Fervent Partnership in the Gospel

Acts 18:24–28; 20:17–38

I read a news article recently about a man, 47, who had finally become a doctor.[1] Now, that in and of itself isn’t that interesting. Many people don’t make it through medical school before they are 30, and anyone starting a little later than traditional would easily take to 40. However, what was unique about this man was his fervency for medicine. In fact, his fervency was part of the problem why he was 47 when first becoming a doctor.

The article chronicled his youthful love and zeal for medicine: the cute white doctor coats and junior stethoscopes. Yet, after struggling through the Pre-Med portion of his schooling he dropped out of college. He found himself at the UCLA medical school library, simply reading and enjoying the ideas of medicine. It was there that people began to assume he was simply another one of the residents at UCLA. So, in the late 1990’s, he went along with it. He began observing surgeries, doing rounds with other residents. He claims to have never performed any actual consultation, yet he did write prescriptions and was asked to scrub in on some surgeries. His “house of cards” began to crumble parts of his story and even his attire didn’t jive with his surroundings, and in 1998 he was arrested and charged with impersonating a doctor.

I think this is often our first thought when we think about someone who is fervent in our current culture. Having “intense passion” today is often coupled with taking it a bit (or a lot) too far. Making comments or statements on social media that are not quite necessary. Saying something in the most extreme way possible to get it into a 280 character soundbite.

Yet, fervency isn’t bad. It is always intense passion that moves each and every one of us, though it doesn’t always look the same. One person’s impassioned, loud sermon can be as fervent as another person’s quiet, impassioned plea through tears.

And, as if fervency wasn’t complicated enough, we have a tendency to feel unsure if fervent people are on our team. Sports fans know this intuitively. The guy with the black and gold face paint and the gal with the blue and orange face paint know their fervency may be at odds. This plays out in our day-to-day lives as well. A fervent proponent of home schooling and a public school proponent and a private school proponent are unsure if they are similarly serving children for the same goal. A passionate architect and a passionate engineer may wonder how they are going to work together well. Even two college students passionately discussing their major may over the course of the discussion begin to “miss” one another as they emphasize different aspects and joys.

This can be true even in our Christian walk. One person’s current joy and passion in God may seem to be trying to overshadow our current joys. Their priorities and goals may seem to push into our priorities and goals as though they both can’t be loved and cherished.

This morning, as we look at Acts 18 and Acts 20, I pray that you will see that God has called us to be Fervent Partners for the Gospel of Jesus. Fervent in our pursuit of him and others, and partners in that endeavor with one another.

Background

One of the joys we have as we look at longer section of Scripture texts on Sunday morning is that it helps us model and think about how we should read scripture on our own. I hope when you pick up your Bible to read it that you often read larger sections. Especially as you are reading through a book or portion of Scripture for the first time, or coming back to it again after a while, reading a larger section helps you to see the lay of the land and understand the broader picture of what is going on. Read letters like you would read a letter from your own friends. Read a narrative like the gospels like you would any other story. You will begin to see connections between sections and the greater biblical themes. And then, as with another favorite book or movie, you can come back to it again and again, dwelling on favorite phrases or sections, small verses, noting in depth how they connect you to God and help you see his glory in magnificent ways.

As we come to these two chapters in Acts, we begin to see the breadth of God’s movement in spreading the gospel. As Don mentioned last week, God may be doing 10,000 things at any moment and we are often barely aware of 3, and sometimes even those we see wrongly! Here in Acts we see that God isn’t only using the disciples and their close friends. Luke begins to describe people other than the core group of Peter, James, Paul, Silas, Barnabas, John Mark and we see new people on the scene. These aren’t just new converts, they are brothers and sisters fervently going about the work spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

 In Acts 18:24–28 we see Apollos, Priscilla and Aquilla. This is the first time we see Apollos. Luke notes that he is from Alexandria, one of the main cities of Egypt and a place where Jewish and Greek cultures combined in a very synergistic culture. The Greek culture of oration and public speaking was still operating strong in Jesus’s day and immediately afterward. People from all over would debate and propose ideas in the public square. And this isn’t the last we see of Apollos. We learn from Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 and 16 that he had been to Corinth. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

 We were actually introduced to Priscilla and Aquilla in Acts 18:2. Aquilla is a Jew, a native of Pontus, and he and his wife Priscilla are refugees from Italy as the emperor Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. They were tent makers by trade, like Paul, and they became co-laborers with Paul through many of his travels. We see them mentioned in Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19, and 2 Tim 4:19.

