Apollos at Corinth
[This chapter is based on Acts 18:18-28.]
After leaving Corinth, Paul's next scene of labour was Ephesus. He was
on his way to Jerusalem to attend an approaching festival, and his stay at
Ephesus was necessarily brief. He reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue,
and so favourable was the impression made upon them that they entreated
him to continue his labours among them. His plan to visit Jerusalem
prevented him from tarrying then, but he promised to return to them,
"if God will." Aquila and Priscilla had accompanied him to
Ephesus, and he left them there to carry on the work that he had begun.
It was at this time that "a certain Jew named Apollos, born at
Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, came to
Ephesus." He had heard the preaching of John the Baptist, had
received the baptism of repentance, and was a living witness that the work
of the prophet had not been in vain. The Scripture record of Apollos is
that he "was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in
the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing
only the baptism of John."
While in Ephesus, Apollos "began to speak boldly in the
synagogue." Among his hearers were Aquila and Priscilla, who,
perceiving that he had not yet received the full light of the gospel,
"took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more
perfectly." Through their teaching he obtained a clearer
understanding of the Scriptures and became one of the ablest advocates of
the Christian faith.
Apollos was desirous of going on into Achaia, and the brethren at
Ephesus "wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him" as a
teacher in full harmony with the church of Christ. He went to Corinth,
where, in public labour and from house to house, "he mightily
convinced the Jews, . . . showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was
Christ." Paul had planted the seed of truth; Apollos now watered it.
The success that attended Apollos in preaching the gospel led some of the
believers to exalt his labours above those of Paul. This comparison of man
with man brought into the church a party spirit that threatened to hinder
greatly the progress of the gospel.
During the year and a half that Paul had spent in Corinth, he had
purposely presented the gospel in its simplicity. "Not with
excellency of speech or of wisdom" had he come to the Corinthians;
but with fear and trembling, and "in demonstration of the Spirit and
of power," had he declared "the testimony of God," that
their "faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power
of God." 1 Corinthians 2:1, 4, 5.
Paul had necessarily adapted his manner to teaching to the condition of
the church. "I, brethren could not speak unto you as unto
spiritual," he afterward explained to them, "but as unto carnal,
even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat:
for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye
able." 1 Corinthians 3:1, 2. Many of the Corinthian believers had
been slow to learn the lessons that he was endeavouring to teach them.
Their advancement in spiritual knowledge had not been proportionate to
their privileges and opportunities. When they should have been far
advanced in Christian experience, and able to comprehend and to practice
the deeper truths of the word, they were standing where the disciples
stood when Christ said to them, "I have yet many things to say unto
you, but ye cannot bear them now." John 16:12. Jealousy, evil
surmising, and accusation had closed the hearts of many of the Corinthian
believers against the full working of the Holy Spirit, which "searcheth
all things, yea, the deep things of God." 1 Corinthians 2:10. However
wise they might be in worldly knowledge, they were but babes in the
knowledge of Christ.
It had been Paul's work to instruct the Corinthian converts in the
rudiments, the very alphabet, of the Christian faith. He had been obliged
to instruct them as those who were ignorant of the operations of divine
power upon the heart. At that time they were unable to comprehend the
mysteries of salvation; for "the natural man receiveth not the things
of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he
know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Verse 14. Paul
had endeavoured to sow the seed, which others must water. Those who
followed him must carry forward the work from the point where he had left
it, giving spiritual light and knowledge in due season, as the church was
able to bear it.
When the apostle took up his work in Corinth, he realised that he must
introduce most carefully the great truths he wished to teach. He knew that
among his hearers would be proud believers in human theories, and
exponents of false systems of worship, who were groping with blinds eyes,
hoping to find in the book of nature theories that would contradict the
reality of the spiritual and immortal life as revealed in the Scriptures.
He also knew that critics would endeavour to controvert the Christian
interpretation of the revealed word, and that sceptics would treat the
gospel of Christ with scoffing and derision.
