"Empowering Each Individual"
May 22, 2011 50-Day Spiritual Adventure Wk.4
(with material adapted from Dr. Charles Lake, Greenwood, Indiana)
There was a little ditty we taught our children early in their education that probably risked infecting them with obsessive-compulsive disorder; yet at the same time, I believe it encouraged them to put their best effort into any given project. The little ditty went like this: "Good, better, best / Never let it rest / Til the good is better / and the better is best."
That little poem's a good illustration of the forms of adjectives. Most adjectives can take three forms: simple (modifying a single person or thing), comparative (comparing two) or superlative (comparing three or more). Moving from one form to another simply requires an -er or an -est or the use of the words "more" or "most." So, in this case, "good" is the simple form; "better" is the comparative form; and, "best" is the superlative form. Obviously, being described with superlatives is far better than merely being simple.
When Apollos encountered the early church, he moved from simple to comparative to superlative. With the aid of his brothers and sisters in Christ, his spiritual gifts reached maximum effectiveness. Initially, he was adequate in his teaching about Jesus (Acts 18:25). After encountering Aquila and Priscilla, he was more adequate in communicating the way of God (18:26). But as he was encouraged and given further opportunity for experience, Apollos became most adequate in debating and proving the deity of Christ.
Every believer has been gifted somehow by the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in Romans 8(9), "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." And in 12:6, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us." Gifts are given to edify the church, the body of Christ. A dual function, however, is accomplished when spiritual gifts are exercised; the body of Christ is edified (built up), and the individual is fulfilled. It's personally fulfilling to know you have been used by God to lighten others' loads or point them to the Saviour.
A pastor was conversing with a couple about a year after they transferred in from another part of the country. A statement by the husband caught the pastor's attention. The man said, "Since joining here, for the first time in our lives, we feel we 'own a piece of the rock.'" The pastor recognized the investment terminology but admitted he was unclear about what the man was trying to say; so the husband went on, "Unlike our last church, in which we felt we were only needed to fill a pew to give our famous pastor an audience, here we feel needed for more positive reasons.Since coming here my wife and I have discovered we have a similar gift mix. We have been invited to share in the shepherding ministry of the church, a ministry that matches our gifts of encouragement and mercy. You'll never know how much we enjoy ministering to our 'flock.' Pastor, you need us here. We have something to contribute."
In many ways, LWCF is like that: if you're here, you're needed! It's possible to merely attend a large congregation and warm a spot in a pew once a week. But smaller congregations genuinely NEED each person's gifts to enjoy proper body function. I hope you realize, like the man in the story, you have something to contribute.
That's the way all Christians should feel about their church. Believers may need help, however, in the area of their giftedness. The need is threefold: to discover their gifts, to develop those gifts, and then to be given opportunity to deploy those gifts in ministry. "The Church You've Always Longed For" empowers each individual to find fulfillment in the exercise of his or her spiritual gifts.
Apollos was a Jew, a native of Alexandria, Egypt. We are told about this Alexandria, "Alexander the Great founded this city B.C.332 and placed a colony of Jews there which flourished greatly, one-third of the population at this time.There was a great university and library there.The Jewish-Alexandrian philosophy developed here of which Philo was the chief exponent who was still living.Apollos was undoubtedly a man of the schools..." (Robertson's Word Pictures) So, in your mind maybe substitute "Harvard" or "Oxford" for Alexandria! Only make it a religious, Jewish Harvard.
Apollos' credentials were impressive. Acts 18:24-25 tells us, "He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John." So, couple Apollos' great scriptural learning with eloquence (NRSV has 'eloquent' instead of 'learned' - a man of words, knew how to use words effectively): he knew how to capture an audience and speak to them directly, in an interesting way.
As with the Ephesian believers in Acts 19, Apollos' ignorance of the Holy Spirit was probably his greatest deficiency. He only had part of the picture; Apollos likely preached repentance based on Old Testament texts, much like John the Baptist. The message of Pentecost had not yet been shared with him. Apollos knew Jesus as a figure in history but through the influence of Aquila and Priscilla he came to understand about Jesus' resurrection; he came to experience Christ as a living presence in his life. Thereafter, Apollos taught about Jesus more accurately than before. His teaching became comparatively much better.
