PBPWMGINFWMY ACTS 18:18-19:7
Years ago there was a button that read, PBPWMGINFWMY. These jumbled letters stood for, “Please be patient with me; God is not finished with me yet.” If we could just remember these words we would all be more patient with one another. All of us are at different places in our walk with the Lord because God does not deal with us all in the same way. In fact, we all have different backgrounds and experiences when it comes to our relationship with God.
For example, there are some who attend regularly to church, hear the preaching of God’s Word, and yet have not trusted Christ. They are in the process of learning about Jesus and reading the Bible, but have yet to receive the Spirit of God. Those of us who have received Christ need to be patient and gracious with these individuals because at one time we were in the same boat as they are in. I can remember as a nine year old when my family joined a church in Montgomery and my twin brother received Christ that I was not ready to do so. But months later, I made my decision to follow Christ.
There are others who are mere babes in Christ. In fact, some Christians remain that way their whole Christian life. But God’s desire is for us to grow in our relationship with him. In the physical world, we do not expect a one year old to act like a ten year or a teenager to act like an adult. So it is in the spiritual world, we cannot expect a babe in Christ to make wise decisions like a mature believer does. Growth takes time and we are all at different places in our walk with the Lord.
This evening we are going to look at a passage that deals with the subject of transition. Transition is a part of life. We transition in life from babies to toddlers to children to adolescent to adults. We transition in school from elementary to junior high to senior high to college to graduate school. We transition from being single to marry to parenthood to grandparenthood. Life is about transition and so it is with the spiritual life. There are those who transition from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive and there are those who transition from spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity.
Our text this evening shows us the transition of several different individuals. In fact, Luke gives us three different case studies of the way people transition in their spiritual life. He shows us transition in the life of Paul, Apollos, and the twelve disciples in Ephesus.
CASE STUDY #1 – PAUL – 18-23
Paul was not run out of the town of Corinth as he was in Thessalonica and Berea nor did he leave town disheartened as he did from Athens. The Jews tried to get rid of Paul through a new proconsul, but he was going to make a decision in the trial of Jews vs. Paul. So verse 18 says Paul stayed many more days before leaving for Syria (a fifteen hundred mile trip) with Aquila and Priscilla.
The last sentence of verse 18 is quit puzzling to the reader because Luke said “at Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.” Now this is a strange statement made by Luke, who provides us with no details as to why Paul took a vow. I want us to look at this strange statement and what I believe is the theme running through our passage this evening. But before we do that let me quickly comment on the rest of the verses in this section.
Paul sailed from Cenchreae to Ephesus which I will speak about in more detail next time. There he left Aquila and Priscilla to build the church probably from their home. He went to the synagogue as usual to reason with the Jews about Christ. They asked him to stay longer, but he declined which was quit unusual for Paul to turn down an open door. Yet, he promised to return if the Lord wills. Folks, this is how all of us should view life by stating I will do this or I will go there if the Lord wills. This is how Jesus lived his entire life.
So Paul sails from Ephesus to Caesarea and goes up to Jerusalem to greet the church there. From there he leaves Jerusalem and goes down to Antioch to report about his second missionary journey. He embarks on a third missionary journey by traveling through Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples. Again there is that theme of growing or maturing as Paul was helping them deepen themselves in their walk with the Lord.
Now let go back to this peculiar sentence that Luke throws out for us to read but gives no details about. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to do a study on all such statements in the Bible? So what should we take away from this sentence? I think we can see a work in progress in the life of Paul.
I want to remind that Paul is a Christian which is evidenced from the 9th chapter of this book. But you need to recall that before Paul became a Christian he was a Jew. He told the Philippians he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 2:5). So he has been a Christian for a short time, but a Jew his whole life.
Paul makes a vow, probably in Corinth, in which he does not cut his hair. Now what is a vow? In the Old Testament vows were sometimes taken and one particular vow had to do with cutting hair and that was a Nazarite vow. Now don’t get this confuse with Nazareth or a Nazarene. A Nazarite vow was a vow of total devotion to the Lord. Turn to Numbers 6 and see three requirements of this vow.
If you read verses 13-21, you'll read the next part of it. When the time was over, they had a most interesting ceremony. You know what they did? They had to go to the temple. They went to the temple with a handful of hair, took all their hair. They'd stand in the front. At first, they'd stand in the front and cut it, then they'd turn their hair in. Then they'd offer a bird offering, a sin offering, a peace offering, and burn the hair with them. That was the completion of the vow. Vows, according to the Mishnah, lasted 30 to 60 to 100 days.
