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Blessed Influence

Date: Jun. 8, 2014

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Acts 18:18-28

Key Verse: Acts 18:27

“When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.”

In many ways, the people that surround us define many aspects of our lives. The accents that we speak with are literally defined by the people that we live and grow up with. A southerner will have a southern accent because they grew up in the south with other southerners. The French have French accents, and you speak the way that you speak because of most likely where you grew up. My mother is German and she has been married to my dad for thirty-eight years, now. She has lived with my dad more than she has lived without him, but she still has that accent. She will never lose that accent, even though she has lived among Americans for the past twenty-two years straight. The influence she received as a kid impacted her speech patterns for the rest of her life. This effect isn’t just for speech patterns. In fact, strong influence at critical times can leave a lasting impression in nearly every aspect of our lives. The decision on what to major in is influenced by what a person is exposed to and enjoys prior to college. Many times, the food that we like to eat is defined by our experiences as kids. I’m not big on seafood and don’t really have much of a desire to eat it, because there was no seafood at home. In Christianity, having a strong positive influence is called being a blessing to someone. When we are being a blessing to someone, we are being a great help and encouragement to that person and have an impact on their lives. In today’s passage, there are a number of people who are being a blessing to a person or a group of people. Each one is different and offers new insight. Let’s take a look.

The passage starts out, “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.” (18) Last week, we saw that Paul arrived in Corinth, which was in Achaia or Greece. He was there for a at least a year and a half. He worked with Silas, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla to bring the gospel to the city. After a period of time, Paul decided to leave Corinth and head back to Antioch. He left Silas and Timothy in Corinth to carry on the good work, but Priscilla and Aquila left with Paul. When Paul and company arrived in Cenchreae, Paul had his hair cut because of a vow he took. This kind of looks like Paul had previously taken the Nazirite vow that is described in the Old Testament book of Numbers (Numbers 6:1-21). The Nazirite vow is where a person wanted to set himself apart for a special purpose and they would not cut their hair or drink wine (or have anything to do with grapes for that matter). At the end of the vow, the person would shave all their hair off and bring it to the temple where it was burned in the offering that was also given. This is where things differ. Paul cut his hair in Greece not in Jerusalem. No matter what he exact purpose of the vow was, it did show his Jewishness. He has spent a lot of time among the Gentiles and he was heading back to a more Jewish area. Paul was still a Jew and wanted to convey that fact before heading to Syria. He wanted to make sure that he didn’t cause anyone to falter in their faith because of his appearance, so he became a Jew for the Jews.

After leaving Cenchreae, they arrived in Ephesus in western Turkey. Ephesus was the seat of power for the region of Asia. This is possibly where Paul wanted to go before he was redirected to Macedonia. When the ship stops in Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila and headed into the synagogue to reason with the Jews. Even when Paul was heading back home, he still had opportunity to share the gospel with people along the way. He still went about giving Jesus to those who needed it. They seemed to have some interest in what he was saying and invited him to stay with them, but Paul really had to be on his way and declined. He said, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” (21) From Ephesus, Paul sailed to Caesarea and went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Paul greeted the church, perhaps giving a progress report on the church’s growth in Macedonia and Achaia. Upon leaving Jerusalem, Paul traveled north to Antioch, the place from where he was sent. And this actually marks the end of his second missionary journey. It’s kind of buried in this passage, but the journey through Turkey into Macedonia and down into Greece ended with Paul’s return home to Antioch.

Paul stayed there less than a year before resuming his work. He headed back up through Cilicia and traveled the regions of Galatia and Phrygia. I believe that Paul had it in his mind to go to Ephesus, but he didn’t take the shortest route, which would have been by sea. Instead, Paul travels the interior of Turkey again, as he works his way across the peninsula to Ephesus, some 1000 miles away. Why did Paul go that way? If his goal was to get to Ephesus, why go the slow long route? The last part of verse 23 says that he strengthened all the disciples. Paul was not so caught up in what he wanted to do, so as to neglect the people he already had contact with. Paul wanted to keep the churches that he planted on the path of Christ. There were probably many people who were deriding Christianity and Christians that the church needed to be encouraged. There were still a lot of Jews who didn’t like Christians, and even a number of pagan Gentiles were threatened by the church. Paul went to build up those people.

