Snapshots of Ministry
Acts 18:18 – 28
Snapshots of Ministry
Snapshots of ministry
Like some of you, I grew up in the church. Which means that during my childhood years, over time, I noticed, some of the peculiar things Christians do,
And one of the things that I observed in my formative years in the church, was the phenomenon of the missionary slide show! And you’ve quite possibly experienced this yourself, Missionaries from deepest darkest Africa pass through your town, they visit your church one evening, talk about the work they’ve been doing, and show a slideshow of about 25 thousand slides.
It’s similar to the concept of a holiday slideshow, except when someone shows you the photos of their holiday, “I wish I was there”, with a missionary slide show, you’re thinking “I’m glad I’m not there” as local delicacies like monkey brains, and fried cockroaches are described, and you realise the missionaries’ distinct lack of many of the things we take for granted. Electricity, running water, toilets that flush
Now perhaps I had a somewhat negative attitude towards the missionary slide show when I was a child, of course the other end of the spectrum was last week hearing from Nigel and Rose Klein, of their work in Tanzania, and that was tremendously encouraging, wasn’t it? Of course still very challenging and confronting, and I did still find myself, thankful for my house and my bed, as I looked at those photos.
But this section if Acts 18, is more or less the first century equivalent, of a missionary slideshow. It’s little collection of different snapshots, from the ministry of Paul, and some of those he’s come into contact with,
Presented for us, like the missionary slide show,
To show us how God’s been at work,
To challenge us,
To broaden our horizons of what Christian ministry is like.
The end of the journey
The first slide, the first snapshot, shows us the end of Paul’s 2nd missionary journey.
Look with me at verse 1 if you will, Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.
This, second missionary journey is basically what we’ve covered in this part of our teaching series. You may remember, back where we started, in chapter 15 verse 36 Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”
Paul and Barnabas then parted company, and Paul travelled around with Silas, and Timothy, and Luke. They were prevented by God from going into Asia, instead God led them into Macedonia, which is the beginnings of the gospel taking hold in Europe, and Paul spent a significant amount of time in Corinth, verse 18, before returning to Antioch and Jerusalem, to finish his journey.
And although this is perhaps the shortest section we’ve tackled in this series, 11 verses, the ground covered geographically, is probably the greatest.
In verses 18 – 22 Paul travels from Corinth, to Ephesus, to Caesarea, to Jerusalem, to Antioch in Syria. And I think there are 2 reasons Luke tells it this way, just skipping over details but giving us the broad itinerary.
Firstly it’s to show us how Paul finishes his missionary journey.
He returns to Antioch, the church that sent him out, back in chapter 15, and then he goes up to Jerusalem.
Verse 22 he went up and greeted the church, that was how you referred to visiting the church in Jerusalem.
Presumably this was to give an account of his ministry, and to update the leaders of the church on how things were going in other parts of the world.
Even Paul the Apostle, commissioned for ministry face to face by the risen Lord Jesus, exercises his ministry as a servant of the church.
He’s no lone ranger.
He finishes this particular time of missionary service back with the people who sent him out.
The second thing that Luke seems to be doing for us, in giving us the bits of this road trip that he does, is highlighting the ministry in Ephesus.
Asia, remember, its capital Ephesus, was where God had forbidden Paul to minister, but Luke doesn’t want us to think that God has forgotten about Asia.
Paul’s next missionary journey, is centred on Ephesus, and Paul spends about 3 years there. Luke’s preparing us for what comes later, verse 19, They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
Paul takes a vow
But perhaps the second half of verse 18 is what caught your attention, Luke slips in, almost it seems, as an afterthought, that Paul had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.
Some Jewish people would take a vow, called a Nazirite vow, where they’d abstain from alcohol, and they wouldn’t cut their hair.
