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(Acts 21:1–14) When the Multitude of Counselors is Wrong!

(Acts 21:1–14) When the Multitude of Counselors is Wrong!

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 21:1–14

Proverbs 11:14 tells us that 'in the multitude of counselors there is safety,' and as a general rule this is indeed true. But what happens when all the counselors around you are wrong; even your godly friends?

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"When The Multitude of Counselors Is Wrong!"

Acts 21:1-14

One author I read recently asked the question, “What do you do when you need advise?   Where do you turn?”  With questions like:

  • Do I take that job offer? 
  • Do we put our children in that school?  
  • Do we take an early retirement?
  • Do we move to another location? 
  • Which college should I attend this fall?
  • Do I say yes to that marriage proposal? 

He went on to say that most of us as Christians wish God made things simple and His answers audible.  We’d all like to be the children of Israel when God clearly instructed them by audibly directing their leader – like He did when He told Joshua how to overcome Jericho and make the walls come tumblin’ down.

And in our wishful thinking, God would say something like, “Listen, young man, here’s what I want you to do . . . I want you to drive over to your sweetheart’s house.  And I want you to march around that girl’s house once every day for seven days.”

“Yes, go on!”

“On the seventh day, march around it seven times . . . then go up and ring the doorbell, get on one knee and pop the question – her defenses will crumble and she’ll fall into your arms.”

“I love that plan, Lord; thanks!”

            Adapted from The Strength of an Exciting Passion, Charles Swindoll, Insight For Living, p. 63

The truth is, life isn’t so easy; major decisions; forks in the road; life altering choices.  Those are the trying times that require patience and prayer, meditation and study in the Word of God and, yes, good counsel from other Christians.

In the book of Proverbs we’re given a verse that says, “There is safety in a multitude of counselors.”  And as a general rule of thumb, that principle is indeed played out in true form.

But what happens when all the counselors around you are wrong?  When everyone is giving you direction, but that direction would lead you astray. Could such a thing happen to a believer?  Yes!

What I want to do this morning is take you to the next stop on our tour through the Book of Action.  It’s a rather surprising stop along the way – for we will discover that all of Paul’s counselors and friends were wrong. 

And while we’re here, I want us to learn some valuable lessons related to not only receiving Biblical advice but giving advice as well.

The Trip To Troas

I invite your attention to Acts 21:1 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. 4 And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days;

The words translated in verse 4, “looking up the disciples” (aneurisko), mean they found the disciples by searching for them.  The believers weren’t waiting for Paul at the dock; they had to be found.

The text doesn’t tell us how they found them – I imagine they found them by talking to people about the resurrected Lord – and eventually they found one who knew what and whom they were talking about – then led them to the body of believers who were worshipping together.

I have found, by the way that you can find Christians just about anywhere you look, if you are willing to talk about the things of the Lord.

I found our maid in India who cleaned on our floor was a believer; my wife and I discovered a Christian couple sitting across from us on a train to France; a few days ago I discovered my waitress from Nairobi was a pastor’s daughter who knew the Lord.

Barclay said it well when he penned, “One of the great privileges of belonging to the Lord is the fact that you have friends all over the world . . . friends you haven’t even met.”

I imagine Paul and his companions simply talked to everybody they met about the Lord; and in that way, they found out where the disciples of the risen Lord were meeting.

And in a matter of days deep friendships were formed – in fact, if you skip down to verse 5.  you’ll read, “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.

They hated to see Paul go.  In one of Luke’s rare references to children we’re told that entire families belonging to the church followed him to the dock.

What a wonderful scene!

However, if you go back and read the rest of verse 4, you discover that all is not harmonious! 4b.  and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. 

Now in chapter 19:21 we’re told that Paul purposed in his heart to go to Jerusalem.  In chapter 20:24 Paul describes his trip to Jerusalem as a ministry assignment that he received from the Lord Jesus.

But notice here we read that they were telling Paul through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem.  “Through the Spirit” would be an idiomatic way of expressing what we often express ourselves.  It would be like you saying to Paul, “Listen Paul, the Spirit just seems to be impressing me that you are going to suffer in Jerusalem and therefore you shouldn’t go.”

You got the principle right, but you missed the application.

The Spirit of God had indeed predicted persecution, but that was to prepare Paul not prohibit him from going.

Now notice the latter part of verse 5b. 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.

You’ve got the whole church kneeling on the beach praying for Paul.  I can just imagine some of their prayers going something like this, “Lord, please help our brother here to see the light . . . Lord, open his eyes.  Your Spirit has made it clear to us that Paul’s headed for trouble.  So we know he’s not supposed to go.  We’ve even had a unanimous vote of the body that he’s not to go near Jerusalem; but, Lord, he won’t listen; please help your stubborn servant here, amen.”

