Acts 18:18-28: Ministry to One Another
Topic: Default Passage: Acts 18:18–18:28
Acts 18:18-28: Ministry to One Another
We’ve been working our way passage by passage through the book of Acts, and today the next passage we come to is Acts 18:18-28. It says,
18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 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, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
May God bless the reading of his Word.
One of the greatest joys of the Christian life is being used by God to make a significant impact on people around us and minister to them in meaningful ways. Yet, from what I’ve observed, many Christians consider themselves to be inadequate for that kind of ministry. They don’t think they’re knowledgeable enough or gifted enough to engage in any substantial spiritual ministry to those around them. In their minds, they’re just too ordinary and unequipped to have that kind of ministry to others.
Yet, as we look through the pages of the Bible, we see a distinct pattern of God using the people you’d least expect to do truly extraordinary things. He uses Moses, a murderer who’s currently living in exile, to deliver his people from their slavery in Egypt. God uses Gideon, a man who was basically afraid of his own shadow, to gather the Israelites together in order to battle and ultimately defeat an enemy of vastly superior strength. He uses David, a small shepherd boy with no military training, to defeat the mighty soldier Goliath in battle. He uses Peter, a hotheaded and impulsive disciple who publicly denied Jesus, to preach the greatest sermon of all time at Pentecost and lead thousands of people to faith and establish a thriving church in Jerusalem. He uses Paul, a ruthless persecutor of the church, to function as its greatest missionary and spread the gospel across the Roman Empire. All throughout the Bible, we read story after story of God using people who, by most human measurements, would be considered inadequate and unqualified to do incredible things for the sake of his Kingdom and glory. And that means God can use each one of us as well. In fact, he does it all the time. And the passage we’ll be looking at this morning from Acts 18 is a perfect example of that.
In verses 18-23, we read about the conclusion of Paul’s ministry in Corinth and then of his trip back to Antioch and, eventually, the beginning of his third missionary journey going through the region of Galatia and Phrygia. We then come to the final portion of the chapter and read about a man named Apollos. Look at verses 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.
So Apollos is quite impressive in many ways. First of all, we read here that he’s from the city of Alexandria, which was a leading intellectual center in the Roman Empire and home to a world-renowned library. Also, it says that “He was an eloquent man.” It’s possible that he had received training as a professional orator or perhaps that he simply possessed a lot of charisma as a part of his natural temperament. Either way, he was a very skilled and gifted speaker. And even more importantly than that, it also says that he was “competent in the Scriptures.” Other translations say that he was “mighty in the Scriptures.” He wasn’t a beginner or novice when it came to the Old Testament scriptures but rather had a thorough knowledge of them. We then learn that “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord,” which simply means that he was very familiar with the ways of God that were revealed in the Old Testament law. Then on top of all of his eloquence and learning, it says that Apollos was also “fervent in spirit.” He was passionate and zealous for the things of God. So, as you can see here, the picture of Apollos that emerges from these verses is quite an impressive one. This is a man who’s highly gifted, highly knowledgeable, and highly motivated. In today’s world, he’d probably be a very sought-after conference speaker. Like, if there was a Jewish version of the Together for the Gospel conference that some of us from this church just went to back in ancient times, I’m sure Apollos would have been one of the keynote speakers. This guy has “A-list” conference speaker written all over him.
And yet, his knowledge of the gospel was incomplete. Notice how, in the beginning of verse 24, he’s referred to not as a Christian or a brother or a believer but rather as “a Jew.” And it’s true that, as verse 25 states, he “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus” as far as he knew them, but he didn’t know them very well. The last part of the verse states that “he knew only the baptism of John.” John’s baptism, of course, was merely preparatory for the coming of Jesus. That means Apollos didn’t understand the full significance of Jesus’s crucifixion, Jesus’s resurrection, or the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s possible that Apollos hadn’t even heard of these things. So, it’s probably best for us to view Apollos as a redeemed Old Testament saint who was walking with God and embracing as much of the truth about Jesus as he had access to. However, the problem is that there were some pretty big pieces missing. His understanding of the gospel was accurate, as far as it went, but incomplete. He needed someone to fill him in on the rest of the story.
