Acts 18:23-20:1

Acts 18:23-20:1

Ordinary & Extraordinary Work

Sermon Text: Acts 18:23-28; Acts 19:1-41; Acts 20:1

Sermon Theme:  Sometimes making disciples means doing ordinary things like following up, filling in gaps and evangelizing. Sometimes making disciples might also include extraordinary things that can only be explained by God’s power.

Sermon Reflections


Apollos taught in the gospel of Christ, as far as John’s ministry would carry him, and no further. We cannot but think he had heard of Christ’s death and resurrection, but he was not informed as to the mystery of them. Though he had not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, as the apostles, he made use of the gifts he had. The dispensation of the Spirit, whatever the measure of it may be, is given to every man to profit. He was a lively, affectionate preacher; fervent in spirit. He was full of zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of precious souls. Here was a complete man of God, thoroughly furnished for his work. Aquila and Priscilla encouraged his ministry and did not despise Apollos themselves, or undervalue him to others; but considered the disadvantages he had labored under. And having themselves got knowledge in the truths of the gospel, they told what they knew to him. Young scholars may gain a great deal by conversing with old Christians. Those who do believe through grace, yet still need help. As long as they are in this world, there are remainders of unbelief, and something lacking in their faith to be perfected, and the work of faith to be fulfilled. If the Jews were convinced that Jesus is Christ, even their own law would teach them to hear him. The business of ministers is to preach Christ. Not only to preach the truth, but to prove and defend it, with meekness, yet with power.

Paul, at Ephesus, found some religious persons, who looked to Jesus as the Messiah. They had not been led to expect the miraculous powers of the Holy Ghost, nor were they informed that the gospel was especially the ministration of the Spirit. But they spoke as ready to welcome the notice of it. Paul shows them that John never designed that those he baptized should rest there, but told them that they should believe on him who should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. They thankfully accepted the discovery, and were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Ghost came upon them in a surprising, overpowering manner; they spoke with tongues, and prophesied, as the apostles and the first Gentile converts did. Though we do not now expect miraculous powers, yet all who profess to be disciples of Christ, should be called on to examine whether they have received the seal of the Holy Ghost, in his sanctifying influences, to the sincerity of their faith. …

It was common, especially among the Jews, for persons to profess or to try to cast out evil spirits. If we resist the devil by faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think to resist him by the using of Christ’s name, or his works, as a spell or charm, Satan will prevail against us. Where there is true sorrow for sin, there will be free confession of sin to God in every prayer and to man whom we have offended, when the case requires it. Surely if the word of God prevailed among us, many lewd, infidel, and wicked books would be burned by their possessors. Will not these Ephesian converts rise up in judgment against professors, who traffic in such works for the sake of gain, or allow themselves to possess them? If we desire to be in earnest in the great work of salvation, every pursuit and enjoyment must be given up which hinders the effect of the gospel upon the mind, or loosens its hold upon the heart.

Persons who came to pay their devotions at the temple of Ephesus, bought little silver shrines, or models of the temple, to carry home with them. See how craftsmen make advantage to themselves of people’s superstition, and serve their worldly ends by it. Men are jealous from which they get their wealth; and many set themselves against the gospel of Christ, because it calls men from all unlawful crafts, however much wealth is to be gotten by them. There are persons who contend stubbornly for what is most grossly absurd, unreasonable, and false — those gods which are made with hands. The whole city was full of confusion, the common and natural effect of zeal for false religion. Zeal for the honor of Christ, and love to the brethren, encourage zealous believers to venture into danger. Friends will often be raised up among those who are strangers to true religion, but have observed the honest and consistent behavior of Christians.

The Jews came forward in this turmoil. … One, having authority, at length stilled the noise. It is a very good rule at all times, both in private and public affairs, not to be hasty and rash in our emotions, but to take time to consider; and always to keep our passions under check. We ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly; to do nothing in haste, of which we may repent. The regular methods of the law ought always to stop popular turmoil. Most people stand in awe of men’s judgments more than of the judgment of God. How well it would be if we quiet our disorderly appetites and passions, by considering the account we must shortly give to the Judge of heaven and earth! And see how the overruling providence of God keeps the public peace, by an unaccountable power over the spirits of men. Thus the world is kept in some order, and men are held back from devouring each other. We can scarcely look around but we see men act like Demetrius and the workmen. It is as safe to contend with wild beasts as with men enraged by party zeal and disappointed covetousness, who think that all arguments are answered, when they have shown that they grow rich by the practices which are opposed. Whatever side in religious disputes, or whatever name this spirit assumes, it is worldly, and should be discountenanced by all who regard truth and piety. And let us not be dismayed; the Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters; he can still the rage of the people.

