Devotional # 61. 11/18/13. Paul and the Will of God.
This week’s Reading: Acts 21:1-40.
Introduction. In past chapters we’ve talked a little about the will of God. But we haven’t studied it in depth. Every person wants to know about the will of God. A person who is not a Christian wants to know was it God’s will to have the typhoon hit the Philippines? Christians want to know what God’s will is for their life. This chapter will show us how God’s will works with our will and what our response should be. Pay attention to the 8 highlighted points.
vv. 1-7. This section shows where Paul went with Luke (the author of Acts) and others. Paul is told by the Holy Spirit to not go to Jerusalem. Point #1: the Holy Spirit uses the men (“disciples” but not the 12 disciples) who meet up with Paul to tell him that he shouldn’t go to the destination he had been trying to reach for a while. Do you remember in Acts 18:18 (Devotional 58) when Paul first cut his hair so he could keep the purification tradition? In Acts 20:16 (Devotional 60) he even sailed past Ephesus quickly so he could get to Jerusalem faster. Now he is told that he isn’t going to do what he wants to do. It must have been frustrating for him. The Bible doesn’t record how he took the news but he was probably disappointed. Either way the families of the followers of Jesus follow Paul down to where is ship is going to depart from. They have a prayer meeting on the beach. It must have been really neat for those kids as they grew up to remember when Paul came into town and they all prayed with him.
vv. 8-11. Paul and his companions go into Caesarea and stay with a guy named Philip. This Philip isn’t the Philip who was one of the 12 disciples, this is “the evangelist” that we first met in Acts 6:5. As they spend their time there a prophet named Agabus gives Paul a message from the Holy Spirit. Agabus takes Paul’s belt and ties it around his (Agabus’) own hands and legs. Often God uses real life examples to teach us something because we’ll remember it forever. Think of when Ezekiel laid on his side for over a year (Ezekiel 4:4-8) or Jeremiah wasn’t allowed to marry or have kids (Jeremiah 16:1–12). For more on symbolic prophecy see the site: http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/sperry-symposium-classics-old-testament/symbolic-action-prophecy-old-testament#_edn1). Notice that it took “many days” of Paul feeling the weight of not getting to go to Jerusalem. Point # 2: Now Paul is told he does get to go (implied by the fact that he will be arrested there!) but he’s not told that he’ll get to keep the purification just that he will go through difficulty. Often God tells us His earlier “no” was actually just “wait” but there will be hardship.
vv. 12-14. When Paul’s traveling companions and the people from Caesarea heard that Paul would be arrested they didn’t want him to go. They pleaded and begged him not to go because they were looking through human eyes. We tell God not to make us change jobs or to not let our loved one die or to not give us a certain teacher or professor. But we aren’t looking through our spiritual, eternal eyes. How can we, if we don’t give in to God’s perfect will? What is the response of Paul, who has given over his will to God? He tells them that they are breaking his heart by begging him not to go. Because he loves them and feels for them but he wants to do God’s will. Paul is willing to die for Jesus, so he certainly doesn’t care about being arrested. Point # 3: the obedient Christian will affect others to give themselves over to the perfect will of God. By Paul doing God’s will he helped the others to do God’s will and gave them an example of what it means to be a Christian who desires God’s will over their own.
vv. 15-25. The plan is detailed. The elders are excited to hear about the Gentiles who have become Christians but they also know what the local Jews who became Christians have been saying about Paul. The “believing Jews” still felt many of the rituals and knowledge of the Old Testament was important. Which is true. But Paul had told Gentiles that they didn’t have to keep all the Hebrew rituals because Jesus brought in a New Covenant. Which is true. So the Jews felt that Paul was doing the Gentiles a disservice and that he had lost his heritage. The elders show wisdom (which Paul sees otherwise he would never have complied with their request) by coming up with a way to unify the Gentiles and Jews. Paul is going to be purified in the temple. Beyond that he is going to pay the fees for 4 other guys who also want to be purified in the temple. Point 4: God gives Paul the desire of his heart!
Notice here Luke details what James and the other elders actually said to Paul. Obviously this was God’s will being spoken by men to Paul (Point # 5). It’s interesting that Luke didn’t detail exactly what the men told Paul in verse 4. I think the reason we are told exactly what happened here is because it was a turning point between Gentile and Jewish relations but also because it is a model for how we’re supposed to handle situations. What do we learn? We learn what Paul tells us in Romans chapter 14: Christians have individual freedom. If something doesn’t go against God’s Word and His will then it is OK to do it. Point 6: You must know God’s Word (by reading the Bible) and His will (by reading the Bible) before you can claim that you have freedom to do something. God’s Word will transform you so you won’t desire to do evil things with your freedom. Of course we are commanded not to stumble other Christians while we practice our freedom since we answer to God (Romans 14:13).
vv. 26-29. The execution of the plan. Just as they discussed Paul and the others start the purification process. They are almost done when they are interrupted by the same Jews from Ephesus that have caused Paul so many problems in the past (Source 1). They incorrectly think Paul brought a Gentile into the temple so they use it to stir up the multitudes against Paul.
vv. 30-40. The commander in charge of keeping the peace (as we’ll see in Acts 23:26 is Claudias Lysias) brings soldiers to break up the riot. When he asks what is happening, everyone says something different so he decides to arrest Paul. Point 7: God’s will is done in His timing, in His way, when a Christian is obedient. If Paul, remembering what Agabus had prophesied, had gone in picking fights and trying to get arrested it wouldn’t have brought God glory. Instead he is minding his own business visiting the temple.
The commander mistakes him for a revolutionary leader known as “the Egyptian.” The Egyptian was part of the assassins known as the “dagger-men”. The dagger-men targeted Romans and pro-Roman Jews. Interestingly “the Egyptian” is credited with the assassination of Ananias the high priest, in 66 AD (Source 2). But when the commander learns Paul is an educated man (“‘can you speak Greek?’”) he allows Paul to speak to the crowd. Point 8: God’s gospel will go out to the masses no matter what! Only God could have set up Paul to be given this huge of an audience.
Conclusion. We can learn much from the 8 points about God’s will: 1. You may pray for something and it seems like God is telling you “no” but instead it’s “wait”, we must trust on His timing. 2. When we’re taken off “hold” we may only be given partial information and it may hurt us. 3. When we do or don’t obey God’s will, it will affect others for better or worse. 4. When our heart is turned towards God he doesn’t hold any good thing back from us (Psalm 84:11, Matthew 7:7-8, 1 Corinthians 1:20). 5. God can talk to you as a thunderous voice from heaven but nowadays He often uses other Christians to tell us His will. 6. God can talk to you through the pages of His timeless Scriptures, telling you His will. 7. We must rely on God every step of the way; if He has revealed a portion of His will to us we must be careful to not be so zealous that we go too far. 8. God will call every person to the redemption of Jesus many, many times during their lives.
Think about it like this, when Paul was initially told by the Holy Spirit (v. 4) not to go to Jerusalem it was so he could receive the prophesy of Agabus (v. 11), go to purification with the other four guys (v. 26) and be a good witness to untold numbers of people. None of these things would have happened if Paul had backed out anywhere along the way. In the same way we must be diligent to trust the Lord as he directs our paths for His greater good.
Source 1: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1675.
Source 2: Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible, p. 567.