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Gallio, Sosthenes, and Apollos

In our passage today, Paul is about to conclude his second missionary journey. This journey has taken him roughly 3 years to complete and during this time, he has traveled about 2,500 miles – which by comparison, is roughly the distance between here and Florida! So this has been quite a journey for Paul and his companions.

But their journey is not yet complete. As of verse 11 in Acts chapter 18 where we left off last week, Paul still has about 1/3 of the journey to complete. And so today, Luke is going to zip us through that final leg of the journey – using only five verses to summarize it all! (I guess not much interesting happened on the way home.)

But as I said, we’re not there yet. At the moment, Paul is still in Corinth – having been assured by God in a vision that no one was going to attack & harm him here as they had in other cities. And so Paul stayed in Corinth for about a year and a half – preaching the Word of God and building up the church.

However, even though God has promised Paul that he would be safe, that didn’t guarantee that he would be free from opposition. And as we begin our passage today – opposition is exactly what we see. Starting at verse 12.

12 But when Gallio became governor of Achaia, some Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the governor for judgment. 13 They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law.” Acts 18:12-13

As we’ve seen many times before (in fact, in most of the cities where Paul has visited) it’s not long before the Jews are plotting together to either kill or silence Paul. These Jews had refused to believe Paul’s message – and they were not happy that other Jews had believed. And so as these verses tell us, they rose up together against Paul; and brought him before the new governor of Achaia. 

Now Achaia was the Roman province in which Corinth was located – so Gallio wasn’t just a local official. He was a provincial governor with quite a bit of authority.  So this was a pretty big deal! This was much more significant than all the other times that Paul had been brought before the local city authorities. In fact, Gallio’s ruling could have far-reaching implications for the future of the entire church!

You see, if the Jews could get Gallio to rule against Paul, chances are, the other provincial leaders would follow suite and Paul could potentially be barred from preaching the Gospel anywhere throughout the Roman empire! Not only that, if Gallio denounced the teaching of Christianity, then Christians everywhere could be subject to persecution by the Romans – something that up until this point, hadn’t really been an issue!

Up until this point, the Romans considered Christianity just to be a slight variation of Judaism – which had been legally recognized by Rome as an allowable religion – even though most Romans had a fairly dim view of the Jews.

But none the less – the Jews were legally allowed to practice their religion – and Christianity was generally considered to be a part of that. So what these Jews wanted to do was to convince Gallio that Paul’s religion was something very different – something that was not in the best interest of the Roman empire and in fact, should be declared illegal. Verse 13 says.. They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law.”

And so this was a significant moment for the future of the church! Would Christianity be declared an illegal practice and Paul become a criminal – or would Gallio rule in Paul’s favour?

Well, let’s read on to find out! After the Jews make their accusations against Paul, Paul prepares to defend his case… Verse 14.

14 But just as Paul started to make his defense, Gallio turned to Paul’s accusers and said, “Listen, you Jews, if this were a case involving some wrongdoing or a serious crime, I would have a reason to accept your case. 15 But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters.” 16 And he threw them out of the courtroom.

Acts 18:14-16

Wow! I don’t think anyone saw that coming – Not Paul, and certainly not the Jews! Gallio’s judgement was quick, clear, and concise! As the provincial governor, he was not interested in settling what he considered to be ‘arguments over religious semantics’. He rightly affirmed that the government’s role was to address issues of justice, not to settle arguments about religion.

And so he threw out the case – and in doing so, effective granted Christianity the same legal status as Judaism – which was pretty amazing! Paul’s accusers had hoped Gallio’s ruling would prevent Christianity from spreading throughout the empire, but instead, it gave Paul and the rest of the church official Roman approval to continue spreading the Gospel.

And of course, this just has God’s fingerprints all over it! What Satan intended for evil, God completely turned around for good!

Paul didn’t even have to do a thing! I love how in verse 14, Paul starts to make his defence, but he doesn’t even get a chance. Gallio interrupts because he’s already made his decision. Paul just get to stand there and see God at work!

