesus’ name to cast out a spirit.  But it does not go well for them.  Look at verses 15-16. 

These men find out real fast that just dropping the Name of Jesus is not enough.  Jesus’ Name is not some incantation that you can recite to receive power.  It takes more than simply reciting the Name.  Such a passage should caution us as well.  People think that just because they know the Name of Jesus, they are right with God.  But just like these men, they need correction.  Jesus said: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).  Many people know enough to call Jesus Lord, but He is not yet the true Lord of their lives.  And when the Day of judgment comes, they will not be known by Him.  Praying a certain prayer or just knowing the Name of Jesus is not enough to be right with God.  We must repent and believe.  We must follow after Him.

Correction of New Believers (v. 17-20)

he story of the Jewish exorcists had an impact on the city.  Look at verse 17.  Luke tells us that fear fell upon the city and that the name of Jesus was extolled.  People began to realize the power of the gospel and of the Name of Jesus.  We also see that it had an impact on those who were coming to faith in Jesus.  Look at verses 18-20.  As we noted, the city was filled with people who believed in the occult and practiced magic.  Luke tells us that as these people began to believe in Christ, they understood that He was the only One with true power.  Thus, they confessed their old practices and burned their magic books.  They were making an important statement: they would only give their allegiance to King Jesus.  He was the Ruler of their life.  They were wrong in their former evil practices and the Word of God corrected them.  Luke concludes the story by telling us that the Word of God continued to increase and prevail mightily.  The evil practices were being overcome by the power of the Word.

We see in the city of Ephesus how the Word trains and corrects.  Maybe you are like those new believers in the city.  Maybe you need to turn from your evil ways and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life.  He is the only One you need.  Turn from your sins and trust Him today.  Maybe you are like the ‘disciples’ that Paul met and you need to be taught the truth about Jesus.  Maybe you have assumed that you were a believer, but you are beginning to realize that you are not really following Him.  I encourage you to follow Him today.  Be baptized and join with a local church to continue being taught the truth of Jesus.  Or maybe you are like Apollos.  Maybe you are ‘competent’ in the Word and speak about Jesus ‘accurately’, but you want to learn more and be ‘more accurate.’  Humble yourself and dig into the Word.  Surround yourself with those who can teach you and encourage you in your learning.  We can all agree that we have not arrived.  May the Word continue to train and correct us as we follow Christ. Amen. 

~ William Marshall ~


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 16 September 2014 )

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