Grace Bible Church
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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 24, 2006
Resolute to Do the Lord’s Will
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 5:18 – In 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 Jerusalem.
From Miletus to Caesarea
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 Jerusalem.”
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
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 it.
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
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 church.
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 5:1.
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 them.”
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 brethren.
Next week we will pick up the story of what happens to Paul in attempting to fulfill these vows.
Sermon Study Sheets
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.
THINK ABOUT IT!
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? Explain.
Sermon Notes – September 24, 2006
Resolute to Do the Lord’s Will – Acts 21:1-26
Warnings in Tyre (vs. 1-6)
Paul’s Reaction (vs. 19:21 & 20:22-24)
Dealing with Busybodies
Warnings in Caesarea (vs. 7-14)
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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