Select Wisdom Brand

Click the image to watch the video.
Scroll down for more options.



When Everything Seems Against You

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 21:1–36

Commitment is measured by perseverance. One who is truly committed to the Lord will persevere in faithfully following the Lord through much discouragement, opposition, and discomfort. The apostle Paul’s example challenges us to greater commitment.


What do you do when everything seems to be against you, when even your friends and family become obstacles in the path God has for you? Well, we are going to see how the apostle Paul deals with that very situation here in Acts chapter 21.

As Paul begins his fateful journey to Jerusalem, everybody is urging him not to go. Having said farewell to the Ephesian elders, Paul sails from Asia Minor, eventually reaching Tyre on the Mediterranean coast, just north of Israel. He spends seven days there with fellow believers, and verse 4 tells us, “Through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”

In other words, they are made aware, prophetically, that suffering awaits Paul in Jerusalem; so, they beg him not to go there. But Paul is already aware of what is ahead for him. Back in Acts 20:24, he described his trip to Jerusalem as a ministry assignment received directly from the Lord.

He knows it is God’s will for him to suffer as he continues his ministry. I wonder how many pastors today would stay in the ministry if there was not a benefit package or the prospect of some peaceful retirement in the future?

Paul continues on to Caesarea, where he meets Philip the evangelist. Verse 8 reminds us that Philip was “one of the seven” deacons chosen back in Acts 6. This is the same Philip who evangelized the Samaritans, then the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter 8. At that point Philip disappeared from Scripture. Now he shows up again here in chapter 21.

Verse 9 tells us that Philip has four “unmarried daughters, who prophesied.” They have that fading gift of prophecy that will be replaced by completed Scripture. Why they are mentioned here is not clear, though they may have confirmed Paul’s future suffering.

Then another prophet arrives at Philip’s house with a message for Paul:

A 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, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (verses 10-11)

In other words, Paul is going to be arrested, bound, and put in jail. When they hear this prophecy, verse 12 says, “The people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

Their advice is well-intentioned, but they are effectively saying, “Paul, think about what is good for you. Certainly, God does not want you to be imprisoned.”

Here is Paul reply in verse 13:

“What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

God’s will is not determined by our personal comfort. Paul is not looking forward to imprisonment, but he desires the will of God more than anything else. Now Paul’s example does not give us an excuse to ignore biblical advice and stubbornly insist on our own way. But in this case, Paul clearly knew what the Lord wanted him to do. This is a reminder that God’s will is not a matter of majority opinion.

This is also a reminder, beloved, that while God has not guaranteed us a safe journey, He has guaranteed us a safe arrival home to heaven.

So, Paul continues on to Jerusalem with Dr. Luke and others. And Luke writes in verse 17, “When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers [the assembly] received us gladly.”

Luke reports that the next day Paul and his entire missionary team meet with Pastor James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. Verse 19 records that Paul begins detailing for them God’s amazing work among the Gentiles on his latest missionary journey. We are told they all begin rejoicing at what God is doing. However, the celebration hardly has a chance to get off the ground before some concerns are voiced!

They said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law.” (verse 20)

Yes, they are thankful for thousands of Gentiles coming to Christ, but they are anxious to tell Paul about thousands of Jews who not only believe in Christ but are also still zealous to keep the law of Moses.

And here is the problem—verse 21:  

“They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.”

This charge simply is not true. Paul has not told the Jews to forsake Moses; he has simply declared that the rituals of Judaism are not necessary for salvation. Paul is not against the law; he is trying to explain grace and this new dispensation of the church age. But by now, thousands of Jews in the Jerusalem church and surrounding regions have been poisoned against Paul.

Now here in verse 22, the elders ask Paul, “What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.” Paul does not have a plan to counter these false rumors, but the elders do. Here is their plan:

“We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you.” (verses 23-24)

These four men are fulfilling a Nazirite vow. The vow is completed with the cutting of their hair, something they could not do while under the vow. These men must first go through a seven-day period of purification. Paul is to join them in the purification and then personally pay for the sacrifices these four men will offer in the temple when they complete their vow. The elders believe this plan will show that Paul has respect for the Jewish customs.

Paul is happy to do this. It does not violate the truth of the gospel, it answers the rumors that Paul is anti-Old Testament, and it avoids offending the Jewish people.

Some would argue that Paul should not have gone along with this plan, because it compromised rather than courageously defended the new dispensation of grace that made these vows and purifications unnecessary.

I agree that Paul is trying to be accommodating here, but either way you take it, Paul is not going to be allowed to fulfill this plan. In fact, it is quite possible God wants to prevent Paul from reinforcing these Jewish ceremonies.

At the end of the seven days, Paul and these four men go to the temple to make their sacrifices. Some Jewish men there recognize Paul and immediately stir up the crowd against him with these words in verse 28:

“This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”

Now these charges are completely false. Paul was not bringing Gentiles into the temple. But this crowd is whipped into a religious mob, and they begin beating Paul. Roman soldiers posted nearby rescue Paul and take him into custody. Assuming he is a troublemaker, they carry him toward the Roman barracks, where he will be kept under lock and key.

So, here is Paul. He is misunderstood and misrepresented by Jewish believers and discouraged by other Christians from following God’s will. He submits to a plan that is not sinful but probably is not the wisest plan to follow; then he is falsely accused, beaten, and arrested. And all this simply for trying to fulfill his best intentions.

It seems Paul can’t win, no matter what he does. So, what happens next? Well, we will find out on our next Wisdom Journey.

Add a Comment

We hope this resource blessed you. Our ministry is EMPOWERED by your prayer and ENABLED by your financial support.