Acts 18 - The Disciple's Path: Relational
In the first week of September in the year 480 B.C., King Xerxes of Persia (known as Ahasuerus in the Book of Ezra—the same Ahasuerus that we read about in the book of Esther) landed an invasion force of several hundred thousand soldiers on the shores of the Greek region of Phocis. The Persian Empire had been turned away from its first invasion by the citizens of Athens ten years before at the Battle of Marathon, and had spent the next decade amassing a huge army and navy to make sure their second attempt to conquer Greece would not fail.
This invasion would in fact succeed—against the estimated three hundred thousand Persian troops, the Greek city states in the region were only able to muster about seven thousand soldiers. All Ahasuerus had to do was move his troops along the shoreline through a narrow pass between the mountains and the sea, and all of Boeotia, Phocis and Attica would be his. (The geothermal springs nearby the pass gave it its nickname, “The Hot Gates”).
What happened next, though, would go on to be regarded as one of the greatest military battles in all of human history. Because standing there in that three hundred-foot wide pass was one of the most impenetrable military formations of ancient history—the Greek phalanx.
The phalanx formation was assembled by having each soldier overlap his shield with his neighbor’s, and hold his spear outward facing the enemy. Each man fought not just for himself, but for his neighbor as well. In that position the Greeks were protected from the Persian archers’ arrows, and when the infantry ran up to attack, their short swords and light armor were no match for the Greek spears and shields. Over the first two days of battle, Ahasuerus lost nearly twenty thousand men trying to attack the phalanx, while the Greeks lost only a handful. The Greeks may very well have forced the massive invasion to retreat for lack of food and supplies, had not a Greek traitor named [[Eph-EE-al-tes]] not told Ahasuerus about a mountain pass that would allow him to flank the Greek position and cut them down.
The Battle of the Hot Gates (Thermopylae) has been held up as an example of what military science calls “force multiplication”—that is, a factor or a combination of factors that gives an army the ability to accomplish greater feats than without it. The narrow pass at Thermopylae no doubt gave the Greek army a tactical advantage, but the phalanx formation was undoubtedly one of the greatest “force multipliers” in that battle, exacting a far greater toll on the Persian army than they could have anticipated.
Here’s why I tell you that story: Over and over in the New Testament the Christian life is compared to a battle—in Ephesians 6, Paul talks about the spiritual armor we have in Christ against the fiery arrows of the devil, in 2 Corinthians 10:4 we are called to take up spiritual weapons of worship, in 2 Timothy 2 Paul tells Timothy to suffer as a good soldier of Christ. As we have been seeking to understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ, we have to understand that many times the pathway of discipleship is a battle. It is a battle against the influences of this world, and it is a battle against the influences of the spiritual world, and it is a battle against the sin and corruption that still hangs on in each of our own hearts.
And so what I want us to see this morning from this passage is that
God has given us the gift of each other, that we might not try and fight the battle of discipleship alone.
Christian, you have not been called to fight alone in this battle; in fact, you must not try to fight it alone. You are no more equipped to fight this battle alone than a single soldier would have been able to hold that pass at Thermopylae by himself. We need each other—the disciples path is a relational path. We are called to lock arms with one another and continue to take ground in our own hearts that, alone, could never be taken.
Here in Acts 18 we are given an account of the Apostle Paul’s relationship with Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish Christians from Rome who became close friends and ministry partners with him. The story of their time together provides us with a detailed picture of the kind of relationship that disciples are called to pursue.
Look at verses 1-3 with me:
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.
The first thing that we see here is that a discipling relationship is
I. A Providential Relationship (Acts 18:1-3)
I. A Providential Relationship (Acts 18:1-3)
You see here that Paul had “just happened” to come to Corinth after he left Athens at the end of Chapter 17. And while he was there he met Aquila and Priscilla who had “just happened” to have recently arrived from Rome. But what we understand from the Scriptures is that there are no mere coincidences anywhere, are there? Just a few verses earlier Paul made the point in his speech in the Athenian Areopagus that God
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,
In other words, Paul and Priscilla and Aquila didn’t “just happen” to meet in Corinth—God had arranged for them to meet!
