Resolute to Do the Lord’s Will – Acts 21:1-26

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

September 24, 2006

Resolute to Do the Lord’s Will

Acts 21:1-26

How do you respond to someone that tells you that they know God’s will for
your life? I wish that was a rare occurrence, but it has always been true that
there are people that like to control the lives of others. In religious circles
this is often done by someone claiming they know God’s will for you. This is
more prevalent in some churches than others, but it can occur nearly anywhere.

Depending on your level of confidence you might either reject the person as
an arrogant busybody or you might think they are sent of the Lord and carefully
follow everything they say. The correct response would be to question them on
why they believe they know God’s will for your life. If they can clearly show
from the Scriptures what God has said about whatever particular issue they are
addressing, then they may well know God’s will for your life.

For example. You have a sour attitude because things are not going well at
the moment and another Christian comes up and tells you that it is not God’s
will for you to be so downcast and low. You ask why and they point out 1
Thessalonians 5:18In everything give thanks; for ths is God’s will for you
in Christ Jesus.
" Or perhaps the matter is more serious and you have to
confront someone over a relationship and you point out 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification; [that is,] that you abstain
from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in
sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not
know God; 6 [and] that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter
because the Lord is [the] avenger in all these things, just as we also told you
before and solemnly warned [you.] 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of
impurity, but in sanctification."

Now in these two examples I cited passages that use the phrase "God’s will"
or "will of God," but anything that God commands is a statement of His will.
That being so it is proper for someone to say that they know God’s will when
they can point to one of His commands or instructions from the Bible.

But what about when the issue at hand is not something addressed in the
Bible? Even on those issues in which some Biblical principles do apply there are
specifics which remain unknown such as what career should you pursue? What job
should you take? Who specifically should you marry? Where should you live? What
will you buy with your money? How will you spend your time tonight? How do you
respond to someone who says the Holy Spirit revealed to them God’s will for you
on specific issues like this?

This morning we come to an interesting passage in which Paul had to deal with
people who claimed that the Holy Spirit had revealed to them God’s will for him.
His response will give us not only an example of how to deal with such
situations ourselves, but also how to face a future that you know will include
severe hardship at the very least. Turn to Acts 21.

( MAP) – Last week we ended the sermon with Paul’s emotional farewell to the
Ephesian elders as he boarded a ship in Miletus and continued on his journey to

From Miletus to Caesarea (21:1-14)

The Journey to Tyre (1-3)

Acts 21:1 (NASB) And when it came about that we had parted from them and had
set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from
there to Patara; 2 and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went
aboard and set sail. 3 And when we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on
the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to
unload its cargo.

Remember that Paul wanted to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost and the Lord
granted him a quick journey by sail to Tyre. It is in Tyre that Paul meets
disciples that kept telling him what they believed was God’s will for his life.

Warnings in Tyre (4-6)

4 And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they
kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. 5 And when it
came about that our days there were ended, we departed and started on our
journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until [we were]
out of the city. And after kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said
farewell to one another. 6 Then we went on board the ship, and they returned
home again.

Paul spent a week with the disciples in Tyre. It appears that this was either
the amount of time Paul had to wait for another ship going south to Caesarea or
for that the ship offload and load before continuing its journey. We can safely
assume that during this time Paul followed the same practice he had in other
cities and was strengthening the disciples while he was there. In turn, they
would have been using their spiritual gifts to minister to Paul. Among those
that were there were some that received a word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit
so that "they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in

When Paul’s time was done there he said his farewells to them and boarded the
ship to continue his journey to Jerusalem. The question arises, did Paul disobey
the Spirit in doing this? If this was the only passage dealing with this issue
we would be inclined to say that he did, however, there are three other passages
in Acts that reveal information about the Holy Spirit’s leading and Paul going
to Jerusalem.

In Acts 19:21 we find that when Paul was still in Ephesus he "purposed in
the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia."

His plans to return to Jerusalem had been set forth a long time earlier. In Acts
20:22 after Paul had completed his trip through Macedonia and Achaia he is even
more specific saying, "And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to
Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy
Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions
await me. 24 "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in
order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the
Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God."

Note very carefully what Paul says the Holy Spirit has revealed to him in
these verses. First, though he does not know the extent of it, he does know that
bonds and afflictions await him. Second, he is "bound in spirit" to go to
Jerusalem. [Pf Pass. Ptcp – devw deô
– bind, imprison, compell] Paul was confident about what God wanted Him to do
and he was willing to face it even though it meant future bonds and affliction.
We will see this again when we get to verses 11-14. There is no indication that
Paul ever thought it was a mistake to go to Jerusalem either before or after (cf
23:1; 24:16).