And that’s exactly what Priscilla and Aquila do. Look at verses 26-28: 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Now, as we think about the way in which Priscilla and Aquila ministered to Apollos, consider the dynamic of that ministry. Remember, Apollos was the ancient equivalent of an “A-list” conference speaker. He was incredibly eloquent, gifted, and knowledgeable. And yet, God used a couple of tentmakers to minister to him! Don’t miss that. God used the lowly tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila to minister to Apollos in a life-changing way. And it’s in that that we see the main idea of this passage: God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways in ministry to those around them. God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways in ministry to those around them. Verse 26 states that Pricilla and Aquila “took him [Apollos] aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Earlier in the passage, it was stated that Apollos “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” But now, we read that Priscilla and Aquila “explained to him the way of God more accurately.” So we’ve gone from “accurately” to “more accurately.” That’s the ministry that Priscilla and Aquila had in Apollos’s life. And we read in the subsequent verses about the dramatic difference it made in his ministry. God used these ordinary believers, Priscilla and Aquila, in a truly extraordinary way—as he desires to do with us as well.
And I’d like to emphasize that ministering to others in this way isn’t just something we can do—it’s something we’re called to do. God calls us to seek to minister to the people around us and make an impact on their lives. I love the way Paul David Tripp says it in his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. He states that “God never intended us to simply be the objects of his love. We are also called to be instruments of that love in the lives of others.” You know, just consider the fact that, if you’re a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit. God has sent his Spirit to actually dwell within you. Now, why do you think he’s done that? Well, there are a few reasons, but chief among them, I believe, is that he has work for you to do that requires the Holy Spirit. The fact that every Christian has the Spirit indicates that God has work for every Christian to do that requires the Spirit. This is a somewhat simple analogy, but it’s kind of like a car. A car has wheels because it’s designed to go places. Or a pen, right? A pen has ink because it’s designed to write things. Similarly, those of us who are Christians have the Holy Spirit because we’re called to do something that requires the Holy Spirit—namely engage in meaningful spiritual ministry to others.
Brothers and sisters, this is the way God’s designed the church to function. He wants us as Christians not to hire people to do all the ministry in the church but rather to minister to one another. This vision for the way churches should function is described in detail in Ephesians 4:11-16. Paul writes, 11 And he [Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
What we just read is a definitive passage—and perhaps even the definitive passage in the Bible—about how the Lord has designed the church to function. Jesus has given leaders to the church not so the leaders can do all of the ministry themselves but so they can “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Paul then talks about this body growing “to mature manhood,” no longer children who are tossed around by the waves of inaccurate teaching but rather “speaking the truth in love” to each other so that we grow up into increasing conformity to the head of the body, which is Christ. It’s in this way, we’re told, that the whole body, “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly…builds itself up in love.” That’s how God’s designed the church to operate—and what we also see happening back in verse 26 of our main passage in Acts 18. God calls his people to minister to one another.
And as we continue to explore the ministry that we see taking place in Acts 18, I believe there are two aspects of healthy ministry that we can observe in this passage and that I’d like to take some time to talk about. Those two aspects of healthy ministry are, first, a helpful approach and, second, a humble response. A helpful approach and a humble response.
A Helpful Approach
First, notice the way in which Priscilla and Aquila approach Apollos. It says that “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. They didn’t correct him in front of everybody but instead pulled him aside and spoke to him in private. It’s also very clear from this approach that they weren’t simply criticizing Apollos but rather were genuinely trying to help him. They took the time to sit down with him and “explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Also, the next verse describes how they later “encouraged” him in his subsequent ministry endeavors and wrote a letter of recommendation for him.
And that’s the spirit in which we should always approach each other as well—in a loving way with a genuine desire to help. I’m reminded of Paul’s directive in Ephesians 4:29, where he says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Every word that comes out of our mouth should be spoken not ultimately to tear people down but rather to build them up. That’s what this verse says: we should speak “only such as is good for building up” with the end result that what we say “may give grace to those who hear.” Of course, that may involve humbly and graciously telling people certain things that are quite difficult for them to hear. Yet, even as we share those difficult truths with people, our ultimate goal isn’t to tear them down but rather to build them up.
