by Roger McCay
13 September 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 18:18-28
Link to Audio Version
No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is called upon to be an artist in this sense. He may have no gift of writing, no gift of composing or singing, but each man has the gift of creativity in terms of the way he lives his life. In this sense, the Christian’s life is to be an art work. The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.
So writes Francis Schaeffer in the conclusion to his book Art and the Bible. We know the truth of his words from the Scriptures, in that each and every one of us are works of art created and lovingly crafted by the Lord himself, made in his image. We are the epitome of creation, and we are all so different in so many ways. Just in this room there are so many differences between each of us, it boggles the mind. On the surface we are all different sizes, shapes, and all those things that make us physically different. Then, as we go deeper, among us there is a wealth of variety in our life stories, roads we’ve travelled, talents and Spiritual gifts the Lord’s given us, personalities, passions, ways of thinking, and life callings. As we are works of art—the Lord’s art—worked into our very being is the Way of life he has given us. Christians are particularly zoomed in on this fact, following Jesus, as his disciples. The Way of the Lord carries us on through this life and the next, as the Lord’s art creates art of beauty and truth lasting into eternity. Death itself is merely a station along the Way.
There is always more for us along the full Way of the Lord. In the Scriptures we consistently see this played out in the lives of the Lord’s people with whom we encounter.
In our short passage today, we get a snapshot of the lives of four folks, Paul, Apollos, and Priscilla and Aquila, all creatively following after Jesus. They are quite a varied bunch, and, along their life journeys, they sometimes travel together and sometimes apart. Yet, apart or together, the Scriptures reveal the Lord weaving their diverse lives, united in faith and love, into his grand picture, not only for their own edification, but for the advance of his Kingdom. Perhaps, today, as we consider the Lord’s work in their lives, we’ll recognize some of the patterns of how he creatively works in our lives as we follow him along the Way.
The first of these faithful Christians we see, in today’s passage, is Paul. We’ve gotten to know him quite well in our journey through Acts. He’s relentless, driven, passionate, a force bolstered and used mightily by the Lord—attributes touched on just a bit in these few verses of his extended travels.
You’ll notice in your bulletin a map handout, showing the end of Paul’s 2nd missionary journey and the beginning of his 3rd. In vv. 18-23 of Acts 18, Luke speeds up the narrative for Paul, touching quickly on this and that for the seeming purpose of quickly getting him back to Ephesus, in order to focus on the events there. Hopefully, the maps help you to picture in your mind what’s going on with Paul’s travel, as all these names of places listed on their own can be confusing.
In v. 18, (#1 on your map), Paul finally leaves Corinth, having spent over 18 months there. You’ll notice, too, that, stopping at Cenchreae, Paul “cut his hair, for he was under a vow.” So, what is this about? Well, two major opinions are that (1) Paul either took a Nazarite vow (along the lines of what is described in Numbers 6), or (2) he took a private vow. I tend to agree with F.F. Bruce on this one, who puts it simply:
This was probably not a formal Nazirite vow, which could not properly be undertaken outside the Holy Land, but a private vow, the fulfilment of which was an act of thanksgiving—possibly for the divine promise of verse 10, which had been confirmed by his preservation from harm throughout his Corinthian ministry.
Also, you may remember how the Lord had shut the door on Paul’s going into Asia back in Acts 16:6, leading to his Macedonian mission. Now, in ch. 18, some years later, the Lord has unlocked that door and opened it for Paul to head on through. That’s something to keep in mind, by the way; sometimes, in your life, those doors now locked may be opened down the road. As it was for Paul, with the way open before him, he sailed with Priscilla and Aquila from Cenchreae, crossing the Aegean Sea, to Ephesus, a major city in Asia (#2 on your map).
Verses 19-21 then tell us how Paul, in his usual fashion, headed to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews, explaining and proving that Jesus was the Christ. Blessedly, he had a much better response from the Jews in Ephesus than he had had in Corinth, among other places. They hungered for more of the gospel, urging Paul to stay and teach them.
However, Paul was in a hurry to catch a ship to Palestine. Why such a hurry? Why such a hurry when the gospel was having such a favorable reception? Some suggest that Paul needed to get to Jerusalem in order to go through the rituals at the temple concerning his vow, which included burning his hair. But that seems far-fetched. Another idea is reflected in the KJV, something a scribe (possibly in North Africa) unwisely added to Luke’s text during the fifth century. And, while it is not God’s Word, but a scribe’s idea, the reason he gives for Paul to leave (which is, “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem”) seems rather plausible. As Bruce explains, “If the festival was Passover, there was probably a good reason for his haste: the seas were closed to navigation until March 10, and in A.D. 52 Passover fell in early April.”
