Acts 18

Acts 18:  A Time of Transitions

Transition is defined as passing from one stage or state into another. This is the story of the early church in transition as recorded faithfully by Luke. First century Judaism was a combination of divinely ordained laws that covered the daily life of the Jew and man-made laws that perverted, added to and adulterated the intent of God’s laws. God had given His laws to the Jews so they would be recognized for their difference, their separateness from the rest of the culture. God’s intention for their uniqueness was to draw people to them as a light in a dark world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden, Jesus said in Matthew 5. They were not to light a lamp with their uniqueness and hide it under the bowl of pride in their culture and separateness. They were to be the salt of the earth. As salt they were to make a difference in the world, to flavor it, accenting the society with their unique culture and relationship with God. The Jews were to serve as  a preservative in  a decaying world. Instead their pride in their nation, culture and relationship as God’s chosen people had puffed them up with pride and turned their relationship into rituals without meaning.

( I wonder if we would be honest with ourselves for a minute, if we could look at what we do in the average Southern Baptist Church. We take pride in what is going on in our congregation within our walls, but care little for what is going on in the city where we are located. Paul and the disciples wanted to impact the world around them. To them the church was a failure if they did not see something happening in the city in which the local church was. )

Jesus came and told his audiences and the Jewish leaders: “ Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” ( Matthew 5)  Jesus went on to set the record straight and lay the foundation for the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament by fulfilling the old covenant by keeping the law completely without sin, error or misdeed . He was the only one qualified to be our Redeemer Kinsman and the Lamb of God without blemish who took away the sin of the world.

Jesus’ teaching startled the Jewish leaders when he proclaimed:  “ You have heard that it was said by them of old time…”  “ But I say unto you…”  In these statements Jesus was taking them back to the purpose and intent of the original law of God, and in doing so the time of transition began. It is the difficulty of this change from one stage to another that the disciples first dealt with personally as we saw Peters’ response to God’s vision of what he could eat  and who he could eat with was contrary to what he had been taught all his life. It puzzled Nicodemus, a master rabbi as he asked ‘ how can this be?’ It was this very mindset that had made Saul of Tarsus such an enemy of the early church until on the road to Damascus he discovered the truth. It still took him a transitional period of over three years and further revelation  by the Lord Jesus to overcome this life- long teaching of divine truth in God’s Law that had been mixed with man-made law that was given equal standing with God’s law.

Over the years of rituals- habits are formed like forged links of a chain. They become difficult to break and one grows accustomed to their presence and in some ways finds comfort in their familiarity.  It is this resistance to the transition from one stage to another that is causing such a battle for Paul and the early Christians when approaching the Jews and their long held beliefs. And for new believers the transition is a working out of what has now been worked in to them by the Holy Spirit, for it is God who works in both to will and do His good pleasure.

So now we understand the difficulties and discouragement that Paul faced in his attempts to bring the good news to the Jews as he reasoned with them in their synagogues.

In Chapter 18, Paul has left Athens and journeyed to Corinth. From the intellectual center of Athens he now has come to the center of sensuality.  These two cities represent the twin evils of the day then and now as we see intellectualism and sensual lust are trapping people in their false promises of a fulfilled life. Corinth was a beautiful city about 50 miles west of Athens noted for its commerce and trade. It also was the center of worship for Aphrodite, the goddess of sex. A great pagan temple was built on  a hill in Corinth and every night a 1000 temple priestesses who were prostitutes came into the city at night to ply their trade. Corinth had a reputation all through the Roman Empire as a center and city of sexual immorality. Corinth was the San Francisco of its day, the Las Vegas of its era.

Paul finds work as a tentmaker in Corinth to support himself. All Jewish males were taught a trade regardless of their wealth. The Lord brings two people into Paul’s life who will be his helpers, Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Both are Christians, Jews, and tentmakers. They were expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius as were all the Jews at that time. (Luke is ever the accurate historians giving us historical events taking place at the same time.)

Paul as usual begins to reason with the Jews in the synagogue and persuade them Jesus is the Christ. In the meanwhile, Silas and Timothy catch up with Paul and he is able now to devote himself entirely to preaching and teaching. But the resistance to change, the opposition to Paul’s teaching becomes so abusive, Paul leaves them and infuriates them in leaving by  symbolically  shaking his clothing and proclaiming ‘ your blood be on your heads.’