AQUILA AND PRISCILLA EMPOWER APOLLOS
Aquila and Priscilla, introduced to us earlier in Acts 18, were tentmakers. Literally! That's how the expression started. They were 'marketplace ministers', not full-time religious professionals. Yet they were traveling companions with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus. Having been left by Paul in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila busied themselves in the discipling and mentoring of believers, a ministry you would expect to find in "The Church You've Always Longed For."
Their strategy was pretty straightforward: like the Paraclete or Holy Spirit, they came alongside to help. Upon learning of Apollos' charisma and yet observing his obvious deficiency, they followed a fourfold plan.
First, they ENGAGED Apollos. V26, "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." They entertained him in their home. "Probably for dinner after service"! (Robertson) [$3.99 Delissio pizzas - a Number 1 evangelistic / mentoring tool!] Priscilla, the woman in the couple, seems to have provided the bulk of the content here, with her husband's quiet support. Ministry is not limited to the sanctuary of a church. Much of it occurs outside the church and, as in the days of Christ, the warmth of the home is often an ideal venue for fostering disciples. In "The Church You've Always Longed For" believers must awaken to see their homes as valuable tools for ministry. Hospitality goes a long way in developing the types of relationships that allow significant ministry.
When Yvonne and I were in college at the University of Guelph, we benefited from large-group meetings at Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and the weekly cell-groups. Yet in addition, there was a couple we knew, Phil & Roz Geldart, who invited students to their house on Friday nights and weekends for get-togethers, midnight skiing parties, and Bible studies. One summer I was a counsellor at a Junior Boys' camp at Frontier Lodge in the eastern townships of Quebec. There, Phil and his friend Mike Wilson poured into our lives making Old Testament stories come alive and unfolding leadership lessons from the book of Jeremiah. Such people took a special interest in us, made time for us, drew us aside into the warmth of their home and their personal lives, and so "explained to [us] the way of God more adequately". Have you benefitted from that kind of mentoring in your own life?
Having engaged Apollos, Aquila and Priscilla EXPOSED him to a more adequate understanding of the way of the Lord. They "filled in the blanks" in his theology and experience. They led him to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. How indebted he must have felt for the priceless gift these new friends shared!
The couple then ENLISTED the company of their brothers and sisters in Christ. V27, "When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him." From them Apollos found himself encouraged. The church urged him forward, exhorting him to utilize the gift of God within him.
If that wasn't enough, the believers then ENDORSED him, writing letters of recommendation to the disciples in Achaia - v27 says they "wrote to the disciples there to welcome him."
Engaging; exposing; encouraging; endorsing...Does that sound something like the type of church you desire? Can you recall a pastor, teacher, or friend who challenged you to go farther than you would have gone on your own? Just as Priscilla and Aquila mentored Apollos, so the apostle Paul mentored young Timothy. Is there someone in your life in whom you have noticed a gift that needs acknowledging and encouraging? Could God use you to help that someone become all God wants him or her to be?
Dr.Charles Lake, a pastor in Greenwood, Indiana, had another couple who empowered him early in life. He recalls: "Soon after my call to the Christian ministry, I found our pastor's wife reaching out to me in very positive ways. First, she assured me of her daily prayers. Then she frequently shared scriptural insights the Lord was giving her concerning ministry. Often she would share stories from her and her husband's past experiences in ministry; there were things they had learned by experience rather than by formal training. What an encouragement she was to me! I've never forgotten her. I will forever be indebted to her for believing in me and contributing substantially to my spiritual development. To this very day she continues her prayer support and her notes of encouragement. She and her husband are retired, but her labours of love persevere to my benefit."
Perhaps the thought of empowering an individual is a bit scary to you. Maybe some preparation is necessary. Or, you might find yourself already qualified. Here are four tips. 1) Know the gifts of the Spirit. 2) Be observant and look for them in other believers. 3) Be open to the Spirit's promptings, and 4) Obey. As you respond to the Lord's leading, you'll be amazed at how God can use you to help others find fulfillment in him while contributing to the church you've always longed for!
THE EMPOWERED APOLLOS
This story ends well. Apollos became most adequate in the proclamation of the way of the Lord. Vv27-28, "...On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ." When I was a boy, my parents often watched Front Page Challenge on TV; one of the regular panelists was Gordon Sinclair, not a Christian but a skilled debater and man of logic. When he challenged a guest, he could be very convincing - you almost felt sorry for a guest if Sinclair was on the attack! Now, imagine someone with such convincing logic and scope of knowledge but who's a Christian, well-versed in the Bible: not attacking people, but leading them unfailingly to their need of God - that's sort of what I imagine Apollos was like. "Vigorously refuting in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ." I want him on MY team! And how did he get there? The church empowered him, coached him to become the skilled apologist God designed him to be.