In Acts 20:17–38 we see Paul and the Ephesian elders. Paul we know and have talked about much through these last few chapters of Acts. Born Saul, he was miraculously converted by a visitation from Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.  And with him we see an entire group of men who are serving the church at Ephesus. They are obviously included through the letters Paul writes to Ephesians and then Timothy who is serving at Ephesus as well.

 And as these servants of Christ come across the pages of Acts, we see their fervency for the gospel. Equal in passion, but as varied in its expression as they are.

Fervency: In Public Word and Deed

First, we see Apollos. According to Luke, he was “an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:24­–25). We also see that he “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” (Acts 18:28)

This is your friend who isn’t afraid of the spotlight. It might be akin to preaching, but more likely Apollos was ready, at any given moment, to stand up in front of a group of people and point them to Jesus as the answer to any of their questions. What we see in Apollos is fervency for the Gospel of Jesus through public word and deed and through using his natural gifts. For many of us here this morning this sounds terrifying! Standing up, in public, and debating, and refuting, and teaching. This begins to point us to the beauty of fervency for the gospel. God takes his people and uses their natural gifts and talents and training for the sake of encouraging and equipping others in the gospel of Jesus. While some of you may cringe when you see someone like Apollos stand up and proclaim the wonders of Jesus and a very public way, remember that like Apollos, “he greatly helped those who through grace had believed” (Acts 18:28).

Encourage those who publicly engage in discussions for the sake of the gospel of Jesus in God honoring ways. And consider, are there moments where you ought to be more public in your expression of the gospel. Do your co-workers and friends even know you are a Christian? Are you willing to offer a Biblical perspective in a winsome way when necessary or an opportunity presents itself?

For those of you who, like Apollos, feel compelled and equipped to publicly engage in the discussion of Jesus Christ, push on! May it be that by doing good you may silence ignorant, foolish people (1 Peter 2:15) and that people might glorify God because of your good deeds and conduct (1 Peter 2:12). Use your fervency for the sake of the spreading of the gospel of Jesus for the salvation of God’s people. And, be ready for some experiences like Apollos had with Priscilla and Aquilla!

Fervency: In private admonition

When Priscilla and Aquilla see Apollos, they quickly note something very important: “he knew only of the baptism of John.” (Acts 18:25) He had a hole in his understanding. He was baptizing people into repentance as John the Baptist did and was not yet baptizing them into the joy of salvation and hope in Jesus Christ, the power of new life in his Spirit, and the renewed relationship we all have with the Father through him. Public people open themselves publicly to criticism. And what Priscilla and Aquilla did required great fervency for the gospel! We have only one sentence about their interaction with Apollos: “but when Priscilla and Aquilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26).

Priscilla and Aquilla were obviously well trained, perhaps even by Paul himself. And their fervency for the gospel of Jesus was found even in their passion to help people with personal growth. They rightly noticed this wasn’t a moment for open, public debate with Apollos. Rather, they noted that their difference would best be served by a quiet side-discussion and encouragement. They took Apollos and taught him carefully outside of the public eye.

What we see in Priscilla and Apollos is fervency for the Gospel of Jesus through private admonition. And I would suggest we need much more of this in our world. Are you willing, for your own growth, to open up your life to other Christians that they might share with you areas you could grow in? I’m not talking about letting someone critique an email or paper you wrote, or your handwriting on your Etsy project—I’m talking about letting people comment on how good of a friend you are. How well you are demonstrating God’s love in your life through your relationship with others. How good of a friend and spouse you are.

Fervency for the Gospel of Jesus pushes us into very real relational areas where we are willing to have potentially awkward private conversations for the sake of very real growth in our lives. Undoubtedly Priscilla and Aquilla were a benefit to Apollos and his ministry amongst the burgeoning Christian world.

Fervency: Through Life-On-Life Living

And then we have Paul! His entire message to the Ephesians elders could be summed up in Acts 20:18 when he says, “you yourselves know how I lived among you.” He wants to encourage the Ephesian elders to live like he has, and so he gives them a summary reminder of his time with them. And it is a great description of the different ways fervent pursuit of one another for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can look. Paul says he:

  • Served the Lord with all humility (v19)

  • Served with tears and with trials (v19), admonishing them all over the three years he was with them through tears (v 31)

  • That he did not shrink from declaring to them anything that was profitable (v20), nor did he shrink from sharing with them the whole counsel of God (v 27)

  • He taught both in public and from house to house (v 20)

  • He shared with anyone he could—Jew or Greek (v 21)

  • He worked hard that he might be able to give and share with others (vs 34–35)

Tears and trials. Public and in houses. Jews and Greeks. Through hard work and humility. All aspects of Scripture and the counsel of God. In Paul we see a fervency for the gospel that can only occur through life-on-life living with other believers. It was over three years that they saw all these aspect of life with one another, and through that Paul could call the Ephesian elders to a similar life with their flock in Ephesus.  These are the things that happen over time, through deep relationship, and the deep pain and difficulties those type of relationship often brings.