When God closes one door, He always opens another. As if to make this point- the door God opens is next door to the synagogue in the home of Justus. In addition God encourages Paul with a conversion of Crispus, the synagogue ruler and his household.

But when night falls, Paul, like a lot us finds himself tossing and turning with fears and doubts. How do  I  know this?  Because the Lord appears in a vision and says to Paul- ‘do not be afraid.’ The Lord who knows the hearts of men, would not have said this if Paul was not afraid and the fact that it was at night lets us know the bold, brave apostle Paul had fears just like us. After all, he had been arrested, beaten, put in jail,  in an earthquake, stoned and left for dead and pursued by the very people he was trying to win to Christ. Add to that his efforts in Athens most recently had seen little results.  He is not the first man of God to experience these emotions, nor will he be the last. From Moses to Elijah, from Gideon to John the Baptist in prison, to Peter in a courtyard to even the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane- all had felt at times overwhelmed and at their wits’ end.

But the Lord comes to Paul and tells him not to be afraid and keep on speaking. For the Lord remembers our frames are dust and He is not a High Priest who cannot empathize with us. He tells Paul that He, the Lord is with him.  Is He not the same today? He knows we grow weary and tired and even fearful.   What? “Have you not Known? Have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary? There is no searching His understanding. He gives power to the faint; to them that have not might he increases their strength. Even the youths shall faint and grow weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings of eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” ( Isaiah 40)

The Lord tells Paul to keep on speaking and not be afraid for He is with him. He tells Paul no man is going to attack him and harm him. The Lord also tells Paul He has many people in Corinth to be saved. ‘So Paul stayed for a year and a half teaching them the Word of God.”

But the enemy is relentless and goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may destroy. The enemies of Paul and the Gospel have Paul brought up before Gallio, the proconsul of the area. ( Again Dr. Luke is  our accurate historian as it is noted in secular sources Gallio was a Roman leader whose brother, Seneca was a noted philosopher who tutored young Nero. )

Watch how the Lord protects His own, sometimes with the most unusual people. The Lord uses Gallio, a Roman proconsul to protect Paul. Charges are made by the Jews who are attempting to use the courts and law to silence Paul. Paul is ready to defend himself, before he even opens his mouth, Gallio throws it out of court saying this is a religious difference and not a criminal offense. In doing so, this ruling meant Paul was free to preach the gospel throughout the Roman empire without being charged with breaking Roman laws.

These Jews are so furious they turn on their synagogue ruler, Sosthenes, and beat him. Evidently he was the one who presented the charges before Gallio.  You must hear the rest of this story, which we find in I Corinthians 1: 1 where Paul writes in his greeting:  “ Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God  and our brother, Sosthenes…”  Sosthenes became a Christian, a believer and it came out of this case brought before the Roman government and his subsequent beating by his frustrated fellow Jews.   How ironic!

Paul leaves Corinth after spending over 18 months there. He is accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla. He stops in Ephesus, lands at Caesarea from there Paul goes up to the church in Jerusalem to report on his activities . He then goes back to the churches he had previously visited and helped establish to strengthen them.

Luke next tells us of Apollos, an exceptional man , a Jew from Alexandria, with thorough knowledge of the Scriptures ( Old Testament) and great skill as a speaker.  His story is a great picture of the transition from old to new by receiving full and more complete understanding of the Lord Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.   Remember, the disciples spent three years with Jesus, but did not understand until after the resurrection when the Lord spent 40 days with them teaching them how everything had to be fulfilled  that was written about Him in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.  And Paul spent three years studying and investigating the Scriptures after his conversion on the road to Damascus.

There was no mass media and the Gospel was being spread and the story was being completed, the blanks filled in – but during this transitions period, there were those who had yet to hear the complete story, Apollos falls into this category.

Paul went about teaching the Gospel, showing how it completed the teaching of the Old Testament. This teaching strengthened the believers and was necessary for maturity. This is always what builds the Christians’ faith up…for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

Apollos had heard part of the truth- but did not know of the cross, the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He was a learned man, having a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament and being familiar with the teaching of John the Baptist and the baptism of John the Baptist.