[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]


  • Do you feel sometimes the message you hear, even when it is masked with eloquence and zeal, seems incomplete? Like many preachers, what Apollos said was quite true. What Apollos left out demonstrated his inadequate understanding of Christian truth. For he did not have a full understanding of the gospel — being acquainted only with the baptism of John which is one of repentance for the preparation of the Messiah’s coming (Luke 1:16-17). He knew nothing about Calvary, the resurrection of Christ, or the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He had zeal, but he lacked spiritual knowledge (Romans 10:1-4). John also announced a future baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8), which took place on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5). Apollos knew about the promises, but he did not know about their fulfillment. Apollos’ message was not inaccurate or insincere; it was just incomplete. Like Priscilla or Aquila who helped Apollos understand the full gospel message, the church needs good examples of how to help and correct someone. You may be thinking, “No, I’m not gifted as a pastor.” That’s beside the point. If God has helped you to grow, He expects you to help others to grow. You may not be a Paul or Apollos, but you may be a Priscilla or Aquila. They were vital in God’s work. What if they had thought, “We aren’t in the same league with this young man; someone else will have to talk with him?” The danger is that the true gospel gets buried. God puts every believer on His team — He doesn’t have any benchwarmers. So let us get into the game.
  • Do you recognize who is using the ordinary to perform the supernatural? Consider what Paul did for the twelve men who knew the baptism of John. What transpired inside these men? Paul asked them a very simple ordinary question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2). The question was ordinary but important because the witness of the Spirit is the one indispensable proof that a person is truly born again (Romans 8:9; 1 John 5:9-13), and you receive the Spirit in a supernatural means when you believe on Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:13). It is important to note that God’s pattern for today is given in Acts 10:43-48: Sinners hear the Word, they believe on Jesus Christ, they immediately receive the Spirit, and then they are baptized. For the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11), and now, thanks to the Spirit’s illumination, these twelve men saw themselves and the world as they really were. As a result, they were flooded with assurance and security. The Spirit of God bore witness with their spirits that they were indeed children of God (Romans 8:16). They sensed the presence of One coming alongside to help — the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit of God. There was an overflow of joy and praise. What God did through Paul for these twelve men was not normative for the church today as seen in Acts 19:6, “when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.” How do we know? Because it was not repeated. The people who were converted in Ephesus under Paul’s ministry all received the gift of the Holy Spirit when they trusted the Savior. Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 1:13-14, and this is the pattern for us today (Acts 10:43-48).
  • Are you in process in your Christian walk? Are you deliberately doing things to help you to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Do you go often to God’s Word, seeking to know Him better and to understand the things of God more accurately? Do you study and meditate on the Word, trying to get a better grasp of God and His revealed truth? Do you read solid Christian books that challenge your thinking and help you to walk in greater holiness? You won’t grow as a Christian by accident. You have to make it your focus. So please be patient with each other, since God isn’t finished with any of us yet. But let’s also be deliberately focused on making the gospel known, on building up one another, and in growing personally in the things of God (Ephesians 4:16). Being of the mindset not to reject the help from others in growing in the knowledge of God. For we are to grow into the image of Jesus with a teachable and humble heart. Let mature Christians have the opportunity to teach us the full Word of God. Thus, allowing them to “greatly help us who had believed through grace” (Acts 18:27). No one believes apart from God’s grace, and no one serves effectively apart from God’s grace. God doesn’t save us because of anything in us. And He doesn’t use us because we have it all together and we’re totally qualified. He uses us in spite of our shortcomings. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
  • What faction do you consider yourself associated with: Paul? Peter? Christ? As you may know, after Apollos went to Corinth, a faction there named themselves after him: “We are of Apollos.” Others claimed to be of Paul, others of Peter, and still others declared, “We are of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12).  While Paul strongly confronted their party spirit, he did not run down Apollos, but rather, affirmed his ministry. He said, Apollos and I are both just “servants through whom you believed, as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). For Christ and Christ alone do we follow since it is only Him who died on the cross for our sins — not Paul, not Peter, not any other man (1 Corinthians 1:13). Paul recognized and affirmed that he was just one servant of many, and that while we all have different roles and responsibilities, it is God who is at work through His church as each member serves Him. Therefore, be a servant in Christ. If God has helped you work through a problem, He can use you to help someone else struggling with the same problem.  If He has helped you to overcome temptation and walk in holiness, He wants to use you to help other believers learn the same thing. If He has helped you get through a difficult trial by leaning on Him as your strength and comfort, He wants to use you to help others learn to trust Him in similar trials.
