Divergence and Unity; Acts 18:18-28

Paul sets out from Corinth back to Ephesus and Syria. Priscilla and Aquila go with him. I think I would have liked this couple. They believed the gospel, they changed their life plans and they were prepared to go wherever they could to spread the good news and encourage believers. Oh, for some more of them in every church.

And then God brings Apollos along. P and A are from Pontus but converted in Italy, Apollos is from Alexandria. This gospel is getting everywhere! And we have the unlikely sight of Turkish-Italians discipling a North African, all joining in the work though none of whom had been converted under Paul's ministry. I have said often enough on this blog that God loves having a family from all over the world. On this occasion God brings Apollos across Aquila and Priscilla's path for just long enough to get him the extra help he needs before he decides to go to Corinth. We have to assume that they tell him that Corinth is a hard place for the gospel, and that ignites him to see if he can bring God glory there. That is the spirit of frontier missions.

Let me fly a kite about Apollos. I am quite fairly persuaded about this but not everyone will be. It says in v24f that he was learned, had a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, was instructed in the way of the Lord, spoke with great enthusiasm and taught accurately about Jesus. The only thing that was lacking was that he only knew about the baptism of John, not the baptism in the Spirit. 

When P and A take him home to more fully instruct him in the way of God, what is that instruction? As far as I can see from the text the only thing missing is the baptism of the Spirit rather than the baptism of John. Commentators want to suggest that only knowing about John means he is lacking basic teachings about Jesus that they fill in for him. Well maybe, except it doesn't say that. It says he was instructed in the way and taught about Jesus accurately.

OK, here is the provocative bit: I propose this may well be a disciple and evangelist who knew the Lord and knew the gospel teaching well but who hadn't been filled with the Spirit. In the same way as the Ephesian disciples a few verses later. Does this mean I believe in filling and empowering with the Spirit subsequent to and separate from conversion? I wouldn't have done 10 years ago but I think I am changing my mind. The Bible and church history seem too full of instances of supernatural enduing for me to be comfortable to draw any other conclusion. Is this second blessing? Yes, and third, fourth and many more I hope. It also means I want to stop being hung up about exactly how I think God ought to work. The trouble with being hung up is that I remain more interested in figuring out exactly how he works than in asking him to work, and even in me. 

1 Cor. 12:31 commands us to eagerly desire the greater gifts. 1 Cor. 14:1 commands to follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. My temptation is to let theological caution and a slight feeling of peer pressure make me cautious of eagerly desiring God to work supernaturally. Even writing this post knowing some may read and judge me to be exegetically inaccurate is almost enough to dampen desire. If you are reading this and don't agree with the text handling then let me ask you to do this: whatever you think of how God works, make sure today you are eagerly desiring and asking him that he will work in your life, pouring in supernatural blessing and providing divine opportunity for you to extend the Kingdom and build the church. 

A last word about Apollos. He went to Corinth and did exactly what Paul had done, reasoning and proving from the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. Two leaders, one message, one activity, one method. And it didn't stop factions forming. Later Paul was to write to the Corinthians telling them in clear terms that it was wrong and ungodly to create factions of Paul-followers and Apollos-followers. "I like him, but don't like him" is simply an intolerably wrong attitude in a church. Stupid division over who likes whom often indicates a church fast on the way to spiritual impotency.