What Would You Say to Apollos?

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What Would You Say to Apollos?

Sermon by  Thomas Thornhill Jr

Passage: Acts 18:24-28


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In Acts 18:24-28, we are introduced to Apollos.  He is not a main character in scripture, but he is an important “supporting character” if you will.  We find him introduced in Acts 18, and he is mentioned some 10 times in the New Testament, mostly in 1 Corinthians.  But when he is introduced, there are some concerns that needed to be dealt with.  In this lesson, I want to focus on what was wrong with Apollos, what was done about it, and ask a probing question for us: What would you have said to Apollos?


  1. The error of Apollos
    1. The account: Paul has completed his 2nd preaching journey and begun his 3rd (Acts 18:18-32). While traveling toward Asia, Apollos comes Ephesus and is teaching about “the way of the Lord”.  Exactly what he knew about Jesus I do not know, but “he knew only the baptism of John.”  A baptism that was no longer valid, because Christ was NOW Lord.  As he taught in the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla heard him including his error.  They take him aside (they do not embarrass him publicly) and “explained to him the way of God more accurately.”  Apollos immediately changes to teach the truth and from then on vigorously defends the Lord Jesus and refute the Jews publicly.  BUT, we also read that he desires to go to Achaia, and he goes to Corinth (which is in Achaia).
      Meanwhile, Paul arrives in Ephesus (Acts 19) where he stays for 2-3 years.
    2. There is debate about whether or not Apollos was a false teacher. It is not my purpose to resolve that debate in this lesson, but I want it clearly understood that he was teaching error, and it likely affected others, and it NEEDED to be dealt with.
    3. What would you have said to Apollos?
      1. We are living in a time of great compromise and hyper-sensitivity.
        1. You cannot tell someone the truth if it is “politically incorrect” or if it hurts their feelings. Often those with truth, or even concerns about what it being done or taught, are bullied or guilted into silence.  Because of the environment we are in error often goes unchallenged.
        2. And the religious world is not exempt. In fact, in some instances it is intensified in the religious world.  One of the concerns we read throughout scripture is attempts to silence proclaimers of the truth.
        3. That is what the council did with the apostles in Acts 3 & 4 (after Peter healed a lame man of 38 years from birth).
        4. It is what the enemies of Jesus tried to do to Him.
        5. Paul was continually punished for preaching the truth in places where those of influence did not want to hear it.
      2. What many today would have said. Based on our current religious climate, with its compromise, hyper-sensitivity, ecumenicalism and indifference, many today would not and would reason things like:
        1. He is such an eloquent man – how could I possibly disprove Him?
          1. Yet eloquence does not equal accuracy – when the Jews were trying to destroy Paul before Felix, they sent an orator to make their case – Tertullus (Acts 24:1-9). He made his case, but it was slanted in favor of his “side”.
          2. Moses was not an eloquent man, but he was able to convey the truth (cf. Exodus 4:10).
          3. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 – Paul, when he came to Corinth did not come with excellence of speech, but simply the message of Christ crucified.
          4. 2 Timothy 4:2-3 – Timothy was told to preach the truth – “in season and out of season”
          5. While we ought to weigh our words carefully (Colossians 4:6 – seasoned with salt), their truthfulness has to be at the forefront of such.
          6. Yet how many will not say something to someone because they are “out of my league”? I’m sure that could have been said about Apollos.
        2. He is right on so many other things – just wrong on ONE point
          1. Many explain away error by appealing to the truth one teaches. “He says so many things that are right” and thus they are willing to overlook that one error and never challenge it.
          2. Amongst brethren, we have issues with “fellowship” because of this. We have brethren who will admit that one is a false teacher on a given subject (e.g. MDR, day-age teaching, etc.) and yet invite him into their pulpits and classes.
          3. Friends, ERROR IS ERROR.  Just like it only takes a little poison in something with inert ingredients to kill someone.
          4. Galatians 1:6-7 warns that if we teach a different gospel we are to be accursed.
          5. Paul warned of Hymenaeus and Philetus who had strayed from the truth teaching error about the resurrection (2 Timothy 2:17-18).
          6. James 2:10 warns us that if you stumble in 1 point, you are guilty of the law.
        3. He is sincere
          1. Understand that sincerity is ALWAYS important. God expects us to be sincere.  That’s what “pure and undefiled religions” is about (James 1:27).  James 3:17 tells us that the wisdom from above is first pure…  and without hypocrisy.
          2. WE have noted on numerous occasions that you can be sincere and still be wrong. Let’s go back to that little bit of poison in the cake.
          3. Paul was sincere as he persecuted Christians – Acts 23:1. But he was wrong!
