A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

From Accurate to More Accurate

I was invited to give the charge to the graduates at the 56th annual commencement service for the Los Angeles Bible Training School. Here’s the main point I made. It’s tailored to laypeople in an urban setting, but it concerns the spiritual value of Biblical and theological education more generally.

Turn with me to Ephesians 4, verses 20 to 21.

20 But you did not learn Christ in this way,
21 If indeed you have heard him
and have been taught in him,
just as truth is in Jesus.

Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus about “the way they learned Christ.” And here I am, speaking to the graduates of Los Angeles Bible Training School about “the way you learned Christ.” You have learned Christ, heard him, and been taught in him, just as truth is in Jesus.

So I want to congratulate you. You took a lot of classes with a lot of teachers, studied a lot of books, did a lot of assignments, and if you’re here in cap and gown, you must have passed a lot of tests. LABTS has a plan, a catalog, a faculty, and a whole course of instruction laid out, and you completed that course of instruction. Good job.

Now I don’t want to over-congratulate you. When Paul says “you learned Christ, have heard him, and have been taught in him,” he is talking to all true Christians, not just the sub-set that have graduated from a Bible Training School. Right? I bet that before you enrolled for your first class at LABTS, you had learned Christ, heard him, been taught in him, and knew the truth in Jesus already. Some of you for decades. Some of you for decades and decades! These verses in Ephesians are about all true Christians. I don’t want to make it sound like these verses are only about Bible Training School graduates; that would be over-congratulating.

But I also don’t want to under-congratulate you. Because you really did something here. In the word of the school motto, you set you set your hearts to study the law of the Lord. And when you set your face to complete this course of study in the Bible, you took the truth of Ephesians 4:20-21, believed it was true about you, and you sort of leaned into it. You took up that truth that is in Jesus, and you committed to learning Christ in his word in a more exact way. You wanted to hear him loud and clear, and you wanted to be taught in him, in a systematic, panoramic, comprehensive, full-Bible, fully responsible way, complete with homework.

That’s important. It reminds me of something else from Ephesus, not from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, but from the city of Ephesus in Acts chapter 18, and the way the teaching about Jesus came to that city. I want to read part of that story to you, and I want to pay special attention to how the people in that city learned Christ, and were taught in him:

[Acts 18:24] Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was proficient in the Scriptures.

Meet Apollos, a minor character in the New Testament, but “eloquent” and “proficient in the Scriptures.” That’s great: the KJV says “mighty in the Scriptures.” I could stop reading about him right here, and I would already have a new hero. If anybody ever said of me that I was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, I’d be happy. If that’s what came to mind when you thought of me…. I’d be good. I could die happy and feel like I’d been useful. Way to go, Apollos.

[18:25] This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was accurately speaking and teaching things about Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26 and he began speaking boldly in the synagogue.

 More good stuff: “instructed… fervent in spirit… accurately speaking and teaching things about Jesus,” and “speaking boldly.” There’s not a hint of critique of this man or his message or his ministry. It’s all commendable and all going along fine.

But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately to him.


Now, notice this: all the good things we said about Apollos are true. But here come Priscilla and Aquila, who are these two other Christians, a married couple who had fled Rome under persecution, met Paul in Corinth, and then came over to Ephesus.When they heard Apollos teaching, they liked it, they were saying Amen, Amen, Amen, this guy’s mighty in the scriptures… but wait. Something in his teaching wasn’t quite right. Something was sort of off. Something was missing.

Have you heard Christians talking, and had this happen to you?

You’re going “amen, amen, amen,” then all of  a sudden they say something weird, and you tilt your head and ask: what? “Go back a minute, what was that? Why’d you say it that way?”

You even hear sermons like this sometimes, right? I don’t mean bad sermons, I’m not talking about false teachers, that’s a whole other thing. I mean a sermon from an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures, and everything’s going along, and then… something just… well, you kind of want say: “There’s nothing WRONG wrong, but there’s something not QUITE right.”

With Apollos, we don’t get many details about what was wrong. The story doesn’t focus on that. I think Luke’s being nice; in fact I think Priscilla and Aquila are being nice. They don’t call him out or shout him down. They him aside, or they draw him in. They says something like, “Come here, brother Apollos; great job out there; really getting it done. But we wanted to ask, what was that one part?” And then they helped him fix that one part.