Paul’s come to the end of his vow, and since the vows were often made as a way of giving thanks to God, most scholars think that Paul’s vow is his way of expressing his thankfulness for God’s protection in Corinth, where Paul had that vision from Jesus,
Do not be afraid, Keep on speaking, I am with you, no one is going to attack or harm you.
Now some people find it difficult to understand why Paul, a Christian, would take part in a ritual or symbol, that was part of his former way of life in Judaism, but we mustn’t read this and think that Paul had some kind of quid pro quo going with God, you know, “I’ll scratch my back if you scratch yours”, “You give me protection, I’ll grow my hair long”, it’s nothing like that at all,
When we read Paul’s own descriptions of his former way of life elsewhere in the New Testament, it’s obvious that previously, he would have thought that this kind of religious symbolism, the discipline and effort demonstrated by this vow, he used to think they counted for something before God.
He used to think that this kind of practice, would make God look upon him more favourably,
But now that he understands nothing he can do will make God look more favourably on him,
No amount of religious devotion,
Putting his name on the roster to read the scrolls in church,
Putting his denarius in the collection bag as it went past every Saturday, he knows, through God’s grace, that’s a neat line in verse 27 isn’t it? Those who by grace had believed, he knows by God’s grace that the only way to be welcomed into God’s family is by trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean he has to abandon the religious traditions.
The Nazirite vow still provides him with a culturally appropriate method of demonstrating his thankfulness to God.
Every time he walked into a synagogue, the people there would say, “My Paul, what lovely long hair you have! Your flowing locks look like something out of a shampoo commercial” and Paul gets to explain how thankful he is to Jesus.
Luke shows his readers, Paul as a loyal Jew, informed by the Scriptures, and willing to express his faith through the symbols of his people, and yet he understood them exactly as God intended, as pointing to Jesus, and fulfilled in him.
It made me wonder, how do we express our thankfulness to God? We could take a vow, and shave our heads.
Paul shows us there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not a culturally relevant way of showing thankfulness today, is it?
But how do we do it?
How do we express thankfulness to God?
We don’t want to lay down legalistic rules, “this is how we must give thanks”, but it’s a good question for each of us to think about.
One of the ways we do it is by praying together. We did it this morning in those words from Psalm 103,
And I know to some people, the idea of reading the words of a prayer all together reeks of religious ritual, and empty formalism, but Paul shows us doesn’t he, that just because something might be, to others, an empty ritual, it isn’t emptied of its value,
It can still be an opportunity for us to express our thanks to God.
Christian ministry strengthens disciples
The next little snapshot in this slideshow, is there in verse 23, After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
This is the beginning of what’s known as Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, and yet let’s notice how Luke describes it, and actually how he described the 2nd journey as well.
That is not what we most commonly associate with “missionary activity.”
Paul’s ministry here is not pictured as the widespread evangelism, that we might tend to think characterises missionary work,
It’s not the church planting, and baptising that we’ve seen accompany the proclamation of the gospel of.
Paul is just as concerned, with the strengthening and building up of those who are already disciples of Jesus, as he is with breaking new ground with the gospel.
Yes, Paul’s journeys are missionary journeys, he sows the seed of God’s Word in the cities he visits, but he didn’t just breeze into a city, plant a church, and breeze out again, with no thought for the ongoing care and discipleship of the new believers
In fact in Acts chapter 20, Paul finishes this 3rd missionary journey that he’s just embarking on now, and heads back East to Jerusalem, except he doesn’t!
Having said explicitly that he’s heading for Jerusalem, Paul heads in the opposite direction, travelling again through the cities that he’s ministered in previously, all the way through Macedonia and Greece speaking many words of encouragement to the people, as Luke tells us.
And then, even when he is heading in the right direction, and he’s in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, before the day of Pentecost, chapter 20 verse 15, he stops to catch up with the leaders of the Ephesian church, to encourage them,
To spur them on in their ministry,
To warn them to be on their guard, and to shepherd God’s flock,
Only then, does Paul continue on his way to Jerusalem.
