Monday, December 1, 2008

In Search Of Truth, Acts 18:18-28


As Paul continues his missionary journey, he is accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, his tent-making partners in Corinth.

Verse 18 indicates that Paul shaved his head as part of a special vow he had taken. We don't know the nature of this vow, but the shaving indicates it falls in line with the format described in Numbers chapter 6. This being the case, it shows that while Paul embraced the truth presented by Jesus, he did not abandon his Jewish heritage and traditions. There's nothing wrong with holding on to these things if they enable your relationship with God rather than distract you from it or promote something false.

Next, Paul and company arrive in Ephesus, the most important city in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He found some level of success while reasoning with those in the local synagogue, but when asked to stay, declined. He would, however, come back. More on that later. Meantime, he said he would return, "if God wills." (If you've ever heard the expression, "Lord willing", it's a lot older than you might think!)

While Paul continued on his travels, giving whatever encouragement and guidance he could to the believers he met, chapter 18 cuts back to the action in Ephesus, where Paul left his ministry partners, Priscilla and Aquila. An intelligent, eloquent man named Apollos came through the city. He knew scripture extremely well and taught it to others effectively and accurately. He specifically taught about the Messiah, but his information wasn't up to date. He only had knowledge of what John the Baptist had been preaching. He knew it was time for everyone to turn away from their "default" way of life and look for God's promised Messiah. But he hadn't heard yet that Jesus had come on the scene and fulfilled that role in line with prophecy.

Priscilla and Aquila noticed this about his teaching, and I love the way they responded. Instead of interrupting him or drawing attention away from him and toward themselves, they pulled him aside privately and explained the truth about Jesus.

It's also great to see how Apollos responded to this. He could have let his ego get bruised and resisted the truth. After all, he'd been explaining the truth very effectively. He probably saw people respond to his teaching on a regular basis. He may have felt like he had found his niche and didn't need to improve upon what was already working well. And yet, we see in verses 27 and 28 that he went on to have an even more effective ministry, using the Old Testament scriptures to demonstrate the truth about Jesus' divine identity.

Even though he had is own thing going on, he was willing to be accountable to others and connect with them in service of the bigger picture. In return, he gained encouragment and practical help: a "letter of recommendation" that enabled him to continue and have even wider impact in his work. He went to Achaia (where you'll remember Paul had recently run into trouble with the local Jews) and gave encouragement to the Christians there by powerfully refuting the Jews in public, using reason and logic to share the truth about Jesus.

The example here is of criticism performed and responded to correctly on both sides. A pretty rare event and one we can learn from. Do you look at criticism, even poorly delivered or mean-spirited criticism, as an opportunity to examine yourself and explore the truth? No matter how it is delivered, truth is still truth.

Likewise, we can follow the example of teaching seen here. Correction offered will be better received if delivered in private. It's a tough thing to be criticized publically (and yes, that includes comments on blogs and on message boards), but if we approach each other individually, we can avoid an entire layer of potential barrier that might otherwise obstruct the truth we are trying to share.

Next Week: Paul digs in and "sets up shop" in Ephesus.

Coffee House Question

When was the last time you were given criticism that was delivered well (even if it was hard to hear). What made it come across better than it could have?

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