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Acts 18:18–19:20


In this text we have a consistent message in four scenes that the Holy Spirit (by virtue of the New Covenant) is absolutely necessary (indispensable) for life and ministry. We may put it this way: The difference the New Covenant makes in life and ministry.


First, the difference that the New Covenant makes in life and ministry is a submission to the will of God strengthens the disciples of Jesus. Paul is a the eastern harbor of Corinth called Cenchreae. It is said here that he cut his hair “because he was under a vow.” Many explain this away as Paul being all things to all people. In fact there are two major lines of reasoning with this matter. The first is pragmatism or expediency in reaching all people. That is being all things to all men, which indeed Paul in some measure may have been doing. But his focus was not on being a Jew to win Jews, but pointing out the exclusivity of the Christian faith, not the Jewish faith. Another line of reasoning is that he was cleansing himself after being in Gentile lands, because to be around Gentiles would have made him unclean. But we see especially later in the text that unlike the Old Covenant that defiled the worshiper requiring ritual cleansing, in the New Covenant the things of Paul actually acted like the hem of Christ’s garment. So, the issue of Paul’s vow and ending it by cutting his hair can’t be either of those things. The explanation is found in Scripture that in Numbers 6, the law of the Nazarite was fulfilled in Jesus, yet was also carried out in Paul in principle. He is not in Jerusalem which was usually required, and is the case in chapter 21. Essentially, the apostle is acting as a Nazarite like that of Samson. He is in a holy war spiritually speaking, bringing the gospel to the nations (Revelation 18; Isa 59:17). He has completed his second missionary journey, and will do the same toward the conclusion of his third. This was no prescription for the church except in terms of holiness (cf. Ephesians 6:17; comp. Isa 59:17), but was unique to Paul and those for whom it was given in this unique time. The apostle is completely submitted to God. And if you remember that in Acts 16 the Holy Spirit would not allow him to go to Asia, though he attempted repeatedly, but in this account, he says “I will return to you if God wills” and set sail from Ephesus. He then lands at Caesarea, the harbor of Palestine as he is said to greet the church there in Jerusalem. He returns to Antioch as this is the hub or host church sending him, and he is again likely reporting back to them. So, in this first section, we see how the New Covenant makes all the difference in the apostle’s ministry from how he carried out the vow in a different place, and how he submitted to the Spirit of God which was a gift of the New Covenant. Things were different, and the disciples are strengthened as a result. That is the first great difference: submission and the Spirit of God accomplishing victory in his second missionary journey. This is because Jesus gives us the Spirit purchased for us in the New Covenant with his blood. May we take to heart that the church is strengthened by servants of Christ submitted fully to God’s will.


Secondly, the difference that the New Covenant makes in life and ministry is joyful exposition in the power of the Spirit conquers religious souls; and this may be observed in vv.24–28 where Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He is said to be an eloquent man and competent in the Scriptures. That is, he can explain the Bible, but he lacks something. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. He is fervent in spirit (likely human spirit here). He teaches accurately even the things concerning Jesus. But it is noted especially that he knew only the baptism of John. And a couple led by a woman named Priscilla pulled him aside after his preaching privately and explained what was lacking. For you see that the Old Covenant was characterized by John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Old Covenant. Now the New Covenant has come with better promises, including the indwelling of the Spirit of God and the fruit thereof, which includes joy! “It is better to have a faith which you cannot explain, than to be able to explain a faith which you do not enjoy” (William Arnot, Church in the House, p.363). Apollos lacked something of the New Covenant and it was something to do with what the New Covenant brought and is underscored throughout this whole section of Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit by virtue of the New Covenant that is pointed out as making all of the difference. It is likely and especially the joy in exposition that is lacking in the Old Covenant preaching. Christ has come, and the Spirit has been given by virtue of Christ’s reign, so Apollos needed to know this, and we do too! The second difference is made adds to the sanctification of and submission to the Spirit of God, this: joy in explaining the Scriptures. This proved powerful for Apollos as he helped those who grace had believed and powerfully refuted (literally conquered) showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. And I think the big factor picked up because a couple took the time to talk with Apollos was joy. The joy of the Lord is our strength in explaining the gospel. This joy  was purchased absolutely by Christ by his blood in the New Covenant. Let us take to heart that joyful exposition in the power of the Spirit conquers religious souls.


