Today’s Reading: Acts 18
I had a discussion with a friend who believed the gifts of the Spirit were only for the first century and not for today, that the gifts ceased. That is called “cessation” theology. He keyed in on one gift he said he had a hard time with, and that was what “you Pentecostals call the filling of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues. It’s the last and least of all the gifts and you make a big deal about it.”
I responded, “Let’s assume that Paul’s list of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 is written in order of importance.” (That’s why people say tongues is the least of the gifts, because it’s last in the list.) “Even the least gift of God is a great gift from God. Don’t ever minimize a gift that God gives because He chose to make it number 9 on your list. I’ll take God’s number nine over any man’s number one. A low gift from God is still a great gift. There is no one who can’t be better having a gift from God, even if it is speaking in tongues. Don’t minimize God’s gift.”
This is precisely what happened in the city of Ephesus, which we read about in Acts 18. This is a powerful lesson that actually goes into tomorrow’s reading as well.
Ephesus was the number-one city in Asia Minor. It was known for having the greatest marketplace in the world—it really was the world’s shopping capital. It was one of the locations for the ancient Olympic festivals, in which people from everywhere would come to see the best athletes in the world compete. It was also the home for some of the most notorious criminals. The temple of Artemis (Diana), which was one of the seven wonders of the world, was an asylum for any criminal. If you committed a crime and if you made it there, you were guaranteed safe haven and off limits to authorities. (So Ephesus had the richest shopping, the greatest athletes, and the most deplorable criminals all there.)
The temple also was a seller of magic charms and superstition items. They had the famous “Ephesian letters.” If you carried these papers, you were guaranteed safety for you and your traveling companions. They would also be good luck for your business or believed to get someone to love you—like a love potion. People would come from all over the world to buy little magic charms of Diana. The Goddess Diana was ugly—she was half-animal and half-human. And that temple was full of prostitutes.
Ephesus had all of this—and they had a new church. This church was so important that Timothy pastored it, John the apostle pastored it, and Paul stayed in Ephesus longer than in any other city. But for our purposes, I want you to meet their first pastor, Apollos:
A Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out 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. (Acts 18:24-26)
Apollos had the resume for pastoring any church in America. Everyone would have wanted Pastor Apollos. Consider his resume: he was eloquent— people loved to listen to him; he was mighty in the Scriptures—there was no false doctrine; he was fervent in spirit—this is amazing to have an educated man who is fervent in spirit. Usually education dulls the passion.
He was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus. He was speaking out boldly in the synagogues. He was unafraid of popular opinion in that city. And finally, Apollos powerfully refuted the Jews in public showing them Jesus was the Christ through the Scriptures.
Apollos was eloquent, mighty in the Scriptures, educated, fervent in spirit, taught the Bible accurately, and proclaimed boldly outside the church. Who wouldn’t want this man to be their pastor? That’s if you just wanted a church service or a church but not a change in the city. These are great things but not enough for where they were located. This was Ephesus and it needed more. It needed someone with a gift from God. It needed a leader filled with the Holy Spirit.
How do we know that? When Paul left Ephesus, he left a husband-and-wife team, Aquila and Priscilla, there to attend the church services. They listened to an Apollos Sunday sermon, and “when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (verse 26).
The “more accurately” goes along with verse 25—that he had been “acquainted only with the baptism of John.” The baptism of John is water baptism. So they explained another baptism, one without water but full of fire, a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
A correctable educated man is very rare, but Apollos was. He listened to the visiting couple, and here’s the result of his encounter with Priscilla and Aquila: “When he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (verses 27-28).
They encouraged Apollos to go Achaia, and he became a help to that city. But Ephesus needed help, big time help—and help was on the way. Same city, same church, but a different man—and this time, one filled with the fire of God, one filled with the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 19, we’ll see that the apostle Paul came to Ephesus. And something happened not only in church but in the entire city.
What difference can the infilling of the Holy Spirit really make? That’s Acts 19.