Now you say, "Why did he make this vow?" Usually it was made in gratitude to God for special deliverance or special blessing. Had Paul had special deliverance in Corinth? Yes. Had he had special blessing? Absolutely. I think that Paul's heart was so thrilled and so blessed and so excited with what God had done and letting him finally stay somewhere--he'd been chased all over everywhere else for two missionary tours--and finally see God work and disciple somebody and raise up some saints and see them grow, and the church growing up in sin city--I think his heart was so thrilled--now watch--that he wanted to thank God. He wanted to thank God in the most extreme way that a Jew could do that, and that was to take a Nazirite vow and devote himself to the Lord absolutely and totally for 30 days.
CASE STUDY #2 – APOLLOS – 24-28
In these verses, our attention is turned away from Paul to Apollos, who becomes a vital asset to the church. Luke tells us that he was a Jew from Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. In Alexandria, there was a great Jewish population that numbered around one million during the time of Paul. In fact, they were one third of the population. So Apollos was steeped in Judaism and taught in the schools there.
Luke describes him as an eloquent man. This word eloquent is quite unique. It can mean a man of ideas or a man of words. In other words, Apollos had the ability to put ideas together and communicate them well. He was equal in knowledge and speaking. He was probably a better preacher than the Apostle Paul was and we know that Paul was no slouch.
Also, Luke says he was a man competent (mighty) in the scriptures. This word competent comes from our English word dynamite. In other words, he was a powerful preacher. Folks, I believe there is no excuse for a preacher being ignorant of the Scriptures. John Broadus, founder of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, preached this passage to his students as one of his last lectures. He 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.”
Now I want to note that Apollos at this point, I believe was not saved. He did all this in the flesh. Now this does not mean that the spirit was not available to the Old Testament saints, but he had yet received the gift of the Spirit in his life. And when he does get saved, according to verse 28, he was an even more powerful preacher. Michael, how do you draw those conclusions? Well, let me show you.
In verse 25, we read he had been instructed in the way of the Lord. This was the knowledge that Apollos possessed. The Greek word instructed gives us our English word catechism. I have mentioned this to you several times. A catechism is a questioning and answering of biblical truth. In the Old Testament it was done by oral repetition. It is instruction into the way of the Lord. So Apollos communicated what he had been taught. When Paul taught he was giving new information which gift only the apostle’s possessed. So Apollos had become eloquent in communicating truth already known. And he was teaching the way of the Lord.
Now that may sound like he is a Christian, but I want to show you that this is a phrase found several times in the Old Testament. “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen. 18:19). So it is used several times to talk about the things of God in general. Now as God’s revelation progress over time the way of the Lord began to narrow down to the Messiah. For example, Mark 1:2-3, “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face who will prepare the way for the Lord, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight.’”
So I believe this shows that Apollos was a student of John the Baptist because he knew only the baptism of John. He knew the Messiah was coming, but had not realized that he had already come. We will see this again in the first seven verses of chapter 19 in just a moment. So he taught accurately the things that he knew.
Now wait a minute preacher, Luke says he was fervent in spirit. Surely that makes him a Christian. Even though some scholars take this to mean Holy Spirit, I believe it is referring to his own spirit. The phrase is used only one other time in the Bible and it is found in Romans 12:11 where Paul commands believers to be fervent in spirit. Paul is talking about man’s inward parts. Literally this phrase can be translated boiling in spirit. In other words, here was a man passionate about the knowledge he had and was very capable of teaching others.
But in verse 26, Aquila and Priscilla have him over for supper and explain to him the way of God more accurately. In other words, they filled in the gaps that he was missing. Folks, as we grow as Christians hopefully we are becoming more accurate in our knowledge of the Lord. This transition made him a powerful preacher. He was already preacher the Scriptures with exactness, but now he was able to argue down the Jews in Corinth. In other words, they could not handle this powerful preacher of God’s word now that he was a Christian.
Apollos story resembles the story of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church. Wesley was the son of a clergyman, served as his father’s assistant and was ordained by the church. While at Oxford he was a member of a “Holy Club” devoted to cultivating their spiritual lives. He accepted a position to preach to the American Indians but utterly failed at the assignment. On his return to England he wrote, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh who shall convert me?”
