When I read this portion of the book of Acts, I cannot help but to think of the Great Commission. The Great Commission (Matt. 18:18 – 20) is basically Jesus’ final words to his disciples before he ascended back into heaven.

That final instruction from Jesus to his disciples could be summarized as this: Go share the gospel with the lost – evangelize them – so that they can become disciples of Jesus and then continue teaching them how to obediently follow Jesus for the rest of their lives; strengthening them with godly instruction.

I think of the Great Commission when I read this passage because in this part of the story of Acts, I see normal every day believers living out the Great Commission. I see the apostle Paul, Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos, engaged in the advancement of the Great Commission at a grass roots level, that over the course of the next few weeks of Scriptures will produce a church being planted in the city of Ephesus, as well as the church in Corinth being strengthened by the gospel. The lost get evangelized and the found get strengthened in our story today. Look at the text with me…

18:18After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22When he had landed at Caesarea; he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. 23After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples.

24Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak 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. 27And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

19:1And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7There were about twelve men in all.

How often do you think about your role in advancing the Great Commission in our city or throughout the world? How often do you think about sharing the gospel with the lost, or strengthening another believer by helping them to understand the Bible or the gospel more fully? How often do you diminish your role because you do not think you are talented enough or well-spoken enough to be of service in advancing the gospel?

Maybe you think you are too new to the Christian faith to be making disciples; to proclaim the gospel to the lost or to help someone else understand the Bible. Or maybe you are a highly religious person who really does not know Jesus because your religious activity flows out of a heart that has not been regenerated by God yet – even though you have been so religious for so long.

The thing is, we often think about the Great Commission in terms of flashy evangelists, or people like Billy Graham, or the act of merely inviting people to church so the pastor can get them saved or giving money to evangelistic organizations to get the job done. None of those things are wrong unless we use them to vindicate our own lack of personal involvement in the Great Commission. Think with me for a minute about how the stage gets set for the advancement of the Great Commission in Ephesus.


In this portion of the text (which we surveyed briefly last week) we see the apostle Paul staying in Corinth in verse 18 for a little bit longer after his run in with the Jews in that city and after a short time it seems like he heads over to Cenchreae for a haircut. Presumably, the apostle Paul was performing a Nazarite vow (Num. 6:1 – 21) of thanksgiving to the Lord out of gratitude for God keeping him safe in Corinth; this vow would be like one of us fasting or not cutting our hair for a period of time as a visible reminder of what God has done for us which simultaneously pronounces whom we belong to.2

It is definitely appropriate for the watching world to see us expressing our love for God in our religious performance; so long as it is done with pure motives. You never know what doors may open when the world sees us following God in such countercultural and radical ways.

In verses 19 – 21, Paul arrives in Ephesus and is received well by the Jews in the synagogue – which is a very rare exception to the norm – and he is received very well by the Jews and even invited to stay longer – possibly, because of the Nazarite vow he was performing which would have won him some brownie points with the highly Mosaic Law abiding Jews in that synagogue.

Regardless of the invitation, Paul declines and leaves Priscilla and Aquila there and promises to return as the Lord allows. Why does Paul do this? I think that Paul had no need to be the rockstar in Ephesus. I think he was more than happy to leave the ministry of the Great Commission in Priscilla and Aquila’s hands until the Lord brought him back to Ephesus. Once again, we can learn a lot from meditating on Paul’s example of humility and dependence upon the Lord.

In verses 22 – 23, this section concludes with Paul traveling to one place after the next continuing to strengthen believers in other communities where he had previously ministered. The care and concern and personal sacrifice that it took to return to those communities is something we can all learn lessons from – especially as it pertains to making phone calls and sending text messages and visiting or following up with other brothers and sisters who are members of the same church. Does our ministry reflect the same desire and willingness to sacrifice for the good of other believers?

At the end of the day, Ephesus is now primed for planting the gospel and God is about to use Priscilla and Aquila and Paul to get the seeds planted. We must never minimize the value or the potency of our own obedience and sacrifice when it comes to advancing the Great Commission. The stage is now set for the gospel to get planted in Ephesus and it all begins with the Great Commission call to be about the business of strengthening other believers!


