And He Came to Ephesus
Tom Wilson, Glasgow, Scotland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
So reads Acts 18. 19, of Paul’s arrival at Ephesus. He was not alone, but accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila; indeed the Revised Version reads. ‘And they came to Ephesus’. He was on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem, one leg of that journey taking him from the eastern seaport of Corinth to Ephesus. The circumstances of that visit to Ephesus are interesting but not the subject of this paper. In Cenchrea Paul had cut his hair, ‘for’, observes Luke without comment, ‘he had a vow’. (He had not shaved his head, as the four men would at Acts 21. 24). There was an unusual haste about Paul’s exercises at this point. Despite the open door and the request of Jews in the synagogue, Paul did not consent to ‘tarry longer time with them’. We mark the haste so contrasting with the later threeyear stay in the same Ephesus1 and the eighteen months he had just spent in Corinth2. Like Luke, I offer no comment on Paul’s vow or haste.
Such had been Paul’s introduction to the bustling commercial port of Ephesus in Asia Minor. His was not to be the last visit to Ephesus recorded on the pages of the New Testament. Others would visit Ephesus. Among them would be Apollos, ‘an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures’, Timothy, Erastus, Tychicus and, tradition claims, the apostle John before and after his exile on Patmos. Of each we might say, ‘And he came to Ephesus’. And, as Luke reports, Priscilla and Aquila also visited Ephesus.
It should be encouraging to every assembly to note the richness available to Ephesus during the thirty-year period covered by the New Testament records. Each of those listed above would be distinctly gifted and be able to contribute a distinct ministry. There would be addressed to Ephesus at least four inspired letters, the Epistle to the Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy and the Lord’s own letter, the contents of which are recorded in Revelation 2, and some would add 1 John. How blessed Ephesus was but dare we ask, more blessed than we? We have a completed New Testament and through its pages a rich variety of ministry. We also have the assurance that the risen Head is still giving gifts. Certainly the New Testament is clear that in our day there is among us no apostle. The apostles were foundational gifts for the era to which we have been making reference.
APOLLOS CAME TO EPHESUS
We read that ‘a certain Jew named Apollos . . . came to Ephesus’. For a brief period The Acts of the Apostles traces the passage of that bright star moving across the dark skies of heathen Ephesus. He is no apostle but nevertheless he was ‘eloquent . . . and mighty in the scriptures’3. We are not informed when and how he had been saved. Most likely it was not at Jerusalem for he had known only the baptism of John (i.e. the Baptist). Had he been saved at Jerusalem, he would have been commanded to be baptized4. Marked, too, in the cameo Luke gives of this mighty man is his fervency of spirit5 as with accuracy6 he taught that the prophetic word found its fulfilment in Christ. It would appear that his labour was not in vain in the Lord, for when he leaves there, brethren, most likely those comprising the assembly in Corinth, commend him to the saints in Achaia.
What took Apollos to Ephesus we do not know. Some have suggested that he was a Jewish merchant. If so, then he was not guilty of the sins for which James reproaches some merchants, whose burning desire was to make money7. Whatever his calling, it is clear that wherever he went, Apollos preached Christ with a fervency which every saint, be he or she travelling on business or on vacation, should emulate. For the little period we are privileged to observe, his star shone brightly in testimony for his Lord.
But the other commendable feature of this man who ‘came to Ephesus’ is that he was prepared to learn from others. Had Paul remained at Ephesus most likely he would have taught Apollos more accurately8 ‘the way of God’. But it fell to Aquila and Priscilla to do so. We commend their careful hearing and their liberal hospitality as ‘they took him unto them’. But we commend too their understanding of what we know as New Testament truth, and their skill at imparting it. How enriched an assembly is that has men and women who are willing to open their homes to help some saint grasp more accurately ‘the way of God’. A brother or sister away from home, some student or some businessman, values the fellowship of a christian home; he or she should value too the fuller understanding of the scriptures that may be acquired in a godly home. No doubt Apollos did. He left something in Ephesus that would be to God’s glory; he took with him from Ephesus what would be to his good and undoubtedly thereafter to the blessing of others. He would bless God for the day he ‘came to Ephesus’. Others would also bless God for that visit.
We know that Apollos journeyed over to Achaia. We know that the Corinthians had vivid memories of that visit. Indeed in 1 Corinthians 1. 12, Paul reproaches the Corinthians for making a party leader out of that good man. It is worthy of note that he never reproaches Apollos in respect of that Corinthian tendency. Perhaps Corinth was impressed that he came from Alexandria, then a worldrenowned centre of learning. Indeed Paul valued the materials with which Apollos built and his watering of God’s cultivated field9, so much so that at the end of his first letter to Corinth Paul is encouraging Apollos to visit Corinth again. Apollos had ‘helped’ the Corinthian saints from the moment he left Ephesus. He had learned enough about assembly testimony to be a contributor to that already-spiritually endowed assembly. J. N. Darby translates Acts 18. 27 as ‘he . . . contributed much’, because he ‘came to Ephesus’.
We know little of Apollos as a man but we do know that the apostle Paul ‘greatly desired’ that he visit Corinth during troubled times10. Few would have commanded Paul’s confidence to that extent. Perhaps as much as fifteen years after Apollos ‘came to Ephesus’, he is still valued by Paul. Writing to Titus11 then in Crete, both Zenas the lawyer and Apollos are commended into Titus’ care as they visit the saints. The island to which he was bound was difficult enough for Titus to be dispatched there to ‘set in order things that are wanting’12. Yet to Crete Apollos went. He may have seemed no more than a bright shooting star when first he ‘came to Ephesus’, but there was with him the grace of continuance. He may not have written the Epistle to the Hebrews, as Luther supposed, but he worked the work of the Lord. More than one city would remember his coming, who initially ‘came to Ephesus’.
1 See Acts 19. 10; 20. 31.
2 See Acts 18. 11.
3 Acts 18. 24.
4 Acts 2. 38.
5 Acts 18. 25.
6 The RV renders ‘carefully’, JND ‘exactly’, where Acts 18. 25 AV reads ‘diligently’.
7 James 4. 13-17.
8 The same word as is used of Apollos’ ministry in the synagogue in Acts 18. 25.
9 1 Corinthians 3. 6, 12.
10 1 Corinthians 16. 12.
11 Titus 3. 13.
12 Titus 1. 5.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Tom Wilson is an elder in the Springburn assembly in Glasgow and ministers the word throughout Scotland. He was for many years an editor of Believer’s Magazine and is principal of a specialist college in Glasgow.