  • Are you a religious person who have not personally experienced the reality of Jesus Christ? “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Paul asked in Acts 19:2. As the Word is preached, we have no way of discerning if any hearer truly has the Holy Spirit. Hundreds of thousands of people profess some type of belief in Christ, display a reverence for God, go to church on Sundays, contribute to the offering, sit at the Lord’s Table, and admire the ethical teachings of the Lord — but are as lost as John Wesley was before Aldersgate. Amazingly, until Aldersgate, John Wesley, a man who knew more theology and was more dedicated than most believers, did not know Christ or the saving power of the Holy Spirit. He was in the church but was condemned! For those who have not received the Holy Spirit have no fire, no passion, no life because they do not have Christ. They are “icily regular, splendidly empty.” They do not have the life and warmth of the Holy Spirit. This is a life and death issue. The truth of Christ and life in the Spirit come to those who are humble enough to listen and to be taught. Such an attitude is essential for life and ongoing growth in the Spirit. Every time we open the Word, we should be willing to hear and heed it. Paul asserts to the Romans, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9). The Spirit of Christ refers to the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent. Even the carnal Corinthians had God’s Spirit dwelling in them (1 Corinthians 6:19). Paul told them that the Spirit had baptized them all into Christ’s body, and that they all were made to drink of the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Paul later wrote to the Ephesians, telling them that when they believed, they had been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). If a person does not have the Spirit indwelling him, he is not saved.
  • Are you discerning the source of any miracle — God or Satan — and whether it is associated with God’s Word? Throughout Biblical history, extraordinary miracles are not uniformly sprinkled as everyday occurrences. Rather, they are clustered at three special periods: 1) the time of Moses; 2) the time of Elijah and Elisha; and 3) the time of Jesus and His apostles. Each period was less than one hundred years. Depending on how some of these events are classified, the total number of miracles for all three periods is less than one hundred. Of course, not all the miracles were recorded (John 20:30-31). When our Lord performed miracles, He usually had at least three purposes in mind: 1) to show His compassion and meet human needs; 2) to teach a spiritual truth; and 3) to present His credentials as the Messiah. The apostles followed this same pattern in their miracles. In fact, the ability to do miracles was one of the proofs of apostolic authority (Mark 16:20; Romans 15:18-19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:1-4). Miracles of themselves do not save lost sinners (Luke 16:27-31; John 2:23-25). Miracles must be tied to the message of the Word of God. For the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). God uses the foolishness of the preaching of the cross to save souls (1 Corinthians 1:18). We should stay focused on God’s Word and the gospel, rather than get distracted by signs and wonders. For saving faith is only imparted when we hear and believe in Christ and Him crucified and risen. God enabled Paul to perform extraordinary miracles because Ephesus was a center for the occult (Acts 19:18-19), and Paul was demonstrating God’s power right in Satan’s territory with a confirming message of salvation (Hebrews 2:3-4). But keep in mind that wherever God’s people minister the truth, Satan sends a counterfeit to oppose the work. Jesus taught this truth in His parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30); Peter experienced it in Samaria (Acts 8:9); and Paul experienced it at Paphos (Acts 13:4-12). Satan imitates whatever God’s people are doing, because he knows that the unsaved world cannot tell the difference (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
  • Are we allowing God to use us according to His will for His glory or are we trying to use Him for our own purposes? This is the main difference between Paul and the Jewish exorcists. Paul was allowing God to use him according to God’s will and for God’s glory. But these spiritual charlatans were trying to use God for their own financial profit, and those who hired the exorcists were trying to use God’s power for their own purposes. They had no intention to repent of their sins and submit their lives to God’s purpose. Rather, they wanted to use God as an Aladdin’s Genie. Even today, many in the church attempt to use God for health or wealth or whatever other favors they desire. When He doesn’t perform according to their expectations, they quickly look elsewhere for answers. But in their search for answers to their problems, Jesus Christ is not their Lord. They are their own lords, as seen by their quickly turning to the world when Jesus doesn’t seem to work as they had hoped. The issue here is not whether or not God will bless those who come to Him in faith for salvation. The Bible shows that God delights to pour out His blessings on His people. As Paul exults, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). When we come to Christ, He grants us “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Clearly, we receive all the riches of Christ when we come to Him for salvation. But the main issue is “Who is Lord?” and repentance of our sins. If we come to God to use Him to see if He works, then we are still the lords of our lives, and we have not turned from our many sins. If God works, then we’ll use Him whenever we need Him, but we determine when and where that will be. Do we need a new job or a raise in our current job? Name it and claim it by faith, and it’s yours! Do you need healing from a disease? Command God and He must obey your word of faith! This is what many in the Word of Faith movement are teaching! That kind of heresy makes man the lord and God man’s servant. But the God of the Bible is the Sovereign Lord, who “does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

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