Studies in Acts
Lesson 40: “Advice and Consent”
One of the biggest problems that can come up in the Christian life is a disagreement over what the Lord’s will is. On the one hand it is good to seek the Lord’s will , and to have that as a norm and a standard of whatever action we are going to take. But when two or more Christians disagree about what that will is, problems can result. That is the situation that we find in to be misunderstood – particularly when you are only trying to do the right thing. is in the Christian Life is a disagreement over what the will is in a certain situation. On the one hand, it is good to seek the Lord’s will, and to have that as a norm and a standard of whatever action we are going to take. But when two or more Christians disagree about what that will is, problems can result. That is the situation we find in Acts chapter 21 as Paul continues his trip to Jerusalem.
The chapter consists of three parts:
- The Warnings about Jerusalem in verses 1 through 14
- The wavering at Jerusalem in verses 15 through 25
III. The Warfare at Jerusalem – 26 through 36
So let’s begin by looking at the warnings about Jerusalem that Paul received in verses 1 through 14. And the first of those warnings are the warnings at Tyre recorded in verses 1 through 6 The way to Tyre is given in verses 1 through 3 a listing of the places along the way (probably done to give a sense of travel)
Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course, we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara (2) and finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.(3) when we had sighted Cypress, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo.
Then beginning at verse 6 we find the wait at Tyre. The reason for the wait is actually found in the last part of verse 3: The unloading the cargo from the ship. But the real message of the passage is found in the result of the wait. What happened while they were waiting. The wording of verse 4 is very significant:
(4) And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.
Note the phrase “and finding disciples.” Actually, the Greek text says “and having searched out disciples.” The New American Standard Version much more accurately translates it “after looking up disciples.” So this is not an accidental or casual “finding” of fellow Christians as the New King James Version suggests, but a result of careful searching.
Harry Ward Beecher, a 19th century liberal criticizes the book of Acts by saying that
“Luke was devoid of artistic sense in that he traveled through those cities of asia, packed with things of beauty and artistic merit and value, and never by a line referred to one of them.
But G. Morgan Campbell a 19th century conservative said:
“There was no “scenery” to Paul, there was no geography, there was nothing but lost humanity, and the redeeming cross of Christ . . .”
There is something else about Tyre that is interesting to think about: This is the first time that Tyre is mentioned in the book of Acts. So where did these “disciples” come from? There is no way to know definitively where they came from, but an interesting thing to think about is that these may have been converts of Christ Himself! Mark 3:8 says that a great many people came from Tyre and the surrounding area to see Jesus in the early days of His ministry. Later in his ministry, as recorded in Matthew 11:21,22 Jesus mentioned the openness of those areas to the gospel:
Woe unto you, Chorazin and Bethsaida, for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes”
So it is not impossible that the first Christians in Tyre were people who had been converted under the ministry of Christ Himself! In fact, probably many of those first century evangelists were reaping fruit from seeds planted by Christ Himself.
But coming back to the text, the point of this part of the chapter is that in the last part of verse 4 those Christians in Tyre “told Paul that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” We will see later what Paul’s reaction to this kind of warning was, but at this point Paul and the others move on.
(5) When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children till we were out of the city. And they knelt down on the shore and prayed. (6) When we had taken our leave of one another we boarded the ship, and they returned home.
So, Paul received “warnings at Tyre” in verses 1 through 6. But in verses 7 through 14 we read about the weeping at Caesarea. First, we find some nostalgia in the visit. Look at verse 7:
And when we that had finished our voyage from Tyre came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day (8) On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. (9) now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
Notice the phrase “one of the seven” in verse 8. This is a reference to the seven deacons who had been appointed way back in chapter 6, years earlier. The importance of those deacons is shown by the fact that here years later this would still be the descriptive term for Philip – “one of the seven. “And the use of this term also hints at all that had transpired in the intervening years: When Philip had been appointed a deacon, Paul was still persecuting the church. In fact, it was Paul’s persecution that had driven Philip from Jerusalem as recorded in chapter 8. And it is interesting to notice that Philip had begun pioneering in a work that Paul was later going to become famous for – winning Gentiles (Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch) But now, twenty years later here they are together, involved in the same work! And this is just another example of how “all things work together for good.”
So there was nostalgia in the visit.” But verses 10 and 11 tell us about a narrative that was given in the visit. After spending “many days” in Caeserea, Agabus, gives a descriptive narrative of what awaits Paul when he goes to Jerusalem. He does it in the classic Old Testament style of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah etc., which shows again the transitional period typical of Acts – this style would have carried more weight with the Jews involved. And interestingly enough, it is the very same kind of warning that he had given at Tyre back in verse 4. In fact, back in chapter 20, Paul had said that he was hearing this everywhere he went.
And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea, (11) When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “thus says the Holy Spirit, “so shall the Jews at Jerusalem do to the one who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”
But not only was there “nostalgia” in the visit, and this “narrative,” in the visit but verse 12 tells us there was also an expression of negative opinions in the visit.
Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem
Everybody close to Paul was telling him not to go up to Jerusalem. And this brings up a central issue of this passage: who was really being led by the Spirit, and who was not? Some say that Paul at this point got out of the will of God by going on to Jerusalem when the Holy spirit was leading not to. Others say that he did exactly the right thing. (and were right!) But at the very least this passage brings up the problem of differing opinions of the Lord’s will by equally sincere people.
But the next verses show us the knowledge of God’s will as expressed in this visit – look at verses13,14: The reasoning is found in verse 13
Then Paul answered, “what do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
It is significant that Paul had not responded to any of the advice before this. But here his answer gives insight to the whole situation. Note the phrase “breaking my heart.” “Breaking” doesn’t mean from the standpoint of sorrow, but from the standpoint of changing his mind. It could literally be translated “why by your weeping are you attempting to get me to change my mind about something I know I must do?” So the true picture of the situation is this: the Lord had revealed to Paul and to the various disciples, that Paul would be persecuted in Jerusalem. The difference was simply the interpretation of that information. The disciples urged him not to go because of persecution. But he wanted to go in spite of it. The application: This provides a test by which we can know which is the true leading of the Spirit: the test of motivation. The disciples’ motivation was love for Paul – and that is admirable. But Paul’s motivation was love for the Jews and the desire for Jew/Gentile unification.
One reason for going to Jerusalem was to take another was to take the offering gathered by the gentile believers in Antioch for poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Another reason was to show the Jewish believers in Jerusalem the Jewish believers in Jerusalem A good rule of thumb to remember in situations like this is that sometimes “the good is the enemy of the best” – interpreting God’s will is sometimes done in this vein.
Well, we have seen The nostalgia in this visit to Caesarea, the narrative prophecy that was given in the visit, the negative opinions that were expressed in the visit, and the knowledge of God’s will that finally surfaced in the visit. Now finally, in verse 14 we see the newness of vision that was developed:
So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “the will of the Lord be done.”
The other disciples finally saw Paul’s viewpoint and fellowship was restored – in verse 15 they went on with him.
This is the direction toward which any disagreement among believers should always move. Even if there is still some disagreement about what the will of the Lord is, the common denominator can and should be the seeking of that will.