The teaching of John the Baptist was about the forgiveness of sins. John taught this forgiveness was on the basis of repentance. And true repentance was a matter of the heart, not the blood of animals. This was something new at that time. John called for people to repent of their sins, a change of heart, a cleansing that was symbolized by their baptism with water. But John also taught there was One coming after him whose sandals he was not worthy to latch who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit.  So Apollos taught what he knew and since he did not know the one John spoke of, Jesus, had come, died and rose from the dead. He did not know of the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  What he taught, we are told he taught accurately- but Apollos did not know the whole story.  It was typical in the early days, the first century of the church as the news spread slowly but surely.

Aquila and Priscilla heard him and realized this man was gifted and a seeker of truth who did not yet have the whole truth. They invited him to their home. They did not attack his teaching as false in the public arena of the synagogue. They took him in the privacy of their home and ‘explained to him the way of God more adequately , more fully. Apollos becomes converted and goes on to serve the Lord in a mighty way. Of Apollos, Paul would write : I sowed the seed, Apollos watered it and God gave the growth.

Gina did this very thing with a Jewish man she worked for named Isaac, by having him bring his ‘Jewish Bible’ for her to see. Using the same approach as Paul and the early Christians she turned to prophecy in the Old Testament books and reasoned with him these prophecies of the coming Messiah was none other than her Jesus.  In doing so she did what Paul, the Apostles, Aquila and Priscilla did . And who had taught the apostles to do this? None other than the Lord Jesus who in His resurrection ministry revealed how He had fulfilled all the prophecy and that His death had always been the plan to pay for the sins. For ever since Abraham had told his son Isaac on that mountain that God would provide Himself a sacrifice- every sacrifice, every Passover Lamb was a way of looking to the one who was coming, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

Is not the Lord the same today? Has He not spoken to us and told us not to be afraid to speak out- to not be silent. He has promised to always be with us. He has told us He will protect us. He has told us-He has many in Jackson to be saved.

Paul and the disciples saw cities changed. Stories of revivals in country of Wales in 1904 tell us saloons closed because of lack of customers and mules had to be retrained for their masters no longer beat them and cursed them.  Whole towns and villages were transformed!

I work for a company called Transitions. I became involved with them in 1989 when they sought our lab here in Jackson to test market a plastic photochromic for them.  We tested it for a year in which we developed the positioning of the product and developed demonstration devices as well. We were also testing the possible name for the product. We selected Transitions because it described the product by its definition- it changed from one stage or state to another. From a clear lens indoors to a darkened lens outdoors.  Transitions was and is an ingredient company in that we do not make lenses- we make the chemicals that make them darken. In other words we work into the lens the chemistry what causes the lenses to darken when the ultra violet rays of the sun shine on the lenses. We work in- what reaction to the sun and uv works out in changing them from one state to another.

Apollos did not yet have the right ingredients worked into him that allowed him to make the transition. He had not come in contact with the Son of the living God, the Lord Jesus. When he did and believed in the Lord Jesus, God was then able to work in Apollos, just as He works into each of us- the Holy Spirit who gives us the desire and the power to do His Good Purpose.

It is wonderful to have things happening inside the church. But the success of the church is what impact it is having on the city in which it resides. It is to be salt and light. The light is for shining in darkness, not covered with the walls of our air conditioned, stained-glass windows and carpeted sanctuaries.

Paul told us we are to work out what has been worked into us with “ fear and trembling.” Which means Paul knew from personal experience what it is to be afraid to witness. But Paul also learned something about fear. For the Lord Jesus told us His  power is made perfect in weakness. The Great Apostle realized that fear made one weak. AND WEAKNESS ACTIVATES FAITH! Paul had a spiritual breakthrough at that time- “ when I am weak- I am strong!” Coming to this understanding, I believe, helped Paul make the transition we all must make- that is to change from depending on our strength to resting in His Power.

Evan Roberts the young Welsh man who was used by God in the Welsh revival said the following were pre-requisites for spiritual revival:

  • Confess all known sin to God, receiving forgiveness through the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Remove anything from your life you are in doubt or unsure about
  • Be totally yielded and obedient to the Holy Spirit
  • Publicly confess the Lord Jesus Christ.

Have you made the ‘transition’?  Have you allowed the Son to activate you? Change you?  Energize you?  You need to be in the Son and the Son in you- to do so.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14