Priscilla and Aquila, the text tells us, were there in Corinth because the emperor, Caesar Claudius, had just issued a decree banishing all Jews from Rome. Ancient historians tell us that the emperor Claudius issued such a decree in A.D. 49—one historian, Suetonius, writing that “Since the Jews constantly make disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” In all likelihood the “Chrestus” he names is a garbling of “Christus”—or “Christ”. Evidently the Gospel was already causing all kinds of upheaval in Roman society, with some synagogues accepting Jesus as “Christ” (Messiah) and others rejecting Him! And when Claudius had enough, he kicked them all out!
So Priscilla and Aquila were likely banished from Rome because of their faith in Christ. But
God used the upheaval in their lives
to lead them into their greatest season of discipleship—under the Apostle Paul himself! If Caesar hadn’t driven them out of their home and their country, they would never have met Paul, and would never have been so powerfully used by God later on because of the providential relationship He placed them into.
Not only did God use the upheaval in their lives to put them into a discipling relationship with Paul, but
God used the common interests in their lives
as well. How did Paul come to meet them? Because they shared a common trade—they were tentmakers! The word here refers to small, portable tents made out of leather or goatskin that travellers would carry with them. So Paul and Aquila and Priscilla basically set up shop together—all three working together day by day in the market there in Corinth, with Paul taking every Sabbath to go to the synagogue to preach Christ to everyone who would listen—Jew and Gentile.
Imagine how much Priscilla and Aquila learned during those days! Sitting in a shop together, working with their hands all day at a trade they were good at, can you imagine the discussions they had? The things they would have learned from Paul, watching him share the Gospel with people, asking him questions about the Scriptures and about how to live a godly life in Christ! Priscilla and Aquila got intimate, daily access to the greatest human teacher in New Testament history—and it was all because God had arranged it through the upheaval of their lives and their common interests with Paul!
Christian, as you look around you here in this room remember—God is still bringing people together in providential relationships! Not one of you here in this sanctuary are here by accident! You may have come here because of some upheaval in your life, your family, your former church—whatever the reason, God used that upheaval to bring you here! And He has a purpose for you to be here, and part of that purpose is that you will seek out the relationships here that will grow you and develop you in your walk with Christ!
The disciple’s path is a relational path—we are not meant to walk this path alone. The discipling relationship is a providential relationship, and it is also
II. A Challenging Relationship (Acts 18:19-21)
II. A Challenging Relationship (Acts 18:19-21)
Some time after Paul had begun working with Aquila and Priscilla his friends Timothy and Silas arrived in Corinth from Macedonia. Altogether Paul would stay there in Corinth for about eighteen months (v. 11), causing at least one revival among the Gentiles (in vv. 8-9) and one riot among the Jews (vv. 12-17). But all this time, Priscilla and Aquila were by his side, learning from him and following his lead in ministry.
Some time after the riot at the synagogue (v. 17), Paul decided to head back west toward Jerusalem and Antioch (called Syria in verse 18). Naturally, Aquila and Priscilla went with him—they were his disciples, ministry partners and business partners, after all! They landed in Ephesus (v. 19), and after a relatively brief period, he decided to move on:
And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.
Of course the church there at Ephesus was disappointed that Paul would not stay longer, but can you imagine what it was like for Priscilla and Aquila? They had been shoulder-to-shoulder with Paul through nearly two years’ worth of daily discipleship and ministry! All those days in the marketplace, making tents and discussing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the strain and danger of the rioting Jews, the joy and excitement of seeing so many people in Corinth come to faith in Jesus Christ and be baptized! And now—it was just all… over. Paul was leaving them! They had to know that Paul’s calling from God was to move throughout the Roman Empire preaching the Gospel—they had to know that he was going to leave someday. But the truth about discipling relationships is that
You will never feel ready to move on
A discipling relationship is a challenging relationship—you will have to grow, you have to move out of your “comfort zone” and step into roles and responsibilities that you don’t feel ready for. You will start out listening to someone else sharing the Gospel, learning from them how to lead someone to the Lord. But the nature of discipleship means that the day will come when it’s your turn to knock on the door! It’s going to be you sharing the Gospel! It’s going to be you praying with someone to lead them to Christ! It’s challenging, it’s intimidating, it’s nerve-wracking—and that moment is when
You must trust God’s leading to move out
Paul said to Aquila and Priscilla, “I will return to you if God wills”—it was in God’s hands whether Paul returned or not. And so it is with you—when you move out of your comfort zone and into a new and intimidating role in ministry and discipleship, you do it as God wills! But never forget—He doesn’t call you into that role so that He can watch you fall flat on your face—He calls you to that greater influence and larger ministry role so that He can do His will through you to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ!