In these verses (18:24 – 26) we meet a man named Apollos from Alexandria – a place that rivaled the city of Athens as the center of the quest for knowledge.3 Apollos was well spoken, knowledgeable in the Scriptures, a learner of God’s ways, passionate about God and his Word, and he was an accurate and faithful teacher. And although he was a genuine believer because he preached Christ, he only knew of John the Baptist’s baptism – a common theme in Ephesus when you survey the twelve men below whom the apostle Paul evangelized.

But nevertheless, Apollos was a genuine believer and a captivating preacher, but he was missing something in his theological quiver – most likely something to do with baptism and possibly the assurance of salvation, therefore, Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and straightened him out a little as they helped him to understand “the way of God more accurately” (v. 26).

It does appear that Priscilla was most likely on the leading edge of helping Apollos to grow up a little – theologically speaking – since her name is listed first, but it does not appear as though she did this without her husband Aquilla being fully present and fully supportive – which would fulfill the biblical precedent of male headship in marriage – and it is also worth noting that she also corrected and strengthened Apollos privately – meaning that she did not correct him in public where he would be shamed.

I would challenge our men here: How willing and receptive are you to the ladies in our church family coming to you with biblical correction? I would say that I would be seriously immature – missing much, spiritually speaking – if it were not for the courage of many godly women speaking into my life.

The big idea here is that God used Priscilla and Aquila to strengthen another believer, namely, Apollos. The Scriptures are full of instructions about our responsibility to strengthen other believers and not to weaken them – not to mention that it is the second part of the Great Commission. Let us take a quick survey of some other passages that instruct us to be about the ministry of strengthening other believers:

  • Ephesians 4:1 – 3 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  • Ephesians 4:11 – 16 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[a]and teachers,[b] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[c] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
  • Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
  • Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
  • Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Ephesians 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
  • Ephesians 5:18 – 21 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
  • Philippians 2:3 – 4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
  • Philippians 3:17 – 18 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
  • Philippians 4:2 – 5 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion,[a] help these women, who have labored[b] side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[c] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
  • Philippians 4:9 What you have learned[a] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

This is just a short list of all the instructions in the Scriptures (often called “The One-Anothers”) that encourage us to be about the ministry of sacrificially investing our lives into other believers around us, so that together, we may become more and more like Jesus inside of a world that is broken and hostile towards God.

Can you imagine what Apollos’s future ministry would have been like, had Priscilla and Aquilla not taken the courageous steps to sit down with him and instruct him further in the ways of God? Think about the ripple effects of Pricilla and Aquilla’s investment in Apollos’s life.


Priscilla and Aquila could have never known – in a million years – how their obedient investment in Apollos would ripple all the way back out to Corinth where they had just came from. But this is exactly what happens in the story as Apollos takes his new understanding back to Corinth where he arguably gets better results than the apostle Paul did, since the Jews refused to listen to Paul but according to the text Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (v. 28).

This powerful ministry of Apollos’s in Corinth, stood on the shoulders of what Paul had faithfully planted and it also stood on the shoulders of the obedient investment of Priscilla and Aquila! You can never know what kind of ripples and waves your obedient investment will make. But you will not see beautiful ripples and waves if you do not obediently invest. Speaking of making waves… the apostle Paul is about ready to make his re-entrance into Ephesus and the first people he bumps into are some religious dudes who do not know Jesus. Talk about creating ripples and waves!


In this final portion of our text, Paul encounters some disciples of John the Baptist when he enters the city of Ephesus and he quickly learns that they are certainly religious but they are not yet followers of Jesus – they had not received the Spirit of God which happens at the moment of salvation – they only knew of John the Baptist’s baptism and they failed to see how John’s baptism was meant to point them to salvation in Jesus.

So, Paul shares the gospel with them and upon hearing the gospel these twelve disciples get saved, they get baptized, and they immediately begin speaking in tongues and prophesying.

Why the tongues and why the prophesying? Why did this episode so closely mirror other Pentecostal experiences throughout the book of Acts? Is it true that receiving the Spirit is something that happens after being saved or does it happen when a person gets saved?

I would argue that the Spirit is given at the moment of salvation. When you surrender to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the Spirit gives you a brand new heart that is free to worship God because it is full of the Spirit of God. This means that every account of speaking in tongues in the Scriptures must have a purpose other than signifying a second work of God in a person’s life. But what could that purpose be? Let us think for a minute about the other accounts of Pentecostal experience in the story up until this point.

