Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 12: Apollos at Corinth
After leaving Corinth, Paul's next scene of labor was at Ephesus. He was on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate the approaching festival; and his stay at Ephesus was necessarily brief. He reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue, and produced so favorable an impression that he was entreated [p. 119] to continue his labors among them. His plan to visit Jerusalem prevented him from tarrying; but he promised to labor with them on his return. He had been accompanied to Ephesus by Aquila and Priscilla, and he now left them to carry forward the good work which he had begun.
It was at this time that Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, visited Ephesus. He had received the highest Grecian culture, and was a scholar and an orator. He had heard the teachings of John the Baptist, had received the baptism of repentance, and was a living witness that the work of the prophet was not in vain. Apollos was a thorough student of the prophecies, and an able expounder of the Scriptures, publicly proclaiming his faith in Christ, as far as he himself had received the light.
Aquila and Priscilla listened to him, and saw that his teachings were defective. He had not a thorough knowledge of the mission of Christ, his resurrection and ascension, and of the work of his Spirit, the Comforter which he sent down to remain with his people during his absence. They accordingly sent for Apollos, and the educated orator received instruction from them with grateful surprise and joy. Through their teachings he obtained a clearer understanding of the Scriptures, and became one of the ablest defenders of the Christian church. Thus a thorough scholar and brilliant orator learned the way of the Lord more perfectly from the teachings of a Christian man and woman whose humble employment was that of tent-making.
Apollos, having become better acquainted with the doctrine of Christ, now felt anxious to visit Corinth, and the Ephesian brethren wrote to the Corinthians to receive him as a teacher in full harmony with the church of Christ. He accordingly went to [p. 120] Corinth, and labored with the very Jews who had rejected the truth as preached to them by Paul. He reasoned with them from house to house, both publicly and privately, showing them Christ in prophecy; that he was Jesus whom Paul had preached, and that their expectations of another Messiah to come were in vain. Thus Paul planted the seed of truth, and Apollos watered it; and the fact that Apollos supported the mission of Paul gave character to the past labors of the great apostle among them.
His success in preaching the gospel led some of the church to exalt his labors above those of Paul, while he himself was working in harmony with Paul for the advancement of the cause. This rival spirit threatened to greatly hinder the progress of truth. Paul had purposely presented the gospel to the Corinthians in its veriest simplicity. Disappointed with the result of his labors at Athens, where he had brought his learning and eloquence to bear upon his hearers, he determined to pursue an entirely different course at Corinth. He presented there the plain, simple truth, unadorned with worldly wisdom, and studiously dwelt upon Christ, and his mission to the world. The eloquent discourses of Apollos, and his manifest learning, were contrasted by his hearers with the purposely simple and unadorned preaching of Paul.
Many declared themselves to be under the leadership of Apollos, while others preferred the labors of Paul. Satan came in to take advantage of these imaginary differences in the Corinthian church, tempting them to hold these Christian ministers in contrast. Some claimed Apollos as their leader, some Paul, and some Peter. Thus Paul, in his efforts to establish Christianity, met with conflicts and trials in the church as well as outside of it. [p. 121]
Factions also were beginning to rise through the influence of Judaizing teachers, who urged that the converts to Christianity should observe the ceremonial law in the matter of circumcision. They still maintained that the original Israel were the exalted and privileged children of Abraham, and were entitled to all the promises made to him. They sincerely thought that in taking this medium ground between Jew and Christian, they would succeed in removing the odium which attached to Christianity, and would gather in large numbers of the Jews.
They vindicated their position, which was in opposition to that of Paul, by showing that the course of the apostle, in receiving the Gentiles into the church without circumcision, prevented more Jews from accepting the faith than there were accessions from the Gentiles. Thus they excused their opposition to the results of the calm deliberations of God's acknowledged servants.