Now of course, I’m pretty sure that Gallio was not a Christian. He didn’t make this decision out of his love for God or for the church. But God was certainly involved in this decision none-the-less.

 It’s like Proverbs 21:1 says…

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord;
he guides it wherever he pleases.

Proverbs 21:1

God can influence the minds and hearts of people however He wants in order to accomplish His will! And this is such an encouragement for us in many areas of life.

In the realm of governments, what a comfort it is that God is still in control of our governments and other authorities over us! Yes, they often make poor or ungodly choices, but they are never beyond the reach of God!  At the drop of a hat, God can cause them to do a total about-face on any issue at any time – should He so desire. Their hearts are like a stream of water in the hand of God – and He can direct it however he pleases! This is true for our national & provincial leaders, for our bosses at work, or anyone else in authority over us. God is still the authority over them! So we don’t have to fret – and often, like Paul, we don’t even have to make our defence – we can just allow God to do His work in their hearts and lives.

And this is true in other realms of life too! God doesn’t just direct the hearts of kings – but he also direct the hearts of the unsaved. He directs the hearts of our children – or our parents. He directs the hearts of our neighbors or our co-workers. In fact, He’s also pretty active in directing your heart and mine!

God is always at work – arranging circumstances and conversations, moving in our hearts and minds so that His will will be done.

That was certainly the case in this situation with Gallio – and we actually see it again in the very next verse. In response to Gallio throwing out their case, it says in verse 17…

17 The crowd then grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him right there in the courtroom. But Gallio paid no attention. Acts 18:17

Now this might strike you as an odd verse to be an example of God working to carry out his will in people’s lives, but it really is! 

Now of course, the main point of this verse is that we see that Gallio had completely stopped listening to these Jews – he’d had enough of their drama. So even when they start beating on this guy, Sosthenes, right in the court room, Gallio ignores them completely.

Now the strange part about this verse is that we aren’t really told why this guy is getting beat up, so we have to try to connect the dots ourselves.

You’ll notice that Sosthenes is named as the leader of the synagogue. Earlier in the chapter, we read about Crispus who was also named as the leader of the synagogue – but you’ll remember that Crispus became a believer and so he was likely kicked out of the synagogue at that point and Sosthenes likely replaced him.

And so, as the synagogue leader, it was likely Sosthenes who put together or presented the case to Gallio on behalf of the Jews. However, since Gallio had simply thrown out their case, and in doing so, helped Paul more than hurt him, the Jews vented their rage back on Sosthenes who had clearly bungled the presentation!

And so, “Where”, you might ask, “Is the evidence of God’s good will being done for this poor guy, Sosthenese?”

Well, the answer isn’t in the book of Acts – it’s actually in the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul wrote this letter several year later while in Ephesus on his third missionary journey – but look how he begins his letter:

“This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes.” 1 Corinthians 1:1

Isn’t that cool!? We’re never told exactly how this happened, but somehow – perhaps as a direct result of the events in Acts that we just read about – Sosthenes gave his life to Christ and became a partner with Paul in spreading the Gospel around the world.

How incredible is that!? Clearly God was at work in this man’s life – directing his heart like a stream of water! It just goes to show that God can change anyone – even our most fierce opponents can be transformed to become some of our closest allies! That’s the power of the Gospel.

And just so you know, the Gospel still has that same power today! God is still in the business of transforming lives – transforming opponents into allies, changing sinners into saints, and making miracles out of messes – just like He did in the city of Corinth all those years ago! What a wonderful encouragement for us today!

Well, with Gallio throwing out the case against Paul, Paul was once again (and perhaps more than ever) free to preach the Gospel. And he did so in Corinth for some time after that – but before too long, Paul was ready to move on. We read in verse 18….

18 Paul stayed in Corinth for some time after that, then said good-bye to the brothers and sisters and went to nearby Cenchrea. There he shaved his head according to Jewish custom, marking the end of a vow. Then he set sail for Syria, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him.