Whatever the case, Paul needed to catch the next ship heading east, but he told them in v. 21, “I will return to you if God wills.” We’ll later see that God willed it very much.
So, in v. 22 Paul arrives in Caesarea, the major port city in Palestine, and headed up to Jerusalem to greet the church (#3 on your map). Luke doesn’t tell us anything about the visit, but, perhaps he celebrated the Passover and/or Pentecost there at the mother church.
Finally, finishing up his 2nd missionary journey, Paul arrived back to the sending church that had commissioned him to do his missionary work—the church in Antioch (#4 on your map).
There, Paul likely gave a full report of his long journey and all that occurred along the way, like he and Barnabas had done in Acts 14:26-28, after his first missionary journey. Also, like he had done before, Paul took some time to rest and renew his fellowship with the church.
Yet, Paul could not sit still for long. After some time, as we see in v. 23, “he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples” (#5 on your map). Essentially, he set off on his 3rd missionary journey, beginning by revisiting many of the churches he had planted as part of his 1st missionary journey, touching base with them, encouraging them, and, perhaps, teaching the Word and sharing what all the Lord was up to in building his church across the Roman Empire.
Thus, Luke moved Paul across a lot of land and a lot time to a lot of places and people, in just a few verses, moving the story along back to Ephesus. Yet, before he gets there in ch. 19, we are given an interlude in vv. 24-28, concerning the other three figures in our passage today.
Priscilla and Aquila were the Christian couple that Paul met, worked with, and lived with while in Corinth. They were working folks with a tentmaking business, and in v. 18 we see they travelled with Paul from Corinth, moving to Ephesus in order to set up their business and make a home. They were a loving, self-giving couple, showing gracious hospitality to Paul in Corinth (18:3) and later extending hospitality to Apollos in Ephesus, which we’ll look at in a bit. Indeed, their home was often a place of worship. In their home, they hosted the church in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19), and eventually did the same once they returned to Rome (Rom. 16:3-5). Priscilla and Aquila were just regular folks, but wherever they went they made an impact for the gospel. They were gracious, hospitable, and regular teachers of the Word of God—creative workers of the art of self-giving love. Paul even mentions, in Rom. 16, that “they risked their lives” for him.
Yet, these were just regular folks, normal Christians. They are an example to us of ordinary faithfulness, in how they took every opportunity, wherever they went, to make an impact for Jesus (often by the simple and humble act of graciously opening their home). We should never underestimate the impact of hospitality; the Lord uses it to advance his Kingdom in mighty ways. If you’ve got a home, perhaps this is a possible open door for you, a way for you to express the creative art of self-giving love.
Now, Luke tells us quite a bit about Apollos in just a few verses, using very descriptive language. Apollos was extremely gifted with a powerful mind and a dynamic personality, who would eventually be used as a force for the Lord in the church. Martin Luther even thought that Apollos was the author of Hebrews, which, actually, is quite a reasonable suggestion, considering what all we know about him from the Word. Take a look at vv. 24-25:
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 …
Luke tells us several things here. First off, Apollos was a Jew. So, like Paul, he was able to head into the synagogue in order to proclaim what he knew about Jesus. He was also a native of Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria was a noted place of learning and scholarship, even more-so than Athens. You’ve probably heard of the library in Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Alexandria was also where the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT had been made, some 200 years before. And, if you didn’t know it, many of the OT quotations given in the Greek NT are quoted from the Septuagint and not from the Hebrew Bible. No surprise then, there was a huge Jewish population in Alexandria. It was also the home of Philo, the renowned Jewish scholar.
Anyway, Apollos was from this major city of learning and scholarship. He himself was an educated man, fluent in Hellenistic culture and thought also knowing the OT Scriptures and competent in their use. Thus, he knew the way of the Lord, understanding the Law and life to which the Lord called his people (as referred to in Deut. 5, in our OT reading this morning). He was eloquent of speech, probably schooled in the prized rhetorical techniques of the day. And, most importantly, “he was fervent in spirit” when it came to proclaiming Jesus.
