Bad Advice from Good People
October 8, 2017
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TEXT: Acts 21:1-16 – “And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched [set sail], we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara: 2 And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth. 3 Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden. 4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. 5 And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. 6 And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again. 7 And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day. 8 And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. 9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. 10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. 11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle [belt], and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus says the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owns this [belt], and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. 12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought [pleaded with] him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to [Why do you] weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. 14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. 15 And after those days we took up our carriages [baggage], and went up to Jerusalem. 16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.”
Advice can be a wonderful thing…or an absolute disaster. I bet that all of us can think back to some bad advice you RECEIVED or perhaps some bad advice that you have GIVEN.
Sometimes we don’t want to hear advice, but we should hear it anyway and pay heed to it. Erma Bombeck said, “When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”
Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.”
So generally speaking, getting advice is a good practice. But sometimes people are very well-intentioned…in giving very bad advice.
Illus. – Here are some examples of some really bad advice: -
- Ladies, here’s some great advice. Try it, I’m sure it will work! (Slide 1: A women’s magazine cover that says, “NAG HIM…and he’ll be by your side longer.”)
- Here’s some really awesome advice from my day that might help explain the obesity epidemic of our day!” (Slide 2: A 1950s newspaper ad with a smiling mom and healthy baby that says, “For a better start in life, start COLA earlier.”)
- Guys, here’s some good advice for you. I challenge you to try it this winter. Let me know how that works out for you. (Slide 3: Photo of a tire with a screw in it that says: “Instant snow tractions: Put a 2-inch screw in each tread.”)
- For you single guys out there trying to impress your girlfriend, here’s a good one: [READ THE SLIDE] (SLIDE 4: Slide says, “If your girlfriend says, “I don’t want anything for my birthday, don’t get her any. It will show you are a good listener.”)
- And this one is the best EVER! SLIDE 5: Billboard that says, “Please neuter your pets….And weird friends and relatives.”
In our text, we see Paul’s friends trying desperately to give him advice, and Paul steadfastly rejecting it, walking straight into the jaws of trouble and persecution. He was getting lots of advice and counsel, but was it good counsel?
I see two key insights in this passage for us today…
I. FIRST, WE SEE PAUL’S DETERMINATION TO DO THE WILL OF GOD
In this text, we see well-intentioned but misguided concern from Paul’s brethren: In verse 4 they advised him he should not go to Jerusalem. In verses 10-12, a prophet named Agabus foretells the persecution Paul would face if he went to Jerusalem, causing the disciples to urge him not to continue.
But the striking thing in this passage is that despite these clear prophecies from the Holy Spirit, Paul persistently refused to alter his plan to push onward to Jerusalem. Now the question that is probably on everyone’s mind is this: In light of the obvious warnings by the Holy Spirit about the dangers of going to Jerusalem, was Paul wrong? I studied this out and I believe Paul was right for the following four reasons:
1. First, two other verses imply it was God’s will for Paul to go to Jerusalem:
While still in Ephesus Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:22, “And now, behold, I go bound in the [Holy] spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there.”
And in today’s text, Paul was so steadfast in his conviction that going to Jerusalem was the will of God that those who had been encouraging him not to go finally conceded that this must be the will of God after all – See verse 14 – “And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’”
2. The second evidence that Paul was in the Lord’s will is the comfort given by God later in Acts 23:11—after his troubles began when he got to Jerusalem.
There we read “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”
You see, Paul’s friends could only see what was going to happen to Paul in Jerusalem, but God meant to use these events to take Paul to Rome, where he would ultimately have a greater platform for the Gospel.
3. Third, in Acts 23:1, after all the bad thing happened in Jerusalem, Paul declared that he had lived in all good conscience to that day – So if he WAS out of God’s will, he still did not realize it by Acts 23.
4. Finally, as I alluded to a moment ago, the end result of Paul’s greater influence from a Roman prison rather than preaching freely in Greece bears witness to God’s guidance in these circumstances, which we’ll look at in the weeks ahead.
