“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? ” “No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” “Then what baptism were you baptized with? ” he asked them. “With John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in other languages and to prophesy. Now there were about 12 men in all. Then he entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things of the kingdom of God. But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them and met separately with the disciples, conducting discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. And this went on for two years, so that all the inhabitants of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the message about the Lord.” (Acts 19:1-10 HCSB)
Let me start today’s lesson with a brief comment on our modern Bible and its divisions. We have chapter and verse identifiers for the sake of convenience, but these did not exist in the original text. While I won’t go into the history of how they cam about, often, they tend to cause unnatural separation and disconnection between the writer’s thoughts and our search for understanding. This week’s passage is an example. Last week’s focal passage is very closely related to this passage and I will refer back to those thoughts. If you haven’t read them, you can find them here.
Apollos was a very dynamic speaker with a great presentation method that captures the listener’s attention. No doubt, today he would be pastoring a mega-church in some large city and have a huge TV and Internet following. However, it is possible to be dynamic and captivating while being full of nothing but “hot air” or empty words. In fact, Paul will address this every issue with young Timothy:
“Proclaim the message [of the gospel]; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they [the people you are trying to reach] will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3 HCSB – bracketed text added by me for clarification)
As mentioned last week, Apollos was preaching a message that was true but lacking “sound doctrine” and the power of salvation. His message contained the kernel of truth regarding the coming of the Messiah that John the Baptist proclaimed, but fell short of pointing people to the Son of God in Jesus Christ. Let me state this directly and very strongly, any religious belief or spiritual proclamation that omits the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only means of grace is devoid of all Godly power, authority and completely ineffective for salvation and life.
Some think that sincerity of heart and words is enough to warrant trust and belief. However, you can be sincere while being sincerely wrong. This is the very issue at stake today in the conflict between Christian beliefs and Muslim beliefs. Muslims are certainly sincere, but is their sincerity based in truth? Does someone’s commitment to a belief prove its truthfulness? Absolutely not! There have been many, many examples of sincerely held but entirely wrong and, even, evil beliefs throughout world history. So sincerity is not proof of truthfulness.
It is also possible for truth to exist even while it is being rejected by everyone. Which means that truth is not based on popularity or majority acceptance and untruthfulness is not necessarily identifiable by cultural rejection or a minority following. In other words, a lie can be popular and widely followed while truth can be unpopular and widely rejected. TRUTH is not determined by popular opinion or a viral following on social media. In a like manner, the truth of God’s salvation and the message of the Gospel is not dependent on popular opinion and its power doesn’t come from worldly methods or human efforts and skill. While I believe that God’s methods and message will be filled with power and exhibit amazing results, they will not necessarily be recognized by men as wise and powerful (see also 1 Cor. 1:18-25)…
“When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit, so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 HCSB)
Which brings me to Paul’s confrontation with a group in Ephesus in today’s focal passage. Luke tells us (in the final verses of Acts 18) that Paul made a quick trip to Jerusalem to complete his Nazirite vow and to visit “the Church,” then he returned to the church in Antioch of Syria. His stay in Antioch appears to have been brief as heads back out to check on the churches across Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) which is were we find him in our current story, back in Ephesus. He had traveled to Ephesus following a direct but more physically demanding route through the “inner” or mountainous region of ancient Galatia and Phrygia.
In Ephesus, he encounters a group of “disciples” that cause him some concern and gives us some insight into Apollos and the issues I was addressing, above. While Luke refers to this group of 12 men as “disciples,” that appears to have been only an outward label. Paul appears to immediately recognize that something is wrong and asks them about their “receiving” of the Holy Spirit when they believed. They respond by stating that “they were not even aware” of the Holy Spirit. Their statement doesn’t really make sense, if you take it literally.
The Holy Spirit is evident throughout the Old Testament and is NOT a new concept in the New Testament. Jesus even states, “You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17b) The NEW idea in the New Testament is not that the Spirit of God will be among His people, but that He will take up residence within His people. He will INDWELL them, live IN them. God WITHIN His people, not just among them. That’s incredibly different. That’s transforming!