In this first part of the passage, you can see Paul being a blessing to others a number of times. When he cut off his hair, he was being a blessing to his fellow Jews. He was helping them not to sin because of their tie to the law. Also, by obeying the Jewish law, Paul made himself into a person that the Jews could accept. The Jews would more likely listen to another Jew about the gospel message than a Gentile. The actions of cutting his hair off would allow Paul to be a blessing by him being able to give the good news about Jesus to his fellow Jews. This is clear when Paul lands in Ephesus. He goes into the synagogue to reason with them about Jesus. The Jews had been waiting for the Messiah for a long time. It was their greatest hope and Paul wanted them to know what he had found out, that Jesus is the Messiah. Paul had the answer to their greatest hope and he couldn’t help but share it with the Jews. He wanted to use his influence as a Jew to open their hearts to accept that Jesus is the Messiah.

We can have an impact on people in a similar way. Who we are or something that has happened to us or something that we’ve done puts us in positions to help others who are similar. For example, a Christian who is a former alcoholic or drug user knows what it was like to have an addiction that consumes their life. Before Jesus there was no way out of their pit, but they know the freedom that Jesus brings. These people are uniquely situated to help other people with substance abuse problems find their way to Jesus. I’m using this example because it is a very well known one, but, honestly, it is not my story. I can’t speak on it fully because I don’t fully understand it and it would honestly be hard for me to relate to a person in that position. My story is different. Although I have never had any substance abuse problems, I do suffer from social anxiety issues. I don’t like being in large groups of people. I’m not a fan of parties. I know what it is like to be shy and socially awkward. All you have to do is listen to the tone of my voice to know that I don’t know how to play well with others. I’ve had trouble speaking publicly and always wondered if there was something wrong with me. There are many times that I feel isolated from other people. I wonder if it is my fault or someone else’s fault, but it doesn’t really matter. I am laying this out in the open because I am here to say that although I still suffer from social anxiety, I have seen vast improvements because of Jesus. My mind, soul and emotional state are being healed. It is not a magic pill to solve all my problems, but it is real healing with lasting results. I’ve mentioned it before. There was a time, not that long ago that I would be severely shaking when I would have to speak in public, but I can honestly say that it was Jesus that changed this. I didn’t take any public speaking courses or use any gimmicks like imagining the audience in their underwear. By sharing God’s word with others, the shaking disappeared. The blood of Christ has saved me and I am being healed so that I can be a blessing to others. And that is something that is truly real. What I went through and am going through now gives me credibility to others that are like me. The same holds for you. Your life experiences make you unique to help someone to know Jesus because you know what they are going through.

Besides being a blessing to his fellow Jews that did not believe, Paul was a blessing on the family of believers. When he arrived in Jerusalem, Paul greeted the church there. He could have just bypassed the city and went from Caesarea to Antioch, but he stopped by Jerusalem to encourage the church there. My guess is that Paul informed the leaders of the church about what was going on in the wider world. He let them know that the church was growing and the unstoppable gospel was advancing throughout the empire. I’m not sure what the condition of the church was in Jerusalem, but the news of what was going on around the world must have been very uplifting. Paul was able to be a blessing to the church in Jerusalem even though he was among their peers. When Paul started his third missionary journey. He started to go back through Turkey visiting the churches that were planted. The Bible said that he strengthened the disciples. In this area, Paul wasn’t viewed as a peer, but he was viewed as more of a father figure. The disciples in this area weren’t like the mature leaders in Jerusalem; they were young Christians whose faith was more easily shaken. Paul’s maturity could bring them stability. If they had gone astray, Paul could point them back to Jesus. If they were being persecuted Paul could remind them that God is sovereign and loves them very much. Paul could be a blessing by building them back up.