A discipling relationship is providential, it is challenging, and in verses 24-26 we see that it is
III. A Humble Relationship (Acts 18:24-26)
III. A Humble Relationship (Acts 18:24-26)
Some time after Paul left for Caesarea, Priscilla and Aquila had their first discipleship opportunity, in the form of a young hotshot preacher named Apollos. Look at verses 24-25:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 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.
Now, notice that it says Apollos was “a native of Alexandria”. Alexandria in Egypt was the intellectual and cultural center of the world in Paul’s day—it was the home of the Great Library, the single largest repository of knowledge anywhere in the ancient world. So this guy had some serious intellectual and academic firepower—saying that you had studied in Alexandria was like someone today holding degrees from Oxford, Yale, Harvard and Penn State!
Now some people with a bunch of impressive degrees are, as they might say in Texas, “all hat and no cattle”. But that wasn’t the case with Apollos—we see here that he had the goods: “He was an eloquent man” (literally, in Greek, “a man of letters”—learned, skilled in literature and the arts, especially literature and antiquities) and “competent in the Scriptures”—he knew the Bible inside and out! And on top of that, he was a Christian: “Instructed in the “Way” (a New Testament name for Christianity). And on top of that he was “fervent in spirit”—he was a guy who could PREACH! And on top of that, he spoke and taught accurately about Jesus! He wasn’t off the wall in his doctrine, he got the Gospel right!
But there was just one “small” issue with his theology: “He only knew the baptism of John”. You’ll remember from our study of John the baptist during Advent that he preached a “baptism of repentance”—it was a baptism that demonstrated people’s cleansing themselves in preparation for the coming of the Messiah (cp. Acts 19:4). Apollos was preaching that people needed to be baptized so that they could be clean enough for Jesus.
In short, Apollos, for all his remarkable intellect, education, gifts, passion and doctrinal precision, he was essentially preaching a works-based salvation! That your salvation comes from how hard you work to clean yourself up. (And if you remember anything about our study of Galatians last fall you know what the Apostle Paul had to say about works-based salvation!)
And Aquila and Priscilla were dyed-in-the-wool disciples of the Apostle Paul, weren’t they? You can just imagine how many alarm bells went off in their heads when they heard Apollos preach about repentance being the way to earn your salvation! Now, it would have been easy for them to simply write him off, wouldn’t it? “Well, he sounds good, but his theology is all screwed up! We’re not going to listen to him, and we’re going to warn people that he’s a false teacher!”
But they didn’t respond that way, did they? Instead of reacting out of their own pride in judging him, the reacted with humility. Because a discipling relationship means that there is
A time to speak up to instruct
Look at verse 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.
They didn’t just judge him from a distance—nor did they corner him after a sermon and yell at him, did they? They “took him aside”—one on one, gently instructing him, “explaining the way of God more accurately”.
This is what a discipling relationship does—when you see someone who needs instruction, you don’t judge them, you don’t secretly despise them or confront them to humiliate them. You speak up, but you do it with humility and love. You don’t worry about how impressive their credentials, you don’t get intimidated by “what will they say? What will they think of me?”, because you are speaking up in obedience to Christ.
A discipling relationship is a humble relationship that knows there is a time to speak into someone’s life. And it is just as true on the other side, isn’t it? What we see here is that Apollos himself realized that there is
A time to listen to instruction
How did Apollos react when Aquila and Priscilla approached him? Did he retreat into his pride over his academic and intellectual achievements? “Maybe I didn’t introduce myself—my name is Apollos of Alexandria”! Ever heard of it? Just the single most important center of learning and academics in the whole world! Where did you go to school, Aquila? Oh, Pontus County Community College? How quaint! Now, what did you want to talk to me about??”
But he didn’t do that, did he? He listened to instruction—he really did live his life with the kind of wisdom Solomon writes about in Proverbs:
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
This is what a discipling relationship does—it listens to instruction! When you enter into that kind of relationship, you give your fellow believers the right to speak into your life when they see that you need it! You don’t get defensive, you don’t lash out, you don’t take your ball and go home; you listen to your brother or sister in Christ, and when they show you the instruction that you need from the Scriptures you embrace it—and embrace them along with it!
