Summary: Whoever we are, whatever we do, we are all servants of the Lord.
Have you ever had this situation? You leave a job position and all you hear from your former colleagues is how wonderful your successor is. He is so delightful, so inspiring to be around. He has flair that, well, you have your good qualities of course, but there is just something special about this guy. This is especially irksome when you know that the new guy is building on the hard work you had had to do correct all the difficult problems that do not exist for him.
So who is the darling of the Corinthians? Reference has been made to him twice now, and Paul wants to discuss him more. His name is Apollos. What a gaudy name! Depending on your frame of reference, you think of the Greek sun god, Apollo, or the Rocky Balboa’s flashy boxing opponent.
Luke gives us some information on this fellow in Acts 18:24-28:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He 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. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And 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, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
So Apollos is a hotshot preacher. He is “fervent in spirit,” i.e. he is enthusiastic in the way he spoke. He is described as an “eloquent man,” “learned” in the NIV. Whichever interpretation one may wish to give, it is evident that Apollos is a sharp, well-educated man. It is not inconsequential that Luke mentions he is a native of Alexandria, one of the centers of education in the Roman world. The man is a biblical scholar. The ESV’s “competent” does not convey well the Greek word which means “powerful.” Apollos knows his stuff and he knows how to deliver. No doubt, if he were around today, he would have his own radio and TV ministry.
This portrayal of Apollos as a star preacher is given of him before him comes to a full understanding of the gospel. Look again in verse 25: He 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. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
It is unclear what is meant. Luke could mean that Apollos knew about Jesus. He had been baptized by John the Baptist and by his own zeal was preaching that Jesus was the Messiah. However, he had not been in Jerusalem at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and first believers. Thus, there were gaps in his understanding.
The scenario could also be the following. Apollos had been baptized by John the Baptist and soon afterwards returned to Alexandria or traveled elsewhere without knowing about Jesus personally. He could have then been preaching a message of repentance, such as John had done, and accurately presented what the Messiah would be like, as John had also done. Priscilla and Aquila then explained to him about Jesus. The latter seems preferable, because it is after his lessons that he then shows (v. 28) “by the Scriptures that the Christ [the Messiah] was Jesus.”
So, a star preacher is born. As Luke notes, Apollos transition into a full Christian preacher took place in Ephesus. Paul had recently passed through there on his way to other destinations. Guess where he was coming from? Corinth. Guess where Apollos travels to after Ephesus. You’ve got it! Corinth. What happened there? Luke tells us (27-28): When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
This is the man the Corinth believers have been looking for! Paul had started his ministry in Corinth by preaching to the Jews. Here is the result.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:5-6).