Apollos stood strong, unassailable as a rock, among the wisest of the Jews to refute arguments and debate truths pertaining to the deity of Christ. Aquila and Priscilla had multiplied their witness. Apollos became both efficient and effective in ministry.
Apollos discipled those who believed, he debated the Jews in public debate, and he defended the Messiahship of Jesus, proving the Scripture to his hearers. The people of Achaia, when choosing adjectives to describe his ministry, surely didn't stop with adjectives that were simple or comparative. Apollos was superlative, one of the best communicators of his day. You would have rejoiced to sit under the ministry of such an anointed messenger.
All of this was true because a devoted lay couple - tentmakers, quietly joining in worship week by week and making time for mentoring amidst their workaday lives - accepted the challenge to make disciples, to empower each individual, to maximize others' God-given gifts to edify the body of Christ. You too can be used by God to empower another for kingdom work. You can help others move from being good to being their best--from simple to comparative to superlative, sharing the love of Christ with others most effectively.
AGENT - BANKER - COACH
For an A-B-C approach to applying this truth, check out page 2 on your handouts - this week's "Action Step". Under 'directions' we read:
Everybody has some interest or skill that isn't fully developed.Look for areas of potential in individuals you encounter at church, at work, or in your neighbourhood.Pray about your observations, and then take a step to help one person become all God wants him or her to be.You might play one of three roles:
Agent: Find ways a person can develop and use his or her talents.In the church, call the chair of a committee that could include this person.In the business world, make contacts for the person.Don't just suggest an educational institution; get the catalog.Don't just mention the summer mission trip; call the coordinator.
Banker: Could you invest some money to bankroll the development of another person? If God has blessed you with more than you need, why not consider using some of it to help someone take crucial steps? You might pay tuition or buy equipment.
Coach: Maybe you have a special skill you'd like to pass on.It might be woodworking or gardening or teaching Sunday school.Find someone with a similar interest and offer to teach that person what you know.
The "B" of this A-B-C is "Banker"...I still recall an individual in a church where I was a student pastor; we had 4 young children and winter was approaching. This kind soul suggested we take our burgeoning family down to the local shoe shop and outfit our whole family with winter boots, at their expense! We've never forgotten what a blessing that was for our whole family. If the Lord's given you resources to spare, who can you pass on His blessing to?
PERSISTENCE IN PERSUASION
Apollos was a convincing persuader in debate for the sake of the kingdom. But He wouldn't have become fully equipped without Priscilla and Aquila patiently grooming him, explaining new Christian principles until he caught on. When coaching someone with promising gifts, a kind word can change the world, and following up on your encouragement will do wonders for those you hope to empower.
Perhaps you've seen the comic strip called "Dilbert"; it almost never materialized. The cartoonist recalls: "In January of 1986 I was flipping through the channels on TV and saw Funny Business, a show about cartooning. I had always wanted to be a cartoonist but never knew how to go about it. I wrote to the host of the show, cartoonist Jack Cassady, and asked his advice on entering the profession.
A few weeks later I got an encouraging handwritten letter from Jack, answering all of my specific questions about materials and process. He went on to warn me about the likelihood of being rejected at first, advising me not to get discouraged if that happened. He said the cartoon samples I sent him were good and worthy of publication.
I got very excited, ...[and] I submitted my best cartoons...The magazines quickly rejected me... Discouraged, I put my art supplies in the closet and decided to forget about cartooning.
In June of 1987--out of the blue--I got a second letter from Jack Cassady. This was surprising, since I hadn't even thanked him for the original advice...I was profoundly touched by his letter...because Jack had nothing to gain - including my thanks, if history was any indication. I acted on his encouragement, dragging my art supplies out of storage, and inked the sample strips that eventually became "Dilbert." Now, seven hundred newspapers and six books later, things are going pretty well in Dilbertville."
Is there an Apollos waiting to hear YOUR encouragement - to find the Lord's empowerment courtesy of your investment of a few moments, your life? Let's pray.