In the same way, we can be a blessing to those in the faith, no matter what they stature in faith is. It is easy for people to get bogged down by the worries of the world, but by simply sharing how God is working around you, you are able to encourage others to continue in their lives of faith. When all we see is problems and opposition, it can be very discouraging. People are mocking and attacking Christianity in discussion forums and comments sections on the internet. Sometimes a person can feel very alone in their faith, but our words and actions can encourage others to remain in the faith and even to thrive. A reminder that God is sovereign and that Jesus will return can change a person from being defeated to being empowered. You can be a positive influence on someone by simply reminding people of their faith.

As we continue through the passage, we see that while Paul was making his way from Antioch, someone else arrive in Ephesus. “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” (24) Apollos was a man from Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was the second largest city in the Roman Empire and home to a substantial Jewish population. It was the place where the Old Testament was translated into Greek and home to the fabled libraries of Alexandria. It was a scholarly place and Apollos was a scholarly man with thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. When he arrived in Ephesus he proceeded to share what he knew. “ He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue.” (25-26) Someone had told him about John that Baptist and Jesus. He accepted what he was taught and went to the synagogue to teach it to others. He spoke with great passion, but his teaching was incomplete. It is kind of hard to understand how Apollos could speak of Jesus accurately while only knowing about the baptism of John, but the point is that Apollos’ knowledge of Jesus was incomplete. It’s not that far fetched. If you look at many of the denominations of Christianity, they speak very accurately about Jesus, but they focus on a certain subject. That doesn’t mean that their teaching is completely wrong. It might just be incomplete. We do this individually all the time. Based on our life experiences and interests, we tend to focus heavily on one area while neglecting others. As an example, some people are very interested in the Holy Spirit and supernatural that they put heavy focus on it and not putting focus on Jesus. There are other people that don’t care much for the supernatural, so they completely neglect the third member of the Trinity. It’s easy to speak very accurately, but only have part of the picture.

“When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (26) Priscilla and Aquila took this young man under their wings and helped him to understand the full gospel message. The wonderful thing is that Apollos took that message to heart. Priscilla and Aquila were full of grace when teaching Apollos. They didn’t publicly corrected him, but they took him aside to help him understand. Although no other translations says it, the NIV says that they invited him into their home. Perhaps Priscilla and Aquila invited Apollos over for dinner. They may have told him how they came to believe and the work of God that was performed in Corinth. After leaning more about who Jesus is, Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, probably specifically Corinth. So the brothers and sisters in Ephesus wrote a letter to those in Corinth to welcome Apollos and when he arrived, he was a great help. “When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.” (27-28) The church in Corinth was predominantly Gentile and as the passage says, they believed because of grace. They didn’t have an innate understanding of Scripture, but Apollos brought that to them. The Jews in the city were still causing trouble to the body of believers by trying to poke holes in their faith, but when Apollos came, he was able to debate those naysayers by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

In this passage, Priscilla and Aquila and Apollos were blessings to a number of people. Priscilla and Aquila were directly a blessing to Apollos. Apollos had been teaching about Jesus accurately but incompletely. He didn’t have the knowledge that Jesus was the Messiah. He was probably telling others that Jesus was a great teacher who healed a great many people. While that is true, it is incomplete. Priscilla and Aquila could have been upset that Apollos was leaving out the most important part about Jesus. You see it nowadays. If there is one little inaccuracy in something that a person says, they are taken to the woodshed and the credibility of everything they said is wiped away. If a person is wrong about one thing, they must be wrong about everything else too. Thank God that Priscilla and Aquila weren’t like that at all. They were filled with grace and took Apollos aside to show him the more complete way. It’s beautiful and we can really learn from them in dealing with people who have only partial knowledge. Again, how we talk to people and treat them can be a great encouragement and leave a positive impression on someone.

Apollos was also a blessing in many ways. He was a blessing to the people of Ephesus because he taught them what he knew. Apollos didn’t know everything that there is to know about Jesus, but that didn’t stop him from sharing what he did know and to do so with great passion. Many times we think of ourselves as inadequate to share the gospel with someone. We can feel that our knowledge is insufficient, our language is shoddy, or our ability to speak falls short, but we can learn from Apollos that that doesn’t matter. We can be a blessing by sharing what we know however we know how to share it. We are under obligation to share what we know, no matter how great or small. We don’t have to be afraid. We have a God who is sovereign above all things who is watching over everything. Honestly, I know that I have taught something only to realize later that what I taught was not the whole truth, but I know that if I am sharing sincerely, then God will take care of the rest. We can share because God’s got our back.