Also, we need to do this thoughtfully as well. Notice that Paul says our words should be “good for building up, as fits the occasion.” We need the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us wisdom so that the things we say to people will fit the occasion and be exactly what they need to hear. The way I like to say it sometimes is that helpful ministry to others involves saying the right thing at the right time in the right way. Helpful ministry involves saying the right thing at the right time in the right way. As Proverbs 25:11 states, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Or, as one popular paraphrase renders it, “The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.” It’s like a ring that fits someone’s finger perfectly and is the epitome of good craftsmanship. Everything about it is exquisitely beautiful. So, before you say anything significant to anyone in an effort to minister to them, it might be a good idea to pray for the Spirit’s guidance and ask him to help you say the thing at the right time in the right way. And back in Acts 18, that’s what we see happening as Priscilla and Aquila minister to Apollos.
A Humble Response
However, there’s also another side of this. There will be times when your place isn’t on the giving end of this kind of ministry but is instead on the receiving end. And when that’s the case, you have to be humble. And that brings us to the second aspect of healthy ministry that we see in this passage, which is a humble response. So, not only do we see a helpful approach on Priscilla and Aquila’s part, we also see a humble response on Apollos’s part.
Remember that Apollos was a pretty knowledgeable guy. He had breathed the rarified intellectual air of the great city of Alexandria and had what many would consider to be a masterful knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures. So when these two tentmakers approached him and sought to instruct him, it would have been very easy for him to simply write them off as his inferiors. After all, what could they possibly have to teach him? Yet, of course, that’s not at all the attitude Apollos has. Instead, every indication in the text is that he humbly and eagerly allows himself to be instructed by them.
And the Bible’s filled with instructions for us to have that same posture of humility. The book of Proverbs alone is overflowing with exhortations related to this. Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Proverbs 15:32 states, “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.” And Proverbs 18:2 tells us that “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” We also find plenty of material about this in the New Testament as well. In Luke 14:11, Jesus warns his listeners, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In Romans 12:3, Paul writes, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” And in James 4:6, we read that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So, throughout the Bible, pride is consistently linked with foolishness and downfall, while humility is consistently linked with wisdom and blessing. And a key aspect of humility is, of course, being teachable and open to correction.
Because the reality is that we all have areas in which we need to grow. And sometimes, we can kind of perceive some of our own areas of weakness, but, other times, we’re not even aware that we’re lacking in a certain area. And when that’s the case, it’s usually even more important for someone else to come alongside us and help us see what we haven’t been able to see about ourselves. It’s kind of like when you have a piece of food stuck in your teeth or maybe a crumb or some sauce on your lip. A lot of the time, you need someone else to bring that to your attention. And that’s what we need when it comes to spiritual things as well. Maybe there’s something we’re not really understanding about the Bible. Or maybe there’s an aspect of our character that’s not in line with biblical teaching. We often need others to help us see these things that we’re not seeing.
So, the next time someone comes to you and brings an issue to your attention, hopefully you can be grateful that they’ve come to you and give what they say honest consideration. That doesn’t mean you always have to agree with the person’s assessment, but it does mean you should at least consider what they’re saying and perhaps get a second opinion on it if you’re not sure what to think. The thing we don’t want to do is respond in an angry, irritated, offended, or ungrateful way.
And all of this brings us to a larger principle that we see here in Acts 18. We need the ministry of other believers in our life. And that means we need to be involved in a community of Christians where people like Pricilla and Aquila are able to come alongside us and minister to us in various ways.
I’m reminded of the metaphor Paul frequently uses in many of his writings to speak of the church. He refers to the church as the “body of Christ.” As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12, this body is made up many individual members that each have a unique purpose and function. And just as is the case with a physical body, these members are all interdependent on each other. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:21-22, 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. So the idea here is that Christians need each other. We’re simply not equipped to live the Christian life in isolation from a community of fellow believers.
And, by the way, this is why simply watching church services online isn’t enough. Online streaming is a great resource for church members who are sick or traveling or who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to attend the worship gathering. But just understand that that’s not church. There’s a huge difference between watching something on your phone and actually being a part of it. Think of the church as a greenhouse for spiritual growth—designed by God so as to create the optimal growing conditions that will allow Christians to thrive. In order to benefit from that, you really have to be in the greenhouse rather than merely looking into it through the window. So let me encourage you to make actually being here on Sunday mornings the priority it should be. Brothers and sisters, we need each other. Just as the parts of a physical body are all interdependent, Christians need to be involved in a community of other Christians so that we can all minister to each other.