So what is going on here in Acts 21:4? As in other places the Spirit of God
revealed to some who had the gift of prophecy that Paul would be bound when he
got to Jerusalem and they interpreted this to mean that Paul should not go
there. We can be fairly confident that this is what happened because it will
happen again when Paul gets to Caesarea in verses 8-14.

We live in a time when there are many that will claim that they know God’s
will for your life and some of them will even claim it is because the Holy
Spirit told them. While I believe that the Holy Spirit does lead us and that
part of maturing spiritually is becoming sensitive to that leading, I do not
believe that the Holy Spirit is working today in the same way that He was at the
time of the apostles. My studies in the New Testament and church history have
lead me to the conclusion that the apostolic or "sign" gifts are not operative
today in the same way they were then. That being so, I reject out of hand
someone telling me that the Holy Spirit told them what I should do. I think you
should do the same. The only time you should listen to someone that says they
know God’s will for your life is when they can show you that by the Scriptures
and their application to how you are living.

But for the sake of argument, let us assume that there still were those
around that had the gift of prophecy as practiced here in Acts. Is that enough
to yield to them the right to tell you specifically what God wants you to do?
The answer to that question as seen by the example of Paul is a qualified "no."
The qualification is that they cannot contradict either the Scriptures
themselves or what the Holy Spirit has revealed to you (1 Kings 13:7-26) nor can
they go beyond what God has revealed. That would be true even if God was
revealing things through prophets as he did he did at the time of Acts. It is
even more true when it comes to someone making a claim to know God’s will for
your life in this age. Beware of those who seek to manipulate you by claiming
they know God’s will for you.

The Journey to Ptolemais (7)

Paul completed his time with the disciples in Tyre and then continued on his
journey to Jerusalem. Verse 7 continues, "And when we had finished the voyage
from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and after greeting the brethren, we stayed
with them for a day."

Ptolemais is a little over 20 miles (32 km) south of Tyre. It was the
last port of call before Paul would reach Caesarea and then continue to
Jerusalem on foot. Verses 8-14 describe what happened in Caesarea.

Warnings in Caesarea (8-14)

And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house
of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this
man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. And as we were staying
there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And
coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said,
"This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind
the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’" And
when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents [began] begging him
not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and
breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at
Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." And since he would not be persuaded,
we fell silent, remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!"

Caesarea is about 33 miles (53 km) south of Ptolemais. When Paul arrived
there he went to the house of Philip who is further identified here as the
evangelist. This is the same Philip that we met in Acts 6 & 8. He was one of the
seven selected in Acts 6 to help care for the widows. He was the one in Acts 8
that went to Samaria and proclaimed Christ to the Samaritans and then later met
the Ethiopian eunuch and explained Isaiah 53 and the gospel to him. After
baptizing the man Philip went to Azotus and then on to Caesarea where we find
him here in Chapter 21.

Philip has four unmarried daughters who are prophetesses. Some days after
Paul arrived there Agabus, a prophet from Judea, also came. Now there are five
people present who have the gift of prophecy and together they demonstrate what
will happen to Paul in Jerusalem. Agabus takes Paul’s belt and binds himself
with it saying that Paul would be bound in a similar manner and delivered to the
Gentiles. That news causes concern to everyone including Luke and Paul’s other
traveling companions who then begin begging Paul not to go to Jerusalem. We all
understand their reaction. We do not want bad things to happen to those we love.
To them it is very reasonable that if Paul can avoid being bound and delivered
to the Gentiles by avoiding Jerusalem then that is a good idea.

Paul’s mindset is different than that. It is not that Paul is either stubborn
or foolhardy. Remember that previously he has heeded advice given to him so as
to avoid bad things happening. He did that during the riot in Ephesus, Paul
wanted to go the theater to speak to the mob but instead he heeded the advice to
stay away. Many times he allowed the disciples to take him out of town when
threats where made against him. Paul is not foolhardy, but neither was he
willing to avoid a bad thing happening if in doing so that would prevent him
from carrying out what he knows God wants him to do. That is the case here.
Though emotions are high and their pleading is breaking his heart, Paul was also
resolute to do what he knew was God’s will. Paul would go to Jerusalem even if
that meant his death. With that the people stopped their begging and instead
resolved to leave it the Lord’s hands. Though they knew that Paul would be bound
and delivered to the Gentiles, they did not know anything beyond that. They
would have to trust the Lord for what would happen to Paul and how God would use

