I’m right. I know I am right. You cannot persuade me that I am not right. I wish everyone would realize that I am right. I know what I am talking about. I am smarter than most people around me and they would be far better off if they would listen to me. I am right and anyone who does not do things my way is wrong. If you would just ask me, I would tell you everything you need to know. This describes the human condition and describes the common thinking in our culture today. But as we have looked at Paul proclaiming that salvation is here, he is running into the same cultural thinking in most of the cities he enters. They know what they know and the struggle is to get them to transition into thinking otherwise.
The Gospel In Corinth (18:1-17)
The difficulty of living as a Christian in this culture is exhibited as Paul comes to Corinth. He is going to stay in this city teaching for more than a year and a half. For the first time we are able to see Paul settle into a location to do the work. In verse 5 we see Paul testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But their response was to oppose him and revile him (18:6). So Paul says he is going to make a transition and proclaim the message to the Gentiles. If you are not going to listen, then Paul is going to find people that are going to listen in this city.
Corinth was an important city in the ancient world. It was the capital city in the province of Achaia. But Corinth was also known as an extremely worldly city. It would be the Las Vegas or San Francisco of this region in the Roman Empire. But I want us to consider that Paul does not write off the city. Paul does not give up on the city. He does not decide to not bother with it because it is too worldly or too far gone. Even though the Jews reject the gospel message, Paul is going to stay in this city for a long time, teaching the word of God among them. I think this is important for our consideration. We can have the tendency to write off the city. We can look at the city and look at the changing culture and think we need to run to the hills and hide because our society is turning darker. But friends, what is going to happen if all the lights leave the city? When the city gets darker, we need the lights to shine all the more. Leaving the city is not going to be the fulfilling of our mission to shine as lights. We do not need to move some place where the light is already shining. The mission of light is not to find more light but to be placed in the darkness and turn darkness to light. We need to be where the light needs to shine in the darkness. One of my long time best friends is still living in San Diego. As you know, there are a lot of challenges in California right now on a lot of levels. I told him recently that I do not know how you are able to continue in the face of the difficulties. Many are moving away. But he responded, “Someone has to stay here and shine the light.” He is exactly right. As the world gets darker it is more important that we do not write off the city but shine in the city.
But being in the city is going to be hard. Paul is experiencing it. He is dealing with opposition and reviling while he is there. Look at verse 9 because the Lord has to come fill up Paul with some courage. The Lord tells Paul in a vision to not be afraid. Keep on speaking and do not be silent. No one will attack you to harm you in this city. You can imagine how Paul was feeling in this city for the Lord to need to come to him and tell him to not be afraid. This is especially important because the Jews in this city have already refuse the gospel message. When that has happened in other cities, they have come after Paul and attacked him. But the Lord tells Paul that this is not going to happen this time. Yet after saying this, look at what happens in verse 12. The Jews make a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. Look at the charge against him in verse 13.
This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law. (18:13 ESV)
Corinth was proud of its Roman status and was loyal to the empire and the emperor. Like in Philippi, the charge is that Paul is violating the law because he is telling people that only can worship the true and living God. I want us to think about the reality that Paul lived in. Persuading people to worship God and serve God was contrary to the laws of the Roman Empire. But Paul is not fazed by Roman law because he must obey God’s law first. If the empire tells Paul not to preach about God, Paul is going to preach anyway. If the empire tells Paul to stop telling people to worship God, Paul is going to continue worshiping God and telling others to worship in spite of the law. We need to see what Paul is having to stand against and understand that this is the reality of living as lights in darkness. We have to transition our thinking from our worship and our service to God being acceptable in our culture to accepting that our worship and our service to God is on track to be considered unlawful. We need to be ready in the city that we will do what God says to do even if the city says not to. If evangelism because illegal, we still must do it. If speaking about sins because illegal, we still must do. If worship because illegal, we still must do it. We need to make this mental transition and prepare ourselves to be courageous because in our culture and in the city the only place where hate is tolerable and acceptable is against God and his followers.
I want us to see that Paul was afraid. It is okay to feel that fear. But that fear cannot cause us to stop. Paul kept worshiping. Paul kept preaching. Paul kept doing the work in the city, shining as a light in the darkness. God kept his promise to Paul. Just as Paul was about to defend himself after his arrest, the proconsul had him released because it is a question about words, names, and Jewish law.
