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PAUL, APOLLOS, PRISCILLA AND AQUILA

Acts 18:18-18:28
Key Verse: 18:26

In last lesson we could see that Paul’s mission in Corinth was a fierce spiritual battle against the pride and immorality of the Corinthians. Paul fought the battle by depending on the Spirit’s power, testifying that Jesus is the Christ. Christ crucified and risen is the power of God and the wisdom of God for the salvation of sinful mankind. May we overcome any fear and keep on speaking that Jesus is the Christ for the salvation of many souls in this city who are in the mind of our Lord Jesus! Today’s passage includes the end of Paul’s 2nd missionary journey and the beginning of the 3rd. We learn about Paul’s first stay in Ephesus, and about the house church of

First, Paul’s seeking God’s will (18-23). Look at verse 18. “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time.” It was because God protected him and the gospel preaching through Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. Then Paul left the brothers in Corinth and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. They became essential gospel coworkers to Paul. (They may have financed his trip.) Before he sailed, Paul had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken. Cenchrea was Corinth’s eastern port. This vow could be a Nazirite vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite (Num 6:1). When we read Numbers, cutting off one’s hair had cleansing or purification purpose (Num 6:9; Num 8:7; Ac 21:24). Paul said in Galatians 1:15, “…God set me apart from birth and called me by his grace.” Paul must have been thankful for God's work in and through him, particularly in Corinth, and for the Lord's love and protection in that vision in Corinth. , Paul might have thus made the vow, dedicating himself anew to the Lord to live as an apostle for the Gentiles.

Look at verse 19. “They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila…” In the next part we will see that Paul’s leaving Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus was from his prophetic insight. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. We all know that declining is not easy when things go well and people show their good response. In life, especially in serving the Lord, we should know both how to accept ('people pleasing', being pleasant/ kind) and how to decline. Jesus said the Sermon on the Mount, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Mt 5:37).

Look at verse 21. “But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God’s will.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus.” Here we see how carefully Paul sought God’s will. We can say that in a broad sense God’s will is for his kingdom to come on the earth and for us to preach the gospel wherever we are. But Paul did not jump to think that coming to Ephesus and preaching the gospel there was God’s will. He said, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” He did not just want to show his favour to people easily. Although he seemed to disappoint others, he did not want to go over beyond what was given to him at the present. In this way he sought to please God, not men. He said in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of God.”

As God’s children it is very important to seek God’s will in our lives. At each moment we should discern what God wants from us and find out what pleases the Lord (Eph 5:10). We should be very careful, then, how we live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. So we should not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Eph 5:15). And according to Romans 12:2, in order to test and approve what God’s will is, we should not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our mind. If something is not God’s will, we are to be ready to decline or to give it up. If something is God’s will, we are to challenge to do it though it is so hard. If something is not certain, we should wait on God, opening our hearts to him.

After saying, “I will come back if it is God’s will,” Paul set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church definitely in Jerusalem. Although it was a short description it was always important for Paul to contact the Jerusalem church. Then he went down to Antioch, where he had been sent for his 2nd missionary journey. Then verse 23 says, “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.” It is interesting that in Luke’s description there seemed no interval between Paul’s 2nd missionary journey and the 3rd. It is likely that Paul was quickly moving onward and forward, certainly according to God’s will and his leading.

Second, Priscilla and Aquila’s teaching Apollos the way of God (24-28). It is also noticeable that although Luke’s account is concise and fast-paced, he took time and space to write about the event that happened between Apollos and the couple, Priscilla and Aquila. Without this story the book of Acts would not be completed. Look verse 24, “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus…” Alexandria had a huge Jewish population at that time.

It was here that the Septuagint (LXX) had been produced some 200 years before Christ. The Septuagint (from the Latin septuaginta, meaning "seventy," and frequently referred to by the roman numerals LXX) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The name derives from the tradition that it was made by seventy (or seventy-two) Jewish scholars at Alexandria, Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.). Apollos was a native of Alexandria.

Verse 24 says continually, “He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” And in verse 25, “he had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” He seemed to be a perfect servant of God. He had a thorough knowledge of Scriptures, having been instructed in the way of the Lord, and so was a Christian leader, although Jewish. And he spoke with great fervour. But Luke explicitly wrote that though Apollos taught about Jesus accurately, he knew only the baptism of John, whom Luke knew to have been the Messiah’s forerunner and to have belonged to the law and prophets, not the kingdom. Among the congregation in Ephesus, possibly no one noticed the defect (or short-comings) of his message.

But look at verse 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.” When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos’ message, they could find out that something was not appropriate in his message. Yet, instead of criticizing Apollos or publicly citing his doctrinal flaws, they acted with grace. Priscilla and Aquila invited him to their home as the expression of their special concern so as to have a personal talk with him. What a gracious couple! At the same time they, though mere tentmakers, were not intimidated by Apollos’ great intellect, but were clear about what they had to speak to him. They were both graceful and truthful.