What difference does this make in your own life? Simply this. You need to
learn to trust the Lord in the same way. While safety is an extremely important
issue it is not the most important one. The glory of God is more important for
Christians. Remember that Jesus said "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let
him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 "For whoever wishes
to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall
find it"
(Mt. 16:24,25). There are many things we will face as followers of
Jesus Christ that could pose a threat to our personal safety. Bad things could
happen to us because of our commitment to Christ. But then, didn’t Jesus tell us
that "in the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have
overcome the world."
And didn’t Jesus say in the Beatitudes "Blessed are
those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute
you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice,
and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the
prophets who were before you"
(Mt. 5:10-12). Paul summed it up succinctly in
2 Timothy 3:12 saying, "And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ
Jesus will be persecuted.

If you are going to be a Christian, that is, a follower of Jesus Christ, then
you have to learn to trust God even in the midst of bad things happening to you.
Certainly we are to be wise and cautious to avoid unnecessary conflict while
also being careful not to be antagonistic or provoking to non-Christians.
However, we must also uphold righteousness and stand firmly on the truth without
wavering regardless of the reaction of others. Like the apostles we must obey
God rather than man, and we cannot stop speaking about what Jesus Christ has
done for us. We can never compromise our faith though it may mean conflicts in
our relationships with others, enduring ridicule and scorn, the loss of a
promotion or even a job, receiving lower grades in school by biased teachers,
suffering incarceration, physical abuse or even death. Every day millions of our
brothers and sisters in Christ around the world go through one or more of these
types of persecution on a daily basis. They are willing to follow the example of
Paul and so should we.

Paul in Jerusalem (21:15-23:22)

Paul Meets with James and the Elders

Arrival in Jerusalem (21:15-17)

Verse 15 continues the story as Paul goes up to Jerusalem.

15 And after these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem.
16 And [some] of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to
Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. 17 And
when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

Jerusalem is about 50 m / 80 km southwest of Caesarea on the ridge of
mountains that make up the backbone of Judea. It is a journey that usually takes
2 or 3 days. Several of the disciples from Caesarea joined in the journey and
those in Jerusalem gladly received Paul and his companions. The house they were
staying in belonged to Mnason who was from Cyprus, the same place Barnabas had
been from. Luke notes that he had been "a disciple of long standing" indicating
he had been a Christian for many years. Perhaps he was even one of those
converted on the day of Pentecost. He also must have had considerable means in
order to gladly welcome and host such a large group of people.

Now that Paul was in Jerusalem he could start carrying out the plans that had
compelled him to come. The first was to meet with the leaders of the Jerusalem


Paul’s Report (18-20a)

18 And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the
elders were present. 19 And after he had greeted them, he [began] to relate one
by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20
And when they heard it they [began] glorifying God;

It is interesting to note that the only one mentioned by name is James, the
brother of the Lord. None of the apostles are mentioned by name or by title as
being there. Possibly they were ministering in other places or they were now
going under the term "elder." We know that Peter called himself that in 1 Peter

Paul gives them a report of all that God had done among the Gentiles during
the time he had been ministering among them resulting in them joining in the
praise of God. It was exciting to hear about the continued growth of the church
in those distant lands despite the persecution that many of them faced. It is
still a wonderful thing to hear from our missionaries or read what God is doing
in other places. However, Paul’s report also caused some concern which they
express in verses 20-22.

Their Concern (20b-22)

and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among
the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; 21
and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are
among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their
children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 "What, then, is [to be done]?
They will certainly hear that you have come.

They are concerned because a false report had been spread about Paul to the
believing Jews that were also zealous for the Law. Carefully note here that the
issue is specifically that Paul is teaching the Jews in Gentile lands to forsake
Moses. Paul had not done this but the lies had seriously damaged his reputation.
There is no mention of Gentile believers as a part of their concern. The issue
of the Gentiles and their relationship to the Law of Moses had been settled back
in Acts 15. Why then the concern? Because there is a huge difference between not
requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law of Moses and telling Jews not to keep it.
One is simply allowing those who had never been under the customs of the law the
option of following them or not and the later is specifically telling the Jews
to forsake their heritage. The specific issue of circumcision is a good example
of this. While circumcision of Gentiles should not be compelled because it would
then be teaching that it was required for salvation, the issue for a Jew was
very different for it was part of their heritage as a sign of the covenant God
made with Abraham. To tell Jewish parents to not circumcision their son is to
tell them to reject their Jewish heritage as descendants of Abraham. That was
taken as a serious matter and with so many thousands of the believing Jews being
zealous for the Law in this manner the presence of Paul among them could cause
serious problems. The elders were looking for ways to lower the tensions and
demonstrate that Paul had been lied about.

