Paul is only interested in that which is effective.
What is the point of being a ‘disciple’ of Christ in name only?
Paul himself has for most of his life experienced the practice of religion without the power. It turns out merely being a Jew – even a VERY fervent one – had been completely ineffective in Paul’s life, and he wasn’t about to see the same kind of thing be allowed to happen with those who were now aligning themselves with Jesus Christ.
Upon returning to Ephesus, Paul notices something is missing from the new church which has arisen there. They are doing all the ‘Christian’ things, they are meeting together, and they are reading the Word, and they are praying and such. They are called ‘disciples,’ and ‘believers,’ which allows us insight to know they are seeking to follow Christ, but only according to what they know to do.
It is interesting to think about what had happened at Ephesus since Paul had briefly passed through the city on his way to Jerusalem, (at the end of his second missionary trip.) He left Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus, and continued on to Jerusalem for the feast. The Word then tells us Aquila and Priscilla, upon hearing Apollos preach to the Synagogue there, had informed him of the very thing Paul is presently informing the rest of the Ephesian disciples about. Why had Aquila and Priscilla been unable to share with the rest of the Ephesian disciples what they had shared with Apollos – and why hadn’t Apollos shared this news with them before leaving for Achaia? (We do not know.)
What we do know is that Paul immediately notices these new disciples are simply going through the motions of religious practice. They are practicing religion in a new ‘Way,’ but religiously practicing ‘the Way’ in a new way – even fervently – is no more effective for those which call themselves ‘The Church’ than it had been for those who were previously practicing Judaism. Paul won’t stand for it.
He asks them a VERY important and loving question, getting at what he has observed lacing from their lives. In a similar way we notice what is presently lacking in most of the worldwide church. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is as ineffective as any other religious institution that has ever existed. We must likewise receive the power of the baptism with God’s Holy Spirit. To join a church, or call yourself a disciple, is never enough.