Sermon title: Introducing Paul’s Fellow-Workers
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, May 2, 2021
There are around 8 billion people on earth today,
and 2-1/2 billion of them identify as Christians.
That’s amazing, when you think of it
that the first Christian church
met in an upstairs room in Jerusalem
on the day of Pentecost some 2,000 years ago
with just 120 men & women.
Before leaving them and going to heaven
our Lord Jesus had given them instructions
at Matthew 28:19 to
19 ... “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
And it was the original 120 carrying out those instructions
that led eventually to
2-1/2 billion identifying as Christians today.
Someone shared his faith with his brother,
and his brother followed Jesus.
Someone else raised their child in the faith,
and that child grew up as a believer.
The young man Timothy, who served for a while
as the Apostle Paul’s right-hand man,
grew up as a Christian because
his mother Eunice & grandmother Lois
taught him the Scriptures from infancy.
Someone else went to another country,
and shared the Gospel there.
Tradition tells us that the Apostle Thomas
--who was once “doubting Thomas”—
went all the way to India.
And there are Christian communities in India today
who trace their heritage back to Thomas.
Secular history and church tradition tell us
about many others—ordinary people like you & me—
who helped the Church grow.
We don’t know much about many of them.
But in the Bible’s book of Acts
we get to meet several of these men and women
who helped grow the Church,
and see what the Holy Spirit did through them.
We’ve already seen how Paul
brought Timothy onto his team—
the young man who Paul later wrote letters to
that became 1st & 2nd Timothy in our Bibles.
And this morning, in Acts Chapter 18,
we’ll meet some other men and women like us
who played important roles
in growing the early Christian Church.
We’ll meet a married couple, Aquilla and Priscilla,
whose names appear also
in the books of Romans and 1st Corinthians.
And we’ll meet Apollos,
who is named more than 5 times in 1st Corinthians
and, again, in Paul’s letter to Titus.
Aquilla and Priscilla appear first, in Acts 18:1.
1 Paul left Athens and went to Corinth, 2 where he met Aquila, a Jewish man from Pontus. Not long before this, Aquila had come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Emperor Claudius had ordered the Jewish people to leave Rome.
So, Aquila and Priscilla were Jewish Christians
who had moved to Corinth, Greece,
after the Roman Emperor Claudius had ordered
all the Jewish people to leave Rome,
regardless of whether they were
Jewish Christians, or not.
Claudius was the Emperor featured
in the popular TV series “I Claudius”
with famous actor Derek Jacobi starring as Claudius
and Star Trek’s Capt. Pickard—Patrick Stewart—
in another role.
Claudius is regarded by secular historians
as one of the better Roman Emperors.
But it seems that, when the Gospel message
first reached the Jews in Rome,
they stirred up mobs in the streets
against the Gospel preachers,
as they did in other cities.
Emperor Claudius would have assumed this
as Jew-versus-Jew rioting,
and so he expelled all the Jews from Rome—
those who accepted Christ, as well as
those who stuck with the synagogue.
Christian Jew Aquila and his wife Priscilla
were among those expelled
and ended up in Corinth, Greece,
where they resumed their work as tent makers.
Acts 18:2 goes on to say,
Paul went to see Aquila and Priscilla 3 and found out they were tent makers. Paul was also a tent maker, so he stayed with them, and they worked together.
Aside from Boy Scouts and the military,
Americans today haven’t had much need for tents—
although outdoor dining during the pandemic
has caused more tents to spring up
outside restaurants this past year.
But, in Paul’s day, tents were in much more common use,
since people didn’t have campers and RV’s.
Aquila and Priscilla were Christian working people—
working that secular job of tent making.
And we discover here that Paul, too,
worked in that profession.
He was not always a full-time preacher.
In fact, it seems that,
while he was waiting for the rest of his team,
to join him in Corinth,
he worked full-time at tent making,
and preached the Gospel only on the weekend.
Verse 4 says,
4 Every Sabbath, Paul went to the synagogue. He spoke to Jews and Gentiles and tried to win them over.
It was only after the rest of the team joined him,
that Paul returned to full-time ministry.
And, when he did, he still confined his efforts
to preaching in the Jewish synagogue—
as long as the Jews were willing to listen.
But, as in other cities, that did not go on for long.
5 But after Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, he spent all his time preaching to the Jews about Jesus the Messiah. 6 Finally, they turned against him and insulted him. So he shook the dust from his clothes and told them, “Whatever happens to you will be your own fault! I am not to blame. From now on I am going to preach to the Gentiles.”
Shaking the dust from one’s clothes
was a common gesture in those days,
meaning, “I’m finished with you, and leaving—
I’m not taking any part of you with me,
not even the dust my clothes may have picked up
from your place.”
Paul had given the Jews in the synagogue his best efforts,
and now he was finished with them.
Instead of preaching in their building,
he would find another venue to continue his work.
But he did take with him some of the Jews—
those who listened to him and put faith in Jesus.
Verse 7 continues,
7 Paul then moved into the house of a man named Titius Justus, who worshiped God and lived next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus was the leader of the synagogue. He and everyone in his family put their faith in the Lord. Many others in Corinth also heard the message, and all the people who had faith in the Lord were baptized.
So, Paul’s ministry there in Corinth was bearing fruit.
It was just necessary for him
to re-focus on the Gentiles instead of the Jews,
and to preach in a large room in a Gentile home
instead of in the synagogue.
