Bible Study with Jairus – Acts 19

Acts 19 begins with a story about how Paul supplied the needs of Apollos’ ministry.  Those who were ministered to by Apollos only knew John’s baptism and weren’t aware of the Holy Spirit.  Is there a deeper spiritual meaning here?  If so, what spiritual insight can we glean for our walk with the Lord?

The spiritual insight is that John’s ministry introduces Jesus Christ, and Jesus’ ministry baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire.  In other words, John introduced Christ, and Christ introduced the Holy Spirit.  This is the full gospel.  If we only talk about one aspect and not the other, it will cause Christians to have a one-sided understanding of the truth, leading to division in the church.

Why did Apollos only know John’s baptism? Acts 18:24 mentions that Apollos was a native of Alexandria.  Alexandria is a port city located on the Mediterranean Sea in northern Egypt.  If Apollos lived in Alexandria, then it would be very interesting.  Imagine how influential John’s ministry was in Israel.  Many Jews had repented and been baptized.  Even the unbelieving Pharisees came to join in the fun, and John criticized them, telling them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (NIV, Matthew 3:8).  Even Apollos, who was in Alexandria, Egypt, was influenced by John’s ministry, so it is evident that John’s ministry had significant influence.

John had two crucial messages.  The first was that you have to repent because the kingdom of heaven has come near (NIV, Matthew 3:2).  The second is that he was not Christ.  He just baptized people withwater for repentance.  But after him would come one who is more powerful than him – Jesus Christ.  He would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and fire. (NIV, Matthew 3: 11).

His two messages are very clear and definitive.  But it is like a stone thrown into the lake, creating a ripple.  This expanding ripple eventually becomes weaker and weaker.  By the time John’s ministry reached Apollos, only one of his two messages seemed to be passed along.   When Paul arrived at Ephesus, he found that the disciples who were saved under Apollos’ ministry weren’t baptized in the Holy Spirit, nor had they even heard of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied (NIV, Acts 19:6).

Please pay attention here.  The Bible did not record that Aquila and Priscilla helped Apollos to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Nor did it mention that Paul helped Apollos to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.  It only noted that Paul placed his hands on people who had been ministered to in Apollos’ ministry, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Did all of Apollos’ disciples receive the Holy Spirit?  Obviously not.  If yes, then Paul wouldn’t talk about the church’s divisions at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:12, saying that some people followed Paul, and others claim to follow Apollos.  

I suspect that one reason for the divisions in the church at Corinth was because of the second aspect of the truth – the question of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Among which, speaking in tongues is definitely an important point of disagreement.  Paul is teaching and putting the fullness of the Holy Spirit into practice.  He said that he speaks in tongues more than everyone else (NIV, 1 Corinthians 14:18).  Although he repeatedly urged the church not to speak excessively in tongues, he was not totally opposed to speaking in tongues.  But amongst the people saved under Apollos’ ministry, was there someone who didn’t speak in tongues?  Did they have a different understanding of this truth?  I feel that in addition to those who experienced Paul laying his hands on them and accepted his teachings, there may have been some of Apollos’ disciples who did not advocate speaking in tongues. Plus, those who supported speaking in tongues had various fleshly behaviors. They also had reasons to oppose them in the matter of speaking in tongues.

So we have a clue here that there is a very close relationship between what kind of spiritual life a Christian will live in the future as to when he/she is first saved and what kind of spiritual teaching he/she accepts in the beginning.  On the other hand, the ultimate cause of the division of the body of Christ lies in the difference in teaching or the understanding of God’s truth.  If the body of Christ wants to be united but can’t come to an agreement regarding truth, it would be tough to find unity. 

I was saved in the Local Church movement associated with Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. When Witness Lee started his ministry in Los Angeles, he tried to meet with a Pentecostal group in hopes of unity.  But ultimately, there was a dispute over the issue of whether or not to speak in tongues. The two sides refused to give in to the other, and unity wasn’t realized. Overall, as far as Protestantism is concerned, one of the most significant factors that led to their division is how to treat the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, etc. There are some estimates that Charismatic Christians probably equal the number of evangelical Christians, which is about 600 million people. There are about 1 billion Catholics, amongst which more than 100 million of them have accepted the charismatic experience.