They refused to admit that the work of Christ embraced the whole world. They claimed that he was the Saviour of the Hebrews alone; therefore they maintained that the Gentiles should receive circumcision before being admitted to the privileges of the church of Christ.
After the decision of the council at Jerusalem concerning this question, many were still of this opinion, but did not then push their opposition any farther. The council had, on that occasion, decided that the converts from the Jewish church might observe the ordinances of the Mosaic law if they chose, while those ordinances should not be made obligatory upon converts from the Gentiles. The opposing class now took advantage of this, to urge a distinction between the observers of the ceremonial law and those who did not [p. 122] observe it, holding that the latter were farther from God than the former.
Paul's indignation was stirred. His voice was raised in stern rebuke: "If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing." The party maintaining that Christianity was valueless without circumcision arrayed themselves against the apostle, and he had to meet them in every church which he founded or visited; in Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. God urged him out to the great work of preaching Christ, and him crucified; circumcision or uncircumcision was nothing. The Judaizing party looked upon Paul as an apostate, bent upon breaking down the partition wall which God had established between the Israelites and the world. They visited every church which he had organized, creating divisions. Holding that the end would justify the means, they circulated false charges against the apostle, and endeavored to bring him into disrepute. As Paul, in visiting the churches, followed after these zealous and unscrupulous opposers, he met many who viewed him with distrust, and some who even despised his labors.
These divisions in regard to the ceremonial law, and the relative merits of the different ministers teaching the doctrine of Christ, caused the apostle much anxiety and hard labor. In his Epistle to the Corinthians, he thus addresses them on the latter subject:—
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them [p. 123] which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
He also explains the reason of his manner of labor among them: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"
He thus shows them that he could not, when with them, address them as those who had an experience in spiritual life and the mystery of godliness. However wise they might have been in the worldly knowledge, they were but babes in the knowledge of Christ; and it was his work to instruct them in the rudiments, the very alphabet, of Christian faith and doctrine. It was his part to sow the seed, which another must water. It was the business of those who followed him, to carry forward the work from the point where he had left it, and to give spiritual light and knowledge in due season, as the church were able to bear.
When he came to them, they had no experimental knowledge of the way of salvation, and he was obliged to present the truth in its simplest form. Their carnal minds could not discern the sacred revealings of God; they were strangers to the manifestations of the divine power. Paul had spoken to them as those who were ignorant of the operations of that power upon the heart. They were [p. 124] carnal-minded, and the apostle was aware that they could not comprehend the mysteries of salvation; for spiritual things must be spiritually discerned. He knew that many of his hearers were proud believers in human theories, and reasoners of false systems of theology, groping with blind eyes in the book of nature for a contradiction of the spiritual and immortal life revealed in the Book of God.
He knew that criticism would set about converting the Christian interpretation of the revealed word, and skepticism would treat the gospel of Christ with scoffing and derision. It behooved him to introduce most carefully the great truths he wished to teach them. True Christianity is a religion of progress. It is ever giving light and blessing, and has in reserve still greater light and blessing to bestow to those who receive its truths. The illuminating influence of the gospel of Christ, and the sanctifying grace of God, can alone transform the carnal mind to be in harmony with spiritual things.
Paul did not venture to directly rebuke the licentious, and to show them how heinous was their sin in the light of a holy God. His work was, as a wise instructor, to set before them the true object of life, impressing upon their minds the lessons of the divine Teacher, which were designed to bring them up from worldliness and sin to purity and immortal life. The spiritual senses must be matured by continual advancement in the knowledge of heavenly things. Thus the mind would learn to delight in them; and every precept of the word of God would shine forth as a priceless gem.
