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Scoping Apollos – nine marks of a healthy Christian

May 2013 | by William Boekestein

Most great pirate stories have one thing in common. At some point someone slides out their spyglass and focuses on an unsuspecting person, whose every movement is then seen in the black-bordered circular frame.

The Scriptures are the Christian’s spyglass. Paul says, ‘Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us’ (Philippians 3:17).

The Greek word for ‘keep your eyes on’ is the basis for our English word ‘scope’. In Acts 18:24-28 Luke helps us set our scope on an Alexandrian Jew named Apollos.

Apollos is presented as a ‘Philippians 3:17 man’ — someone who walked according to the example of the first apostles.

As with most such models, the Bible is biographically reserved. After all, the point of Apollos’ life was not to draw attention to himself, but to Christ. We know that he was a Jewish believer from Alexandria, Egypt. At some point he ministered in Ephesus, where he was corrected by Aquila and Priscilla.

Then, before Paul reached Ephesus, Apollos felt called to minister in Corinth, where he became a prominent preacher, to the point that he unintentionally developed a carnally loyal following (1 Corinthians 3:4). He also spent time ministering with Titus on the island of Crete (Titus 3:13).

What nine things then does Apollos teach us about a well lived Christian life (Acts 18:24-28)?

Believers take training seriously

Apollos ‘had been instructed in the way of the Lord’. The Greek word for ‘instructed’ is catechesis. Catechism, or systematic instruction by question and answer, based on the ‘Apostles’ Creed’, was used by the early church to prepare converts for baptism. Throughout the church’s history, believers and their children have been catechised in the basic truths of Christianity.

In addition, we can assume that Apollos took his secular training seriously. His hometown, Alexandria, was second to none for education.

Believers use their gifts for God’s glory

Apollos was an eloquent man. No doubt, he was trained in the science and art of elocution. Undoubtedly, when converted, he believed it only natural to use his mouth for God and knew that his ability to speak was a gift from God, to be used for his glory.

You might not be eloquent, but you may be compassionate, or cheerful, or have musical abilities. Your talents are a sacred trust from God to be used for the advancement of his name (Matthew 25:14-30).

Believers study the Scriptures

Apollos was ‘mighty in the Scriptures’. This phrase kindles the picture of a man wielding a sword with strength and skill (Ephesians 6:17). Are you mighty in the Scriptures? Do you know the story of redemption?

Are you committing Scripture to memory? There is no way to become mighty in the Scriptures other than through discipline.

Believers treat God’s Word carefully

Apollos ‘taught accurately the things of the Lord’. He didn’t know everything, for at first ‘he knew only the baptism of John’. He taught what he knew, and no more.

We all have a tendency to exaggerate our knowledge. The next time you are about to wax theological, ask yourself: ‘Would I be willing to publish what I’m about to say? Would it hold up under public scrutiny?’

Much damage is done by sloppy theologising. The good news is that we don’t have to be expert theologians. We simply have to be faithful with what we know and press on toward greater knowledge.

Believers are courageous

Apollos spoke boldly in the synagogues and ‘vigorously refuted the Jews publicly’. He was not only eloquent but fervent.

Ironically, sometimes a bold example like Apollos’ can be discouraging when we face just how fearful we can be. To not lose hope, we need to understand that courage is relative. You may never be an Apollos. But ask yourself, ‘What would be courageous for me? How could I be bolder for Jesus?’

Some of us excuse timidity on the basis of ignorance or inexperience. But keep in mind that Apollos had a more limited understanding of Christ. It is probable that you know more about Jesus than Apollos did!

Believers are teachable

Apollos at first only knew the baptism of John, looking with anticipation to Christ but not to the fulfilment of Christ’s accomplished redemptive work. Remarkably, he was happy to be corrected if it meant being brought into closer harmony with the truth.

What humility! The well-educated Alexandrian corrected by ordinary artisans, one of whom was a woman (a fact which might have made him uncomfortable)!

So few of us are genuinely correctable. How easily we forget Jesus’ words, ‘Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:3).

Part of the reason for Apollos’ receptivity to correction lay in the wisdom of Aquila and Priscilla. ‘They took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately’.

Private correction is almost always preferable to public rebuke. Employers, teachers, husbands, wives and parents should take note. There are few things more demoralising than public humiliation.

Believers are guided by the Spirit

When Luke says that Apollos was ‘fervent in spirit’, more than anything he is probably highlighting the Holy Spirit’s guidance in his life. Apollos’ bold obedience and scriptural convictions were Spirit-driven.

Those who have been baptised into Christ, through repentance and faith, have the Holy Spirit within them. Far from teaching that believers need a secondary encounter with the Spirit after conversion, this text (Acts 18:25) shows that those who have Christ also have his Spirit.

Believers know Christ

Being a disciple is not first and foremost about doing things for God, but about knowing Christ. Apollos could say with Paul, ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death’ (Philippians 3:10).

Apollos publicly showed from the ‘Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ’, because he loved Jesus and knew the love of Jesus. Each of us is a reporter. Loudly or quietly, we talk about what we know and care about. It’s no accident that Apollos talked about Jesus.

Believers are part of God’s plan

Above all, we see in Apollos the sovereign grace of God at work. Apollos is just one thread in the grand tapestry of redemptive work God is weaving. So are you. In a manner of speaking, Apollos is just a blip on the Bible’s radar screen. But as part of God’s grand plan his life became infused with eternal meaning.

If you look around very carefully, you’ll notice hundreds of spyglasses zeroed in on you. That’s a little scary. But isn’t the prospect of being seen as a work of God’s grace also exciting?

William Boekestein

The author pastors Covenant Reformed Church of Carbondale, Pennsylvania. He has written three books for children on the Reformed confessions, including his latest: The glory of grace: the story of the Canons of Dort.

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