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The Ministers God Uses

December 3, 2023 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 18:23–28

The Ministers God Uses – Acts 18:23–28

PRAY & INTRO:

The ministers God uses to evangelize the lost and strengthen the Church are not one-size fits all or cookie cutter. If we invest even a little prayerful mental energy to take stock of the people God can use and does use, we’re amazed by the eclectic blend of individuals and gifts, as well as the variety of ways in which they are used, and how God’s work supersedes both our strengths and our weaknesses. The fantastic thing about God’s work i this way is that it elevates God and not us.

In the last part of Acts 18, as Paul begins a third missionary journey out from Antioch, let’s carefully observe some of the noteworthy characteristics among those God is using in various ways and situations, so that we may intentionally and prayerfully aim to apply these qualities to our own character and ministry.

Acts 18:23–28 ESV

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.

Again, what are some of the key characteristics among those we see God using as he directs them through opportunities he provides, that we should take note of and apply to ourselves?

Paul’s  Consistency  in Ministry (v. 23)

Consistency and longevity is a sign of maturity.

[map] Paul is now on his third missionary journey, venturing out and following similar patterns that we have already seen Luke set forth. Specifically mentioned here is that he returned to places he had previously been, strengthening the disciples in the local churches where he had seen people come to faith in Christ.

Paul would be consistent in his message and even consistent in his methodology wherever and whenever appropriate.

In given localities, with each of group of disciples that gathered as a local church in a city, the result was that Paul strengthened them—a Gk word which mean to confirm, establish, support, sustain, make fast, fixed, set firmly in place. (Returning to make sure that where he had seen disciples of Jesus begin, that there was a firmly established, self-sustaining, growing local church)

How should Paul’s consistency in ministry impact how we aim for God to use us in Christ’s service?

The lasting impact of consistency and longevity in ministry should not be undervalued.

Proverbs 20:6 ESV

6 Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?

We ought to pray for contentment and faithfulness with where God has us and how he is using us, rather than chasing shiny new alternatives. May God make us as consistent in ministry as the Apostle Paul.

We ought to thank God for those among us who have demonstrated faithfulness in the Christian walk and ministry, and learn from them to ourselves learn consistency and faithfulness.

 

Apollos’s  Fervency  &  Teachability  in Ministry (vv. 24-26)

We find Apollos actively engaged in ministry because he was fervent in spirit (v. 25b, or fervent in the Spirit).

Fervent = heated by flames to the point of boiling; to be zealous, enthusiastic/excited - Now this cannot simply be a matter of personality or emotionalism. It must rise from a clear vision of God and deep desire to please him and make him known.

While some of Apollos’s fervency could be attributed to the recency of his conversion (as we too experience and see in others), our fervency for God should in fact grow to the point of maintaining a steady boil because we have grown in consistency like Paul to not stray from the blue flame of God’s own magnificence. Draw near to God; keep repenting and returning to your first love (Rev 2:4-5).

“Eloquence in preaching must always be subordinate to the reality of the power of God’s Spirit in the life and ministry of the preacher. Apollos was “fervent in the Spirit,” which means that his witness was empowered by the Spirit of God rather than by his rhetorical eloquence or his personal charisma.” -Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 815.

About the second characteristic (after his fervency, his zeal): Being teachable is not as simple as it sounds.

  1. Apollos was eloquent (learned and articulate—speaking with precision, elegance, force, and persuasion), competent (strongly capable and skilled) in the Hebrew Scriptures. He had received instruction and was already pretty accurate. These first two qualities may very well may be largely a reflection of natural talent and training. (Alexandria [map again] was important city of northern Egypt, with a large Jewish component - It sounds like Apollos had a thorough education, probably in both Greek culture and through the Jewish synagogue in particular.)

The fact that he taught accurately the things concerning Jesus is likely a reference to seeing and showing OT promises of the Messiah and how Jesus fulfills them, which would be a result of the transforming and illuminating of the Holy Spirit. (transformed life, and illuminated knowledge base)

So it takes humility to be eloquent, capable, and a pretty accurate teacher, to then also receive instruction well. This is a healthy quality that should mark all of Christ’s people.

  1. (But) Correction, rebuke, being told we need more training in a given area or training in godliness to grow in character… are all things that at least hurt our feelings initially. But faithful are wounds of a friend (Prov 27:6a). And Psalm 141:5a

Psalm 141:5 (ESV)

5 Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.

See also the benefit to the one willing to have the undesirable confrontation: Prov 28:23

Proverbs 28:23 ESV

23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.

It takes healthy humility and wisdom to be teachable and know that such instruction is not ultimately meant to tear us down but to build us up.

What should we learn from Apollos’s fervency concerning evangelism & teachability in ministry?

We need the zeal of others around us so that we are constantly reminded to not grow cold.

We need the fervent ministry of others around us in areas of their own strengths and opportunities that are distinct from ours.

We need a church family of full of fellow ministers who all realize that God is not finished with us yet. We therefore remain teachable as well as gracious toward one another’s progress.

Now, if you lack fervency (zeal, enthusiasm), draw near to God to reach a boil for his glory.

If you struggle with pushing back against your need to grow more, become more teachable also by the light of God’s word showing you more of God, and letting the mirror of God’s word reflect an accurate image of who you are.