When Paul encountered these “disciples” in Ephesus, he realizes that something is desperately missing in them and that something is God’s Spirit. How can you recognize the the absence of God’s Spirit within someone? Paul didn’t have a pair of special “spirit penetrating” glasses that allowed him to see into them, but he did have spiritual wisdom and insight. What is the evidence of the Spirit of God within true “disciples” of Christ? We can certainly see in this passage that the coming of the Holy Spirit is evidenced by visible signs in how they spoke (tongues) and what they spoke (prophesying). However, those aren’t the ONLY signs of the presence of God’s Spirit within a disciple…
The first thing Jesus told the Apostles to expect from the Holy Spirit was help in obedience. He specifically states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…” (John 14:15-16 ESV) The word “helper” means someone who comes alongside who assists and travels with you. Someone you can “call upon” as you journey through life. So the first sign of the Holy Spirit in the life of a disciple is a desire for and commitment to OBEDIENCE. Jesus goes on to tell the Apostles, in John 14, that the Spirit would teach them and remind them of what He had taught/told them. So, evidence of the Spirit in our lives is that we desire to know, understand and obey the teachings of Jesus.
The very next thing Jesus tells the Apostles the Holy Spirit will do is “bear witness of me” (see John 15:26 – 16:15) and He also assures them that THEY will also bear witness of Him. If you read the passage I just cited, you will notice that the Spirit and the Apostles must “bear witness” because the World has misunderstood Jesus’ purpose and message. To bear witness is to testify regarding the truth of what has happened regardless of the opposition. Jesus said that He was telling the Apostles about this opposition beforehand to keep them from “falling away.” In other words, we must be aware that the truth regarding the gospel and many of the teachings of Jesus would face opposition and we must remain faithful to Him and what He taught. So, one of the evidential marks of the Holy Spirit in the life of a disciple is their WITNESS of and faithfulness to the truth of the gospel and the hard teachings of Jesus.
The third thing I want to point out as as evidence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a disciple is their focus. Paul tells us that the one who “walks” in the flesh or lives according to his human desires, needs and passions is NOT “walking” or living in the Spirit of God (see Romans 8). Indeed, Paul goes on to say that the person who “lives according to the flesh” or is focused on pursuing those desires will only find death, not life and peace. Paul uses an analogy of living our lives as slaves to sin or to recognize that we have been adopted as sons into God’s household. If you continue to live your life in slavery to sin, you completely miss the joy and blessings of living your life as Children of God. Our world loves to misuse Paul’s language and imply that we are all “God’s children.” Well, we are all God’s creation but most of us live our lives like slaves and not like children. However, if you will FOCUS your life on discovering our Heavenly Father’s purpose then you can enjoy His blessings and His presence.
In addition, Paul teaches the churches of Galatia (of which Ephesus is a chief city), that the evidence of the Holy Spirit is seen in the spiritual fruit they bear. He notes that these fruits are, “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV) By contrast, Paul notes that the “works of the flesh” are in direct opposition to these fruits that the Holy Spirit desires in us and to pursue them is to deny the Spirit and “will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” In other words, what we FOCUS on and pursue will be the very thing we ultimately receive.
Finally, I want to end this session by leaving you with the most difficult part of this lesson. Paul insists that these “disciples” who knew only the baptism of John needed more, they needed to know Jesus. It wasn’t sufficient for them to be “repentant” and to desire to know and seek God. Paul asks, “What baptism were you baptized with?” It is really important to understand Paul’s question. Baptism is a word that was brought directly over from the Greek word, baptizo. It means to be immersed in something or to be completely covered by it. While we generally think of it only in reference to water baptism, that’s not the only way it is used in scripture (see John 1:33; Luke 12:50; Mark 10:38; 1 Cor. 10:2; Acts 1:5, 11:16; Matt. 3:11).
Paul insisted that they needed more, they needed more than mere repentance of sin and a baptism that symbolized it, they needed to trust Jesus for the atonement of their sin and to believe in Him and what His death and resurrection meant. In other words, their sincerity of repentance and belief in God was insufficient for salvation. They needed something specific; something sufficient for salvation. They needed Jesus.
Today, it isn’t sufficient to be morally good and to believe in the existence of God even though that’s what our culture would like to believe. I hear all the time, “Well, I’m a good person and I believe in God.” If you really knew God, you’d realize you’re not really a good person. I cited earlier a passage, in John 16:8, where Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes He will “convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgment.” The Holy Spirit will convict us regarding our sin, Jesus’ righteousness, and coming judgment. You and I are sinners, not good people. Jesus is the only one good, or righteous. Because of these two facts (our sin & His sinlessness), then the world will be judged based on those things. Are you ready for that day? You can be, believe He is the Son of God and that He died and was resurrected, and then trust in His death as payment for your sin and in His life for living life as it is meant to be.