The power of God

During Paul’s two-year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), a man named Apollos ministered to the Jews in Corinth. It says in Acts 19:27-28 that Apollos “helped them much which had believed through grace: for he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.” Apparently, Apollos’ method of teaching was different than Paul’s. Paul was opposed by the Jews in Corinth and it was there that he “shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). Apollos on the other hand was born at Alexandria and was described as “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24), meaning Apollos was a great speaker that was probably able to captivate his audience with his relevant application of God’s word and understanding of Christian living.

The stark difference between Paul and Apollos’ styles of preaching caused the believers at Corinth to prefer one them over the other and to form subgroups or cliques that divided the congregation. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addressed this problem in a very direct manner. He stated:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12, ESV)

Paul’s argument against the divisions that were occurring in Corinth was that no man could claim credit for the salvation of others. Paul stated, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness: but unto us which are saved it is the power of God…For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21).

Paul’s reference to the foolishness of preaching in 1 Corinthians 1:21 was meant to stress the absurdity of the idea that a person could be saved by someone explaining the scriptures to him. Paul pointed out that a person had to be “called” or invited into God’s kingdom and that it was the power of God that made it possible for people to accept Christ and be born again (1 Corinthians 1:24). Therefore, Paul concluded, “that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). Paul went on to say that true wisdom was a gift from God and explained that the power of God was conveyed through his Holy Spirit. According to Paul, God can only reveal things to us through his Spirit and he stated, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

An unusual conversion

Philip, one of the other seven men besides Stephen who was selected to oversee the church in Jerusalem, was bold enough to go down to the city of Samaria and preach the gospel to them (Acts 8:5). Samaritans were despised by the Jews because of their unwelcome presence in the former capital of the nation of Israel. There were many opportunities for Philip to perform miracles in Samaria because of it’s pagan history and continued worship of idols. After the Israelites were expelled from this territory and taken into captivity by the Assyrians, Samaria was resettled by “men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim” (2 Kings 17:24). These men respected God, but did not serve him. They served their own gods by setting them up in the places where the Israelites had previously worshipped Jehovah (2 Kings 17:29-33).

The many miracles Philip performed in Samaria got the peoples’ attention and caused them to believe in Jesus. It says in Luke 8:9-13:

But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

Simon’s conversion appeared to be genuine, but he didn’t seem to understand that the power of God couldn’t be obtained by external means. After Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given to believers, he offered the apostles money in order to obtain the same ability (Acts 8:18-19).

Peter’s response to Simon’s request indicated there was a spiritual problem affecting Simon’s thinking. Peter said, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, If perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:22-23). The Greek terms that are translated gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity suggest that Simon was still in spiritual bondage even though he appeared to be saved. One way to describe what was going on would be to say that Simon’s mind had been poisoned, somewhat like a person that has been brainwashed. According to Peter, the answer to Simon’s spiritual problem was to repent and fully submit himself to God. It’s unclear whether or not Simon took that step because his final request made it seem as though his faith had not been genuine. Simon asked Peter, “Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:24).