The word that Luke uses here to describe the strengthening of the disciples, is a word that in Greek poetry, describes a garden stake supporting a vine, pictures a walking stick, strengthening an elderly man.
That’s what Paul does!
If you’ve been to our house recently, you may have seen our tomato forest, as I like to call it. The Fopp family, obviously with great confidence in our own horticultural skills, planted only 2 tomato plants last year. Those two vines have now more or less taken over a most of the back yard.
Stand still for more than a minute, and you’ll be entangled in the vine.
I understand, that what we were supposed to do, was put in some stakes, to keep the vines growing in the right direction.
Without the stakes, they’re still getting bigger, but they’re all over the place!
They’re tangled up,
They’re entwined in all the other plants,
They’re a mess! Frankly!
It’s exactly what Paul is guarding against.
Growth with no guidance,
Progress with no foundation.
Wasn’t it good last week to hear of the Klein family, going to a local church,
Supporting and encouraging the believers there,
Teaching the Bible, to God’s people in Tanzania.
Let’s make sure we don’t narrow down our definition of “ministry” or our concept of “mission” to simply that part of mission and ministry that is speaking the good news of Jesus to people who have never heard it.
You may have noticed also, that Luke points out that Paul strengthened the disciples.
The word disciple at its most basic just means a learner.
Christians, are learners.
And dare I say it, if you’re a Christian, and you’ve stopped learning, perhaps something’s started to go wrong.
The street where our offices are, Hampden Rd, must be, I think, the widest street in all of Mount Barker. For some reason it’s wider than any of the main roads! Which means it’s a favourite location for people who are learning to drive, to practice their reverse parallel parking!
There’s a constant stream of cars with L plates, traffic cones out, all parked at odd angles to the kerb! The most I counted at one time was 5 learner drivers, in our little 200 metre section of street.
But really, I should be very pleased to see them every time I drive to the office, shouldn’t I?
That every time, whether I’m heading in to my desk to prepare to preach,
Or to sit with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, and read the Bible together,
To meet with the staff, and hear of their ministry, and for me to try and be an encouragement to them,
To sit across from someone in my office and mourn with them, as they tell me their struggles daily of living in a broken and hurting world.
No matter what I’m doing that day, how kind of God, that on my way into the office that morning, he’s reminded me, and maybe not just once, but perhaps 5 times, in case I missed the first 4, he’s reminded me what my job is.
“Clayton you’re a learner.”
If you’re a Christian, you’re a learner.
You don’t stop being a learner,
Maybe we should all start wearing L plates, to remind each other.
Apollos, a half-finished puzzle
Next slide please!
The next ministry snapshot is our introduction to a man named Apollos. Pick it up with me at verse 24 i, Meanwhile, that is, while Paul’s off strengthening the disciples in those churches, meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus., He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John., 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Alexandria, was the capital of Egypt, and in the Roman Empire, really was second only to Rome in terms of importance, and wealth. It was a city famous for learning, for its literature,
It had a very large Jewish population. There was a synagogue there that apparently was so huge, that they had to wave flags, to signal the people up the back, when it was time to say “amen!” So if you have trouble reading the projector screen here on Sundays, imagine how hard it was in Alexandria!
It was here that the Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, was translated. The Septuagint was the NIV of its day. The common Bible that the Apostles and the other early Christians used.
Little surprise, that a Jew from Alexandria, was so knowledgeable and learned.
Although, it is an interesting description, particularly when it’s tied to what follows, Priscilla and Aquila take Apollos aside, and explain to him the way of God more adequately.
How much is enough?
What’s going on? And does it matter?
How much do you need to know about Jesus, before you start talking to other people?
Well, we know that Apollos knew about John’s baptism, that is, John the Baptist’s ministry of baptising people, presumably that means he also knew about John’s message, the message that went with the baptism.
People got baptised in response to John’s message.
And John’s message was that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, God’s chosen king.
