(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

This very short passage has a lot to teach us. It highlights the importance of being taught well. It gives us some tips on how to put an erring brother right. Finally it has something to say about the teachable spirit. A church may have a wonderful teacher but unless the members have a teachable spirit nothing much will ever be learned.

(B) Apollos had much to commend him.

He was well qualified as a teacher:

    (1) Apollos was a learned man.
    He was a native of Alexandria - a North African centre of education. Apollos would be a fluent Greek speaker and thoroughly acquainted with Greek Philosophy.

    A good education does bring many benefits. When I was a student I attended the London Institute of Education. I found Professor Peter's lectures on Philosophy very helpful. His insights helped me to think clearly about what I was doing and never left me for the duration of my teaching career.

    The sermons of the famous 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, were liberally illustrated from the fruit of his wide reading. No Bible teacher worth his salt should restrict his reading to Commentaries! I heard a powerful gospel address recently based on the sinking of the Titanic. I shall never forget the evangelist telling us that when the newspapers published lists of those on board after the sinking of that mighty vessel there were only two categories. The papers did not discriminate between the first, second or third class passengers. No, there were just the 'Lost' and the 'Saved.'

    (2) He had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.
    Apollos didn't just have a few favourite passages with which he was familiar but a working knowledge all the Old Testament books.

    When I was at Pioneer Camp the Skipper would hold a Bible search at morning prayers. The campers were given a Bible reference and raced to find it and read it out. I often sat next to Pastor Joseph Hewitt who invariably could quote the Bible reference without looking it up. Such knowledge of the Scriptures is of inestimable assistance to effective preaching. Recently I was out walking with another old friend, Pastor John Skull, near Shotley in East Suffolk. We came to a style on which was fastened an artificial rose and a note. The rose was in memory of many happy walks a couple had taken together. The note ended with a quotation: Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence. John knew at once it was from Psalm 21. My two friends put me to shame! They have something in common with Apollos.

    (3) Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord and taught about Jesus accurately.
    It is not known who instructed Apollos in the way of the Lord. It seems he was a disciple of John the Baptist. John proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and so his disciples would learn all they could about Jesus. Apollos accepted the authority of Christ. He held Jesus up as the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Heaven and the Living Water. Doubtless Apollos dealt accurately with Christ's teaching on such topics as: the danger of riches, the importance of humility, the wickedness of partiality and judgmentalism, the value of prayer.... .

    These are crucially important subjects. We do not get many sermons in my church on Christian conduct. Few preachers take as their text a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. My expositions frequently cover different aspects of Christian living. Some of my hearers think I overdo it! But the Bible is full of exhortations to be worthy subjects of the Kingdom.

    (4) Apollos spoke with great fervour and boldness in the synagogue.
    A lot of preaching lacks this! I listen regularly to the Sunday service on radio. I have yet to hear a preacher get really fired up during a broadcast.

    Preachers should get excited and passionate about their subject matter. Mr Peter Chaffey, who often conducts our prayer meeting, is always very moved when he speaks about what Jesus has done for him. He is choked with emotion. We should show some feeling when we preach about Jesus' great love for sinners.

    Enthusiasm is infectious. I watched a TV program in the autumn of 2003 in which Andrew Lloyd Webber talked about his collection of Victorian paintings. It was not a subject in which I take much interest. However, such was Andrew Lloyd Webber's love for his pictures that he captured my attention.

    I preached at my own church last Sunday. This was a rare event - caused by the sudden death of the appointed speaker. As I shook hands with folk at the end of the service one man said, "You wholly got worked up today, John. I liked it..." (See my sermon on Acts20v7to12)

    We can't stir others unless we are stirred ourselves. Most of the great evangelists, from Whitfield to Graham, have been fervent preachers.

(C) Apollos was deficient in understanding and only partially qualified to preach Christ.

(1) What he knew.
Apollos knew only the baptism of John. There is a two fold significance in this remark.

    (a) In Luke3v3 we are told: He (John the Baptist) went into all the country around the Jordan preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

    John preached that if people were sorry for their sins, determined to change and did change their way of life then they would be forgiven. Baptism was important because it signified a commitment to change and as such played a part in that forgiveness. John told the common man to share what food he had with those that had none; the tax collectors were urged not to collect more tax than they had to; the soldiers to be content with their pay.

    (b) John also identified Jesus as the Messiah. He made straight the way of the Lord. John1v23. One day when John saw Jesus coming towards him he said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John1v36. He gave this testimony: "I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." John1v34.

    The strange thing is that some of John the Baptist's disciples, like John and Andrew, followed Jesus but others remained loyal to the Baptist. John the Baptist himself did not follow Jesus! I have never been able to understand why this was. So there were two groups that believed Jesus was the Messiah - those that followed him and a faction who remained disciples of John. It seems that Apollos must be included amongst the latter group.

(2) The gist of his message.
If the background of Apollos was as outlined above then it is likely he told to his hearers to:

    (a) Repent of their sins and be baptised. This was the way of forgiveness.

    (b) Follow Jesus. He was the LORD's Christ. Jesus' status was authenticated by the miracles that he performed. Much of Jesus teaching was about the Kingdom of God. Men and women should obey Jesus to become worthy members of that Kingdom.

(3) How was this message inadequate?
If Apollos preached in the tradition of John the Baptist he would place insufficient emphasis upon the grace of God. He did not make it clear that:

    (a) Forgiveness of sins was through faith in the sacrifice Jesus made at Calvary. Paul put this at the heart of the Christian gospel:

    God presented him (Jesus) as sacrifice of atonement.Romans3v25.
    But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans5v8.

    So did the writer to the Hebrews - who may have been Priscilla. (See, 'Conclusion to expositions on Hebrews.') How much more then will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.