Their Solution (23-25)

23 "Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;
24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in
order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing
to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also
walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 "But concerning the Gentiles who have
believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed
to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication."

Their solution is for Paul to show that the slander is not true by making and
keeping a vow that would show respect to Mosaic law. Paul would join 4 other men
that had taken a Nazirite vow (Numb. 6:1-21) and pay for their expenses. This
would include having their heads shaved and the sacrifices required at the end
of period of the vow. [The hair that had been cut off would have also been
burned as an offering]. At the same time Paul would complete the 7 days of
Levitical purification rites since he had come from Gentile lands and would have
been considered ceremonially unclean. This was not done out of expediency but as
a means of promoting unity among believers. It would require an act of
self-sacrificial humility by Paul since the expenses would be high and Paul
could not be required to do it.

In verse 26 we find, "Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying
himself along with them, went into the temple, giving notice of the completion
of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of

Paul agreed to the plan because if fit well within his practice described in
1 Cor. 9:20-23. "And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to
those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the
Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without
law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law
of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became
weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may
by all means save some. 23 And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that
I may become a fellow partaker of it."

Note back in verse 25 that this did not change in anyway their decision
concerning the Gentile believers. Again, the issue at hand was not what was or
was not required of Gentile believers, but a false report that Paul was
advocating that Jews forsake their heritage.

The principle described in 1 Corinthians 9 and illustrated by Paul’s actions
here are still important to us. While we are never to forsake or call into
question the gospel and the nature of salvation, we can adjust our cultural
practices to those to whom we are ministering. That is the proper use of our
Christian freedoms.

One other point that should be made here is that this was still a period of
transition in which Jewish believers would still carry out the practices of
Judaism by conviction that it was the correct & holy way to live before God.
While the Jewish Christians were not to require the Gentile Christians to become
Jewish in practice, neither were the Gentile Christians to criticize Jewish
believers that continued in their cultural practices. That includes abiding by
Mosaic laws of separation as long as they do not compromise the Gospel itself
that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in person and work of Jesus
Christ and not of works of keeping the law. The same is still true today for
there are still Jews who come to Christ. They are free to continue in their
Jewish cultural practices in the same way that Gentile believers are free to
abstain from them. The only issue is that the gospel is not to be compromised by
either the participation in or abstinence from any cultural practice regardless
of origin. We are to desire to promote the holiness of God and the unity of the

Next week we will pick up the story of what happens to Paul in attempting to
fulfill these vows.


Sermon Study



Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives.
Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you
hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Keep track of how many
times "God’s will" is mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about how you can
know God’s will for your life.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

How do you respond to someone that tells you that they know God’s will for
your life? When should you pay attention to them? When should you ignore (or
rebuke) them? Why didn’t Paul obey what the disciples in Tyre told him about
going to Jerusalem? Was Paul disobeying the Holy Spirit? Why or why not? Why did
Paul desire to go to Jerusalem? What did Agabus say to Paul in Caesarea? What
was the reaction of the disciples there? What was Paul’s reaction? What enabled
Paul to be so resolute in going to Jerusalem? What factors enable a Christian to
do God’s will even if it means personal suffering? What should be the most
important issue in a Christian’s life? What was the reaction to Paul’s arrival
in Jerusalem? What was the reaction of James and the elders to Paul’s report?
What was their concern? What was their concern? What was their solution? Was
this a compromise of the gospel? Why or why not? What was Paul’s reaction? What
principles guided Paul in dealing with Jews, believing Jews, Gentiles and
believing Gentiles? How should Gentile believers react to Jewish believers that
observe Jewish traditions? What are the limitations to our freedom in Christ?


Sermon Notes – September 24, 2006

Resolute to Do the Lord’s Will – Acts 21:1-26


Warnings in Tyre (vs. 1-6)


The Warning

Paul’s Reaction (vs. 19:21 & 20:22-24)

Dealing with Busybodies

Warnings in Caesarea (vs. 7-14)


The Warning

Paul’s Reaction

Being Resolute to Do God’s Will

Paul in Jerusalem (vs. 15-26)

Travel & Arrival (vs. 15-17)

Paul’s Report to James & the Elders (vs. 18-25)

Their Rejoicing (vs. 18-20)

Their Concern (vs. 20-22)

The Solution (vs. 22-25)

Paul’s Reaction (vs. 26)


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