In general, people classify the American Charismatic Movement into two categories. The first category is the traditional Pentecostal Movement, which advocates that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The traditional church doesn’t accept this, thus producing Classical Pentecostal denominations like the Assembly of God and others.  The second category is often referred to as the Charismatic Renewal. This kind of renewal does not encourage people to be separated from their original denomination.  They believe that speaking in tongues is just one evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, this is widely accepted by the mainstream American churches, affecting many groups, including the Anglican Church, the Methodist Church, and even the Catholic Church. They accepted the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, without leaving their current denomination.

The United Theological Seminary in the United States, where I am studying now, belongs to the Methodist Church.  Because I am participating in the new semester’s Intensive learning of the Ph.D. program in Dayton, Ohio, I have come into contact with some Methodist believers. Some accept the baptism of the Holy Spirit, though not the majority.  But they are meeting with other men and women who haven’t experienced this in church.

Let’s look at Apollos’ experience. He accepted John’s baptism but did not accept the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The disciples in his ministry didn’t accept the Holy Spirit either.  They had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit.  Acts 18 did mention that Aquila and Priscilla helped Apollos to understand the way of God more accurately.  But it did not explicitly mention helping Apollos to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  And at the beginning of Acts 19, Paul returned to Ephesus to meet the disciples who had received help from Apollos’ ministry, and they hadn’t heard that there was a Holy Spirit.  There are good reasons for us to speculate that Apollos did not accept the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

An important part of John’s ministry was to reveal that Christ wants to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire.  But why is it that this part is ignored and distorted?  This reminds me of Jackie Chan’s movie “Around the World in 80 Days.”  When British officials discussed that a Chinese man had robbed the bank, the message was passed on. In the end, the original message that was passed turned into a totally different message saying that someone else robbed the bank.  One of the reasons is that the character (Jackie Chan) deliberately passed the wrong message in the middle, causing the following information to be all wrong.  This was a movie, but it also happens in actual spiritual experience.

These are the enemy’s tactics.  He would keep people from accepting John’s baptism by thwarting the message of repentance.  Unfortunately for him, the people believed that John was sent by God and kept coming to him to be baptized.  Tactic number two was to bring the Pharisees and Sadducees who tried to pass themselves off as repentant people ready to be baptized, but John saw right through them and harshly criticized them.  The enemy’s last tactic was to hold John’s ministry in high regard while downplaying Jesus’ ministry. John’s disciples could establish a new religion and stir his disciples to challenge the Lord by asking Him: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast? (Matt. 9:14).  In the end, John was martyred. The Israelites believed he was a prophet sent by God, and John’s ministry of repentance was raised up, downplaying or ignoring the message that Jesus was greater and would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Why?  Because Satan wants the most important message to be obstructed.

Satan’s tactics are the same in today’s church as it was in ancient times.  He still strives to downplay the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the teaching that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire.  It is often said that speaking in tongues is the least among the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This seems to make sense, but when you analyze it carefully, it’s not entirely true. For example, why is it that the “least important” gift causes the body of Christ to experience the “biggest” division?  Why is almost half of the body of Christ divided into two factions by this teaching?

I often say that no doubt, speaking in tongues is the least gift.  Speaking in tongues can be likened to two sides of a mountain ridge with a tiny spot at the top representing speaking in tongues.  You can only see the side of the mountain you are on if you haven’t climbed to the top of the mountain.   Those who don’t accept speaking in tongues are stuck on this side of the mountain with a limited view.  They accept the truth of God on this side of the mountain.  But since they haven’t climbed to the top of the mountain, they can’t see what’s up there or what’s on the other side, so they don’t get the full view.

Those who accept speaking in tongues have climbed the mountain, seen the view from the top and gone over to the other side.  Though the top, which represents speaking in tongues, looks small from the bottom side of the mountain, those who have climbed to the top get the whole view, not just half.  It’s a more well-rounded view.  Those who don’t climb to the top have a limited perspective and don’t see the whole picture. This analogy is not limited to speaking in tongues.  It includes all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Apollos only knew John’s baptism, although Aquila and Priscilla helped him understand more about God’s way.  Paul also helped some of Apollo’s disciples accept the Holy Spirit’s fullness, but it did not completely solve this problem.  Apollo’s lack of understanding of the truth laid the seeds for the future division of the church at Corinth.  In addition to the flesh, the most significant cause of the church’s division is the difference in teaching and understanding the truth.  Therefore, I have always believed that the body of Christ cannot be united in the understanding of the truth of God, making it difficult to have true unity.