Whatever Apollos didn’t’ known,
Perhaps the resurrection,
Perhaps the giving of the Spirit to all believers, it doesn’t seem possible that he could have known of John’s baptism, but been unaware what John taught about Jesus.
And that’s why Luke can say that Apollos taught about Jesus accurately,
I don’t know if you’re a jigsaw puzzle person. I can tell you right now that I don’t have the patience for them! I’ve already got that pretty picture on the box the puzzle came in, I don’t need to have another copy of the same picture all made up of tiny little pieces.
But if I do ever find myself working on a puzzle, my approach, perhaps you’re the same, is to start with the important bits, and then move on to the rest of the picture.
So maybe they edges, they’re pretty important when you’re doing a puzzle,
Someone’s face perhaps, important to get that right,
But if there’s a massive expanse of sky, or something, that’s not so important. I’ll worry about that later.
That’s kind of what’s happened to Apollos. When we meet him, he’s a half-finished jigsaw puzzle. The important bits are there, but the whole picture’s not finished yet
Some of the most eager and compassionate evangelists I’ve ever met have been very new Christians, without the greater understanding of God and his purposes, that comes from maybe years spent reading the Bible, or sitting at the feet of wise and experienced teachers.
Of course, to speak about Jesus and what he’s done, you need to be clear on what exactly he has done! You need to be able to explain to people, “We’ve all lived in God’s world, but treated God like he doesn’t exist, which means we deserve God’s punishment and rejection, death and separation from God.”
That’s the problem if you like, that you need to be able to explain to people!
You also need to be able to explain the solution!
Jesus, God himself, takes on himself, the death and separation we deserve, so we don’t have to face it, and so that we can live rightly in God’s world, with Jesus as God’s king, just as God intended!
That, if you like, is the core truth of the gospel.
And if you’re not a Christian, and you’re wondering, “What is the heart of the Christian message – that’s it!”
That’s what we long for you to come to grips with.
Sure, after that comes a whole lot of great stuff!
The gift of the Spirit, God dwelling is us,
The disciplines of the Christian life,
The love we ought to show for each other,
The generosity that overflows from God’s grace to us,
The learning, the fact that you’ve got an L-plate around your neck your whole life,
Yes, we want people to grasp those truths,
To learn them, and learn to love them,
But actually the bit that must be heard, to be brought from death to life, is monumentally significant, but in terms of content, is fairly small.
And one would hope, that because a Christian is a disciple, is a learner, we’d hope that any Christians wouldn’t be content with just the kernel of the good news they heard, but would want to learn the gospel of Christ in all its fullness.
That, for example, is what Apollos is like,
Imagine we had some visiting speaker from New York, or London, he’s teaching here on Sunday morning. We’re all amazed at how well read he is,
How much he knows,
And part way through, someone takes him aside and says, “Will you let me explain to you the way of Christ more adequately?”
What sort of response would the average Christian teacher give to that, do you think?
The visiting speaker from the hallowed halls of Alexandria, is humble enough to be taken aside, and to sit at the feet of tentmakers, artisans, people with dirty hands, as they speak to him of Christ.
they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Notice that Priscilla is named first, as she is half the times that this couple is named. She was obviously well-known, and highly regarded in the church, for Luke to abandon the cultural convention of naming the husband first.
See also that Priscilla shares with Aquila in explaining to Apollos the things he doesn’t know. No matter how we understand what Paul says elsewhere about who ought to teach in the public gathering of the church, in this private context, in their home, Priscilla instructs Apollos, and explains the truth of Christ more fully.
Apollos learns what he needs to learn,
Has a few more pieces put in his jigsaw puzzle, So much so, that when he wants to move on, verse 27, this man who came to Ephesus knowing only the baptism of John, is sent on, with letters of commendation to the Christians in Corinth
See, we’ve already seen it, haven’t we? We’re all a half-finished jigsaw puzzle! Every single one of us.
