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(Acts 18:24–28) In the Hands of Tentmakers

(Acts 18:24–28) In the Hands of Tentmakers

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 18:24–28

What happens when an eloquent and educated 1st century scholar is tutored by a couple of blue collar saints? Ministry happens!

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Acts 18:24-28

I read something this past week and thought it would introduce our study this morning.  With approximately one pound of iron, you can fashion a simple rod that you can use to stake down heavy planks or use for other similar tasks.  This iron rod can be purchased for $.49.   However, if you fashioned this same amount of iron into a horseshoe, its value would go up to $10.00.  If you turned this much iron into sewing needles, its value skyrockets to $1,000.00.  Still, if you placed this rod of iron into the hands of Swiss watchmakers, they could turn this amount of iron into finely crafted, balanced springs for expensive Swiss watches; and its value then would be $100,000.00  It all depends on whose hands craft the raw material.

In our study through Acts, we encounter a moment when the raw material of a new believer was placed into the hands of seasoned saints.  It’s a remarkable story, and you’ll probably discover as I did that a lot more went on behind the scenes than meets the eye at first glance.

Return with me to our study through the book of Acts, specifically, the final paragraph of chapter 18.

What Apollos Had:

24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John

In terms of raw material, Apollos obviously had a lot going for him.  Let’s briefly catalog what Apollos had.

First of all, Apollos had an enviable heritage.  The text informs us that he was an Alexandrian by birth.  Whenever Luke added to the biographical background of some individual he was highlighting, it wasn’t because he needed to use up some ink he spilled.  It was significant in setting the stage for the information to follow.

Apollos was born in the proud city named after Alexander the Great.  It was the second largest city in the Roman Empire.   Alexandria was a university town which claimed a library of 700,000 volumes. 

The city of Alexandria was world renowned for its learning.

Evidently, Apollos personally benefited from this environment. Secondly, the Bible says that Apollos had an eloquent tongue; he was an eloquent man.

The word eloquent literally translated means, “A man of words.”  This could refer to either eloquence (logias  or words) or reasoning power (logios could be understood as logic).  It’s evident from the rest of this paragraph that Apollos had both!

Thirdly, notice – 24b – that Apollos was mighty in the scriptures – that is, he had an educated mind.  Notice verse 25.  This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord.

Now in most university towns like ours the educated, sophisticated people aren’t usually mighty in the scriptures.

They are most often mighty against the scriptures.

How did Apollos receive training in the Old Testament scriptures?  The first phrase tells us that he had been instructed in the way of the Lord.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that, because of the large Jewish population in Alexandria, an enormous synagogue had been built.  It was so large that a hazzan or synagogue leader had to stand on a platform in the middle of it to signal with a flag to let those in the back know when to join in the amens.  Evidently they couldn’t afford video imaging.

Can you imagine a synagogue like that? 

Biblical scholars estimate that about one million Jews lived in Egypt where they spoke the Greek language.  In fact, it was from Alexandria that the Jewish leaders translated the O.T. Hebrew Bible into a Greek text we know as the Septuagint.  (You’ll need to know that for the test). 

By the way, the Alexandrian text family that was carefully preserved by the Jews in this region form the basis of manuscripts for the translation you probably hold in your lap, the popular New International Version and also the New American Standard for the more diligent Bible students!

We also know that Philo, the Jewish scholar, lived in Alexandria during the childhood of Apollos.  Many believe that Apollos, being the brilliant young man that he was, had been one of Philo’s students.

So in this university town, Apollos was infected with this insatiable desire to know the scriptures and also the worship of the God who authored the scriptures.

Oh for more people in the church today who could be characterized as “mighty in the scriptures.” 

We live in a land today where churches do not teach the word, and people do not know the word.  We are surrounded by translations of the word; yet few Christians actually read the word.

We need men and women who are mighty in the scriptures.  Church leaders are to seriously apply the commission of the Lord to make disciples, teaching them to observe "all I’ve commanded you" (Matt. 28:20) and the exhortation of Paul to Timothy to take the Biblical things he had learned and entrust them to faithful men who would be able to teach others also.  (2 Tim. 2:2)

That’s the business of the church. Yet it seems that, as my father recently said to me, “It seems that the church is the only business that stays in business even after it’s gone out of business.”

We need an avalanche of Apolloses to sweep into the church:  men and women, young and old who are mighty in the scriptures.

Finally, Apollos had an enthusiastic spirit.  The next description of Apollos occurs in verse 25 – “He was fervent in spirit”


The word fervent comes from the word zew or zealous.  It could be translated literally, “he was boiling over in his spirit.”