Then what was their table talk? Luke wrote very simply that Priscilla and Aquila explained to him the way of God more adequately. It seems to be too vague and too simplistic to figure out what they really talked. Yet, Luke’s description was both simple and profound. “The way of God” conveys a big idea. What is the way of God? The way of God is in contrast to the way of men. In history there have been two ways for people to come to God. Ever since mankind was banished from the Garden of Eden men tried hard to reach upward to God in their own way, making sacrifices and doing good deeds in their own eyes. This is all about religions. But Christianity is different. It is God reaching downward to men, since it was impossible for sinful mankind to reach the holy God. We can say that these two are God’s way of salvation and men’s way of salvation. This is obvious even when Adam and Eve sinned against God. What they did was to sew fig leaves together and make coverings for themselves (Ge 3:7). But what God did was to make garments of skin for Adam and his wife to clothe them (3:21), foreshadowing the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who would be the Saviour in the form of the offspring of a woman. Even at this beginning of man’s fall, the way of man and the way of God are clearly shown and contrasted. Subsequently, we see what Cain did and what Abel did in coming to God. Cain brought his offering to God, depending on himself, as if he were doing God a favour. But Abel brought his offering to God, depending on God, coming to him with a contrite heart as a sinner. Abel seems to have accepted God’s way of salvation through the sacrifice of the Lamb. So the author of Hebrews says that by faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did (Heb 11:4). Later on, in the history of Israel, we see the contrast between God's way and man's way yet again: whereas God’s designated place of worship was Jerusalem, Northern Israel made their own places of worship in Bethel and Dan, developing their own ideas according to convenience and their own schemes.

In the New Testament when Jesus began to teach his disciples the way of the cross, the disciples, especially Peter, rejected it, even rebuking Jesus. Then Jesus said, “...You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mt 16:23; Mk 8:33). The things of God included Jesus’ death on the cross for the salvation of mankind, but things of men, nullified/neglected Jesus’ death on the cross. The way of God is the way of the cross, while the way of men is the way of no cross. So the way of God collided the way of men, the Jewish idea of the Messiah, under whose influence the disciples still were. As we studied in Acts God’s way of salvation was through believing in Jesus, but men’s way of salvation tried to override it through circumcision, insisting, “Unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved.” Circumcision represents man’s work, the work of the law. When we read Galatians, Paul was furious when he sensed that the Galatians were shifting from the way of God to the way of men. They began by simply believing the gospel of Jesus, but they were tempted to return to the work of the law. Then Paul said, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Gal 3:1-3). Even after believing in Jesus, sinners try to live by their own effort, accumulating their self-righteousness. The way of God is to repent and believe in Jesus again and again, while the way of men is to compensate or cover up their wrongdoings by good deeds. The way of God is to live by his grace alone, acknowledging what God has done and humbly depending on him at each moment. It is to live by faith from first to last. It to live by the Spirit. Throughout history there has been a collision between the way of God and the way of men. In our times this collision seems to be more serious. People make every effort to do away with the concept of sin and try to do good in their own eyes. But the way of men leads to death; the way of God, to life that is eternal.

In light of this we see what a great help it was that Priscilla and Aquila explained to Apollos the way of God more adequately. We cannot say that Apollos taught the people in Ephesus the way of men. He taught about Jesus, in other translations, the facts or things about Jesus, accurately. But Priscilla and Aquila explained to him the way of God more adequately, or more accurately. Not completely denying what Apollos had taught, Priscilla and Aquila must have filled what was lacking in Apollos’ teaching. According to the KJV, “they expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”

What was the result of this Bible study? Look at verses 27-28. “When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” What a change in his discourse from teaching about Jesus to proving that Jesus is the Christ! His discourse must have directed to Christ’s death and resurrection and the kingdom of God, and it was the influence of Priscilla and Aquila. Here, we also cannot neglect Apollos’ humble learning mind in spite of his great intellect. When we read 1 Corinthians, we see that Apollos grew a lot and became a great servant of God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

There are many beautiful house churches in the Bible. Abraham and Sarah’s house church: they opened their house widely and invited and entertained strangers without even knowing that they were angels. They served the guests with their best food and lodging, involving the entire family in the service. They were a house church with excellent hospitality. We also remember Isaac and Rebekah’s house church. They were a praying house church. When they had no children, they did not blame each other but they prayed together for 20 years. Then God gave them twin sons. In the New Testament we remember Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house church. They were a childless old couple. They seemed to have no joy in life. But they delighted in the word of God, studying the Bible together, and observing the words of God until they were recognized as upright in the sight of God. They were a Bible studying house church. Each house church was unique. Yet, Priscilla and Aquila’s house church was really unique and precious in that they were a house church who could explain the way of God to an intellectual man like Apollo, more adequately, more accurately, and more perfectly. And so they were a humble and faithful and essential gospel coworkers’ family to Paul (1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19).

When we study Acts, house church ministry is evident. Luke brings it out very clearly. In Christian history there was no record of visible church buildings until 200 A.D. So the early Christians gathered in their houses and house church ministry was precious and powerful. In Acts 5:42, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” In Acts 12:12, there was a description of the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many people gathered and prayed for Peter while he was in prison. And Peter returned to the house of Mary after being released from the imprisonment. In Philippi, Lydia’s house also became the house church where Paul and Silas went after also coming out of the prison and met the brothers. In Corinth when his teaching was difficult in synagogue, Paul went to the house of Titius Justus and taught there, and many Christians believed (18:7-8). Paul confessed that in Ephesus he did not hesitate to preach anything that would be helpful to them publicly and from house to house (20:20). The end of Acts is that Paul preached the kingdom of God boldly and without hindrance in a rented house (28:30-31). The house of Priscilla and Aquila was precious not only in terms of visible house and the invisible home. The spiritual vessel of their home was precious and powerful to teach the way of God.

May God help us to be his people who really seek God’s will at each moment, and keep the way of God in our lives and be able to explain the way of God more adequately! May he raise up house churches like that of Priscilla and Aquila in this generation!

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