Again, we don’t have much detail, but it looks like the problem was that he was missing some information. It says here, he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John.” So he Apollos was probably preaching some amazing sermons about repentance, about the kingdom of God being at hand, and about believing in Christ. But when Priscilla and Aquila listened, at some point they thought, “Oh wow, that’s all he’s got; he left out the part about being baptized in Jesus’ name… I was expecting  him to say ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,’ but he kept looping back to John’s baptism.” See Apollos must have been preaching about Jesus like John preached about Jesus, arguing from the Old Testament, doing a great job, getting it done. I bet almost everything was more or less there, but not all put together. He wasn’t quite connecting the dots, and couldn’t tell if a couple of dots were missing.

Remember, though, it says in verse 25, “he was accurately speaking and teaching things about Jesus.” But Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and, verse 26, they “explained the way of God more accurately to him.” This brother went from Accurately to More Accurately. From verse 25 to 26.

Moving from Acts 18:25 to Acts 18:26, from accurately to more accurately… this is worth doing. It’s not some picky little detail for people who are way too fussy about fine points. It really matters. We can see this in two ways:

FIRST, Apollo’s ministry became much more effective after his understanding become more accurate. Verses 27 and 28 tell us:

when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

There’s more language here than we had before about the effectiveness of his teaching, about its results. “He greatly helped;” “he powerfully refuted;” he “demonstrated by the Scriptures.”

SECOND, I don’t’ want to say Apollos had made a mess of things in Ephesus, because we don’t have any direct report of that here in Acts. But as the story unfolds, we do see that Paul himself came in and taught for three weeks in the synagogue, and then two whole years in the school of Tyrannus. And you may remember that when he first came to town there were still a lot of people confused about things. Ephesus is where Paul had to correct some guys theologically, and they’re the ones who end up saying “we hadn’t even heard there WAS a Holy Spirit.” What I’m saying is, there seems to have been a bit of pretty serious theological clean-up work to do in Ephesus. Paul, obviously, was equal to that  task, and Acts tells us the word of God was established. Again, there’s no warrant here for casting aspersions on Apollos. He had obviously helped with the spread of the gospel in Ephesus. I wish we knew a lot more about him, and a lot more about Priscilla and Aquila.

Because Apollos served a lot more effectively after Priscilla and Aquila helped him move from verse 25 to verse 26, from accurate to more accurate.

Here’s the thing: We almost always need help to move from accurate to more accurate. We need better-established Christians to take us aside and teach us more accurately. The first steps in knowing Jesus and understanding the gospel often go very quickly and easily. Give a regenerate person a Bible and drop them into church and their understanding can grow by leaps and bounds. In Scripture, the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things, and it all unfolds beautifully. But then you reach a point where you need some help, because everything you read or hear reminds you of true things you already know, and as the truth reinforces itself in your mind and heart, so do your little errors: you start rehearsing things that are a little off, and you get set in your ways even if they’re not quite right. This is when you need brothers and sisters in Christ to take you aside and teach you more accurately.

If you want to go from 25 to 26, from accurate to more accurate, you may need to seek out this instruction and sign up for it. You may need to sign up for a carefully planned program. You might just need a school. A training school. A Bible Training School, maybe, in fact, the Los Angeles Bible Training School, with a plan, a course catalog, a faculty, a syllabus, some set reading assignments, and homework, and class meetings.

Because when your grasp of the Bible is  loose, and your doctrine is wobbly, and your ability to speak about Jesus is not WRONG wrong but not QUITE right, Paul could say to you:

20 But you did not learn Christ in this way,
21 If indeed you have heard him
and have been taught in him,
just as truth is in Jesus.

There comes a time when you know you need to go aside and learn Christ more accurately. You might have to learn how to use a concordance. You might need to learn how to look up cross-references intelligently. You may need to fill your mind with Christian Doctrine, 1, Christian Doctrine 2, and Christian Doctrine 3, so you know where all the pieces fit together. You may need to stop taking everybody else’s word for everything, and learn how to take up the Word of God in your own hands and check it out to see if what people say is in the Bible is actually findable there in the Bible. Remember the Bereans from Acts chapter 17, which tells us they “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” Just a few verses above our passage in Ephesians 4, Paul reminded the Ephesians that the risen and ascended Christ gave teachers to equip us in our understanding so we wouldn’t be helpless like “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of people.” We all need to do what we can to get from verse 25 to verse 26, to move together from accurate to more accurate.

So you see the similarities here between the Ephesian Bible Training School and the Los Angeles Bible Training School. I commend the school for having a plan for all these decades, and I congratulate you graduates for following through on the plan in these last few years.

[The sermon ended with two further applications; one moral and one personal.]

About This Blog

Fred Sanders is a theologian who tried to specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity, but found that everything in Christian life and thought is connected to the triune God.

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