The Mystery of Ministry
Robert Wurtz II
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase
(1 Cor. 3:6).
hen Paul arrived at Ephesus from Corinth he found certain disciples. It stands to reason that these were somehow the product of the preaching ministry of Apollos. Some have suggested that the evidence is inconclusive, but I suggest that a casual reading of the text and the close proximity of events leaves us with the impression that the 12 disciples that Paul found there and addressed in Acts 19:1ff were by no coincidence holding the same beliefs as Apollos. He had been ministering powerfully in the synagogues his partial understanding of the Gospel. This same partial understanding was found in the 12. It is not difficult to connect the dots and with no evidence to the contrary, and without being overly dogmatic, I think it safe to suggest as much. At any rate, Apollos was certainly involved in the foundational ministry at Ephesus.
Priscilla and Aquila were a Christian wife and husband that had traveled with Paul from Corinth. Paul preached briefly in the synagogue and as Paul was determined to travel on, they stayed behind at Ephesus. On one particular day they came to the synagogue and heard Apollos preaching boldly to the Jews. It is unclear when he arrived in Ephesus, but it is certain based on the Greek text that this man was zealous for God and the Gospel. He was a repentance revival looking for a place to happen. Understand that in the early part of his ministry he was preaching a partial version of the message of John the Baptist due to his own limited understanding. We can deduce from the texts that it is likely he understood only repentance, fruits worthy of repentance, faith in a coming Messiah and the baptism of repentance (John’s baptism). When Priscilla and Aquila realized he had a limited understanding of the Gospel, they took him aside and expounded the truth of the Gospel to him more accurately. This upgrade in his understanding and his receiving of the Spirit equipped him to minister in such a way that the brethren could place in his hand a letter of recommendation for those Christians that did not know him, to receive him. (Acts 18:27)
This makes for an interesting scenario that balances the way in which God uses men in ministry; Apollos eventually heads for Corinth to minister and Paul would later return to Ephesus. Earlier Luke describes Apollos as an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures. He was an Alexandrian Jew that has been recognized by theologians as second only to Paul in the preaching of the Gospel. Martin Luther suggested that Apollos wrote the book of Hebrews, though that is impossible to verify. So powerful was his ministry of the word that when he came to Corinth people divided up and said ‘I am of Apollos’. We will return to this thought later to examine the implications of that statement, but we can rest assured that there were few people that preached the Gospel as powerfully as Apollos.
The disciples Paul found were almost certainly the fruit of Apollos preaching. They were solid in their repentance, but had never heard of the Holy Spirit. There was anticipation in their hearts as to what God wanted them to do next. They had been ‘planted.’ Paul arrives back at Ephesus and asks them plainly, did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Notice that Paul does not tell them that they received the Holy Spirit when they believed, but he asks them if they received when they believed. Paul does not believe receiving the Spirit is determined by a process of logical deductions drawn from proof texts as we find pervasive in modern Evangelicalism. He wants to know, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” This is Paul building upon their understanding and experience in God to bring them into the fullness of Christ. They heard the message of repentance from someone other than Paul, but now he is watering their understanding. The question has to be asked, why does God work things out this way? Why not just use one person for everything?
I am of Apollos
I said we would return to a statement made in Corinth, so I will quote the passage in full; For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? (1 Cor. 3:4) Here are the two great ministers of the Gospel in one sentence and the enemy has worked to pit them against each other. They loved one another and sought to work together in unity, but the enemy sought to divide them. Paul and Apollos wouldn’t have it. Notice that Paul calls such behavior, not ignorant or childish, but carnal. Bear in mind that they were proficient in the use of the gifts of the Spirit and were yet in a carnal mind. Amazing. These people could not see what God was doing so they reverted into a worldly mindset. They we acting as if they were not even saved. Meanwhile Paul stayed at Ephesus for 2-3 years ministering. Nobody said, “I am of Priscilla and Aquilla” or “I am of Paul.” Why? Because they were moving in first love and when in that state people simply do not act carnally.
Paul had to explain to Corinth later on the secret to this by saying that he did not preach himself (2 Cor. 4:5). In fact, when he got ready to leave Ephesus he commended them to God and to the Word of His grace. He did not commend the flock into the hands of men, but into the hands of God. That is a radical revelation if we can take hold of it. Paul warned them night and day with tears that the enemy wanted to send in grievous wolves to destroy the flock. (Acts 20:29ff) It never happened. Why? Because the people kept holding the Head, which is Christ. Jesus walked in the midst of their Lamp stand from the very beginning bringing them essential words of revelation at crucial times.
F.F. Bruce is reported to have said that God intended for the churches to be built for disaster. Satan could never rest thinking that if he martyred a certain leader the ministry would stop. It was set up so that each person in the meeting could hear from Christ. We as men and women sometimes like to think that if we die or are somehow incapacitated that the world will end and God will have a nervous breakdown; but the fact is God has insured that the work of the ministry will go on. It is a hard saying to reckon with, but it is not our responsibility to find our own replacements, that is God’s business. Understand that Ephesus was not a man-centered church, it was a Christ-centered church. It could go on functioning if Paul, Apollos, Priscilla, Aquilla and the rest of the leaders all left, died, or never spoke to them again. They were Christ dependent, not men dependent. The Reformers called this the priesthood of all believers. The enemy found it hard to take out the main leader because He was seated in the Heavenlies at the right hand of God.
Why does God move men?
Before we can ask why God moves men I think we need to carefully read the passage where Jesus dealt with a critical fault in human psychology. The people began to say of Jesus, Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. (Mark 6:3, 4) There is something about familiarity that causes a person to want to turn off the guy that’s ministering. Even Jesus dealt with this, so it suffices us that we be as our Master. We can speak to the same people for so long that there is no longer any effect. I have seen it happen. A preacher preaches a message using certain passages and points- yet the people will not hearken or respond. Another preacher, a stranger, can bring an almost identical message and the people act as if they heard it for the first time, get stoked, and are ready to storm the kingdom of Darkness. What happens? Familiarity. I believe that sometimes God has to move the pieces around on the board just to keep everyone at maximum effectiveness; not because they are less on their game, but because of the psychological peculiarities of men and women who hear the Gospel. Traveling ministers are such a breath of fresh air that they risk losing their cutting edge because people are so un-used to them that they can minister the same couple messages in 200 places and get an amen every time. While the home preacher may have a fresh word every day and it go unreceived. Why? A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
Paul leaves Ephesus
And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more… (Acts 20:1ff)
Paul here is leaving Ephesus and went on to fulfill God’s will for his life, leaving us many vital life lessons and revelation that had he stayed at Ephesus we would have never received. All of his work was closed in a triumphant testimony at the end of 2 Timothy and his ministry to Nero where he was likely put to death. He wrote many epistles after this time. At some point he apparently sent young Timothy to be at Ephesus, because in 1 Tim. 1:3 he told him to ‘abide at Ephesus.’ This would have been ca. late 60’s AD. He came up under Paul and from a child had known the holy scriptures. Ephesus went on being the premier church in Asia Minor and is our example of how a church can leave their first love, repent and return to their first love. It survived several centuries after Paul’s and Timothy’s death as an example of how God can keep a church by the Word of His grace and with men after God’s own heart. Apollos planted, Paul and Timothy watered and God gave the increase. There can be no greater testimony in this life or no greater glory given to God.
Artists concept of Paul and Apollos