All of us who are Christians are disciples, learners,
Some of us will have more pieces together,
Some of us have less,
Some of us might have all the edge pieces in,
Some of us have just got part of the picture here and there.
Apollos was powerful in the Scriptures
Perhaps though, the most obvious reason that Apollos got the kind of response he did in the churches in Ephesus and Corinth, is because he was powerful in the Scriptures, that’s how the end of verse 24 literally reads.
A thorough knowledge of the Scriptures just sounds a little intellectual to me,
Anyone who’s had a good 7 years of Sunday school could have a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, doesn’t mean you can speak the Scriptures, and explain the Scriptures with power.
The old translations used to say Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures. I looked at the ESV, English Standard Version to see if that translation captured the force of the word a little better, but the ESV says Apollos was competent in the Scriptures.
And I know competent is a positive word, but it’s usually a bit of a backhanded compliment isn’t it?
If you’re about to have heart surgery, and the hospital offers you a choice, “we have 2 surgeons, one is mighty and powerful, the other is competent”, which would you choose!
I am making a bit of a false distinction, but only to highlight the truth of what a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures really is!
It’s not the Sunday school answers is it? But understanding the power of the Word of God, and being equipped to use the Scriptures, to see God change lives
Understanding through the Bible, who God is.
Understanding what the Bible says, and how it speaks to our lives.
Being powerful in the Scriptures means knowing God’s Word, and knowing how to apply it to life.
Being powerful in the Scriptures means that God has mastered me, through the understanding of his Word.
There was a professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in the US, named John Broadus, and once he was lecturing a class of would-be pastors, . and part-way through, he paused and said Gentlemen , if this were the last time I should ever be permitted to address you , I would feel amply repaid for consuming the whole hour, endeavoring to impress upon you these two things:, true piety, and , like Apollos , to be men “mighty in the Scriptures.”
He looked around at his class, and repeated over and over, “Mighty in the Scriptures,
Mighty in the Scriptures,
Mighty in the Scriptures.”
9 days later John Broadus died, but he’d said what he wanted to say.
Mighty in the Scripures,
Powerful in the Scriptures,
A thorough knowledge of the Scriptures,
Equipped to see the Bible speak into people’s lives.
Translate it however you will,
Do you want it?
Would you feel, that you had been amply repaid, or would you want your money back, if I had spent the last 30 minutes, endeavouring to impress upon you, be mighty in the Scriptures.
As those, who by grace have believed, verse 27, will we strive, to be mighty in the Scriptures?
It doesn’t happen by osmosis!
All those tests you used to study for by sleeping with your head on your textbook, that’s not how it worked!
As we waited for our Year 12 physics exam to begin, one of my friends went up and leaned her head on our physics teacher, in the hope that something would rub off on her!
That’s not how it works either!
Will you study,
Will you learn,
Will you read 1:1 with someone,
Will you go to Equip,
Or join a Bible Study Group, or whatever it is, I’m not trying to make rules,
But will we make a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, a priority?
Someone who had spent their life translating the Bible into other languages once said to me “People who don’t read their Bible, are no better of than people who have never seen a Bible.”
Remember last week Nigel and Rose spoke of Samson, their Tanzanian pastor, who’d never had a chance to study at theological college
He was offered a promotion, Rural Dean,
That’s a big deal,
Higher pay, when every dollar counts,
Even the provision of a house!
A position of honour, and respect, and influence, and it sounds like no one deserved that role more than Samson.
But simultaneously, the opportunity to study the Scriptures for 2 years at theological college came up,
And Samson turned down the promotion,
Turned down the higher pay,
Turned down the house,
So that he could study the Bible,
So that he could become powerful in the Scriptures.
So that he might understand the Word of God, and hear it speak to him and others in every aspect of life.
Would you walk away from a free house?!
Friends, will you with me, sit at the feet of our Tanzanian brother, who we will never meet, and learn of that longing to be powerful in the Scriptures?