The Debater Apollos Knew When to Refrain from Debate

No one likes to be around a know-it-all. Sometimes acting like we know everything is a coping mechanism to keep vulnerability and humility from staining our projected image. Ironically, a know-it-all could learn more if s/he were teachable. Self-pride keeps us from learning, spinning the know-it-all person deeper into a false sense of his/herself.

It takes humility to admit we don’t understand a word, a concept, a joke, the whole encyclopedia Britannica, and everything Alexa knows. Even Alexa doesn’t know everything.

A guy in the Bible named Apollos grew up during the first century in Alexandria, Egypt, the second-largest city in the Roman Empire. It is said that Alexandria had a library with over half a million scrolls, which is probably where Apollos became well-versed in scripture.1 He learned rhetoric, to debate eloquently, and was fervent for the truth of the scriptures. He was making ready the people for the Lord, just like John the Baptist had.

Apollos left Alexandria (somewhere around the year AD 52 or 53) to preach ‘the Way’ in Ephesus. As he preached in the Ephesian Synagogue, providentially, a missionary couple stood listening to his message, and after the message, invited him to their home. Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers like the Apostle Paul and had spent much time with Paul in Corinth and Ephesus. At this time, Paul was on a missionary journey, but he left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus to continue their missionary work.

Apollos preached the Way and the baptism of John. He did not yet know about the baptism of Jesus which had replaced John’s baptism of repentance. His information was about two decades old. There had been a new baptizer in town named Jesus, who had taught and died twenty years prior. Word hadn’t yet made it to Alexandria, Rome that the Savior had come, died, and risen from the dead.

Imagine standing in a crowd hearing someone teach old news. Priscilla and Aquila had a deep love for the truth and concern and care for Apollos, which they used to explain the latest news. Aquila and Priscilla were not only a dynamic couple assisting Paul with his ministry, but they were also wise. They did not publicly disgrace Apollos or feel the need to interrupt and correct him; instead, they invited him over and explained the way of God to him more adequately.

No one knows the word of God perfectly. How did Apollos take being corrected? With humility and fervor to continue teaching and preaching with this new information. Apollos didn’t wallow in embarrassment that he didn’t know. He left ready to continue to boldly persuade the Jews and Gentiles to follow the Way of Jesus. He welcomed new information with a humble heart. And he welcomed it from a husband/wife team. It wasn’t only Aquila who showed Apollos the way more adequately; Priscilla was also front and center as a teacher.

As a teacher of God’s word, whether we write, preach, or teach a class or Bible study, we have a responsibility to be humble and teachable. Maybe the women and men in your congregation or business can help you and provide something you need to enhance your teaching, ministry, or career.

How teachable are you? If you are a pastor, teacher, leader, author, or CEO, do you listen to your congregants, friends, or employers what they see and know? Do you seek counsel and input from anyone or just the elders or your staff? Could some of your congregants/employees provide insight like Priscilla and Aquila did for their new friend? Are you open to that? Do people know you are? Have you invited feedback? Will you get defensive or prepare your heart to discern what is being said? Or will you go into debate mode?

The whole situation between Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila was handled beautifully. Apollos preached. Priscilla and Aquila tweaked his teachings by filling in the gaps with some new truths he didn’t yet know. Apollos took the latest information and kept ministering and preaching. He didn’t get defensive. He didn’t act like a know-it-all and push away a couple that loved him enough to risk a debate and challenge. The debater did not debate them. He knew when to debate, but he also knew when not to. Wise man.

Let us be people who love one another in truth. Let us receive tweaking from one another with a teachable heart. Let us not elevate ourselves above another and project a know-it-all attitude. Let us invite friends over to talk about things that matter and reason with one another from the scriptures. Let us encourage one another in spirit and truth.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Notes:

1 Chaignot, Mary Jane. “Apollos.” BibleWise, http://www.biblewise.com/bible_study/characters/apollos.php.

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