Luke gives him some credit towards his proclamation of Jesus, acknowledging that his words were “accurate.” However, his knowledge of key aspects of Jesus’ ministry was incomplete, as he only knew the baptism of John. The baptism of John was a baptism of repentance. John’s message was that the Messiah was at hand, the Christ who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16). John also proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ (John 1:29-30). What specifically was deficient in Apollos’ knowledge, the text does not tell.
However, despite whatever deficiencies he had in knowledge, Apollos was fervent in spirit, proclaiming what he did know. He was excited about Jesus the Messiah! His fervent spirit was contagious; his excitement got people excited. He had an intensity of conviction, drawing people to him, completely capturing their attention as he spoke. He was on fire for Jesus!
Priscilla and Aquila, hearing this dynamic speaker at synagogue, listened carefully to him, and they picked up on some of his gaps of knowledge, ignorance, concerning the full way of the Lord. Rather than calling him out in public or something as crude, they came up to him afterwards, perhaps inviting him over for a meal, and talked with him in private.
Perhaps, if he didn’t already know the rest of the story concerning Jesus, they informed and explained his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. They certainly told Apollos of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Baptism of the Spirit and the Spirit’s work, along with justification, sanctification, and so forth. Maybe they told him of many of the things of which we read in Paul’s epistles—things in which Priscilla and Aquila were well-versed, having lived and worked side by side with Paul for so long. As it was, in sanctified conversation, Apollos heard more of the full way of the Lord, as this lady and gentleman “explained to him the way of God more accurately.” It says much, too, about his character, in how teachable he was (not offended, but willing to learn).
Whatever else Pricilla and Aquila taught him, it was enough to take Apollos to the next level. As a passionate, charismatic preacher, he soon felt the call to head to Achaia, particularly Corinth, receiving a hearty send off from the brothers in Ephesus, including letters of introduction for the Corinthian church to welcome him. Thus, there in Corinth, Apollos picked up where the apostle Paul had left off, as we read in vv. 27-28: “When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”
Apollos did so well in Corinth that Paul had to spend a bit of time in his first epistle to the Corinthians tamping down divisions that sprung up as a result. Some were all about Paul. Some were all about Apollos. Team Paul vs. Team Apollos. Paul harshly rebuked them for this division, then said, in 1 Cor. 3:5-6, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
Now, from all of this, at this point in Acts, I hope you are able to recognize some of the ongoing dynamics of the Christian church, God’s people, spreading throughout the Roman Empire. Paul’s two initial missionary journeys broke the ice in many places. But, Paul wasn’t the only guy out there. There was a lot of growth in the church, happening through the works of all sorts of people (men and women) we never hear about, like whoever it was that planted the church in Rome, among other places. Who first taught Priscilla and Aquila about Jesus? Who initially taught Apollos about Jesus, perhaps in Alexandria? The big picture we have, at this point in Acts, is that the church was continuously growing and expanding. The Lord was calling and sending his people all over the place, and everywhere. Through the power of God’s Spirit, all sorts of people, like Apollos and Priscilla and Aquila, were building upon the work of the Apostles, through proclamation, hospitality, and just being faithful Christians before a watching world. What a tapestry of beauty the Lord was weaving with the lives of all these various people, as they followed along after Jesus upon the Way of the Lord.
With this picture of the growing church before us, growing through the work of God’s Spirit in the lives of everyday and extraordinary people, it is important to see that their story is continued in us. Their story is our story. We are a continuation of the Lord’s creative work as we live our lives before him, following Jesus along the path he leads. Don’t sell yourself short. You are important; you are a work of art, crafted by the Lord himself. If you are a believer, the Lord has his purpose for you in his Kingdom, having given you talents and Spiritual gifts, having made you unique for his purposes (1 Pet. 4:9-12, Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12; Ex. 31:1-6). Maybe your gifting is hospitality, maybe it is service, maybe it is leadership, teaching, or preaching, even fine arts, crafting, or music and singing—any number of things. Whatever it is, or whatever combination of gifts you’ve been blessed with, don’t let them gather dust. Put them to good use, as the Lord intends, in harmony with other believers, as the body of Christ. Following after Christ, seek to hone your gifts, find the open door, becoming, in your faithfulness, more versed every day in the full Way of the Lord, in your knowledge and in the art of self-giving love.
There is not a single Christian here today who has nothing to offer God’s Kingdom, in the form of creative self-giving love. How do you offer your life up for the Lord? I encourage you, brothers and sisters, this week, consider how your “life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.” Since Jesus leads the Way, Christians should be moving forward in our walk with him.
 Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 2 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 413.
 F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 355.
 Ibid., 356.