19 They stopped first at the port of Ephesus, where Paul left the others behind. While he was there, he went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews. 20 They asked him to stay longer, but he declined. 21 As he left, however, he said, “I will come back later, God willing.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 The next stop was at the port of Caesarea. From there he went up and visited the church at Jerusalem and then went back to Antioch.

23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul went back through Galatia and Phrygia, visiting and strengthening all the believers.

Acts 18:18-23

And thus concludes Paul’s second missionary journey. Now there are a couple of points in these verses that we could talk about. For example, we could talk about this vow that Paul made that led to him shaving head – and whether that was right or wrong for him to make that vow. We could talk about the fact that Priscilla is named here before Aquilla (when typically in those times, the husband was always named before the wife). However, these questions aren’t really central to our passage today, so I’m going to leave those questions for you to dig into at your own leisure.

But I do want to mention that Priscilla and Aquila did stay behind in Ephesus while Paul continued on. That information leads us into our next verses – which reads like this:

24 Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. 25 He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. 

Acts 18:24-25a

So here we are introduced to Apollos and we’re told that he’s an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well – and he taught about Jesus with enthusiasm and accuracy! Sounds like just the kind of preacher or traveling evangelist that you’d want to listen to!

And actually, the wording in the original Greek is even stronger. In the Greek it says that he was mighty in the Scriptures – the word ‘mighty’ being the greek word “dynatos” which is where we get the english word “dynamite”. So what Luke is saying here is that Apollos taught the Word of God in an incredibly powerful way! He was a dynamite preacher!

Unfortunately, there was slight problem with his message. In the second half of verse 25 we read:

“However, he knew only about John’s baptism.” Acts 18:25b

Now that’s a curious phrase. What exactly does that mean? We were told already that he had been taught the way of the Lord – but if he only knows about John’s baptism…. Exactly what does he know about “the way of the Lord”?

Well, at this point, it might be helpful for us to jump ahead a little but into the next chapter because Paul deals with this exact issue as he begins his 3rd missionary journey. So let’s just quickly jump over there for a moment before we continue with Apollos. 

So Acts chapter 19, verse 1 says..

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers. 2 “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.

“No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 “Then what baptism did you experience?” he asked.

And they replied, “The baptism of John.”

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism called for repentance from sin. But John himself told the people to believe in the one who would come later, meaning Jesus.”

5 As soon as they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

Acts 19:1-7

So these guys here in Ephesus were in the same boat as Apollos. (Perhaps they had even been taught by Apollos himself sometime earlier – we’re not really given that information.) But none the less, they too, only knew about the baptism of John – that’s is, as Paul explained, they knew that they needed to repent of their sins and to believe in the Messiah who would soon come. That was the message of John the baptist! 

You’ll remember that John had many disciples and chances are, some of those disciples left Jerusalem and continued spreading John’s message – without ever knowing about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And so these folks here in Ephesus had heard and believed John’s message, (and perhaps had even heard about Jesus and the many miracles that He did). But they didn’t know about Jesus’ death and resurrection and how that had provided the way to forgiveness and life! And of course with that, of as we see here, they also didn’t know about the Holy Spirit that Jesus had sent to dwell within every believer when they put their faith in Him.

So while Luke doesn’t record all the details, Paul obviously explained all of that to them, and once they learned the rest of the story – they were eager to believe in Jesus, they received the Holy Spirit, and were then baptized in the name of Jesus.

This baptism was not just a baptism of repentance like they had done earlier, but it was also now a baptism of identification. As they were dipped under the water and brought up again, it symbolized how they had joined with Christ in his death and resurrection.

And by the way, this is why we teach and practice what we call “believer’s baptism”. If you are a believer – that’s is, you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died and rose again from the grave so that you can be forgiven – then the Bible tells us that you are to be baptized. As Peter declared in Acts 2:38…

38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38

Even if you had been earlier baptized as an infant or in the case of these guys in Ephesus, baptized without knowing who Jesus really is or what he has done for you – then we would encourage you to be baptized again – signifying that you have made that personal choice to identify with Christ – sharing in his death and resurrection.

