By Pastor Glenn Pease
Arthur Constance and a friend were watching squirrels and chipmunks gathering nuts in Queens Park in Toronto and then looking for a place to bury them. He made comment to his friends that the Indians use to watch squirrels and chipmunks to gage the severity of the winter. If they were very busy it meant a hard winter coming. It is remarkable he said that God gave these little creatures such a built in wisdom. But his friend, with a note of skepticism responded, "I suppose you know that they forget where they hide half of them? It is a pity God did not give them better memories." He was a bit shaken, for it did seem like a defeat to be so forgetful, and it seemed like a flaw in God's plan.
A few months later Constance read and extract from Forestry Digest, which was titled "Chipmunks plant 17 thousand trees per acre." Researchers had found that squirrels and chipmunks are responsible for planting all these trees because they do forget where they hide their nuts. That which seemed to be a defect in God's plan all of a sudden became a part of a plan of superior wisdom. By forgetting half of their hidings they guaranteed there would be food for future generations of squirrels and chipmunks, plus a forest where many other creatures in their environment.
The lesson he learned, and that which all of us have to learn, is that no matter how much you know about anything, you do not know enough until you see how it glorifies God. It may have a negative slant until you discover a positive purpose it has in God's plan. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and this is the chief purpose of all that God has created. This means that the Christian is to pursue every subject until it in some way leads him to praise God who is the truth. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The intellectual goal of all Christian studies is to relate every subject to Christ, and see in them that which exalts His wisdom as creator and redeemer.
We want to look at the only man we know of in the New Testament who rivaled Paul for the title of the greatest intellect of the New Testament. Apollos is his name, and everything about this man is a challenge to the intellect. Just look at the vocabulary connected with him in these few verses of Acts 18 where he is first brought on the stage of Christian history.
In verse 24 he is called a learned man. He is the only man in the Bible called by this word. He is said to have a thorough knowledge of Scripture.
In verse 25 it says he had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he taught himself about Jesus accurately.
In verse 26 we read that he had the way of God explained to him more adequately.
In verse 28 we see him refuting the Jews in public debate and proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Here was a brilliant and bold orator who was able to debate with great effectiveness. It is no wonder that he is considered one of the three most educated and trained men of the New Testament. The other two are Paul and Dr. Luke, who was responsible for telling us about these other two. Had Dr. Luke not revealed the existence of Apollos, we would never had known the role he played in the early church. Paul refers to him as his friend and rival in Corinth, but we would not have known how he ever merited such a status had Dr. Luke told us. Luke puts Paul on the back burner for awhile an devotes more space to Apollos than he does to any of his close companions except Timothy and Titus.
Dr. Luke tells us enough about Apollos so that we have in him a fascinating study of one of the giant intellects of the early church. To study this man is not only of value for the graduates we are recognizing today, but for all of us, for the knowledge of how God works in history through people leads us all to glorify God and enjoy Him all the more. We want to look at this learned man from 3 points of view. First-
I. HIS PREPARATION IN LEARNING.
The amazing thing about the education background of Apollos is that the more you study it the more you see the hand of God in history. Verse 25 says Apollos was a native of Alexandria. That has little significance to us until we realize that Alexandria was not just the capital of Egypt, but it was the intellectual of the ancient world. It had the world's largest and most famous library with anywhere from 600 thousand to a million volumes.
Max Muller says the founding of the University of Alexandria was the beginning of the third great epoch in the history of civilization. It was a university where man was on the cutting edge of intellectual progress. They did original research, and schools of science and literature were formed for the first time. Scholars from Alexandria were in demand all over the world.
1. This is where Euclid wrote his famous Elements Of Geometry.
2. This is where Ptolemy spent 40 years, and published his studies of the universe that held sway for many centuries. His math is still the basis for trigonometry today.
3. This is where the works of Homer and great classics were preserved.
4. It was the center of the philosophic world for centuries.
This was the home town of Apollos, and he was a learned man. It was no accident that he came out of Alexandria. Everything about this city reeks of learnedness, but also of the providence of God in history. Alexandria the Great built a road out to the island city of Tyre and destroyed it, and thereby fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel. Then he marched on Egypt and conquered it. In 331 B.C. Alexandria the Great saw the strategic possibilities of an island in the Delta of Egypt, and he ordered that a city be erected there in his name. It was to be the best and most beautiful city of the ancient world. Deinocrates, the greatest living architect, famous for building the temple of Diana was given the job. We don't have time to describe its many palaces and parks. But when Alexander died he ruled the whole world of his day, but he was buried in a golden casket in Alexandria. Mark, the Gospel author, was also buried here for many centuries before his body was moved.