  • In Acts 2:1 – 13 the original disciples received the Spirit in Jerusalem and spoke in tongues. This episode appears to be the inaugural moment when the Spirit was poured out and the nations heard the gospel of Jesus crucified, risen and returning in miraculous ways – in their own languages. Remember that this happened in Jerusalem.
  • In Acts 8:14 – 24 we find the story of the Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit, presumably the same way the disciples did at the first Pentecost which confirmed that the gospel was moving from Jerusalem to Samaria in the pattern that Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 – the gospel was going to be witnessed in Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.
  • In Acts 10:44 – 48 we see the story of Cornelius, the Italian prison guard receiving the Holy Spirit along with his entire household. This story seems to confirm that salvation is not just for the Jew, and it is not just for Samaritans only, but the gospel is also for the Gentile outsiders.
  • Finally in the text before us, Acts 19:1 – 7 it appears as though the Spirit is poured out at the moment of salvation in the same way as the others, to confirm that belief in John’s baptism alone is not enough for salvation; no religious belief will save you, except trusting in Christ alone for salvation. These men trusted in Jesus and were saved, and it was confirmed by their experience of Pentecost.

Now I do not want us to be misinformed. Tongues and prophecy are not the evidence of salvation nor are they the evidence of a secondary experience after salvation whereby we are filled with the Spirit. The tongues and prophecy we see here were the kind of evidencing gifts that were needed as the church was being established throughout the region and as the canon of Scripture was being completed (1 Cor. 13 – 14).

In short, tongues and prophecy acted as a sign, during the book of Acts, to confirm and advance the work of the gospel; to confirm and advance the work of the Great Commission. Today, the evidence of salvation or the evidence of God’s Spirit living within us is simply the fruit of the Spirit which is centered around the ability to love like Jesus (1 Cor. 12 – 14; Gal. 5). I am not arguing that tongues or prophecy have ceased to exist as spiritual gifts to strengthen the church, but I would argue that they ceased operating as a sign like they did in the book of Acts.

In our passage today, tongues and prophecy confirmed that these disciples were not believers previously – they were merely religious men until Paul shared the gospel with them, and they became saved. This meant that a legitimate work of the Spirit was beginning to take root in the city of Ephesus. The Great Commission was being advanced. The gospel was being planted – even religious people were getting saved!!

We should be challenged by this realization – that there are most likely religious people among us who have the look and feel of religion but have not the light of the gospel shining in their hearts. You may be that person. Maybe you know enough religion to get you by, but you do not have a vibrant relationship with Jesus because you have not surrendered to him yet.

Evangelism is not just for the irreligious – those who have no religion. Evangelism is for the religious too – for those who have believed that religion will save them but have not found the saving presence of the Spirit yet. I pray that today you would hear the gospel clearly and if you have not surrendered to Jesus yet… then I pray that the Spirit of God would save you in these moments.


In conclusion, the Great Commission is about the gospel of Jesus Christ; it is about being strengthened as a believer in the message of the hope and love of Jesus and it is about being saved by the message of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

No religious activity will save you. Only Jesus saves. He does not come to save those who are worthy of being saved. He comes to save those who are the most unworthy, the filthiest, the most rebellious, the most religious, the most hostile, the most stubborn of sinners – like you and me.

It is this message of grace that motivates believers to advance the Great Commission, to live out their faith publicly like Paul when he got his hair cut, to reach out to strengthen other believers like Priscilla and Aquilla did with Apollos, to refute error and preach Christ like Apollos did in Corinth, and to preach Christ to unsaved religious folks like Paul did with the twelve Ephesian disciples.

It is the gospel and the gospel alone – the message of a bloody cross, an empty tomb, and the promise of heaven – that motivates Christians to be about the work of the Great Commission and calls wayward unbelievers back to the end of the driveway where the Father is waiting with arms wide open for his runaway, religious kids. The Great Commission is about the gospel and the gospel is about Christ crucified, risen and returning. And the question left for us is this: If Christ was planted in Ephesus, Has Christ been planted in your heart? The answer to that question is the most important answer in all of eternity and only you can answer that question. – Amen?

     1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).

     2 Derek W. H. Thomas, Acts, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2011), 523 – 540.

     3 Kent, Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1996), 245 – 252.