As he endeavoured to lead souls to the foot of the cross, Paul did not
venture to rebuke, directly, those who were licentious, or to show how
heinous was their sin in the sight of a holy God. Rather he set before
them the true object of life and tried to impress upon their minds the
lessons of the divine Teacher, which, if received, would lift them from
worldliness and sin to purity and righteousness. He dwelt especially upon
practical godliness and the holiness to which those must attain who shall
be accounted worthy of a place in God's kingdom. He longed to see the
light of the gospel of Christ piercing the darkness of their minds, that
they might see how offensive in the sight of God were their immoral
practices. Therefore the burden of his teaching among them was Christ and
Him crucified. He sought to show them that their most earnest study and
their greatest joy must be the wonderful truth of salvation through
repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The philosopher turns aside from the light of salvation, because it
puts his proud theories to shame; the worldling refuses to receive it,
because it would separate him from his earthly idols. Paul saw that the
character of Christ must be understood before men could love Him or view
the cross with the eye of faith. Here must begin that study which shall be
the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity. In the
light of the cross alone can the true value of the human soul be
The refining influence of the grace of God changes the natural
disposition of man. Heaven would not be desirable to the carnal-minded;
their natural, unsanctified hearts would feel no attraction toward that
pure and holy place, and if it were possible for them to enter, they would
find there nothing congenial. The propensities that control the natural
heart must be subdued by the grace of Christ before fallen man is fitted
to enter heaven and enjoy the society of the pure, holy angels. When man
dies to sin and is quickened to new life in Christ, divine love fills his
heart; his understanding is sanctified; he drinks from an inexhaustible
fountain of joy and knowledge, and the light of an eternal day shines upon
his path, for with him continually is the Light of life.
Paul had sought to impress upon the minds of his Corinthian brethren
the fact that he and the ministers associated with him were but men
commissioned by God to teach the truth, that they were all engaged in the
same work, and that they were alike dependent upon God for success in
their labours. The discussion that had arisen in the church regarding the
relative merits of different ministers was not in the order of God, but
was the result of cherishing the attributes of the natural heart.
"While one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye
not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye
believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos
watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth
anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the
increase." 1 Corinthians 3:4-7.
It was Paul who had first preached the gospel in Corinth, and who had
organised the church there. This was the work that the Lord had assigned
him. Later, by God's direction, other workers were brought in, to stand in
their lot and place. The seed sown must be watered, and this Apollos was
to do. He followed Paul in his work, to give further instruction, and to
help the seed sown to develop. He won his way to the hearts of the people,
but it was God who gave the increase. It is not human, but divine power,
that works transformation of character. Those who plant and those who
water do not cause the growth of the seed; they work under God, as His
appointed agencies, co-operating with Him in His work. To the Master
Worker belongs the honour and glory that comes with success.
God's servants do not all possess the same gifts, but they are all His
workmen. Each is to learn of the Great Teacher, and is then to communicate
what he has learned. God has given to each of His messengers an individual
work. There is a diversity of gifts, but all the workers are to blend in
harmony, controlled by the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. As
they make known the gospel of salvation, many will be convicted and
converted by the power of God. The human instrumentality is hid with
Christ in God, and Christ appears as the chiefest among ten thousand, the
One altogether lovely.
"Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man
shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are
labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's
building." Verses 8, 9. In this scripture the apostle compares the
church to a cultivated field, in which the husbandmen labour, caring for
the vines of the Lord's planting; and also to a building, which is to grow
into a holy temple for the Lord. God is the Master Worker, and He has
appointed to each man his work. All are to labour under His supervision,
letting Him work for and through His workmen. He gives them tact and
skill, and if they heed His instruction, crowns their efforts with
God's servants are to work together, blending in kindly, courteous
order, "in honour preferring one another." Romans 12:10. There
is to be no unkind criticism, no pulling to pieces of another's work; and
there are to be no separate parties. Every man to whom the Lord has
entrusted a message has his specific work. Each one has an individuality
of his own, which he is not to sink in that of any other man. Yet each is
to work in harmony with his brethren. In their service God's workers are
to be essentially one. No one is to set himself up as a criterion,
speaking disrespectfully of his fellow workers or treating them as
inferior. Under God each is to do his appointed work, respected, loved,
and encouraged by the other labourers. Together they are to carry the work
forward to completion.
These principles are dwelt upon at length in Paul's first letter to the
Corinthian church. The apostle refers to "the ministers of
Christ" as "stewards of the mysteries of God," and of their
work he declares: "It is required in stewards, that a man be found
faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of
you, or of man's judgement: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know
nothing by myself; yet I am not hereby justified: but He that judgeth me
is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come,
who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make
manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise
of God." 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.
It is not given to any human being to judge between the different
servants of God. The Lord alone is the judge of man's work, and He will
give to each his just reward.