          4. I have NO doubts that Apollos was sincere. As a matter of fact, his response to correction indicates he was.   BUT, one’s sincerity is NOT a reason to ignore his errors.  Try that with a pilot or a doctor.
        4. He is so zealous
          1. Again, like sincerity, zeal is important. God wants us to be zealous.  Titus 2:14. Romans 12:11 speaks of not lagging in diligence but being fervent in spirit.
          2. Some might reason, I don’t want to kill his zeal for God, so I will just let his error go. The problem with that is – his error could be leading souls to eternal condemnation.
          3. One can be zealous and wrong.
            1. Again, I think of Paul – Galatians 1:14 – he was “exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” as he persecuted Christians.
            2. Romans 10:1-2 – Paul himself had grave concerns for his brethren who “have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge.”
          4. In fact, to IGNORE someone who is zealously wrong is an egregious error itself. Because, the longer he goes unchecked, the more influence he will wield on those he contacts.  What if his error DOES matter to God?  We need to think about that.
          5. If someone is zealous, I don’t want to stifle his zeal either, BUT I do want to try and direct that zeal in a proper direction. That is what happened to Apollos.
        5. I like him – I don’t want to lose him as a friend
          1. There are many who put their friendship above truth. To God that is a form of compromise.  It also shows that one is willing to put worldly relationships before God and Christ.  Recall the warning of Jesus in Matthew 10:37-38 – “He who loves father or mother more than Me…”
          2. This is the same as a parent who will not discipline their child. Proverbs 13:24 says, He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.  Why do we discipline?  Because we DO care!  That is true in homes (Hebrews 12:9-10) and ought to be true in churches (1 Corinthians 5:1-7).  We KNOW it is true with God – Hebrews 12:5-11.
          3. Proverbs 27:5-6 notes, Open rebuke is better Than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
          4. I contend that the TRUE friend of Apollos was Aquila and Priscilla because they were willing to tell him what he needed to hear.
  2. The solution:
    1. We have seen some ways to NOT address one teaching error. Now, let’s briefly discuss what we OUGHT to do.
    2. Aquilla and Priscilla did the right thing – they took him aside PRIVATELY and corrected him (Acts 18:26). This demonstrated a love for the truth and a love for him.
      1. Jesus loved the rich, young ruler enough to tell him what he needed to hear – Mark 10:21.
      2. Paul always taught and wrote out of love for the brethren – cf. Galatians 4:16 – “Have I become your enemy…?”, 2 Corinthians 12:15 – he would gladly spend and be spent for them and their souls, “though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.
    3. We must understand that truth is truth
      1. To be wrong on one point is to still be wrong!
      2. To teach error and believe error can lead to one being lost.
        1. 2 Peter 2:1-2 – many will follow their destructive ways.
        2. Matthew 15:14, concerning the corrupt Pharisees Jesus said they were “blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into the ditch.”
        3. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11 – the lawless one will be convincing but he will only deceive those who perish, “because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” Rather they chose to have pleasure in unrighteousness.
      3. Buy the truth and do not sell it – Proverbs 23:23, Buy the truth, and do not sell it, Also wisdom and instruction and understanding.
    4. Damage is done is when we do not correct error
      1. Consider Acts 19:1-6. While we cannot say definitively that what these brethren believed in error was a result of the teaching of Apollos, it is highly likely that is the case. Consider the circumstantial case.
      2. False doctrine does NOT only affect the teacher, but also those they teach – 2 Peter 2:1-3.
      3. If one is teaching error, it NEEDS to be addressed. 2 Peter 3:17, You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked;   We find this throughout the letters to churches and brethren.  The NT writers were continually addressing false doctrine and its teachers.
    5. Consider the results of Apollos being corrected.
      1. We read that he powerfully defends the truth showing from scripture that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 18:27-28).
      2. He goes to Corinth (which is in Achaia) and works with the church there. He becomes a powerful leader in spreading the gospel and a help to Paul.  Some 7 times, Paul mentions him in 1 Corinthians. He is described as influential (1 Cor. 1:12, 3:4-6, 22).
      3. Consider what might have happened had Aquilla and Priscilla NOT took the time to correct his error. What would that have meant to brethren in Corinth and who knows where else?
      4. If we know of someone teaching error, we have a responsibility to go to them and try and lead them back to the truth. James 5:19-20 notes, Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.  See also Galatians 6:1 – we seek to restore one overtaken in a trespass.  This would certainly include one teaching error.


And thus we remind ourselves about Apollos and our need to defend the truth.  How much do you love the truth?  Do you love it enough to defend it and correct those who are in error?  Think about it!