There is then another matter concerning the difference New Covenant makes in life and ministry beginning in chapter 19, namely the extent and depth that the gospel reaches. Paul returns to Ephesus and the gospel begins to reach Asia which was impossible before. The lacking matter is pointed out: the Holy Spirit. Now though here these things come in parts, they are so, to teach us what we receive simultaneously at conversion normatively. It is not to say that people do not have unique experiences after conversion that really make their lives, but what occurs here is unique to bringing the gospel to this region at the time. They are evidently ignorant of pentecost and the New Covenant especially. They know only a baptism of repentance from the Old Covenant, not what Baptism signified in union with Christ. The New Covenant makes believers’ baptism meaningful! It make the gospel seen in the promise of baptism. We are buried with Christ and raised with him, and being united to him, we must receive his Spirit. Every believer receives the Spirit of God. Here it is separated into parts so we see the whole. But it can’t be divided necessarily for all who belong to Jesus have the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, the point is that Jesus has come and now baptism takes on a new power. Additionally, Paul ays hands on them and they speak in tongues and prophesy. This was not a normative sign, but one of judgment on the Jews and Jerusalem. The mention of twelve men may drop a clue that God is creating a new Israel from the New Covenant. Now, what is essentially happening is found in v.8 “reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” But when they continued in unbelief, Paul went to the hall of Tyrannus, a lecture hall of a philosopher or orator in this Greek city. He spends his time there every day (showing he is no longer depending on tent making, but is supported by the offering from Macedonia at least); and as a result all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. The New Covenant has taken the gospel deep in thought (Reasoning and persuading) and extensively to all of Asia at this point. The New Covenant has made a difference like that of a field that is extensive, with furrows of the field going down deep and long, as he spent two whole years there! The mustard seed has been planted deep in the furrows of this world by the New Covenant and has grown up so many birds may nest in the gospel of God’s Son Jesus Christ! How does the church grow but that Jesus Christ by virtue of purchasing for us with his own blood in the new covenant this grows so it may be said that Paul planted Apollos watered, but God gave the group that’s it that’s how it happened.


Now there is one more difference noted that the New Covenant here makes in life and ministry, namely Satan’s domain is not plundered without the Spirit of God being in God’s people as promised in the New Covenant. We see this in vv. 11–20. First we note that the extraordinary miracles by Paul in the New Covenant are that very thing-—extraordinary. The baptism of the Spirit, or giving of the Spirit in the New Covenant was a matter that where it was not accompanied with conversion was extraordinary to Paul. It is asked previously—as if astounded—if they received the Spirit at conversion. To not receive the Spirit is simply unthinkable, so the event serves to illustrate not a second experience, but what happens in the first by faith today. Here the matter that is extraordinary is attempting to cast out evil spirits without the Holy Spirit. If you recall when Jesus was accused and the Spirit was near blasphemed it was over some saying that Jesus was casting out demons by the devil. That is near blasphemous of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is responsible, according to Christ’s ministry, for binding up and casting out the strong man Satan and plundering his house. But if you don’t have the Spirit of God in the New Covenant, to attempt life and ministry is one that ends in humiliation. These sons of Sceva, a high priest (So he was religious) is no threat to evil. The evil spirit (note singular) humiliated these who attempted to go up against evil. The result however was that of fear; the name of Jesus extolled; many come confessing and divulging their practices; and lastly they burn their books evidently because there is another spirit attached to them! There is in every sense a real repentance that comes about by the New Covenant that is willing to cut their right arms off, if you will, for the sake of the gospel. The gospel then increases and prevails mightily! That is the difference the New Covenant makes here—evil in the hearts and lives of people is destroyed and they begin to live in opposition of Satan by the Spirit in how they make their living. They are no longer willing to be attached to the practice of magic arts,  nor have anything that was attached to that practice in their lives. The matter is that only those who are building their lives on the rock in obedience to Jesus will lack humiliation in life and ministry now and in the end. They will instead experience the right fear, fear of God not Satan; they will exalt Christ’s name, not their own; they will confess their sins; and they will change their practices in all of life to conform to Christ in thought, deed and attitude. The New Covenant ultimately leads God’s people to this sort of holiness that fears the Lord, exalts his name, confesses sin, and fully repents of anything evil. When this take place, Satan’s domain is plundered, and he is seen as clearly bound from deceiving God’s people in all the world.


Thus, we learn the New Covenant made all the difference, first by submission to the will of God; then by joy in explaining the Word of God; then in the depth and extent of the spread of God’s kingdom in the world; and lastly in the Spiritual power over evil demonstrated in fear, praise, confession, and repentance. This Covenant is a better one based on better promises. It comes with power, as Christ is reigning and has given His Spirit by virtue of the New Covenant to his church; and they will neither be disappointed nor ashamed. Why? Because God gave His Son to secure the covenant with his blood. Amen.


bird's eye view of gray mountain during daytime
Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

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