So Paul sails away, no doubt grateful for Christian fellowship but probably troubled by the disagreement over his vision and passion to reach Jerusalem with the gospel.


The Conflict At Caesarea

7 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. 8 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. 9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.

These four daughters were part of the fading apostolic gift of prophecy, a gift that will be replaced by the preaching and teaching of revealed scripture.  In fact, by the time you read Paul’s final letters to the church, you will note he does not even mention prophet or prophetess but refers to the role of the pastor/teacher, the elder in communicating the apostolic record we know as the New Testament.

Now, in case you missed it – the proud father of these four unmarried girls is Philip the evangelist.

He was one of the first deacons in the church, elected to the role of servant in the Jerusalem church.  We read about his election in Acts chapter 6. Luke is reminding his readers of Philip’s past by mentioning in verse 8 “he was one of the seven,” the original 7 deacons.

You may also remember that Philip served with Stephen, another one of the original 7.  He was also the first martyr of the church.  In fact, it was when Stephen was brutally murdered that the church in Jerusalem scattered; and Phillip left Jerusalem for ministry in Samaria.  Do you remember who presided over the murder of Stephen?  Paul, then known as Saul.

I say all of that so that you don’t miss a historic meeting here in chapter 21.  Some 30 years after Paul presided over the stoning of Stephen, you have Paul staying in the home of one of Stephen’s best friends.  It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since that tragic day.

Perhaps you watched the news footage recently as one of the American embassy officials met for the first time, the Iranian man who masterminded the abduction of the embassy staff, an abduction that lasted well over a year and became known as the Iran hostage crisis.

Now, many years later, behind a table and in front of cameras and microphones, these two men met again for the first time; and the American reached out and shook the hand of his former captor.

That footage doesn’t even come close to what you have here; the last words of v. 8 are overloaded with significance  “and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.”

In between the lines you have written a volume of grace and forgiveness.  Former enemies; tragic results; murder; bloodshed; lives turned upside down.

Now here, as you climb into this scene, you watch Philip embrace Paul and welcome him into his home.  You can almost hear the whispers of people and see the tears.  Paul is forgiven by Stephen’s friend; grace through the life of Philip lays out the welcome mat of hospitality and brotherly love.

10 And as we were staying there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 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


Again, another warning from the Lord – a warning – not a prohibition from the Lord.  It’s as if the Lord is telling Paul, “Paul, don’t go to Jerusalem unless you are willing to suffer for my name.”

12 And when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.

Again, well meaning advice, but advice run through the grid of human nature.  Paul, think about what’s good for you.  Paul, certainly God doesn’t want you to be imprisoned.  Paul, think about us.  Where will we be without you??!!

Did you notice the subtle confession of Luke, the author of this Book in verse 12.  "When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents, began begging him not to go . . .”

Whose the “we?”  Luke and Paul’s traveling companions!  Now everybody is begging him not to go, including the very men who should have known that Paul’s desire to follow the will of God superseded any desire for self preservation. 

They, of all people should have understood Paul’s direction, passion and vision!

13 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.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”

Two principles emerge from Paul’s decision to press on.

1)  Sometimes God may want you to do something that no one else will agree with or understand.

Now be careful, don’t use Paul as an example whenever you want to be stubborn and do your own thing.

The point remains: sometimes the will of God is discovered in the minority opinion.

I’ve never had a person come into my office for advice and eventually say, “You know, pastor, out of the 30 people I’ve spoken to, you’re the only one whose given me that advice; that proves you must be right.”

The truth is we most often want to discover the majority opinion – just go with the flow.

There’s a Danish proverb that says, rightly so, “He who builds to every man's advice will have a crooked house.”

Secondly, following the will of God may be in the opposite direction of personal pleasure.

Sometimes, God’s will may not be what you want.  Don’t think for a moment Paul wanted prison!

That’s why you have to ask God to change your wants to conform to His will.  And, as He changes your desires, you can then say with Proverbs 3:6, “He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

I like the little girl's thank you note to her grandmother.  She was trying hard to be polite, but a hint of honesty shone through as she wrote, “Dear, Grandma, thank you for my birthday present.  I have always wanted a pin cushion but not very much.”

How many of us would be that honest?  “Lord, I didn’t want this . . . I had my eye on that!” 

How do you deal with gifts you didn’t want.  And what about those gifts from God.  We call them the circumstances of life?

Desiring and enjoying what God gives us usually demands a radical reconstruction of what we desire.