Whatever Apollos learned, he delivered.  He translated everything of life into what he wanted to say to someone else.  He was always on the lookout for an opportunity to teach what he knew.

If you’re a teacher, you know what that’s like.  My wife and I were at the store a few days ago looking at Valentine's cards together.  Not for each other!  We were reading them, and we came across one that was really an interesting twist. Marsha said, I didn’t say this; she actually said to me, “Honey, that card would make a great sermon illustration.”  Some of you are thinking, is it too late to rescue Marsha?  She’s lived with Stephen too long.   Hey, I like the way she’s thinking; and I bought that card!

And I’m going to make you listen to it one day.

If you teach a class, prepare a lecture or lead a study group, get used to that kind of thinking, right?

You’ve become just a little more like Apollos.  The water is flowing  you learn so that you can help others learn.  You gather facts so that you can give them away.  Your desire is not simply to study, but to study so that you help other students of the word.

Apollos was v. 25b “boiling over in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus.”

This is what Apollos had.  This was the raw material in the life of a young man who could be used by God in incredible ways in the early church.

What Apollos Missed:

There’s only one thing, one very big problem.

Notice what Apollos missed – the last phrase of verse 25, being acquainted only with the baptism of John;  26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

This phrase “the baptism of John” is, I believe, a kind of categorical expression that represented all of the teaching of this Old Testament prophet we know as John the Baptist.

In other words, Apollos taught about Jesus Christ accurately but only what he knew about Jesus from the Old Testament and the prophet John.

Apollos would have known that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and that He had come as the lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.  John said that himself as he introduced Christ to the Jewish nation.

Apollos would have known that Christ was the God man come to crush the head of the serpent to satisfy the wrath of God, to rise from the dead as David prophesied of the Messiah centuries earlier.

However, here was what Apollos was missing:

            The significance of Pentecost

            The coming of the Holy Spirit

The birth of the church

The transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant

            The invitation of the gospel to Gentile nations

            The primacy of grace in the gospel.

Wiersbe wrote, “It wasn’t that Apollos’ message was inaccurate or insincere; it was just incomplete.”

Apollos was an Old Testament believer, not yet a New Testament Christian.  Remember we’re in a transition period Acts is the bridge between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

The key phrase, the hinge verse that changes the future of Apollos, is the last part of verse 26 – look there again, “But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God

more accurately.

This brief phrase spells the difference in Apollos’ life

What a wonderful illustration in the ministry of discipleship.  “They took him aside. . .”  They didn’t embarrass him in front of anyone.  They waited until after the service.

Can you see them during Apollos’ sermon?  They’re giving each other side glances.  They know he’s missed the full picture.  After the last benediction, they went up to him and invited him to their home for Sabbath dinner.

The phrase “they took him aside” is a beautiful phrase when translated woodenly; it would read, “They took him to themselves.”

At this moment, the raw iron of Apollos’ life was placed into the hands of two tentmakers.  Frankly, at this moment, he’s worth less than $.49.  In fact, in light of what he doesn’t know about the plan of God developing at light speed, he’s worthless to the New Testament church.

Yet, when they finish the discipleship process, and we’re not told how long they took, you will find Apollos fashioned into a rare and unusual servant of God, powerfully used in the church.

Now it’s up to Apollos.  How will he respond?  Will he listen? 

Think about the likelihood.  If you could have imagined who God would use to challenge Apollos and bring him to the truth of the New Covenant, you would have never picked this couple.

            They were an older couple, he was a young man.

            They were married, he was single.

            They were uneducated, he was an educated, brilliant intellectual.

They made tents for a living, he was wealthy enough to travel throughout Europe.



If discipleship works, if a church is to work well together, don’t you put people together who are alike?  No, you simply put people together who love Jesus Christ and His church; and you find all the common ground you’d ever need.

The question is, Would Apollos listen?  Evidently he did, and he becomes an example of what it takes to grow up spiritually, to develop in the Word. 

Apollos demonstrated in at least four different ways how Spiritual growth occurs:

1)  When you’re not so knowledgeable that you can’t learn more!

2) When you’re not so proud that you can’t admit you’re wrong!

How do you respond when someone tells you you’ve been misled, that you're uninformed, or that you have a blind spot in your life?  It’s at moments like that when spiritual growth is either stunted or spurred on.

3)  Spiritual growth occurs when you’re not so important that you can’t listen to others!

