Have you ever stopped to think about how new believers of The Way (Christians) knew how to continue being good and solid Christians? I mean, they had no New Testament only the Old Testament. Today we have the whole Bible and I don’t know about you but I read it often and use it as my go-to-guide when various problems arise and I don’t know how to solve them. The Bible is a daily source of encouragement and teaching to me. But at the very beginning of the Christian movement, this was not the case. One particular passage that I read recently got me to thinking about the struggle for knowing how to walk out your faith for those believers in the first century.
It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men. Acts 19:1-7, (New American Standard Bible or NASB).
Paul was on his third missionary journey and he had spent some time with a man known for being highly educated in the scriptures and filled with the Holy Spirit and a very good teacher and debater named Apollos. We know all of this about Apollos by reading chapter 18 of Acts. Paul had stopped and spent some time with Apollos. I imagine that was a time of very lively conversation as the two discussed the scriptures. I think there is a valuable lesson to anyone who is spending their life as a minister or missionary in the example of Paul and Apollos. There is a need at times for refreshing one’s own heart by spending time learning from another, debating, and studying with others who are in full service to the Kingdom of God. But as all good things must eventually come to an end, it was time for Paul to move on in his journey and he ended up in Ephesus. There he met several people who were trying to follow The Way. Naturally Paul asked them if they had been baptized and to me it is interesting that he asked which baptism they had received. Do we ask such a pointed question today of people we meet and think they might be a Christian? If we don’t then perhaps we should. Paul thought it was important to ask.
The answer the disciples gave to Paul was that they had been baptized by John. Remember John, son of Elizabeth and Zechariah (Luke 1), who was known as the one who would come before the Messiah, Jesus. John preached and baptized many people, and told them to repent of their sins. He even baptized Jesus Christ even though he told Christ that he wasn’t worthy to be the one to baptize Him (Luke 3:21-22). The men Paul is fellowshipping with do not have the whole story and they apparently had not heard about Jesus so Paul begins to teach them and they are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. I can only imagine that this was not the first nor the last time Paul would come across those baptized by John. I admire Paul for asking insightful questions to help clarify what these men believed rather than assuming that they were Christians and knew the whole story of Jesus. This makes me wonder about people I know and assume are Christians. I have never asked them about their faith or by what baptism they were baptized. I think this is a good reminder to me, and possibly to you, not to assume someone is a Christian just because of the faith words they know how to use. There are some people today who think they are Christians but may have never been baptized not realizing that they should be. There are some churches that teach baptism is not necessary for salvation and when I am talking to someone who tells me they are not baptized I recommend to them to be baptized. When they ask me why I do not go into the theology debate of whether baptism saves or doesn’t save or anything like that. I just point them to Mark 1, Matthew 3, and Luke 3 because these chapters tell us about Jesus being baptized by John. My thinking is that if Jesus felt the need to be baptized then I should be also since I am to follow His example. I also show them Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 which are fundamental verses that include baptism as part of our commission from Christ and how Peter carried that commission forward. There is something else that we can learn from this passage about Paul’s encounter with the men in Ephesus.
And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. Acts 19:8-10, (NASB).
I think it interesting that everywhere Paul went he worshiped at the local synagogue. As he was a Jew and had studied under a well-known rabbi to learn about the Law of Moses Paul had a longing for his fellow Jews to not turn away from the Messiah. He wanted his fellow Jews to know that Jesus was the Messiah. Even though Paul knew that he would be beaten and hated he still went to the local synagogue to teach. I don’t know about you but I am a person that runs from confrontation, I don’t like people to be mad at me. I can hardly imagine walking into a place knowing that I would make the people so angry that they would want to beat me or kill me. Paul had guts! He preached boldly, and never worried about the consequences because he knew that the eternal consequences were so much heavier for the Jewish people if they remained ignorant about the Messiah.
We also see something else here in this passage. There were differences in the way the synagogue system worked versus our churches today. The synagogue was a place of debate and learning, more like a Bible college atmosphere than a church. Nearly every Sunday I attend Sunday School and Church. I sit in my Sunday School class and listen to the teacher and have some, but not a lot, of discussion on the lesson the teacher has prepared. Then I go to the church service and listen to a pastor give a sermon after singing songs and taking communion. I would never think of interrupting the pastor to ask questions during the service. Yet the synagogue of Paul’s day was different from our modern-day church service. It was a place to daily discuss and debate what the scriptures meant and to learn as well as a place to pray. I wonder if Paul would even be able to teach in one of our modern churches today! We don’t even have the old-time revival meetings as we did even fifty years ago which would be more like a visit from Paul to a church. I wonder if Paul also went to the synagogue because he felt the need for spiritual refreshment as well. After all, the synagogue would have scrolls of the various books of the Old Testament, something Paul loved to read from and learn.
I think we owe a great debt to those great men and women of God that helped to build the church from the time of Jesus death. Those men who wrote letters of encouragement and instruction that we have as the New Testament were solid, deeply grounded, and Spirit-led men. Without their hard work and sacrifice, without their willingness to be beaten, without their willingness to walk miles and eat whatever was available, not having a home to call home, and working in many places doing many different jobs, teaching after work, losing sleep, being in prison, and everything else that they went through…without them we would not have the word of God in book form to study. I sometimes wonder though, if God expected so much of them, does He expect any less from us today? I wonder if we are sometimes too wrapped up in this world, in our careers, in our family, in our play time to even take the time to study this precious book. Maybe we can learn from Paul and ask questions of others to clarify what they believe and making sure that they are on the right path to salvation. I am challenged and convicted by this passage and hope you are as well.