Live at Apollos'... and Love Your Enemy
I begin this morning with letting you in on the trade of sermon writing. It is an essential trade of the minister, and each minister does it a little differently. Some read and some work off notes. Some ministers look ahead and have their sermons planned out for the next few weeks. Some feel it better to be more flexible and responsive to present happenings, and don’t plan too far ahead. Some preachers begin writing the sermon or outlining the sermon on Monday. Some wait till later in the week though they are thinking about it throughout the week. Some even wait till Saturday to actually put the sermon down after pondering it the whole week. The minister of my childhood church didn’t write his sermons and hardly used notes, and he’d get up really early Sunday morning, take a prayerful walk, and he’d go through what he wanted to say.
In other words, the trade of preaching is extremely diverse. Each preacher is different, and the tricks of their trade is very individual. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for the other. Yes, diversity reigns when it comes to the trade of preaching. For this reason, preaching is more an art than a trade.
Well, in our reading from I Corinthians, there is mention of a preacher named Apollos. Another preacher, an evangelist preacher, by the name of Paul writes the church in Corinth and mentions Apollos. Paul indicates there is division in Corinth. Some are attached and more in line with Paul who founded the church in Corinth. Others are more attached and in line with Apollos the church’s current pastor, if you will. Paul is calling for unity, and end the division around himself and Apollos. He points to Christ. Christ is the hub, the center which the wheel revolves around. Christ and his salvation unites all things, even planter and waterer.
Maybe you’ve heard of the famous quote usually attributed to St. Augustine: "in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity." Well, Paul is saying let’s focus on the essential of all essentials, Christ.
But maybe you’re wondering, who is Apollos? Well, Apollos and his involvement in the earliest days of the church, points us to another example of diversity. The early days of the church show a great deal of diversity.
Apollos is introduced in the book of Acts, chapter 18. Verses 24-28 say this,
24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
The talk about the baptism of John and the implication that it was not fully sufficient, what is that about? Well, the beginning of the next chapter, Acts 19, tells us:
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
The suggestion here is that only baptism in the name of Christ brings the Holy Spirit. But there were Jesus-followers who were baptized in the name of repentance as John used to do it. It is suggested in Acts 19 that they didn’t have an understanding of anything known as the Holy Spirit. They are still called disciples, however. They simply didn’t see things like Paul did at the time. This changes, of course. But again, there was a diversity of thought even a few years after Jesus’ departure.
In the church, Apollos is known as Apollos of Alexandria. Alexandria is in Egypt now, but was founded by the Greek emperor Alexander the Great. Alexandria was a thoroughly Greek city as was Corinth. There is another renowned Jew living in Alexandria at the time. His name is Philo. He became one of the most important philosophers of the time or any time. He was known as an Hellenized Jew. To be hellenized means to become Greek in culture. So, Philo offered a Greek philosophical understanding of the Jewish faith. Philo fused the philosophy of Plato with a Jewish understanding of God.
The reason I introduce Philo here is that many believe Apollos was a student of Philo or a fellow Hellenized Jew, a Jew influenced by Greek philosophy. In this case, Apollos would have been a Hellenized Jewish-Christian. His was a Jew influenced by Greek philosophy who came to follow Christ. Again, we have an example of diversity in Apollos’ own life and thought.
Finally, Apollos is ministering in Corinth, a Greek town. The church in Corinth was a Gentile church full of Greeks raised in the religion of the Greek gods and in the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. That Apollos was influenced by the latter helped him in being a minister in Corinth.
A Jewish-Christian pastoring a Gentile church – again, diversity. And how do we approach diversity? Paul seems to agree with the Augustine-attributed saying, "in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity."
I want to finish up our time with one of Christ’s most famous statements. I read it this morning – “love your enemies.”
Is this a real commandment from Jesus? Are we expected to love even our enemies?
I am the father of a 6th grader. My son is a great kid. He is fun and funny. He is resilient and forgiving. He is compassionate. And he is really bright. One of the things he’s not at this point is studious. He doesn’t like to study. But because he is so smart, I still expect him to do well in school. I expect him to get A’s and B’s, not C’s. Yes, this is a lot to expect. But I expect it.
Well, with Jesus and his command we love our enemies, it’s similar. Yes, loving our enemies is a humungous ask and task. Nearly impossible sometimes. But the expectation is there. Christ expects us at least to work toward that goal. Will we always meet the expectation? No. Will God hold it against us? No. Will God be disappointed? We can’t deny that the answer to this question is “yes.” I am disappointed in Corey getting a “C.” Because I know he’s capable of a A or at least a B. It is essential we try to love our enemy.
The goal is the goal. The goal is to love deeply, to love like God loves, to love all. Loving our enemies is the good grade Christ hopes for and expects in us. We should work toward that aim as best we can. We do this by studying, by practicing, by praying, by letting go of self and self-centeredness and letting God work through us. That is the work we are called to do as Christians and as a Christian church. Let us do it together.