The largest merchant ships in the world were built here, and battleships that held a thousand men. Its 400-foot tower of white stone became one of the ancient wonders of the world. It was at its peak a city of 800 thousand people. Now you might be saying to yourself, "So what!" What do we care about some fancy pagan city built by Alexander the Great? We should care because God cared, and he use Alexander the Great and this great city of his to prepare the world for the Gospel. Alexander came on the scene just when Greek culture was at its intellectual peak, and Aristotle was his teacher. Alexander was a great lover of learning, and he wanted the whole world to benefit from the wisdom of the Greeks. The result was that he brought Greek culture to every land he conquered. He made the Greek language the universal language. He gave slaves and education so that they in turn could teach their masters. In the New Testament world there was an estimated 6 millions slaves, and many of them were teaching Greek to the children of the Roman masters.
The point is, Alexander was the key man in God's plan to bring his son into a Greek thinking world and spread the Gospel by means of a Greek book, which is the New Testament. But God did not forget the Old Testament. It was vital that the whole Bible be in Greek. How could God bring about such massive intellectual challenge as that? The Hebrew Bible had never been translated into another language. The answer was Alexandria. The Jews were good scholars, and they were accepted in this intellectual center, just as they are today in the great places of learning. Ptolomy I of Alexandria had 30 thousand Jews in his army, and when Cleopatra ruled Alexandria two of her Generals were Jews. Many of the most influential Jewish writing came out of Alexandria. It became the center of Jewish and Greek interaction. The two were setting the stage for Christianity.
These Jews were close to the Gentiles and were accepting the Greek culture. They wanted their Hebrew Bible in Greek, and so here in Alexandria the Hebrew Bible was for the first time translated into another language in 280 B.C. This Greek Old Testament was called the Septuagint, which is often referred to as LXX, because of the 70 who translated it. It was a pioneering work that changed the course of history and made Alexandria a center of Bible study for many centuries.
What does all this have to do with Apollos? Note that verse 24 says he had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. It was the Septuagint that he had this knowledge of. He was an authority in the Greek Bible, which became the Bible of the early Christians. When the New Testament quotes the Old Testament it was usually this Bible from Alexandria. Apollos was a Jew, but was one with the Greek mind, and as a Christian that was a perfect combination for accomplishing the goal of making the Jews and Gentiles one in Christ. This was all happening because of God's preparing the world for the Gospel through Alexander the Great and this great city of learning.
Apollos was not the only great Christian scholar to come out of Alexandria. The first theological school in Christianity was founded in Alexandria. Men whose works are still read today headed that school, such as Clement and Origen. By the fourth century Alexandria was the theological center of Christendom, and ten councils were held there. The point of all this is that Apollos was a New Testament brain who came out of the brain city, and his preparation in learning makes it clear that there is nothing anti-intellectual about Christianity. Not all Christians are scholars, but the history of Christianity reveals that those who have been scholars have had the longest lasting impact for the cause of Christ. The mind is a terrible thing to waste, and so God has used the great minds of history to promote the cause of Christ.
We have Papyri from 600 A.D. that tell us what a deacon had to know to be a deacon in the church of Alexandria. He had to learn by heart one of the Gospels, 25 Psalms and 2 Epistles of Paul. There are probably no deacons or pastors on the planet today who could meet these qualifications. It took a working mind to be a leader in Alexandria. We need to be humbled by the fact that we with all our technological progress are not necessarily any smarter than Christians of centuries ago.
Apollos is one of the authors most favored to have written the book of Hebrews. Martin Luther was convinced he wrote it and others as well. The reason is that he is one of the few in the world of his day that knew both the New Testament and Old Testament revelation well enough to write it. He was a learned man well prepared to be an intellectual leader in the early church. But we need to see that Alexandria did not give him all that he needed. He came to Ephesus and in that city we see a second stage in his education.
II. HIS PROGRESS IN LEARNING.
As great as his credentials were we see that this great intellect was yet incomplete. There were aspects of God's revelation in Christ, which he had not yet incorporated into his understanding of the Christian faith. When Aquilla and Pricilla heard Apollos speak bolding in the synagogue they detected this weakness, and so they invited them home with them to explain the way of God more adequately.
Now there is no doubt that Apollos was a Christian, and yet you will find many who speculate that he was not yet a Christian. I am amazed at how many Bible teachers ignore the text of the Bible and quote each other in support of what the text denies. In spite of the fact that it is two decades since the cross, and that Alexandria was the center of learning, and that Apollos has been a Christian, it is supposed that he never heard of the cross and resurrection. Look at verse 25 where we see that Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and that he taught about Jesus accurately. How can you teach about Jesus accurately if you do not know of the cross and resurrection? All the text tells us is that he knew only the baptism of John. This was a defect, but not one that leads to saying that he was not a Christian. Chapter 19 of Acts begins with an account of other Christian disciples who also knew only the baptism of John, and they were re-baptized in the name of Jesus.