This problem still exists in today’s church.  There are still some members of the body of Christ who are like Apollos.  They only know John’s baptism.  They may be full of eloquence, very knowledgeable in the Bible, had been instructed in the way of the Lord, spoke with great fervor, and refuted their opponents in public debate (these are all descriptions of Apollos in Acts 18-19).  Still, because of their lack of understanding of the truth, it foreshadowed the later Corinthian church’s difficulties.   Of course, we can’t attribute all of the responsibility to Apollos. The disciples at Corinth who sinned and the fleshy believers who pursued speaking in tongues and other gifts also caused the Corinthian church’s difficulties.

John’s ministry was not like this at first.  In addition to teaching the baptism of repentance, he said that Jesus would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Similarly, the Bible’s teachings are not only about the baptism of repentance; they also include the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Although it’s necessary to repent to receive the life of God, it is equally important to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, to get the power and the reinforcement of the Holy Spirit.

For quite some time, I’ve heard people talk about convergence, meaning that God not only wants us to be holy, but He also wants the church to be powerful.  If the church isn’t holy, it cannot be the salt and light, therefore losing its testimony.  If the church is not powerful, the world will fall into the hands of the power of evil forces.  Holiness and power need to converge together. The church needs to be a witness of God in these two aspects.  One night, the Lord appeared to me in a prophetic dream. He said to me that the two rivers would converge together.  But He did not tell me what the two rivers were. I’m always trying to understand the meaning of the Lord’s words. One thought I had is that holiness and power will converge together.  The teachings I received at the Local Church Movement were mainly about growing in holiness.  Later, the Lord led me to learn and pursue the gifts and power in the Pentecostal Movement.  My understanding is that the Lord will lead me to learn how to combine holiness and power.

Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (NIV, 1 Corinthians 3:6).  Although Apollos has an insufficient understanding of the truth, he made significant contributions. Acts 19 has primarily recorded how God did extraordinary miracles through Paul.  When his handkerchiefs or aprons were laid on the sick, their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them (NIV, Acts 19:11-12). There are a growing number of churches where people are weak, sick, and overcome by evil spirits.  We need to grow in the power of the Spirit like Paul so that sickness is healed and evil spirits are driven away.

Because of Paul’s mighty power, many who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly.  The total came to fifty thousand drachmas. (NIV, Acts 19:19).  A drachma is worth a day’s wage.  This is huge!  Later in Ephesus, Paul caused a riot by coming against the businesses that made statues and idols.  If we were to visit Taiwan or mainland China today, where idols are prevalent, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t cause a riot.  Why? We don’t pose the same threat to the enemy as Paul did. The greater the threat, the greater the opposition from the enemy.

Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, said that half of the people in the body of Christ do not believe in healing, and the other half believe in healing, but they can’t demonstrate it.  This is the state of the church today. We must admit that God’s power is real and that we have the same power as Paul did. Our unbelief, misunderstanding, or ignorance towards the baptism of the Holy Spirit will hinder us from knowing and gaining the power of God.  Why is it then that many charismatic people believe and boast that they have this power, but in reality, they don’t?  The answer is self-evident. Because these people who are pursuing power lack holiness.  It’s dangerous to give a gun to a child who is still not mature enough. The gun is powerful, but without proper handling, it can be very dangerous. It’s not that God doesn’t have power, but that those who pursue holiness don’t pursue power, and those who pursue power are not pursuing holiness.  Therefore, God won’t be able to trust and give His power to them.

However, times are changing. The prophetic words of God have said many times that the age of convergence will come.  God longs for our lives to develop in balance, for us not to just pursue holiness but also power.  When we grow into balanced truth and in the spiritual stature of Christ, God will release His power through us.

If we are arbitrarily trying to drive out evil spirits without God’s authority and power, we may end up being subdued by the evil spirits like the seven sons of Sceva.   God’s power and authority is real, but we must appropriate it by faith in Jesus.

The church that I was saved in paid more attention to growing spiritually and devalued pursuing the gifts of the Spirit.  Their reason was that pursuing gifts would lead people to neglect spiritual growth and holiness.  There are preachers who say that the pursuit of healing will hinder spiritual growth in a Christian’s life.  I understand what they are saying and have observed people in the Charismatic movement paying more attention to the outward healing of the body while lacking inward spiritual growth.   In my experience, we need a balance of both so that our spiritual lives will be complete and fulfilling.