The apostle, continuing, referred directly to the comparisons that had
been made between his labours and those of Apollos: "These things,
brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your
sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is
written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who
maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not
receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou
hadst not received it?" Verses 6, 7.
Paul plainly set before the church the perils and the hardships that he
and his associates had patiently endured in their service for Christ.
"Even unto this present hour," he declared, "we both
hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain
dwelling place; and labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we
bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat: we are
made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto
this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I
warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have
ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the
gospel." Verses 11-15.
He who sends forth gospel workers as His ambassadors is dishonoured
when there is manifested among the hearers so strong an attachment to some
favourite minister that there is an unwillingness to accept the labours of
some other teacher. The Lord sends help to His people, not always as they
may choose, but as they need; for men are short-sighted and cannot discern
what is for their highest good. It is seldom that one minister has all the
qualifications necessary to perfect a church in all the requirements of
Christianity; therefore God often sends to them other ministers, each
possessing some qualifications in which the others were deficient.
The church should gratefully accept these servants of Christ, even as
they would accept the Master Himself. They should seek to derive all the
benefit possible from the instruction which each minister may give them
from the word of God. The truths that the servants of God bring are to be
accepted and appreciated in the meekness of humility, but no minister is
to be idolised.
Through the grace of Christ, God's ministers are made messengers of
light and blessing. As by earnest, persevering prayer they obtain the
endowment of the Holy Spirit and go forth weighted with the burden of
soulsaving, their hearts filled with zeal to extend the triumphs of the
cross, they will see fruit of their labours. Resolutely refusing to
display human wisdom or to exalt self, they will accomplish a work that
will withstand the assaults of Satan. Many souls will be turned from
darkness to light, and many churches will be established. Men will be
converted, not to the human instrumentality, but to Christ. Self will be
kept in the background; Jesus only, the Man of Calvary, will appear.
Those who are working for Christ today may reveal the same
distinguishing excellencies revealed by those who in the apostolic age
proclaimed the gospel. God is just as ready to give power to His servants
today as He was to give power to Paul and Apollos, to Silas and Timothy,
to Peter, James, and John.
In the apostles' day there were some misguided souls who claimed to
believe in Christ, yet refused to show respect to His ambassadors. They
declared that they followed no human teacher, but were taught directly by
Christ without the aid of the ministers of the gospel. They were
independent in spirit and unwilling to submit to the voice of the church.
Such men were in grave danger of being deceived.
God has placed in the church, as His appointed helpers, men of varied
talents, that through the combined wisdom of many the mind of the Spirit
may be met. Men who move in accordance with their own strong traits of
character, refusing to yoke up with others who have had a long experience
in the work of God, will become blinded by self-confidence, unable to
discern between the false and the true. It is not safe for such ones to be
chosen as leaders in the church; for they would follow their own judgement
and plans, regardless of the judgement of their brethren. It is easy for
the enemy to work through those who, themselves needing counsel at every
step, undertake the guardianship of souls in their own strength, without
having learned the lowliness of Christ.
Impressions alone are not a safe guide to duty. The enemy often
persuades men to believe that it is God who is guiding them, when in
reality they are following only human impulse. But if we watch carefully,
and take counsel with our brethren, we shall be given an understanding of
the Lord's will; for the promise is, "The meek will He guide in
judgement: and the meek will He teach His way." Psalm 25:9.
In the early Christian church there were some who refused to recognise
either Paul or Apollos, but held that Peter was their leader. They
affirmed that Peter had been most intimate with Christ when the Master was
upon the earth, while Paul had been a persecutor of the believers. Their
views and feelings were bound about by prejudice. They did not show the
liberality, the generosity, the tenderness, which reveals that Christ is
abiding in the heart.
There was danger that this party spirit would result in great evil to
the Christian church, and Paul was instructed by the Lord to utter words
of earnest admonition and solemn protest. Of those who were saying,
"I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of
Christ," the apostle inquired, "Is Christ divided? was Paul
crucified for you? or were ye baptised in the name of Paul?"
"Let no man glory in men," he pleaded. "For all things are
yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or
death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are
Christ's; and Christ is God's." 1 Corinthians 1:12, 13; 3:21-23.
Paul and Apollos were in perfect harmony. The latter was disappointed
and grieved because of the dissension in the church at Corinth; he took no
advantage of the preference shown to himself, nor did he encourage it, but
hastily left the field of strife. When Paul afterward urged him to revisit
Corinth, he declined and did not again labour there until long afterward
when the church had reached a better spiritual state.