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Strengthening the Disciples

In this passage, there are three accounts of people whose work strengthens the disciples: Paul through his evangelistic mission, Priscilla and Aquila through their personal discipleship, and Apollos through his apologetics ministry. Each of them ministers in a different way, but they all work towards the same goal of building up the Church by strengthening the believers.

After almost two years in Corinth, Paul has finished his second missionary journey, and heads home. Along with Priscilla and Aquila, he makes it to Ephesus, where he preaches in the synagogue. The Jews there ask him to stay, and when he refuses, we learn a very important lesson for the Christian life: the need is not the call. Just because someone asks you to do something good, this does not obligate you to do it. Many faithful Christians are overburdened and tired because they haven’t learned this lesson. They see a real need, they are moved with godly compassion, and they make a foolish decision to say yes. Sometimes the faithful and godly thing to do is to say, “No, I can’t meet your need or participate in your ministry, because God has given me something else to do.”

Paul desired to minister to the Ephesians, however, and he promises to return if God wills. Then he travels back to his own local church in Antioch for a time before setting out again to strengthen the disciples. At this point, however, Luke’s story stays in Ephesus, and the big news there is the arrival of another Christian missionary, a Jew from Alexandria named Apollos. This well-qualified man fervently sought to persuade Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The problem was, he hadn’t been taught the full story.

It seems that he knew about the death and resurrection of Jesus and what it meant for the Jews, but the Great Commission and the events of Pentecost were absent from his teaching. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preach, they realized that they had learned from Paul what Apollos needed to know. So they took him aside and taught him the way of God more accurately. We see the bold love of these two in their willingness to correct an eloquent, well-educated preacher, and we see their wisdom and tact in doing it privately. Love praises publicly, but corrects privately.

An important thing for us to note: not only do Priscilla and Aquila teach Apollos doctrine, but, based on the changed order of names from verse 2, it is Priscilla who takes the lead in serving this way. Pointing this out helps us to get a true biblical perspective on the teaching ministry of women in the broader life of the Church. Can women teach? Absolutely. Can women teach men? Absolutely. Can women teach Bible and doctrine to men? Absolutely. In a culture that gets the roles of men and women wildly wrong, the Church has sometimes overreacted and left the impression that women may not do these things. This is a terrible error, and it demeans women made in God’s image and filled with God’s Spirit. Remember, in Acts 2, the promise from Joel that was fulfilled at Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit would empower both men and women to communicate His message.

Now, can women be pastors or elders, or take the leadership role in corporate worship? No, they may not. 1 Timothy makes that clear. But Acts 18 shows us that it is not a matter of ability or skill. Genesis 1 shows us that it is not because women are not made in God’s image (they are). Galatians 3 shows us that it is not because men have a higher place in God’s sight (they don’t). Acts 2 shows us that it is not because women do not have the Holy Spirit or cannot prophesy (they do and they can). If the Church is to be healthy and strong, she needs many women using their teaching gifts in order to strengthen the disciples.

God gives different gifts to His church, and He made Paul a missionary, Priscilla and Aquila disciplers, and Apollos an apologist. As different as these ministries are, they are united by a common thread: they all use God’s Word to point people to Jesus. May God continue to raise up many missionaries, disciplers, and apologists to strengthen Christ’s disciples.

Posted on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 by CJ Bowen