Acts 18: Are you a discipler?

Application

A lot of stuff is happening in Acts 18. After leaving Athens for Corinth, Paul meets a couple named Aquila and Priscilla (or Prisca, depending on your translation). While the ministry in Corinth starts off slow, with only two households believing initially, when Paul receives a vision from the Lord, the apostle and company minister faithfully there for 18 months and establishes the foundation for a church which would be a cornerstone of the the faith in the southern region of Greece and beyond. From there, it’s off to a brief stop in Ephesus, where Priscilla and Aquilla stop, and Caesarea before returning home to Antioch to conclude the second missionary journey. To be honest, though, the last half of this chapter isn’t really about Paul at all. Instead, the focus shifts for a moment to the work of Priscilla and Aquilla and the introduction of a new guy, Apollos. And I want to focus on the same for just a moment today.

You see, while Priscilla and Aquilla are never really given a lot of time in Scripture, their impact on Paul, personally, and their effectiveness for the Kingdom are made clear by the fact that the apostle mentions them so frequently in his letters. And here, at the end of chapter 18, we get a glimpse at why they were so important when Apollos wanders into the synagogue in Ephesus.

Luke introduces Apollos as a Jew who knew the teachings of John (the Baptist) regarding Jesus but had never experienced the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, we learn in verse 26 that he spoke “boldly” to the Jews in the synagogue. To be perfectly honest, from the way that sounds, I imagine he portrayed himself as the upstart kid who was excited but lacked the faculties to be truly effective. You know who I’m talking about: the upstart kid who tells everyone what to do and where to go even though he has no clue what he’s doing. And I imagine Apollos received about the same reaction as that kid: people rolled their eyes, groaned, and went on about their business.

This is where Priscilla and Aquilla come in. Rather than rolling their eyes, groaning, and writing this young man off, they put their arms around him and took him under their wings, explaining the gospel and all of its implications more fully.

In the church today, we have a word for this sort of activity: discipling. In the secular world, it would probably be called mentoring. Regardless of the handle that you want to assign it, though, it really amounts to nothing more than a one-on-one relationship in which an older, more experienced person invests time, energy, knowledge, and wisdom into someone who has not yet had a chance to develop those things. And this is exactly what Priscilla and Aquila did for Apollos: they invested themselves in him.

Now, in our day and age, this might seem like a waste. Clearly, this couple knew what they were doing; shouldn’t they be out raising up massive churches or world-changing movements or something? But they recognized that the world can only be changed one person, one life, at a time. And so when they saw Apollos, they resolved to invest themselves in him.

What would happen in our churches today if regular people – remember, Aquila and Priscilla were introduced as simple tentmakers at the beginning of this chapter – took it upon themselves to minister as this couple did to Apollos? Rather than roll our eyes and groan, we would put our arms around these kids and teach them about Jesus. Rather than go on about our business, we would resolve to invest ourselves and our knowledge and wisdom into them.

And we would do it all with an eye toward the day when they would be ready to send out to minister on their own.

Granted, it probably wouldn’t be as spectacular as the church that grows from 0 to 3,000 in one day or adds 5,000 new people all the time. But honestly, from what I’ve seen thus far in the book of Acts, I’m starting to think that that sort of things was never supposed to be the norm.

Rather, think about this with me for a moment. I work to disciple one person, individually. It might take a year, but at the end of that process, there are two people who are each ready to disciple one more. At the end of the second year, there are four. By year three, eight. Granted, it’s not very fast growth, but watch what happens over the next few years: sixteen by year four, 32 by year five, 64 by year six, 128 by year seven, 256 by year eight, 512 by year nine, 1024 by year ten. Whoa. Now we’re getting somewhere. In year 11, that would be 2048. In year 12, it would be 4096. By year 20, we will have equipped 1,048,576 to be effective ministers.

It’s called exponential growth. And while, in the first couple of years, it might not be as impressive as what we would consider today to be “traditional” evangelistic techniques, where one pastor goes out and recruits a congregation on his own, within just a few years, it quickly overtakes this “traditional” formula in scope and impact.

In short, I think we need to return to a Biblical model of church growth where we preach the gospel to the masses, but we focus on discipling the individuals for changed lives and effective ministry. Will it gain us wealth or renown? Probably not. In fact, I doubt it will even result in scores of megachurches; I just don’t see how massive congregations can effectively conduct this sort of ministry. But it will restore the church to effectiveness.

So here’s the challenge for today. Who will you disciple toward effective ministry?

Notes

  • (2) The introduction of Aquila and Priscilla comes with little fanfare, yet their impact on Paul’s life – and his on theirs – is made clear in the way that the apostle talks of them in his letters. One might say that this couple and Paul were kindred spirits.
  • (4) It’s good to note that Paul was “trying” to persuade the Jews and Greeks. This implies that he was not entirely successful, something that is always good to know when we are frustrated in our own evangelistic efforts.
  • (7-8) It’s also good to note that, even while Paul and co. met resistance to the gospel, there were Titius Justus and Crisupus’ household that did believe. God’s word will never return void. And He will always raise up for Himself a remnant.
  • (9-11) I imagine that the slow start was probably frustrating for Paul and co., and I can only assume by the fact that God had to give this vision that they were considering giving up and leaving Corinth. Isn’t it amazing how this slow starter eventually became a cornerstone church?
  • (17) Sosthenes apparently took over for Crispus when he believed. The mobs reaction here shows that they were just out for blood. And Gallio’s response – or, more accurately, lack thereof – demonstrates the callous brutality of the Roman regime.
  • (18) Having his hair cut off was a sure sign that Paul had taken a Nazirite vow. This is striking because it indicates that, even while he was ministering to the Gentiles, he remained a steadfast Jew himself. Apparently, becoming all things to all people does not mean compromising who you are.
  • (19-20) Again, the church at Ephesus is started with little fanfare. In fact, Paul barely spent any time there at all. Yet the seed was planted, and the church there would eventually become an absolute powerhouse in Asia Minor, with one book of the Bible written specifically to it (Ephesians), two books written to its pastor (1 and 2 Timothy), and even becoming the home of the apostle John late in his life.
  • (24-28) Apollos had a taste of the gospel, but he still lacked the Holy Spirit. He was excited, but he wasn’t really prepared to minister, and so his boldness was yet misdirected. Priscilla and Aquilla, however, took him under their wing and discipled him until he was ready. And when that time came, they sent him on his way. We must be on the lookout for people to disciple. And we must do so with the objective of sending them out to minister effectively. What would happen in our churches if we all took it upon ourselves to find someone to disciple toward ministry?
  • (26) Notice the ordering of Priscilla and Aquilla here: Priscilla is mentioned first. This is significant because women were never given precedence over their husband. Yet here, she is, and the implication is that she is the one who initiated the discipling of Apollos. And more than likely, she is the one that took the lead in the entire process.
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