Apollos was one of these who was not up to date in Christian baptism, but he was boldly proclaiming the Gospel as is stated in verse 26. A. T. Robinson says this word for boldly is used only by Luke and Paul in the New Testament. He says, "Always of the bold declaration of the truths of the Gospel." Apollos was not converted by Pricilla and Aquilla, but the text says that they explained the way of God to him more accurately. This word is used in Acts to refer to fine points. Apollos needed to have some things clarified and updated to be the best preacher of the Gospel. Here is one of the most brilliant scholar of his day being enlightened by a couple of Christian lay people. It would not surprise us if Paul had done this, or Dr. Luke, but here are a couple of tent makers instructing a scholar on details of the Christian faith.
There are some powerful lessons here for the learned who are interested in progress in learning.
1. You are never so brilliant you cannot learn more.
2. You are never so gifted that you cannot be informed by those less gifted.
The true intellectual is the person who is ever open to receive more light from any source. The thing we do not like about intellectuals is their pride, which refuses to believe they can be enlightened from lesser minds. The true intellectual is always teachable. This is why Apollos is so admired. He was able to humble himself and go to the home of a couple of loving people and be instructed. The pseudo-intellectual is the one who pretends that if he doesn't know it, it isn't knowledge. Apollos was not one of these. He was a learned man who was still a learner. He was a teacher who could be taught. There are few things more noble in an intellectual than the spirit of teachableness. Next we want to look at-
III. HIS PROMOTION OF LEARNING.
Apollos was not a scholar who learned for the sake of learning as an end in itself. He wanted his gift to be used in promoting the kingdom of God, and so he wanted to go to churches and build up the body with his knowledge. The church of Ephesus encouraged him to do so, and they sent him to Achaia where he ministered in the church of Corinth, and was a great help to the believers there, as it says in verse 27.
Apollos used his brain power to refute the Jews in public debate and prove that Jesus was the Messiah from the Scripture. He gave the Christians a sense of security, for they had an intellectual who could hold his own and win against the greatest scholars of Judaism. We know he made a great impact, for when the Corinthians began to form their church Apollos was a rival of Paul. Some were saying I am of Paul, and others were saying I am of Apollos. Paul acknowledges a great contribution to the growth of the church of Corinth by Apollos when he writes in I Cor. 3:6, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it." God made it grow up, but He used great servants like Paul and Apollos to make it happen.
Paul and Apollos were friends. He writes to Titus in Titus 3:13, "Do everything you can to help Zenos the lawyer and Apollos in their way and see that they have everything they need." Here we see Apollos in Christian service traveling with a Christian lawyer. Here were two intellectuals traveling about ministering to the churches. He was aware that the key value in any gift is in the sharing of it with the whole body. Apollos was one of the first Christian professors who helped Christians in the area of apologetics, which is defending the Christian faith on an intellectual level. The world was full of doubters and attackers of the Christian faith, and somebody needed to help Christians know how to have an answer for these people. Apollos was that man.
He was a spirit led man, and as far as we can see from the New Testament he had only one he was accountable to, and that was the Holy Spirit. In I Cor. 16:12 we have a text in which we see Paul appreciating the gifts of Apollos and longing to see them used. But Paul was in no way the boss of Apollos, nor did he have any authority over this man's independent ministry. He writes, "Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity." Even Paul could not order Apollos to do anything until he was ready. He was a free spirit just as was Paul.
Spurgeon said, "Oh, that ministries were more instructive! Alas, it seems often as if the preacher skimmed the surface, and did not care to enter into the treasure-house of doctrine, and open up the deep things of God. We want the people instructed, for ignorance is the mother of superstition and skepticism. The uninstructed are easily carried away with novelties and delusions." There is probably more superstitions and more wacky cults, and more sophisticated religious nonsense in America than anywhere else in the world. We are anti-intellectual culture when it comes to religion. It is almost as it was in the day of Judges when every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Cults, the occult, and astrology are all popular, and all are anti-intellectual. They stress experience, and it does not have to make any sense as long as it feels good.
We need to look again at the men God used to produce the New Testament church. They were men like Paul and Apollos, and we need to ask ourselves if we are committed to the same values that motivated them. We need to have the same three things in our lives, which they had in theirs: Preparation in learning, purpose in learning, and promotion of learning. If we do we too can be intellectuals for Christ.