Unlike some cities, where Jewish opposition
drove him out of town,
Paul would remain in Corinth for some time,
continuing to preach there.
In fact, Christ appeared to Paul in a vision,
and told him specifically,
to keep up his work in that city.
9 One night, Paul had a vision, and in it the Lord said, “Don't be afraid to keep on preaching. Don't stop! 10 I am with you, and you won't be harmed. Many people in this city belong to me.” 11 Paul stayed on in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching God's message to the people.
Eventually, some of the Jewish leaders
tried to make trouble for Paul
by taking him to court,
and making accusations against him.
But Greece, also known then as Achaia,
was under occupation by the Roman Empire,
and so the courts were run by Romans.
That resulted in charges they brought against Paul
back-firing against the Jewish leaders.
We read about the episode, beginning at Acts 18:12,
12 While Gallio was governor of Achaia, some of the Jewish leaders got together and grabbed Paul. They brought him into court 13 and said, “This man is trying to make our people worship God in a way that is against our Law!”
14 Even before Paul could speak, Gallio said, “If you were charging this man with a crime or some other wrong, I would have to listen to you. 15 But since this concerns only words, names, and your own law, you will have to take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters.” 16 Then he sent them out of the court. 17 The crowd grabbed Sosthenes, the Jewish leader, and beat him up in front of the court. But none of this mattered to Gallio.
The Jewish crowd was furious with their own leader
after he made fools of them
by taking Paul to court,
and losing the case so dramatically.
They vented their anger on their own leader,
instead of on Paul.
So, Paul was able to complete a year and a half in Corinth,
with good results in the conversion of many people
to follow Jesus.
When he finally did move on
to continue his missionary work in other locations,
Paul’s fellow tent-makers Aquila and Priscilla
traveled with him.
And the rest of the account in this chapter
tells us more about this dynamic couple
and their work for the Lord.
Unlike Paul, who did secular work part of the time,
just to supplement his full-time ministry,
Aquila and Priscilla were like most Christians—
working for a living,
but also doing the Lord’s work
whenever they had opportunity.
Verse 18 says,
18 After Paul had stayed for a while with the Lord's followers in Corinth, he told them goodbye and sailed on to Syria with Aquila and Priscilla. . . .
19 The three of them arrived in Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila.
You can still visit the ruins of ancient Ephesus
on the West Coast of the country we call Turkey today,
directly across the Aegean Sea
from Athens and Corinth.
The Christian church at Ephesus is the one
Paul later wrote a letter to—
his Letter to the Ephesians, in our Bibles today.
After leaving Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus,
the Apostle Paul went on to travel to other cities,
returning to areas where his earlier work
had resulted in new Christian churches.
He went back to those places
to strengthen the new believers.
But the account in Acts continues to focus for a while
on what went on in Ephesus,
where Priscilla and Aquila remained,
and where we meet
another individual, named Apollos.
Verse 24 says,
24 A Jewish man named Apollos came to Ephesus. Apollos had been born in the city of Alexandria. He was a very good speaker and knew a lot about the Scriptures. 25 He also knew much about the Lord's Way, and he spoke about it with great excitement. What he taught about Jesus was right, but all he knew was John's message about baptism.
26 Apollos started speaking bravely in the synagogue.
The example of Apollos should encourage us
to share what we know about Jesus—
even if we don’t know everything.
We can share what we do know,
and those who listen to us will benefit.
We’re all just learning.
And, when we learn about Jesus,
our enthusiasm should motivate us
to share what we know with others.
They will benefit, even if we don’t know everything.
So, Apollos spoke enthusiastically about Jesus
in the synagogue there in Ephesus.
Because he was still learning,
the baptism he spoke about was only
the baptism of repentance that John the Baptist preached—
not the baptism in the name of
the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
that our Lord Jesus taught.
So, Verse 26 continues,
But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him to their home and helped him understand God's Way even better.
Apollos was evidently glad to receive their help.
He didn’t quit preaching, out of embarrassment
for not getting everything quite right the first time.
No, he gladly accepted the correction,
and used the additional information he learned
to improve his message, going forward.
In fact, he travelled over to Greece
and had a big impact on the churches there,
preaching and defending the Gospel.
27 Apollos decided to travel through Achaia. So the Lord's followers wrote letters, encouraging the followers there to welcome him. After Apollos arrived in Achaia, he was a great help to everyone who had put their faith in the Lord Jesus because of God's gift of undeserved grace. 28 He got into fierce arguments with the Jewish people, and in public he used the Scriptures to prove that Jesus is the Messiah.
So, this chapter in Acts helps us appreciate
that various different individuals
all contributed to spreading the Gospel
and strengthening the churches
back in those early days of Christianity.
Peter and Paul receive the greatest prominence
because of their huge role in the early Church,
but many ordinary working people
like Aquila and Priscilla and Apollos
also made important contributions
through their efforts.
And we today can all do the same thing.
One of us shares the Good News about Jesus
with their children and grandchildren.
Another contributes toward the financial support
that’s needed to keep ministries operating.
Another maintains our church building.
Another one defends the Bible
at their place of employment,
when unbelieving workers
try to put down biblical beliefs.
Another church member encourages fellow believers
and helps keep the church strong.
Another one of us posts Bible verses on Facebook
and stands up for the Christian way of life.
And the Lord appreciates everything we do
as his disciples today,
just as he appreciated the contributions
made by Priscilla and Aquila and Apollos.