Summary: What do you do when you know trouble is coming? Do you run the other way as fast as you can? Paul didn’t and his example helps us when we face difficulty or when those close to us face trials.
Did trouble take Paul by surprise? It shouldn’t have. Back in Acts 9, right at his conversion, Jesus made it clear to then Saul what his future would be like. He told Ananias, who was sent to pray for Saul, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
He’s been before the Gentiles and the Jews—and suffered for it through riots and beatings and stoning and even shunning. But he has yet to appear before kings. Now he is going to get that opportunity, first to King Agrippa and eventually the emperor of the Roman Empire.
But Paul can’t simply make a call to the emperor’s secretary and get some face time with the big guy. To get there he must go through some pretty intense and terrifying trouble. In the past, Paul hasn’t really known what lay in store for him in the various cities where he travelled. His time, though, he gets the word over and over that Jerusalem spells danger. Most reasonable people would probably avoid the place, but not Paul. He goes forward despite some well meaning folks’ best efforts.
His attitude teaches us when trouble comes around the corner in our lives.
1 – 4
It’s interesting that the people told him not to go but it was God’s will for him to go (20:22 – “I am going to Jerusalem, constrained (“bound”) by the Spirit, not knowing what happen to me there.”). The people heard of Paul’s future trouble and concluded that God would not want him to experience it.
5 – 6
This is such a tender moment. Luke notes how not just the elders but their entire families went with them to the ship, knelt on the beach and prayed, sending him off to who knows what!
7 – 9
This is thought to be the same Philip who preached to the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter 8 and was one of the first deacons.
10 – 16
Agabus also predicted a famine in Jerusalem in chapter 11, 15 years earlier. All Agabus could do was tell the truth, it was up to Paul to decide how to respond. As pastors, we can lead people to the truth but cannot constrain them to obey God. Interesting that Agabus uses the same Greek word that Paul used when he said he was “bound” by the Spirit.
14 – Luke too didn’t want Paul to go. Paul had walked away from other fights (like in Ephesus) but here he won’t. Paul was not suicidal or masochistic, he was obedient.
17 – 26
James here is Jesus’ half brother, not the disciple James, who was martyred.
Josephus reports that this time (A.D. 56-57) was full of political upheaval in Jerusalem, with lots of uprisings and Jewish nationalism, all put down by Governor Felix. Paul, with a mission to the Gentiles, would not be greeted warmly, even by Jewish believers, who were zealous for their countrymen.
There is no evidence that Paul told Jews not to do things like get circumcised. He had Timothy, who had a Jewish mother, get circumcised. But for Gentiles, he communicated no such practice.
The Jerusalem council had already settled the matter of how Gentile Christians should act. They should abstain from sexual immorality and things sacrificed to idols. Nothing about following the laws and customs of Moses, including circumcision. But in order for Paul to show he was not going against the council, which wanted Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians to live in harmony.
Instead of being strong and denouncing the rumor mongers, the council wanted Paul to pay the expenses of some folks who’d taken a Nazirite vow.
So was Paul under the law or not? No, but he bent to some non-essentials in order to win the Jews.
1 Corinthians 9:20-23 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. ESV
The restatement of the council’s decision 8 years ago may just have been to assure Paul that they hadn’t changed their mind.