God had Apollos’ back through Priscilla and Aquila. They took him aside and gave him the full truth and Apollos was a blessing to them by graciously accepting their teaching. It is easy for a person, especially someone as charismatic as Apollos, to not accept teaching well. A lot of bright people are not easily taught. They are full of themselves and view themselves as the authority on the subject. Apollos was a scholar, and Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers. What could they teach him? Apollos wasn’t defiant; he was gracious and a blessing to be taught. He accepted Priscilla and Aquila’s teaching readily. When someone comes to you to show you your inadequacies, you can be defiant or defeated, but if you have grace you can be a blessing to the ones teaching you. You might even be an authority on a subject, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something from a child. If you accept what people give you, you can be a blessing and encouragement to the one who came to you. Honestly, if you are defiant or defeated, you might discourage the person from talking to someone again. If you have grace, you can empower them to be even bolder for someone else.

Apollos was also a blessing to those in Achaia. The believers in Corinth had a deficiency in that they didn’t really know a lot about the Scriptures to defend their beliefs based on them, but Apollos was a wealth of knowledge that regard. With his newfound teaching from Priscilla and Aquila, he was able to prove from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah. Apollos was uniquely put together to debate and prove. It was his gift. He could speak with great passion and defend the faith. In the same way, we can be a blessing to the church by boldly using our gifts for the church. We can impact people by using what God has given us. Some people are infinitely friendly and they can bring boatloads of people to worship. Others are prayerful and they can pray for the intricacies of the church. My gift is see things differently. I can be a blessing by taking care of the things that no one even thinks about. The same holds for when I study the Bible. I have a tendency to notice details that are often overlooked, but those details can lead to greater understanding because of added context. That’s not to say that I am better than anyone, but it is in those little details that I see that I excel. Only if I am humble and gracious will I be a blessing while using my gifts.

That’s the rub, isn’t it? It’s not always easy for us to be a positive influence to other people. Since we always around other people, we are always being an influence to them, whether positive or negative. Harsh words or actions can discourage people and make them afraid of you or at least never want to be around you. When we are proud we can’t be a positive influence; we cannot be a blessing, because we are full of ourselves and there is no room for anything else. When we try to be a blessing by our own strength, we fail time and time again. We make so many mistakes. I have it in my heart to be helpful to others, but more often than not the tone of my voice puts people off. When someone comes up with an idea or plan, I usually look for things that could be problems. I do this not to discourage the person, but so that they can be aware of possible issues, so we don’t face them blindly. When we are prepared, we are more likely to succeed. Unfortunately, this more often than not comes across as me not liking the plan or idea. I look proud, like I only like my ideas, but that’s not what’s going on for me. I am not gracious enough when I speak, and that makes me more of a discouragement than an encouragement and it affects us all as a group.

In order for us to be a positive influence, a blessing, we need to have help. When you look at the people in this passage, you can see that each of them had their eyes fixed on Jesus. They first had a connection to Jesus and then grace spilled over from there. It is with the Spirit of Christ that we can be a great influence on others and that influence can be contagious. Paul was so much of a blessing and encouragement to Priscilla and Aquila that it was passed down to Apollos who then passed it down to the people of Achaia. Our influence can transfer from person to person and God’s church and really grow. The wonderful thing is that it is not just through our words but also through our small actions. It’s not just through sharing Jesus with our words, but living it out that we can make an impact. There is a song called Fix My Eyes, whose chorus goes, “Love like I'm not scared, Give when it's not fair, Live life for another, Take time for a brother, Fight for the weak ones, Speak out for freedom, Find faith in the battle, Stand tall but above it all, Fix my eyes on you”. I know that we would all like to have a positive influence on another life. Thankfully, it is possible through Jesus and his Spirit. Actually, it is only possible through Jesus and his Spirit.

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