The apostle had dwelt especially upon practical godliness, and the character of that holiness which must be gained in order to make sure of the kingdom [p. 125] of Heaven. He wished the light of the gospel of Christ to pierce the darkness of their minds, that they might discern how offensive their immoral practices were in the sight of God. Therefore the burden of Paul's preaching among them had been Christ, and him crucified. He wished them to understand that the theme for their most earnest study, and greatest joy, should be the grand truth of salvation through repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The philosopher turns aside from the light of salvation, because it puts his proud theories to shame. The worldling refuses to receive it, because it would separate him from his earthly idols, and draw him to a holier life, for which he has no inclination. Paul saw that the character of Christ must be understood, before men could love him, and view the cross with the eye of faith. Here must begin that study which shall be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity. In the light of the cross alone can the true value of the human soul be estimated.
The refining influence of the grace of God changes the natural disposition of man. Heaven would not be desirable to the carnal-minded; their natural, unsanctified hearts would feel no attraction toward that pure and holy place; and if it were possible for them to enter, they would find nothing there congenial to them, in their sinful condition. The propensities which reign in the natural heart must be subdued by the grace of Christ, before fallen man can be elevated to harmonize with Heaven, and enjoy the society of the pure and holy angels. When man dies to sin, and is quickened to new life in Christ Jesus, divine love fills his heart; his understanding is sanctified; [p. 126] he drinks from an inexhaustible fountain of joy and knowledge; and the light of an eternal day shines upon his path, for he has the Light of life with him continually.
Paul sought to impress upon his Corinthian brethren the fact that he himself, and the ministers associated with him, were only men, commissioned of God to teach the truth; that they were individually engaged in the same work, which was given them by their Heavenly Father; and that they were all dependent upon him for the success which attended their labors. "For while one saith, I am Paul; and another, I am Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase."
The consciousness of being God's servant should inspire the minister with energy and diligence perseveringly to discharge his duty, with an eye single to the glory of his Master. God has given to each of his messengers his distinctive work; and while there is a diversity of gifts, all are to blend harmoniously in carrying forward the great work of salvation. They are only instruments of divine grace and power.
Paul says: "So, then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one; and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are laborers together with God; ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building." The teacher of Christ's truth must be near the cross himself, in order to bring sinners to it. His work should be to preach Christ, and studiously to avoid calling [p. 127] attention to himself, and thus encumbering the sacred truth, lest he hinder its saving power.
There can be no stronger evidence in churches that the truths of the Bible have not sanctified the receivers, than their attachment to some favorite minister, and their unwillingness to accept the labors of some other teacher, and to be profited by them. The Lord sends help to his church as they need, not as they choose; for short-sighted mortals cannot discern what is for their highest good. It is seldom that one minister has all the qualifications necessary to perfect any one church in all the requirements of Christianity; therefore God sends other ministers to follow him, one after another, each possessing some qualifications in which the others were deficient.
The church should gratefully accept these servants of Christ, even as they would accept the Master himself. They should seek to derive all the benefit possible from the instruction which ministers may give them from the word of God. But the ministers themselves are not to be idolized; there should be no religious pets and favorites among the people; it is the truths they bring which are to be accepted and appreciated in the meekness of humility.
In the apostles' day, one party claimed to believe in Christ, yet refused to give due respect to his ambassadors. They claimed to follow no human teacher, but to be taught directly from Christ, without the aid of ministers of the gospel. They were independent in spirit, and unwilling to submit to the voice of the church. Another party claimed Paul as their leader, and drew comparisons between him and Peter, which were unfavorable to the latter. Another declared that Apollos far exceeded [p. 128] Paul in address, and power of oratory. Another claimed Peter as their leader, affirming that he had been most intimate with Christ when he was upon the earth, while Paul had been a persecutor of the believers. There was danger that this party spirit would ruin the Christian church.
Paul and Apollos were in perfect harmony. The latter was disappointed and grieved because of the dissension in the church; he took no advantage of the preference shown himself, nor did he encourage it, but hastily left the field of strife. When Paul afterward urged him to visit Corinth, he declined, and did not again labor there until long after, when the church had reached a better spiritual state.Click here to read the next chapter: "Paul at Ephesus"