Here is a metaphor I often use to explain what we talked about above.   Our inner spiritual life in the Lord is like water.  Our gifting in the Lord is like a water pipe.  In our initial walk with the Lord pursuing gifts overemphasizes our water pipe, almost like putting the cart before the horse.  New believers need to focus more on the inner spiritual life and growth so that living water can flow through the pipe.   However, if the living water reaches a powerful level and the pipe has not been enlarged to handle it, the flow will be limited.  In China this was a problem.  They designed a drainage system that didn’t take flooding into account.  As time passed, the pipes got clogged with leaves and debris, and when the flood came, the pipes couldn’t manage it.  We also experience debris and blockage in our spiritual lives and must continuously expand the gifts to allow the living water to flow correctly.

This is a dialectical relationship.  The Bible specifically mentions the relationship between the measure of grace and the gift.  We can compare grace to the pursuit of life and the gift to the pursuit of power.  Romans 12:3 (NIV) says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”  Here is a measure of faith.  We can see it as a measure of life.  We will do things according to how much faith God gives us and how deep our spiritual life will be. Don’t stretch yourself too much.  For example, perhaps the measure of your faith can only accommodate inviting one person to live in your house as a guest.  But you invited ten people all at once.  You might get overwhelmed, and instead, not be willing to serve in the future. Ephesians 4:7 says, “But grace gives us personal measure according to the gift of Christ.”  In other words, God gives you more grace when the measure of the gifts He gave you is large.  If God gives you a gift of lifting 200 pounds, He’ll also give you a physical makeup that can withstand 200 pounds.

On the one hand, our measure of life and faith limits our gifts.  For example, take a child. His vital capacity is limited, his cardiopulmonary function is limited, and the distance he can swim is limited, just as his gift is limited.  To this extent, the measure of life limits the measure of gifts. But we have heard many testimonies from parents that when a child has asthma symptoms, his cardiopulmonary function is not strong enough, so they insisted on teaching him to swim.  This is like a constant practice of our gifts.  Slowly, the measure of his gift expanded; that is, his swimming ability increased.  And gradually, his cardiopulmonary function improved, and his asthma disappeared.  So at this level, the expansion of the measure of gifts gradually expands the measure of life.  This is a process of dialectical development.  Evangelical pastors who are opposed to learning about gifts are sometimes like the parent with the child who has asthma. They are always worried about what to do if the child has an asthma attack while he is swimming.  What if he drinks the water?  What should I do if he drowns?  It’s like what many people, who oppose the pursuit of the filling of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, often say.  If we open ourselves to the spiritual world, what should we do if evil spirits come in?  Their confidence in Satan’s destruction is far greater than their faith in God’s protection.  These thoughts come from unbelief and not wisdom.  I want to call on evangelical pastors and teachers to re-examine their understanding of speaking in tongues and gifts of the Holy Spirit in prayer, to see if there is a lack of understanding in the truth as well as a lack of faith.  We should do this instead of blindly blaming the Charismatics for letting the evil spirits come in.

In other words, the pursuit of spiritual life is like pursuing a new wine, and the pursuit of spiritual gifts is like pursuing a new wineskin.  We are pursuing new wine and a new life, but our new wine can’t be stored properly if we don’t have a new wineskin.

Dear pastors and fellow believers, we have reached the moment where we need to grow further and pursue more gifts.  Let’s expand the measure and measurement of our gifts.  Expand the measure of our water pipes.  When the measure of your gifts has expanded, and your gifts and power have grown, you will see exponential growth in your life, and the abundant life in you can be imparted to others.  

If a child says to his father, “I will build a house for you.  I want to develop the gift of being a designer.”  The father will say, “Son, you are still young.  You should give yourself time to grow up.  Do well in school first.  Then after you grow up, you can study architecture so that you can build a house for me.”  But if the child grows up and is ready to build the house, if the father still opposes it, it is no longer normal.

In conclusion, those who don’t know the baptism of the Holy Spirit and oppose speaking in tongues have not fully grown up in their spiritual lives.  Though they may seem more mature than some Charismatic Christians who blindly pursue gifts and lack depth in their spiritual lives, they are operating in fear.  They are afraid of hurting themselves or others in this pursuit.  Has God given us a spirit of fear?  No!  It is a strong, powerful, and sober-minded Spirit.  Anything that comes from fear is from Satan because fear incorporates unbelief and disobedience.  The key to receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and other gifts is faith and obedience. There is no other method or secret.  I experienced breakthroughs within the framework of evangelical teaching.  It took a long pursuit for me to have breakthroughs in faith and obedience and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  I hope this information is a blessing to you.