He was so grieved by his unbelief that on May 24, 1738 Wesley wrote in his journal: In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society at Aldersgate Street where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Here was a man who knew more theology and was more dedicated that most believers, but he did not know Christ and his salvation. And when he did get saved he became a powerful force for God in bringing revival to America. There are many religious folks in our churches who have never experienced the reality of Jesus Christ. Maybe you are one of them.
CASE STUDY #3 – THE TWELVE IN EPHESUS – 1-7
This is the third case study that Luke presents to us a group of disciples, twelve to be exact, are in process of knowing God more fully. Now before we look at this section of Scripture, I must tell you what this passage does not mean. If you get this then you can understand what God is communicating here through his word. There are some believers to take this passage to mean a second blessing. In other words, you can be Christian without having the Holy Spirit which comes later through maturity. Folks, that is not what this Scripture says. In fact, there are no Scripture passages that support this kind of thought.
Yet, I warn you that you will run into Christians who believe you can be a Christian, but have not yet received the Spirit of God. They base it on the question that Paul asks these disciples in verse 2, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Well, that may sound like a logical conclusion based on this question, but that is not what is being communicated here.
I remind you that the promise given by Jesus just before the ascension was this “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:5, 8). Now there is no hint in this passage that the Spirit comes in part or installments. Paul later tells us in the book of Romans, “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9).
So I believe what is being communicated is that these men were Old Testament saints who have not come to this side of the cross. Those who are on this side of the cross believe God’s son died, was buried and raised from the dead and sent his Spirit to permanently to dwell inside of them. But listen to these men “we have not heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” If they were believers they would have at least known of the gospel truths, but they hadn’t heard.
I think this illustration helps us understand what is happening here. During the latter part of the 18th century many colonists left Virginia and started through the mountains to settle the valleys that lay far to the west. Fear of the Indians, the death of a horse, or the breaking down of a wagon forced many to stay in the mountains. For over twenty years these settlers saw no white men at all, until a group of travelers straggled into the neighborhood. Naturally there was much conversation about the outside world. The travelers asked the mountaineers what they thought of the new republic and the policies of the Continental Congress. The others answered, “We have not so much as heard of a Continental Congress or a Republic.” They thought of themselves as loyal subjects of the British king and had not even heard of George Washington or the Revolutionary War.
Paul’s question helps him to know whether they are Christians or not. So he asks them the next logical question that he could think of “into what then were you baptized?” and there response was “into John’s baptism.” According to Scripture there were some who were disciples of John and they stayed with John until his death, but some left Palestine and were ignorant of the rest of the truth.
So Paul in verse 4 reminds them of what John’s baptism was all about, it was about repentance, it was about preparation for the Lord Jesus Christ. John was the messenger sent ahead of Jesus to prepare his way for the preaching of the gospel. So John was getting ready for the coming of Jesus and preparing people for the coming of Jesus.
And Luke said, according to verse 5, when they heard this they were baptized into the name of Jesus. This means they now know Christ has come and they believed in him. And when they were baptized the Spirit came upon them. This is the fourth time in Acts that something like this had happened. The first time was at Pentecost, the next time was in Acts 8 among the Samaritans, the next time was with Cornelius in Acts 10, and here. But I want you to know that in each of those cases there was an apostle present to lay hands on the people.
Now these men were saved. They received the Spirit because of their faith in Christ. Folks, no one receives the Spirit until he exercises faith in the Lord Jesus.
As we close, tonight, I want to remind you that everyone in this room are in the process of hopefully growing in the Lord. Some people are like Paul in that as they grow the better they understand the truths of Scriptures. My understanding of the Bible is still growing each and everyday. And I hope your understanding of the Bible is growing as well.
Others in this room may be like Apollos who may be accurate in what they know but have not come to the final step of receiving Christ. They come to church, read the Bible and understand its content but have yet to give their life to God.
And then there are others who are like the twelve disciples in Ephesus, who are ignorant of the truth. In other words, they are the Rip Van Winkles of the spiritual realm, but God has enlightened you tonight like Paul did the twelve. And now that you know you are ready to make that commitment for Christ.
Well, wherever you are we all need to note to self that we ought to be patient with one another. We need to pray for one another and love one another with the truth of God’s Word.