Can you see the eloquent, brilliant, highly respected Apollos sitting at the kitchen table with this dear couple repeating over and over again, “I didn’t know, it’s embarrassing.  I just didn’t know all that had happened these past few years.  Man, was I ever in the dark.”

4)  When you're not so cultured that you can’t change!

Benjamin Disraeli said, “Talk to a man about himself and he will most likely listen for hours.”  I would add, but talk to a man about how he should change, and he will most likely listen for just a few minutes.

Not Apollos!  He allowed the iron in his soul to be refashioned, melted down, twisted and turned into something, into someone with a totally different perspective, a totally new passion.

In fact, if you look ahead to chapter 19 and verse 1, you discover that Apollos picks up the ministry that Paul left off at Corinth.  The passionate zeal of Apollos has added to it the necessary knowledge of the gospel message of the N.T. church.

I want to make two applications to our own lives, to our own spiritual ministry and maturity.


Oftentimes, the most powerful development in an individual's life is accomplished by ordinary people.

You would think that, if Apollos was to learn anything, it would be at the hand of Paul, Timothy, or an Apostle from Jerusalem.  They’d fly some expert discipler in Antioch, not an uneducated couple who made tents for a living.

And yet, in the plan of God, as is so often the case, ordinary people were used to make an unusual impact.

Can you remember some of them who’ve impacted you for Christ?  I remember a fifth grade teacher who took an interest in me; a piano teacher who lived for Christ even though her husband cared little for Christ; and a college professor who never tired of me knocking on his door and asking him questions about the Christian life and ministry.

Ordinary people, unusual impact.


Oftentimes, the most powerful contribution to the cause of Christ is accomplished behind the scenes.

Where would the church be without two people who cared enough to confront and disciple?

Sure the spotlight of church history would focus on Apollos; so much so that he would rival the Apostle Paul.  The early church in Corinth had developed a following of Apollos so large that Paul himself mentioned that some were following him and some were following Apollos.  

The truth is, without Priscilla and Aquilla, Apollos would have eventually shipwrecked on the rocks of unorthodoxy With the circulation of Paul’s letters to the churches, Apollos would have been embarrassed into silence, or, worse yet, established an aberrant sect within the church.

In a humble cottage, away from the spotlight, behind the scenes, God did a great work in the life of a man who was big enough to listen and wise enough to know he needed to learn some basic truths.

Can I ask you three questions?  If you’d like to be like Apollos . . .

1)  Are you teachable or stubborn? 

Go back to the last time someone challenged your thinking.  What was your response?  Boxing gloves?  “Well, what do they think they know?”  “What right do they have to challenge me?”

2)  Are you cliquish or open hearted?

Maybe God wants to teach you something, but it’s coming from someone you think is less important or less attractive to your tastes.  Surely, if God wanted your attention, He’d send someone along that you would naturally respect and admire.  That is nothing less than spiritual snobbery.  And so you form around you a group of people that you consider worthy of instructing you, worthy of influencing you; but you’ve simply gathered around yourself a form of self-protection from learning life changing, life-upsetting, transforming,  iron-melting truth.

3)  Are you willing to change when confronted, or do you just quit?

I’ll just get a new friend.  I’ll go to a different church.  I’ll quit this job and get another one.  I’m not comfortable around these people anymore. 

The only way you could take this cheap rod of iron and turn it into exquisite, finely crafted watch springs, would be to melt it down and totally refashion it. 

Isn’t that what’s supposed to be happening to us?  “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.  Old things are passing away, all things are becoming new.”  (2 Cor. 5:17)  Sounds like refashioning to me. 

The Bible has another word for it - transformation.

       “But be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  (Rom. 12:2)       

       “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of    

        the Lord, are being transformed into the same image…”  (2 Cor. 3:18)

Maybe you’ve been feeling the heat lately.  God’s in the process of transforming you from independent to dependent; from self-sufficient to needy of His grace and wisdom.

Well, Apollos was transformed from ineffective to effective; from in the dark to entrusted with the light of the gospel of Christ.

Notice verse 27 And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; (This is the first inter-church letter of commendation by the way.  It is the basis for our custom today of transferring membership between churches of like faith and practice by means of a letter.) and when he had arrived, he helped greatly those who had believed through grace; 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

To what did he owe this wonderful ministry?  To whom did the church owe a debt of gratitude for this dynamic servant of Christ?

Two tentmakers – a Sabbath afternoon – a simple lunch – a large serving of humble pie – a series of caring conversations – and the cause of Jesus Christ took another step in the right direction.

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