And when you build that kind of discipling relationship, it is
IV. A Fruitful Relationship (Acts 18:27-28)
IV. A Fruitful Relationship (Acts 18:27-28)
Look at verses 27-28:
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, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Because Priscilla and Aquila had the humility to speak instruction lovingly and gently into Apollos’ life, and because Apollos had the humility to hear and embrace that instruction, he was empowered and equipped for a tremendous ministry. And now we see the discipleship pattern replicated again—Paul discipled Aquila and Priscilla and equipped them to minister to Apollos, and now Priscilla and Aquila discipled Apollos and equipped him to go out into ministry
Apollos went on to have
An encouraging ministry to the church
—he “greatly helped those who through grace had believed”. Believers who were becoming discouraged over the opposition they faced from the Jews over Jesus, who were wanting to retreat into their own safe enclaves. Apollos greatly helped them, giving them hope and certainty in their faith—if Aquila and Priscilla had beat him up over his theology instead of gently instructing him, he may never have been equipped to minister to those believers.
And not only did Apollos go on to have a great ministry to the church, he had
A powerful ministry to the lost
He powerfully refuted those who rejected Jesus as Messiah—the word here for “refute” carries the connotation of not just a debate, but an overwhelming victory in a debate. That Apollos and the Jewish leaders went at it “hammer and tongs”, no holds barred, winner-take-all—and when the dust settled Apollos was the last one standing.
But notice carefully how he refuted them—he showed them by the Scriptures that the Messiah was Jesus. What won the day wasn’t just his rhetorical skill, it wasn’t just his skill in literature and antiquities or his passionate delivery. Apollos was powerful in his ministry to the church and to the lost because he rested on the authority of God’s Word! Every discipling relationship that bears fruit does so because it is grounded in the Scriptures!
Christian, you are not called to walk the path of discipleship alone. If you try to take on the darkness and wickedness of this fallen world single-handedly, if you try to be the “Lone Hoplite” standing in the pass at Thermopylae, taking on three hundred thousand Persians all by yourself—this world will chew you up and spit you out and not even notice.
Look around you—you aren’t here by chance. God has so arranged your life that you would be here, with these people in this place so that you can lock arms with them, fight alongside them (and they alongside you). God has so arranged in His providence that you are here to form that discipling relationship with someone. If you are at the beginning of your walk with Christ, find someone you is walking closely with Christ, someone you share common interests with and can learn from. And if you have been a Christian for many years, maybe it’s time for you to step into that discipling relationship with someone here—someone you can walk with and encourage in their daily disciplines.
Because the stakes are far higher in this battle than whether Ahasuerus will rule Greece--this battle is about Jesus Christ ruling this world! But we are not battling to make Jesus Christ King—He already reigns over this world! Through His death, burial and resurrection for your sin and mine, He has been declared to be the Son of God with power, and all authority has already been given to Him in heaven and on earth!
And what does He use that authority to command of you, Christian? Matthew 28:19 says that you are to go in that authority and make more disciples! Teaching all the nations to obey Him, calling everyone everywhere to the obedience of faith in Christ. Paul disciples Priscilla and Aquila, Priscilla and Aquila disciple Apollos, and Apollos goes on to powerfully declare that Jesus Christ is LORD! You aren’t called to do it alone—in fact, you may not do it alone! You have here in this room a hand-picked phalanx of fellow soldiers, brought together by the providential hand of God, bought with the cleansing blood of Christ, and obedient to the Spirit of God speaking powerfully through the Word of God, inviting a lost and dying world to come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ!
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
What were the circumstances in your life that led you to begin attending church here at Bethel? How does knowing that God has "hand-picked” this congregation change the way you look at your relationships with other members?
When was the last time you were taken out of your “comfort zone” by a discipleship or ministry opportunity? What does Aquila and Priscilla’s experience with Paul show you about waiting until you feel “ready” to step into a new ministry role?
Do you respond positively or negatively when you see or hear someone who needs to be corrected or instructed in their Christian life? What do we learn from this passage about how to approach someone who needs instruction? What do we learn about how to respond when someone approaches us with instruction?
This passage shows us that powerfully proclaiming Jesus as Savior comes “by the Scriptures”. How can you develop relationships with other people here at Bethel to help you grow in your understanding of the Bible?