The Gospel to Apollos (18:18-28)
Paul makes a quick stop in Ephesus on his way to Antioch and promised to quickly return. But before he returns to Ephesus, a man named Apollos came to Ephesus. He is described as an eloquent man, well-verses in the scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, spoke with great enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus (18:24-25). But he only knew about John’s baptism. Let’s consider what is happening and what we are being told. This is a logical situation where we are encountering people who were taught by John accurately about Jesus, but did not know what happened next. There was a transition happening from John’s baptism to Jesus’ baptism. Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos preaching Jesus and they invite him into his home to explain the way of God more accurately to him.
Now I want you to see something about how this is worded in the text. Apollos taught Jesus accurately but he needed to have the way of God explained more accurately to him. Please listen what was just said. You can be taught in the way of the Lord, have great enthusiasm for the Lord, and teach the facts about Jesus accurately, but not have every puzzle piece. This is why I speak about this being a spiritual journey that we are all on. We can know Jesus, be instructed about Jesus, and have great fervor about Jesus, and still be missing some puzzle pieces that need to be fixed. There can still be things that we need to correct or understand differently. Notice that it did not mean that Apollos was completely wrong or that everything he knew was useless. Apollos just needed a little more to be explained to him. Apollos was going the right direction but needed a few more changes in his understanding and knowledge.
The Gospel To John’s Disciples (19:1-7)
This leads to what happens next in Ephesus. Apollos goes to Corinth and Paul arrives in Ephesus. He finds some disciples in Ephesus and asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit. This question must be about asking if an apostle had come through given them miraculous spiritual gifts yet since all disciples receive the Holy Spirit when they come to Jesus (cf. Acts 2:38-39; John 7:39). But when these disciples say that they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul wants to know what they could possibly have been baptized into. They had been baptized with John’s baptism. This is similar to what we just saw with Apollos. So Paul explains to them that John’s baptism was in preparation for Jesus’ coming. Once they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (19:5).
But I think an important question needs to be asked. Why were these disciples baptized again? It is not like their baptism in John’s baptism was wrong. It is not like their faith was false when they were baptized into John’s baptism. These people are called disciples. So why were they baptized again? I believe there is only one conclusion that can be drawn. What you believe when you are baptized matters. Your faith matters when you are baptism. They were baptized with a faith that was believing in the coming of Jesus. Now they needed to be baptized believing that Jesus had died for their sins, giving them forgiveness and reconciliation. What you believe matters. Baptism is not a statement about joining a church. That is not the right faith. Baptism is not about peer pressure, joining in because everyone else is doing it. Baptism is not about church pressure or parent pressure. Baptism is supposed to be a response of faith to what Jesus has done for you. You are showing that you are giving your life to Jesus, entering a covenant relationship with him, submitting your life to him, and asking God to purify your conscience. If this is not the case, then I will ask again, why were these disciples baptized again? Baptism must be necessary and must be important. How you are baptized must matter. Otherwise these seven verses in Acts 19 do not make sense.
But I want to return to how we started this lesson as the key thought for this section of scripture. Imagine if Apollos said that he knew everything he needed to know about Jesus and that Priscilla and Aquila had nothing to teach him. Imagine if these disciples said that what they did was good enough and did not listen to Paul’s teaching. What we are shown is a contrast to the Jews in Corinth who would not listen. Apollos and these disciples had an important characteristic that God wants in us. We need to have humility to be taught the way of God more accurately. We must have a humility to know that we do not know it all. But we are all growing together into the unity of the faith. Apollos shows a teachable heart even though he is well-educated, knowledgeable, and an enthusiastic teacher. We must transition from selfishness to humility. We must be willing to listen and learn from other people.
There is a terrible trend in our culture today that we will only listen to the people who agree with us. We will only listen to our side. It is so easy to be dismissive of others. This is why I started off the lesson talking about how everyone needs to listen to me and think like I think. It is a very dismissive kind of thinking that lacks humility. We are all going to need to be explained the way of God more accurately. Please consider that the essence of the gospel is telling us that we are wrong, our thinking is wrong, that we need to transition our thinking, and only God can make us think correctly.
So I would like for you to think about where you are on your journey with God. Will you come before God in humility, ready to listen to what he is saying to us? Will you be a light in the city? Will you be willing to shine in the darkness as the culture moves away from the Lord? Will you continue to worship and serve God even if it is contrary to public opinion or approval? Will you persuade others to worship and serve the Lord even it if is contrary to public opinion or approval? Will you have a teachable heart? Are you willing to admit that you do not know all you need to know? Are you willing to accept correction and change? Will you follow the next step in your journey with Jesus? The world teaches a lot of different things about baptism. I hope you will think about what this showed. Did you have the right faith when you were baptized? Were you baptized in the way that we see in the scriptures? Or was there another reason or another form that is not what God asked? Let us humbly listen to our Lord and take the next step of faith as we walk with him.