    Repentance must be accompanied by a willingness to submit to Jesus - trusting fully in his saving work on the cross.

    (b) The believer is given new life in Christ Jesus. God, by grace, adopts all those who love Jesus into his family. Our status changes. Paul puts it like this: But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law that we might receive the full rights of sons. Gal4v4and5. It is wonderful to know that we have the full rights of sons.

    The believer is also given the Holy Spirit of truth and power. John the Baptist did say: "I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and Fire." However, the disciples of John did not seem to know much about the Holy Spirit. Apollos may have been like the other twelve disciples in Ephesus who were ignorant of God's Spirit. Paul asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They replied, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." Acts19v2.

    The gift of God's Spirit is indispensable for the believer. Paul writes to the Romans: For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Son ship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Roms8v15to17.

    It is the Holy Spirit that changes our relationship with God and allows us to approach our Heavenly Father as loving children.

    (c) Apollos did not realise that when a Christian is baptised in the name of Jesus he or she has already been forgiven. Christian baptism signifies that we believe in Jesus and have been given new life in him.

(D) Apollos completes his education and becomes FULLY equipped to preach the gospel.

(1) Apollos had excellent tutors.
Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos. They, themselves, had greatly benefited from being close associates of Paul for the year and a half he was in Corinth. Apollos must have known of Paul and was probably quite keen to listen to what two of his students had to say. He was able to benefit from Paul's distinctive teaching through Priscilla and Aquila.

Every preacher and teacher should be prepared to pass on what he has learned from others. In the course of preparing these expositions on Acts I have read what 6 or 7 different writers had to say about the passage under consideration. Their insights have shaped my thinking along with my own experience, the circumstances prevailing at the time of writing and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Priscilla and Aquila instructed Apollos privately in their own home. They were a hospitable couple. They were also wise. Priscilla and Aquila did not confront Apollos publicly and put him right before others. They were not out to discredit Apollos as a Christian preacher or to humiliate him. The two tent makers wanted to help him.

I often publicly rebuked children at school. I was usually so angry that I just let rip. It was not the best method to change conduct. On a few occasions, after due deliberation, I kept a group of children behind and talked to them alone. I can remember tackling three boys about bullying in this fashion. After I had finished they were ashamed of themselves but not resentful at being publicly shown up. Those boys changed their ways, which they would not have done if they had been sore at me for humiliating them in front of their friends.

(2) Apollos exhibited a humble spirit.
The scholar from Alexandria was prepared to learn from a couple of tent makers. So should we! No Christian should forget that Jesus was trained, not as a theologian, but as a carpenter. Apollos was even willing to stand corrected by a woman!

Some people get to an age when they are very difficult to teach. I have just finished reading the biography of the Duke of Wellington. In later life he was a poor Commander in Chief of the Army. He opposed reform. Wellington would not countenance the abolition of flogging, an increase in soldier's pay, the introduction of new rifles or new sights for muskets. He argued that soldiers should not become trained riflemen because they would become conceited and want to dress in green or some other jack-a-dandy uniform.

The Duke's inflexible attitude meant that the British Army was not properly equipped for the Crimean War and many lives were needlessly lost.

The Iron Duke was difficult to help at all. This is a contemporary description of Wellington dismounting from his horse on Horse Guards Parade when in his 80's:

'Wearily the right leg scrambled, so to speak, over the croup of the saddle. Slowly and painfully it sank towards the ground, and then the whole body came down with a stagger..... . Yet nobody presumed to touch or even to approach him. For it was well known that he hated being helped. You could scarcely offend him more than by offering to hold his overcoat or button his cloak when he was getting ready to return from a ball or party. "Let me alone," was the usual recognition of civility of some evident admirer who sprang forward to help him out of difficulty.

Algernon Greville once remarked, "If he drops his hat I should never think of stooping to pick it up."

Apollos was not like the Duke of Wellington - he was happy to accept the help that Aquila and Priscilla gave him. He learned the way of God more adequately.

I am at present reading the biography of Charles Finney, the great revivalist, by Bonnie C Harvey. Finney was an out and out Arminian working amongst the Presbyterian churches of the northeastern United States. Most of the pastors of these Presbyterian churches were diehard Calvinists. Now I am not entirely in sympathy with Finney's methods; nor his assumption that if certain conditions are met God must send revival. However, the beliefs of the Calvinistic ministers were not conducive to revival. If an inquirer asked his Presbyterian pastor how he could be saved he would be told to go home and pray about it; pray that God would induce repentance, give saving faith and elect him into the kingdom. Charles Finney taught that God could not do for a sinner what He had commanded him to do. God could not do for him what He required him to do. God required him to repent, and God could not repent for him; required him to believe, but God could not believe for him; God required him to submit, but could not submit for him. The Holy Spirit presents to a sinner the Saviour, the atonement, the plan of salvation and urges him to accept it.

Some Presbyterian ministers were like Apollos and learned the Christian way more adequately! They changed their minds and helped rather than hindered Finney in his revivalist campaigns. They adopted the position of the great Apostle who when the Philippian jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?" Replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household." Acts16v31.

(3) Apollos was equipped by Priscilla and Aquila to help the Corinthian converts.
Apollos was, no doubt, inspired to go to Corinth by what Priscilla and Aquila told him of Paul's ministry there. The church at Ephesus encouraged him to go and wrote a letter of recommendation to the church at Corinth.

Luke tells us that in Corinth Apollos: helped those who by grace had believed. Thanks to Priscilla and Aquila he knew how to assist those who had been saved by grace and through faith from lives of darkest depravity.

Paul acknowledged when he wrote later to the Corinthians: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 1Cor3v6.

The two tent makers played their part in making Apollos what he was. Let us pray that we can do the same for another brother or sister who needs to have the way of God explained to him, or her, more adequately.