Apollos and the Twelve: Acts 18:24-19:7

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,

     Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,

     Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,

     Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,

     Have mercy upon us.

I can cook a meal — when I have to — and you could eat it — if you had to.  But no one will ever confuse me with a chef.  A cook can slavishly follow a recipe and produce edible fare; that’s me.  But a chef?  A chef can open the pantry, look inside to see what’s available, and produce a gourmet meal from seemingly random ingredients, with no recipe needed.  There’s training involved there, but there is gift, too, I think.

I like to watch chefs at work; my whole family does.  We enjoy several cooking shows; the Great British Baking Show and Chopped are favorites.  Chopped is a competition in three rounds.  In the first round, four chefs are given the same mystery basket of four ingredients and given thirty minutes to prepare an appetizer which must include all the ingredients.  Easy enough, right?  Well, not so much if you receive a basket containing blood orange syrup, the African spice blend ras el hanout (whatever that is), hot cross buns, and lamb testicles.  And yes, that was an actual basket on the show; I couldn’t make that up!  There are two more thirty minute rounds — entree and dessert — each with equally difficult baskets.

At the end of thirty minutes each chef presents his or her dish to a panel of three judges, themselves respected, celebrity chefs.  I love the comments of the panel; some have even become running jokes in my family.  One, in particular goes something like this.

Well, all of the components of the dish are there.  But they seem to stand alone; there’s nothing there to pull them together into one, cohesive dish.  It lacks a unifying element.  You know what it’s missing?  Something unctuous like a fried egg on top.  The yoke running throughout the dish would just elevate everything.

It sounds a little pretentious, doesn’t it?  But you know what it means.  You’ve had a good meal, a good meal that could have been great but for one missing thing:  a little salt, more cheese, a touch of vinaigrette — something to pull it all together.

And this brings us to Apollos.  Listen to the way Luke describes him:

Acts 18:24–25 (ESV): 24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus….

I’m sure you can say all that about your clergy:  eloquent, well versed in Scripture, knowledgeable in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, able to teach accurately.  Would that Apostles’ parishioners could say even part of that about me!

And yet, while all the components of a good “dish” are there, they seem to stand alone.  They lack a unifying element to pull them all together into one, perfect whole:  something unctuous — and yes, the pun is intended — something unctuous on top to run throughout the dish, to bind everything together, to elevate everything.

We are given a pointer in the text about the missing “ingredient:”  he [Apollos] knew only the baptism of John.  Luke probably assumes we have read his first volume, the Gospel, and that we know what this is pointing toward.  But, perhaps a reminder is in order:

Luke 3:15–16 (ESV): 15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John baptized in water for — as an act of — repentance, in preparation for the baptism yet to come:  the baptism in the name of Jesus, for forgiveness of sins, for new birth, and for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  As eloquent, well versed, knowledgeable, and fervent as he was, Apollos lacked this one crucial, unifying element:  baptism in the name of Jesus, which I think we can assume to mean baptism as Jesus commanded his disciples — in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  It is the next story which tells us why such baptism was, and still is, absolutely crucial.

Paul comes to Ephesus and there meets some twelve disciples — true believers.  But, again, there is something missing, and Paul asks them about it:

Acts 19:2–6 (ESV): 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 

You see what’s missing here, right?  The Holy Spirit.  There are disciples, there are teachers who are eloquent and versed, knowledgeable and fervent and yet…and yet there is something missing:  the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  Oh, I’d like to be thought of as Apollos was described:  eloquent, well versed, knowledgeable, fervent.  I’d like to be recognized as a disciple as these twelve were.  But above all that, I’d like to be known as one filled with the Holy Spirit, as one baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Presumably, Priscilla and Aquila baptized Apollos as well as expounding to him the way of God more accurately; we are not given that detail, but the story of the twelve renders that deduction almost inescapable.  We don’t know how Apollos responded to his baptism though I think his response likely followed the pattern of the twelve:  the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.  In the first century, in that moment, that is how the Holy Spirit often manifested his presence.  Please understand, I am not saying that one must speak in tongues as evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit; far from it!  Some of my brothers and sisters have this gift and many others do not.  Speaking in tongues is merely one gift of the Holy Spirit, and a lesser one at that.  Here’s the evidence Paul gives of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit:

Galatians 5:22–26 (ESV): 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. 

This is the fried egg on top of eloquence, knowledge, fervor, discipleship.  This is what binds them all together into a unified whole.  This — the Holy Spirit and the fruit he bears in the lives of the faithful — is the crucial, unctuous ingredient that elevates the dish.

The ACNA often describes itself as consisting of three streams:  Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, and Charismatic.  This approach is heralded and derided in about equal measures, from what I can see.  When I explain this to newcomers to our parish, I like to describe these streams as differing emphases.  Evangelical Anglicans emphasis the Word; Anglo-Catholics, the Sacraments; and Charismatics, the Spirit.  Word, Sacrament, Spirit.  We don’t say, “Pick any two.”  None of the three is optional.  No stream is sufficient alone, apart from the great river.  Each is but a tributary of the whole.  Apollos was Evangelical, clearly gifted in and devoted to the Word.  But that was not enough.  He lacked the Spirit which came through the Sacrament of baptism.  When these three streams finally converged into one raging river in him, he became a powerful force for the Gospel.  It is no different today:  Word, Sacrament, Spirit — that’s a dish worthy of the Master Chef, the only dish worthy of the Master Chef.

So, how is it with you?  Is your faith wholly devoted to the Word, but perhaps lacking a bit in appreciation of the Sacraments and the sacramental way of living?  Is your faith centered around the Eucharist, but perhaps not fully attentive to the movement of the Spirit in your own life?  Is your faith on fire with the Spirit, but perhaps lacking a bit of grounding in the Scriptures?  Christ came that you might have life, and might have it abundantly.  Such abundance requires Word, Sacrament, and Spirit — these three, all three.

May I close with a prayer from the BCP 2019?  For your reference, it is collect 91, page 673.  While it is written in the first person, I pray it on behalf of us all.

O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you.  Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me.  Tell me what I should do; give me your orders.  I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me.  Let me only know your will.  Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN.
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