 

“Despite, or perhaps precisely because of, the fact that he was willing to accept correction, Apollos is portrayed by Luke as the ideal preacher.” -Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 815.

Now we move from Apollos to the other couple who proves so influential by such apparently simple faithfulness.

Priscilla & Aquila’s  Sensitivity  &  Accuracy  in Ministry (vv. 25-26) 

There was yet a deficiency - knew only the baptism of John. Apollos evidently did not have a clear understanding to teach people that baptism now symbolized the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and our identification with him in it. And Apollos evidently didn’t understand and teach that with faith in Christ also came a baptism in the Spirit, in which the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. Apollos himself seems to be a true believer who has received the Spirit, but his deficiency to understand and teach in this regard likely explains why there are still some in Ephesus less connected to the more accurate teaching who as yet know only of John’s baptism and not that of the Spirit. (See Acts 19:1-5)

So what Apollos knew to teach he taught accurately, but as yet his knowledge was incomplete, so Priscilla and Aquila attentively take notice of the need and take him under their wing to explain to him more accurately God’s way/path. Accurate - mindful and careful to teach well (akribos in v. 25 & again v. 26) They expound and elaborate with greater clarity.

Now this ministering couple is intriguing as well as useful for our instruction. Priscilla’s name (or the shorter version Prisca) is sometimes mentioned first, here as some other places, and sometimes listed second. Paul also can refer to them both ways in his letters. But the fact that Priscilla is sometimes mentioned first would indicate that she was active in ministry, even in private teaching and mentorship alongside her husband and with his blessing.

Priscilla would not have taken a formal leadership role in shepherding or teaching men in the local church (according to Paul’s own instruction on the subject—1 Tim 2:12), but that did not stop her from being active in ministry, even in gifted teaching and mentoring in any way that was appropriate within God’s order for our good.

And this tag-team (along with her husband) mentorship training of Apollos is effective and impactful in his life and ministry. Again notice Apollos’s apparent humility and teachability to not be offended, but to receive teaching from an elder stateswoman and statesman in the faith.

How should Priscilla & Aquila’s sensitivity to a need & accuracy in teaching ministry impact us?

They were marked by sensitivity, noticing where and how they were needed, noticing the needs of others.

-Have we booked our lives so full of other things that we have no availability? Are we racing too fast or filling our minds with too many other things so that we lack sensitivity?

Reset by David Murray — living “grace-paced lives”

And P & A were particularly attentive in this case to a deficiency in teaching and the need for greater accuracy.

“The task of evaluating, verifying, and if necessary correcting one-sided, defective, or erroneous theology or practice is not only the responsibility of pastors, teachers, and missionaries, but indeed of all believers.” -Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 814.

And that accuracy is dependent on a right understanding and communication of the truths of Scripture, including the Apostolic teaching of the New Testament.

Aquila and Priscilla also demonstrate wisdom and sensitivity by not shaming Apollos in public, but rather correcting him in private.

Finally for this morning, how does all of this impact the local church in Ephesus as well as ministry to Corinth?

Paul’s consistency, and Apollos’s fervency and teachability, and A & P sensitivity and accuracy, lead to a strengthening of…

The Church’s  Maturity  in Ministry (vv. 27-28)

The Church’s maturity & effectiveness is increased through this teamwork & powerful preaching.

When Apollos wants to cross to Achaia (recall that’s the region of Corinth and Athens, of Greece) to continue in further ministry, he is sent with the local church’s blessing and commendation.

“They are aware that it is a task bigger than any one of them.” (This is true of the Apostle Paul as well.) [So their] encouragement [of Apollos to continue in ministry] even extends to letters of recommendation.” -Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 594.

(In this we see to that beyond the individuals, churches are even networking a bit.)

Preaching that is grounded in the Scripture and governed by the Scripture is the kind of preaching that unleashes the powerful working of the Spirit.

Although Apollos’s eloquence is helpful, it’s the integrity of character as God’s instrument and especially the accuracy with the Word that makes the preacher.

How should the strengthening of the church’s maturity and effectiveness motivate our involvement in ministry?

Let’s use that question to lead into this conclusion for this morning. 

Two Final Characteristics:  Availability  &  Activity 

These ministers were marked by availability and activity. Willingness to be used by God, willingness to help the team.

We must make ourselves available and active. “Apollos ministers even though he has more to learn. On the other hand, Priscilla and Aquila encourage him to grow even as they recognize that he is an effective minister.” -Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 594.

Are you mostly a consumer, or are you praying for and seeking ways to be a serving member?

Having an arm that doesn’t work is cosmetically more appealing, but not productively any more useful than lacking that arm altogether. And a non-functioning liver is even more dangerous. We can’t see it, but it’s killing us.

We must view ourselves as members of a team, promoting the advancement of Christ’s church. We must be fervent in Spirit, teachable, sensitive to the need for accuracy, and marked by faithful consistency. 

May God use these lessons from the lives of several ministers used by him in various ways to instruct us and motivate us to be available and active in ministry. And may the Lord use this text to help it sink in that consistency in ministry matters, as well as fervency and teachability, and that sensitivity and accuracy concerning the gospel and biblical truth are indispensible… in order that our Lord may grow his church to beautiful maturity—maturity worthy of the complete and pure Bride he is making His Church to be.

PRAY

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