So, if it was God’s will for Paul to go to Jerusalem, how are we to interpret the warnings of the Holy Spirit in our text? I mean, shouldn’t we listen to the Holy Spirit?—Well, yes, but let’s make sure we understand what exactly He’s telling us.
Albert Barnes, the great commentator, gives this explanation:
[This] was not understood by Paul as a positive command that he should not go to Jerusalem; for had it been, it would not have been disobeyed. He evidently understood [them] as expressive of their earnest wish that he should not go, as [informing] him of danger, and as a kind expression in regard to his own welfare and safety.…Paul was in better circumstances to understand this than we are, and his interpretation was doubtless correct.…It should be understood, therefore, simply as an inspired prophetic warning, that if he went, he went at the risk of his life—a prophetic warning, joined with their individual personal wishes that he should not expose himself to this danger. The meaning evidently is that they said by inspiration of the Spirit that he should not go unless he was willing to encounter danger, for they foresaw that the journey would be attended with the hazard of his life.
What truths are there for us to learn here?
1. First, we can learn that not all advice is good or the right advice, even if it comes from people who love us or are wise and knowledgeable.
Sometimes good people can give you the wrong advice. I think this is the case of the brethren in verse 4 who warned Paul through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem.
Greek scholars say that the phrase “through the spirit” in the Greek really means “in consequence of the spirit”—that is, the disciples were saying not to go to Jerusalem because the Holy Spirit was giving advance warning of what was to happen.
The Holy Spirit had not FORBIDDEN Paul to go to Jerusalem, but in fact had constrained Paul to go, according to Acts 20:22. Maybe the Holy Spirit revealed these things to these brethren so they would pray the more earnestly for him, or perhaps to test Paul’s will to see if he would follow God’s will.
Whatever the reason for these revelations, it’s clear from this passage that sometimes well-meaning, even spiritual people can take accurate facts but come to a wrong conclusion.
Also, sometimes the advice we offer others can be based more on what we desire than what is the will of God. This was the case with Paul’s friends when Agabus warned Paul about what was to happen in Jerusalem verses 10-11. Agabus himself didn’t try to stop Paul, but when Paul’s traveling companions heard Agabus’s prophecy, they began to try to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem. – Look at verse 12 again: “And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.”
Paul’s friends, including Luke, the writer of Acts, loved Paul and were concerned for his safety. But they didn’t know the big picture of what God was up to, which we’ll see in the weeks ahead. So, the first thing we can learn is that not all advice is good advice.
2. Second, though we should give counsel, remember that in the end, only those facing a decision know all the facts and are qualified to make the final decision—and will face the consequences of their decisions.
Once we’ve dispensed our advice and a decision is made, we shouldn’t intervene further. We see this so clearly illustrated in our text. Paul’s friends shared with him their cautions and concerns. They were faithful friends in that respect.
But once they saw that Paul had made his decision, they simply left the matter in the Lord’s hands. Yes, when asked for advice, DO give your insights and cautions, but in the end, a decision a person has to make is ultimately his or hers alone.
3. One more lesson is that God’s will should be paramount in our lives.
Even if his best friends opposed him, Paul would not veer from his determination to do the will of God in his life. Even though he knew full well that it meant SUFFERING in Jerusalem, Paul would not turn away from God’s will. Even if it led to his DEATH, Paul set his face to do God’s will. Paul was determined to do God’s will NO MATTER THE COST.
He says at the end of verse 13 – “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” That’s the kind of determination we need to do God’s will in our lives!
What is God’s will for your life? We tend to see “God’s will” as big choices we make in things like the right spouse, or the right vocation for our lives. But the only places the Bible talks about the will of God have to do with specific commands Christ has given us. That is, the will of God is to do what He has commanded us to do.
For instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” What is God’s will for you?—Well, for one thing, that you give thanks in everything.
What else is God’s will?
- It’s God’s will for you to be saved. Have you been?