Paul recognized that God’s will was not synonymous with personal comfort.  And he desired the will of God more than anything else.

Frankly, we’d all like to apply this passage to ourselves as we identify with Paul right?  Persevering in the face of difficulty, courageous in the face of danger, stalwart in the face of friends who weep and beg you not to follow your passion for God.

We’re like Paul here, right?

No, we’re like all the residents mentioned in verse 12 – “all the local residents" - those are the church members and the friends of Phillip…

I’m afraid we identify more with the people giving advice, right?!  We’re like that pious old gentleman who used to pray in his church prayer meetings, “Oh, Lord, use me – just use me in some advisory capacity.”

Frankly, all you have to do is bump most of us and we’ll give you our opinion on just about anything.

Mark Twain, that great theologian, said it this way, “If you laid out every man’s opinion from end to end, there’d be no end!”

What I want to apply from this text are some lessons for all of us to consider as we stand ever ready to be used in some advisory capacity.

Lesson #1  Don’t enlist God’s name to endorse your advise.

The Spirit of God told me to tell you . . . God is moving in my heart that you need to do this . . .

This passage is filled with people claiming that their advice is from the Holy Spirit, and they all were wrong.

Be careful not to use the Lord’s name in vain.

2)  God will not deliver His will for someone’s life through you.

If that startles you, you are the one who needed to hear it.

God may use you to complement and confirm His will; but we happen to believe in a wonderful doctrine called the individual priesthood of every believer.

That’s one of those wonderful reformation doctrines.  You don’t have to have anyone between you and the Lord.

His Spirit bears witness directly with your Spirit that you are His.  Rom. 8:16

Christ dwells in your heart (Eph. 3:17) with the result, among others, that you might have a spirit of wisdom (1:17.)

3)  Your counsel to someone else cannot replace their decision-making struggle

The truth is, we’d rather survey all of our friends than struggle in prayer before God. 

And so, in order to find a short-cut through the struggle of discovering an answer from the Lord to a difficult problem, we tend to go from counselor to counselor and from friend to friend.  Consequently, when someone comes to you for advice, be careful that you encourage the person to struggle through it; to pray earnestly over it; to seek God’s face as it were; to agonize over it.

Only a proud advisor would ever dare suggest that this person set aside the struggle and simply follow his advice.

4)  Your advice must be rooted in the Word, not personal experience

J. Grant Howard, Jr. wrote 25 years ago in his book “Knowing God’s will and Doing it!”:

“When we give counsel that is oriented to the Word, it will be instructive.  When we give counsel that is rooted in experience, it may be nothing more than opinion.  Our personal attitudes, opinions, and biases always need to be related to the Word before we prescribe them as the right medicine for others.”

            The Strength of an Exacting Passion, Chuck Swindoll, Insight for Living, p. 69

5)  One more - Before offering counsel, listen carefully

Frankly, if they had only listened to Paul’s heart, passion and commitment, they would have been better companions.

You say, well, for Paul, this was no big deal.  So the people all begged him to stay; what of it?  Well, if you notice the text, you’ll see again in verse 13 that Paul says, “Why are you breaking my heart?” 

The word for breaking is the word “sunthrupto."  It could be translated, to crush together, to break apart.  The word referred to the primitive practice of washing laundry by pounding the garment with stones.  Paul is literally saying, why are you pounding away at my heart?  Why are you crushing my heart with grief.”  He was in deep pain over the response of his friends and companions.  Why are you breaking my heart apart?

You know what this means?  This means that, when Paul headed to Jerusalem, even though he was not traveling alone, he was alone in another sense of the word.  He was bereft of the encouraging support of his friends;  he could not feel with confidence that people were behind him, praying for his ministry in Jerusalem.  Instead, he went virtually alone, his spirit crushed, his heart heavy; because no one understood him.

No one came up and said, “Listen, Paul, I want you to know that I’m with you.  I understand your commitment to Christ.  I understand your willingness to suffer.  I believe you’re doing the right thing.  I just want you to know that, when you enter the crucible of Jerusalem, I’ll be back here holding you up before the Father in love and prayer."

What made Paul persevere?  His own opinion and commitment and passion, bound in the words he said earlier to the Ephesian elders:

Look back at chapter 20:22 “I am bound in the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 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.”

Paul says, “That’s why I’m going alone; that’s why, in the face of all my friends and fellow churchmen disagreeing; this is why I must press on – for the sake of the church and for the glory of God.”

Would to God that we had more people who were as resolute as Paul in their faith, as confident in their Sovereign Lord, as committed to the testimony of faith to see it to the very end. 

So . . . remember Paul the next time you ask for advice, and remember Paul the next time you give advice to someone else.

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