This type of fervency is a challenge to most of us. It requires us to put down roots in one place, to make ourselves vulnerable and to work on the long slog relational growth. Are you willing to have relationships like this? Are you willing to make the time, to take the time, to have relationships that will encourage this kind of long-term growth and devotion?

Fervency: Application and Transition

Fervency for the gospel of Jesus comes in many shapes and sizes: as varied as God’s people. It comes in public declaration, private admonition, and years of life-on-life living with one another. All of us have ways that are easier for us to be fervent for the joy of Jesus than others. Some of us do it well through a listening ear and gentle word. Some of us are quick to offer sound opinions and thoughts. Some can sit, like Job’s friends at the beginning, in a moment of difficulty in silent encouragement. Fervency to share the gospel of Jesus takes many forms.  

All of us will need to be fervent in all these areas at some point in our life. The question is which is the one for this season or this particular moment in your life? Is there a way you need to be more public about your passion for Jesus? Is there a friend or brother or sister you need to lovingly admonish so they can see and know Jesus better? Is there a relationship you need to spend more time in that you might truly find a life-on-life fervency with others for Jesus Christ?

Likely, right now, the area of fervency for the gospel of Jesus Christ for you and for your neighbor sitting next to you might be very different. As we seek to see all people, including us, know of “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21) we need to remember the second aspect of our passages this morning: we are partners in this fervent pursuit of God and the spread of his gospel!

Partners

For Paul to spend three years with the Ephesians meant he also couldn’t be going all over the globe encouraging other brothers and sisters with Barnabas and John Mark. Priscilla and Aquilla couldn’t say a word of encouragement at the exact same moment as they shared their admonition. They had to risk the words and how they would be received. And Apollos standing in front of a crowd means he couldn’t also at that moment be sitting one-on-one with someone else to share his joy and passion with them. And as you pray about how you might be challenged this morning to be fervent in your pursuit of God and spreading the gospel of Jesus, you might feel that if your spouse or neighbor or friend’s call is different you can’t be working together. But look at our passages.

 When the other believers see what Apollos is doing, it says in Acts 18:27 “And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him.” They were excited to see Apollos go out and minister to others in the grace that God had given him.

Paul never acts like Priscilla and Aquilla can’t serve on their own—as though they only help him accomplish ministry. He describes them as “co-workers” who risked their lives with him and of whom all the churches of the Gentiles thank in Romans 16:3–4.

 In leaving the Ephesian elders ,Paul exhorts them to carry on the ministry and to live the same fervent life for Christ that they had seen him live amongst them.

And then there is Apollos and Paul. We find out in 1 Corinthians 3 that the Corinthians themselves had seen Apollos’s fervency, had seen Paul’s fervency, and had taken sides. When Paul writes to them, he doesn’t argue for his case of why he is the better one to follow. Rather, he points to their partnership:

 “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:5–9 ESV)      

Table Rock, I pray that God awakens a fervency in our church for the sake of his name and his gospel. And when he does that, I pray we remember that we are all fellow workers, serving a mighty God who does all the work through the power of his Holy Spirit. We want to find partnerships in the gospel, even with strangers, like John talks about in 3 John 5:

“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.” (3 John 1:5–8 ESV)

In the 1960s and 70s they were called Jesus Freaks. What they 2019 version of that would be I don’t know. But don’t fear fervency as though you will go too far for the sake of Jesus. You won’t miss your calling as one of God’s sons and daughters if you jump into the work today. It is never too early to put on that spiritual stethoscope and coat and begin to go about the work of saving souls. And you will find a partnership of brothers and sisters on this mission with you, not against you.

What is it that will help both be fervent for God and partners together? If you haven’t noticed the last several dozen times I have said it this morning, let me say it again: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Being found blameless before God in Jesus Christ is the best news we could ever have! How do we not find that worth passionate intensity in every aspect?! And it is this same news that reminds us that we are partners. We are found in the righteousness of the same God-man, Jesus. We are empowered by the Spirit of the same God-man, Jesus. We extol his name, we speak it, we share it. As Scripture says he is both the author and the perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2) and we are fellow workers with one another. (Phil 2:25, 4:3; Col 4:11).

[1] https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-08-06/adam-litwin-fake-doctor-becomes-md, last accessed 08-10-2019