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Paul is Far from Perfect. Acts 21:1-16

25/06/2021

Paul is Far from Perfect

Text: Acts 21:1-16

Paul was a sinner, like us. 1 Tim 1:15.  So we don’t put Paul on any pedestal – even a little one – and the Bible never glorifies any man, even the great Apostle Paul.  In this study, is Paul DISOBEYING THE WILL OF GOD?   See:-

1 Paul’s Desire for Christian Fellowship V3-4  

Before we get into the meat of this passage, let’s note something really obvious.   

  • The universal Christian church.  There’s Christians everywhere!  Ok, they may not be exactly the same as us.  They may not worship like us, and they may have different views on secondary matters, but there are Christians, meeting in little groups all over the world.   
  • The importance of finding local fellowship.  Now it’s really easy to go somewhere for a week or so, and ‘turn off your Christianity.’  Paul never did.  Wherever he landed, he looked for believers, looked for a church, and met with them, and got to know them and enjoyed Christian fellowship with them.

Now, let’s move on to the substantive issue…

2 Paul’s Disobedience of God the Holy Spirit.  V4  

Paul is going to Jerusalem.  He has been lifting an offering around the Gentile churches, to support the poor Christians at Jerusalem, and he has gathered a group of representatives to travel with him so that every church would know that there was proper accountability.  But God has told him three times, through the Holy Spirit, that he is NOT to go to Jerusalem!  Let’s look at those three warnings:-

  • The Constraint of the Holy Spirit. Ch 20:22-23  Paul was ‘bound in the spirit’ –  Was it that God wanted Paul to go to Jerusalem, or was it that Paul himself wanted to go to Jerusalem, and he simply wanted God’s will to coincide with what he himself wanted? When Paul said, ‘I’m going… the Holy Spirit witnessed to Paul, that in every city, there would trials. It’s a broad warning, not too specific, but a warning it is…  HOW WILL PAUL RESPOND20:24  
  • The Concern of the Tyrian disciples.  21:4 Now Paul is at Tyre and he’s enjoying a week of fellowship with the Christian believers there, people whom he probably hadn’t met before. They spoke to Paul ‘through the spirit.’  This IS the Holy Spirit’s work, and there is no doubt about what God the Holy Spirit is saying to Paul.  It’s clear.  “Don’t go!”  You can’t get much clearer than that.  HOW WILL PAUL RESPOND? V5 

(To be fair, there are commentators who will say that these disciples were simply telling Paul what he already knew, and what the Spirit had previously witnessed, that there would be trouble ahead – and that they were just speaking out of concern for Paul.)

  • The Conduct of Agabus.  10-12 Paul and the group of church representatives are now at Caesarea, staying at the home of Philip the Evangelist, and meeting again with the local believers.  And Agabus turns up in Tyre, presumably directed here by the Holy Spirit himself.  This time the message cannot be clearer.   God sends Abacus along to provide him a visual aid, a ‘sacrament’ of sorts, to point Paul clearly to what God wants him to hear.  The message is now crystal clear.  If you go to Jerusalem, you will be taken prisoner.  HOW WILL PAUL RESPOND? Both the local disciples and the missionary group themselves plead with Paul not to go.  21:13  

Have you noticed that the intensity of the messages is growing every time God speaks to Paul through the Holy Spirit’s witness?  From a general, vague warning in chapter 20, to a direct command not to go, to a vivid illustration of the consequences of disobedience, the warning gets clearer and clearer.  And still Paul ignores it. There may even be a fourth and final warning…

  • The Command to Escape. Ch 22:17-18  Paul is testifying about his conversion, but James M Boice thinks it is more likely that this verse itself is a reference to an incident that occurred during this final visit.  If so, then Paul is being warned of God to flee from Jerusalem while he still has time.  But it’s only a possibility…

Now, as we’ve already noted, Paul is not perfect – and he is just not listening to the word of God, – determined to do what he wants.  

3 Paul’s Decision Defended V13 

Before we finish let’s defend Paul.  There are four mitigations that we can apply to Paul’s defence:-

  1. Paul has a doggedness that has made him unflinching in the pursuit of evangelism.  We’re talking here about the man who just wouldn’t give up.  It was that very determination, that characteristic that made him the great missionary pioneer that he was.  He wasn’t an easy man to turn!
  2. Paul has a great depth of love for the people of Israel.  If you read Romans chapters 9-11, you will get some idea of how much Paul loved his own people, the Jews.  “Romans 9:1-3,  Romans 10:1  Paul loved the Jews, and wanted them to hear the gospel, the same message of saving grace that he had preached to the Gentiles.
  3. Paul has a project – he wants to unite the church.  Remember that there was an agenda behind Paul’s collection for the poor of Jerusalem.  Paul saw the growing division between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians, and he wanted to heal that rift before it grew further and saw the offering as a way to heal the rift, to show the Jewish Christians that the gentiles were their brothers and sisters in Christ.  
  4. Paul is not afraid to die for Christ. v13   He was convinced of course, that to die for Christ would simply usher him into his Saviour’s immediate presence. It’s besides the point, for Jesus is not asking Paul to die for him, he is being warned not to go!

So, we won’t be too hard on Paul.  He is not divine, not perfect, he is a man, a sinner, who makes mistakes, who gets things wrong, who sometimes lets his own personality override his obedience to God.  He’s just like me, and you.

Paul is testifying that he wants to obey the Lord, to be faithful to him, and go to Jerusalem, for that , he says, is the will of God.  But is it being faithful to God, if we are doing something that I want to do, and then saying God called me to do it?  That is the dilemma we all encounter when we seek the will of God for ourselves.

© Bob McEvoy June 2021

From → Acts

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