Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

10/02/16 Sermon - One Never Knows

“One Never Knows”

Acts 18:18-28 

We are coming to the end of Paul’s second missionary journey. We left off two weeks ago with Paul in Corinth working side by side with Priscilla and Aquila. Corinth was an immoral city and Paul had been there for over a year and a half sharing the gospel. The Jewish leaders had dragged him before the tribunal in hopes to have him forcibly stopped, but Gallio wanted nothing to do with religious squabbles and refused to even listen. Paul was free to continue sharing the gospel.

In today’s Scripture we read that Paul remained in Corinth for a while longer after his tribunal episode but he eventually decided to leave and Priscilla and Aguilla decided to go with him. We quickly realize why Paul decided it was time to go, because on their first stop, not far from Corinth, Paul had his hair cut off because he had taken a vow.

This vow would have been the vow of a Nazirite, which can be found in Numbers, chapter 6. Usually the Nazirite vow was taken for a certain period of time.

Paul was at the end of his vow, as he had all of his hair cut off. His long hair would have been a sign that he was making a vow to God. At the end of the vow he was to go to the temple in Jerusalem and make specific offerings and one of them was to take this hair and burn it at a special ceremony. Although in the Nazarite vow focus was placed on the things one was to abstain from, God would give more attention to the positive separation one was taking from things that would get in the way of focusing on God. The Nazirite vow was to be an act of total devotion to the Lord.

Theologians suggest that Paul may have taken this vow due to the intense worldliness of Corinth and Paul’s desire to express his dedication and separation to the Lord more than ever.

Although Paul was participating in a Jewish ceremony, he was not following the ritual with the exact perimeters it required. By tradition, a Nazirite vow must be fulfilled only in Jerusalem. Paul began fulfilling the vow in Cenchrea, just as he left Corinth. For Paul it seemed his focus was on the meaning of the law, rather than the letter of the law.

The three leaders arrived in Ephesus. Paul continued his discourse of reasoning with the Jews in their synagogue. Those in Ephesus asked Paul to stay. Instead, Paul remarked that he was unable to stay because he was on his way to Jerusalem. However, God willing, he would return. He then sailed away, leaving Priscilla and Aquila behind.

This is a place where Paul’s actions don’t make sense to me. Paul makes it to Ephesus, where some two years earlier, back in Acts 16:6, he had wanted to go to share the gospel but the Holy Spirit prevented him from going.

Now he was there and not only that, he had the Ephesians asking him to stick around and what does he say?

“No, I’ve got to this thing I need to do first. Not today, maybe I’ll be back. Good-bye.”

Can you hear Paul’s missionary board members saying, “Paul, what are you doing? You are supposed to be on a journey to share the gospel with others. Ephesus was on your itinerary.

You not only had the opportunity to share the gospel, you had the Ephesians eager to have you stay. What are you doing?”

How often do we do what we think others are thinking we should do?

From the outside, Paul’s choice to not stay in Ephesus may seem selfish. Let’s face it, it wasn’t like Paul was following the Nazarite vow to the letter anyway. What difference would it have made if he were to arrive in Jerusalem later?   He was actually allowed by the Holy Spirit to get in to Ephesus at this time. Shouldn’t he take advantage of that? Who knows if he will be able to come back again?

Do any of these questions sound familiar? Have there been times when you have thought you knew where God was sending you and then along the way something else comes up that could be “better”? And then you start second guessing yourself? And rather than doing what you know you were called to do, you do what you think others think you should do? When in actuality the “others” haven’t said a thing, you have created the dilemma in your mind?

Paul could have skipped entering the synagogues in Ephesus when he arrived. He could have given that task to Priscilla and Aquila. But he didn’t. Once he did, he was faced with a decision. To keep with his original plan, even though it was all about him and his personal vow to God, or he could put that aside for a while, and serve others.

Based on what he have learned about Paul so far, one would think that he would have sacrificed anything, including a Nazarite vow, to be able to share the gospel of Christ with those who were seeking it.

One never knows, how the Holy Spirit is going to guide. God’s timing is different for everyone and there is nothing we can do to stop anything that God wants done. The gospel message coming to the Ephesians was going to happen whether Paul was the one doing so or someone else. Paul knew that God would use him wherever he was. At this point, presenting the offering of his Nazirite vow in Jerusalem at an upcoming feast was what Paul was supposed to do. He welcomed the invitation to stay and trusted that invitation would remain should he return.

Paul continued his journey and managed to land at Caesarea and go through Jerusalem, where he fulfilled his Nazirite vow in the temple and concluded his second missionary journey at his home church at Antioch in Syria.

Luke then takes us back to Ephesus and tells us about a certain Jew named Apollos. We find out he was born in Alexandria, in Egypt and was an eloquent man and quite knowledgeable of the Scriptures. He meets up with Priscilla and Aquila and they quickly ascertain that although Apollos had a contagious spirit and was truly enthusiastic with the Scriptures he did know, he was lacking information regarding Jesus. He knew only of the baptism of John. Which meant he was probably good at sharing the need to understand the Messiah had come and that we need to respond to him, but he lacked the details of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So, compassionately, Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and explained to him the details of who Jesus Christ was and how he could give the full story of the Messiah.

Again, One Never Knows, how God is using people around us. Priscilla and Aquila obviously knew Apollos was missing information, but they also knew Apollos had some definite gifts in sharing the limited information he had. It was their ministry to guide Apollos and encourage him to keep doing what he had been directed by God to do.

It seemed that Apollos was another missionary, called by God, to go out and share the gospel. There was no indication that he had been sent or commissioned by anyone specifically. However, after meeting with Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos wished to go to Corinth, in the region of Achaia, he was encouraged by his fellow Christians and given a letter which recommended the disciples there accept him. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote about Apollos demonstrating that he had an amazing ministry in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul regarded Apollos as a trusted collegue. In fact, because Apollos was Jewish and described as “eloquent, and feverent in spirit” and as one who, “vigorously refuted the Jews” and able to demonstrate “from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” some scholars think he may have been the one who authored the letter to the Hebrews.

One never knows, who God is going to use, to further is kingdom. Already in our reading of the book of Acts we have seen people come and go. Barnabas began leading the group of Christians. He was the only one willing to believe in Paul. He invested in him and then Paul takes the lead. Paul traveled to many places and along the way he shared and taught the person of Jesus Christ. As he continued to travel, he left behind others who emulated what they had been taught. Priscilla and Aquila, for example, share what they knew with Apollos, who goes on to make a difference for Christ back in Corinth.

One never knows who God is going to use next. Or how He is going to use you or me, to not only change a life, but perhaps change even more than one. This side of heaven I  don’t think it matters whether we know, or not, because God knows. And that is what really matters.

The common denominated between Paul and Apollos in today’s Scripture is what I would like you to take to heart.

Both Paul and Apollos remained true to what God had given them to do. Each had been given gifts and talents and they each knew that in order to be at peace, they had to keep their call from God, first in their life.

As we prepare for the Lord’s Supper, I would like to offer you time: FIRST to reflect on the gifts and talents God has given you and SECOND to reflect on where and what God is calling you to do with those gifts and talents 

One Never Knows how God will use even the even smallest of deeds given in His name.

Actually, God knows.

Let’s pray.