- It’s God’s will that He be first in your life, even if that means sacrifice of friends, activities, time and finances. Is he FIRST place in your life?
- It’s God’s will that you love one another. Do you reach out to those in need and love the unlovely and forgive one another?
- It’s God’s will for you to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. Have you done so since you were saved?
- It’s God’s will to be faithful when God’s people gather together in His name. Are you faithful to church?
- It’s God’s will that you tithe and give to God through your local church. Are you faithful to obey God in this area?
- It’s God’s will for you to serve Him. Have you found a ministry; a place to serve God in the local church?
Like Paul, make God’s will foremost in your life above anything or anyone.
II. THE SECOND THING TO SEE IN THIS TEXT IS PAUL’S COURAGE IN THE FACE OF DEATH – Look again at what Paul says at the end of verse 13 – “…I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Why was Paul not afraid to face eternity? It’s natural for anyone to fear death, yet Paul seems immune to anything even approaching fear as he heroically sets his face toward Jerusalem. We have many illustrations of such fearlessness in the face of death by martyrs throughout the history of the church. Why were Paul and the martyrs of the faith so courageous in the face of death?
I’ll tell you why: because when a person is saved through faith in Jesus Christ, he has the assurance that his sins are forgiven and that his destination is secure. It’s sin that causes us to fear meeting God.
Remember when Adam and Eve sinned? God came to the Garden to be with them like He always did, and for the first time in their lives the Bible says they were afraid of God. Guilt brings shame, and shame causes the sinner to want to hide from God, and well he should because God cannot look upon sin.
Good works and religion are not enough to wash away our sin. It’s only the blood of Jesus that can sufficiently cleanse us from the guilt of sin.
1 John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses us from all sin.”
Twice in the New Testament, in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14, Paul says of Jesus Christ, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
Illus. – In the sixteenth century King Philip II of Spain ruled Holland and in his hatred of the Dutch, he killed, tortured, imprisoned and exiled thousands. When the people of Rotterdam rose up in defiance, he sent a Spanish army under the Duke of Alva to put down the rebellion.
After a valiant defense, Rotterdam fell before the Spanish army. The victors went from house to house, ferreting out the citizens and slaying them wholesale in a horrific bloodbath of wanton killing.
In one house a group of men, women and children huddled together, fear gripping their hearts as the Spanish soldiers approached. Suddenly a young man had an idea.
Taking a young goat found on the premises, he killed it by the entrance, and then with a broom swept its blood under the door. Soon the Spaniards were banging at the door, but then they heard one of them say, “Look at the running blood under the door. Let’s go, men. The work here is already done!”
Those people lived because a goat had died.
1 John 4:9 says, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.”
You can live because the Lamb of God died for you. Paul knew he might die physically in Jerusalem, but he would live forever because his sins were forgiven on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. You can have that assurance also.
Let me wrap this up by bringing these two thoughts down to where you and I live.
1. First, as we saw, Paul was bound and determined to do God’s will for his life, despite the well-meaning advice of his friends.
Are you so committed to doing God’s will in your life that no matter what your friends or family members may do or say, that you CANNOT be turned away from His will? No matter what others think of you, or what it may cost you—will you do God’s will? God help each of us to have such an undeterred determination to do God’s will!
2. Also, Paul was courageous to face death if necessary for the Gospel’s sake because he knew he was secure in his relationship with God.
He knew that all his sins were forgiven, so if he did die for the cause of Christ, he would go to be with Christ in heaven. That’s why he could write a few years later from a Roman prison shortly before his execution, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Which leads me to one final question: As you live, do you live wholeheartedly for Christ? Paul said, “for me to live is Christ”—that is, CHRIST is what he lived for! Can you say, “Christ is what makes me tick” or do you have to say, “My job, or my spouse, or my possessions, or recognition is what I live for.”
And…If you died, would it be GAIN for you because you would be with Christ in heaven?—Or would it be everlasting LOSS in hell?
If it’s the latter, come to Christ and have your sins forgiven forever by Jesus Christ.