And of course, that’s just what these guys in Ephesus did. Even though they had been earlier baptized as a sign of their repentance, they were now baptized again as a sign of their belief and identification with Christ.

So now, getting back to Apollos – he too had only heard about the baptism of John. Now in his case, we know that he had at least heard about Jesus – and may have even known that Jesus was the Messiah. (After all, John did declare that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.)

But it’s clear that Apollos didn’t know the rest of the story. He didn’t know about Jesus’ death and resurrection – and ascension into heaven – and he didn’t know about the Holy Spirit.

But thankfully, even though Paul wasn’t there to explain things to him, Priscilla and Aquila were. Verse 26

 When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.

Acts 18:26

Two cool little things to note here. First of all, notice how Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and explain things to him privately. They didn’t blast him publicly for preaching an incomplete message. They didn’t reject him as a false teacher or criticize him for his lack of knowledge – but instead, they gently took him aside and simply explained the rest of the story to him. I think that’s pretty commendable of them. 

Too often we are quick to condemn and criticize! Yes, we certainly need to carefully evaluate what is being taught by our pastors or other teachers, (like the Bereans who kept studying the Scriptures to make sure that what Paul was teaching was true) but if there is an error or some critical missing information – our first response should be to gently correct them – not to pounce on them as false teachers! Of course, if after that gentle correction they still refuse to listen to the truth, well, then that becomes a different story. But let’s not immediately criticize or condemn before we’ve made every effort to lovingly share the truth with them.

And that leads to the second cool little thing in this verse and that is Apollos actually listened to them! Even though he was a dynamite preacher – who was both eloquent and accurate in what he presented, he wasn’t too proud to admit that he didn’t know it all. He was still teachable. Which is a pretty commendable trail for him too!

He graciously received their instruction and was so much better for it! The next verses say:

27 Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. They wrote to the believers in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived there, he proved to be of great benefit to those who, by God’s grace, had believed. 28 He refuted the Jews with powerful arguments in public debate. Using the Scriptures, he explained to them that Jesus was the Messiah.

Acts 18:27-28

What a powerhouse for the God! Now that Apollos had the full Gospel message, he became an even greater ambassador for the Kingdom of God. He was able to refute the Jews with powerful arguments in public debates so that many would believe that Jesus was the Messiah!

The wise and gentle approach of Priscilla and Aquilla – combined with the humble, teachable spirit of Apollos – lead to a fantastic and powerful ministry that would bring many people to Christ!

And I think that’s perhaps a great lesson for us to end on today. Sometimes we find ourselves in the position of Aquilla and Priscilla – and we need to humbly and gently present the truth to someone.  Maybe as we correct our children – or as we share the Gospel with a co-worker or point out an issue of sin to fellow church member – maybe even when we talk through hard things with our spouse! There are times when we need to speak the truth in love! But we need to be careful that we don’t come across as condemning or in a spirit of pride or self-righteousness. Instead, we need to practice humility, gentleness, and grace.

Or on the other side of things, sometimes we might be in the position of Apollos and need to humbly and graciously accept correction from someone else. 

Maybe you’re the kid being corrected by your parents – or perhaps you’re the one who’s made the mistake – or perhaps you’re the one with wrong beliefs. Will you have the humility to graciously accept correction from someone else? Are you humble enough to admit you’ve been wrong?

And that’s hard to do – I know! Nobody likes being told they were wrong! Our sinful pride fights that all the way! But God calls us to be humble.

As 1 Peter 5:5 tells us:

And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

1 Peter 5:5b-6

This verse applies to us no matter which side of the situation we are. Whether we are the ones who are correcting someone – or whether we are the ones being correction – both require a great deal of humility!

We need to humble yourselves under the mighty power of God – clothing ourselves with humility as we relate to one another – and when we do that, at the right time God will lift us up in honor.

Let’s pray together.

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