And, lastly, any discussion of ministry within the church would be terribly incomplete if we didn’t emphasize the ultimate principle for ministry, which is that biblical ministry to one another begins and ends with the gospel. If we truly want to help each other, we won’t just give each other practical advice for a better life or reminders of the things God commands us to do or what he tells us to avoid. Of course, there’s certainly a place for practical advice and reminders of how we ought to conduct ourselves, but everything we say as we seek to minister to one another—even when it comes to more practical things—should be saturated with the gospel.
Guys, this is how Christianity’s fundamentally different than any other philosophy of living or method of change that’s out there. Paul David Tripp puts it well when he writes, “God hasn’t given us a neat formula to follow. He hasn’t given us ‘seven steps to personal and relational perfection.’ Instead, he has told us to place our hope in the presence and work of Jesus the Redeemer.” Tripp then goes on to say, “We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer. In his power, we find the hope and help we need to defeat the most powerful enemies. Hope rests in the grace of the Redeemer, the only real means of lasting change. This is what separates [Christian] believers from our [secular] culture’s psychology. Because it has fundamentally turned its back on the Lord, the world can only offer people some kind of system. It reduces hope to a set of observations, a collection of insights, or steps in a process.”
Praise God we have something infinitely better than that! We have a Redeemer who is mighty to save—and who also shows us the utmost compassion as he walks with us in the midst of all the struggles and complex issues that we face in our lives. Friends, there’s no end to the grace Jesus offers us as we set our gaze on him. And that needs to be the foundation of all of our ministry efforts to one another—that gospel message of Jesus—who he is, what he’s done, and what he offers to those who repent of their sins and put their trust in him.
And, very briefly, here’s what that kind of ministry looks like, practically speaking. There are three primary ways in which the gospel should saturate our ministry efforts to one another. First, we minister to one another offering the comfort of the gospel. Even though we constantly fall short of what God calls us to be, we can take comfort in the fact that God still loves us perfectly and accepts us completely. He loves and accepts us just as much on our worst days as he does on our best days. And that’s because our standing with God isn’t based on our performance but rather on Jesus. You see, when Jesus came to this earth, he lived a life of sinless perfection in our place. He then died on the cross in our place—with all of our sins and failures on his shoulders. He suffered the penalty we deserved. And the result of his sinless life and sacrificial death is that we get to be right with God. That involves us not only having our sins forgiven but also being clothed with the very righteousness of Jesus. When God the Father looks at us, he doesn’t see our sins, failures, or shortcomings but instead sees only the perfect righteousness of his Son. That’s why we’re just as loved and accepted by God on our worst days as we are on our best days. It’s because our standing with him rests not on us and our performance but rather on Jesus and his righteousness. It never fluctuates. And what a comfort that is in the midst of our struggles.
Second, not only do we minister to another other offering the comfort of the gospel, we also minister to one another in light of the power of the gospel. After Jesus died, he resurrected from the dead. And as a result of his resurrection, we too can share in that cosmic victory over sin and death. There’s unrivaled power available to us, flowing out of Christ’s resurrection and applied to us by the Holy Spirit, that enables us to walk in victory over the sins and struggles that would otherwise rule our lives. We can live victoriously not through our own unaided efforts but rather through our resurrected Savior who now reigns triumphantly from the throne of heaven. It’s he who breaks the hold of sin in our lives and gives us the power, through the Holy Spirit, to walk in his ways.
Then, third, not only do we minister to one another offering the comfort of the gospel and in light of the power of the gospel, we also minister to one another pointing to the motivation of the gospel. The sheer depth of the love Jesus has demonstrated on the cross and the sheer magnitude of the grace he offers is what motivates us to live for him. It’s not at all that we’re trying to earn his favor through our godliness. Instead, we live for him because we love him. And we love him because he first loved us. That’s what drives us to pursue a life of godliness and seek to serve Jesus faithfully. Our motivation is found in the gospel.
So that’s what it looks like to minister to one another with the gospel as our foundation. As we seek to minister to the needs of those around us, let’s never forget that it’s in Jesus that we find real help for every problem and real hope for every situation.