“When 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; and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we came 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. After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”
For the rest of the book of Acts Paul is a prisoner. In Acts 21-23 he is a prisoner in Jerusalem, in Acts 24-26 he is a prisoner in Caesarea and in Acts 27-28 he is a prisoner in Rome.The Holy Spirit, speaking through others, warns Paul to stay away from Jerusalem. Paul would ignore three warnings: from the believers in Tyre in verses 3-4; from Agabus in verses 10-11 and from his companions in verse 12. There is a principle of false guidance: guidance through circumstances, emotion, rationalism, traditionalism, the advice of people, and sincerity. Circumstances that are divine guidance must be judged in light of Bible doctrine. Paul seemed to have been misled by his emotional attachment to the Jewish race.
Paul got his first warning that he was out of the geographical will of God in Tyre. For seven days Paul had a chance to minister to these people, and these people had the opportunity of warning Paul. For seven days believers filled with the Holy Spirit in the city of Tyre warned Paul that he was out of the geographical will of God if he went to Jerusalem. This was a case of God the Holy Spirit using these people to warn Paul. Paul should have been heading west to Italy, France and Spain (he would do this later on his fourth missionary journey). For now he was heading east to Jerusalem. Paul was both emotionally and traditionally tied to Jerusalem. When he arrived at Jerusalem he would be out of the geographical will of God. Guidance is always a matter of doctrine, not emotion (how you feel). While people were warning Paul, these warnings could not make him change his mind, but the warnings should have made him at least examine his own understanding of the Word regarding the will of God.
“When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.” Even though Paul ignored their continual warning not to go to Jerusalem, these believers had great respect for Paul and showed him the highest respect by escorting him to the ship. Caesarea, the home of Philip was about 60-65 miles from Jerusalem. Philip was one of the original seven deacons of Acts 6:5-7 and played a very important role in the foundation of the early church.
“As we were staying there for some days, 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, “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 Gentiles.’” Agabus was a believer with the spiritual gift of prophesy. We saw him earlier in Acts 11:27-30 giving a prophetic message to the elders in Antioch. His prophesy was the second warning to Paul regarding his imprisonment in Jerusalem. It was a perfect prophecy of what actually happened when Paul arrived in Jerusalem a few days later. The prophetic illustration should have been enough warning for Paul, but he was determined to go to Jerusalem despite the warnings.
“When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 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.” Though Paul would gladly give his life for his Savior, he was out of God’s will. His answer confirms that his decision to go to Jerusalem was from his emotion. God did not want Paul to die in Jerusalem, He wanted Paul in Rome and Spain.
Agabus was right; the people of the city of Tyre were right; and Paul was wrong. To see this great man moving in the wrong direction caused them to weep. Their tears showed something of their love and respect for him. Their weeping broke his heart, but did not change his mind. However, while Paul’s attitude of sacrifice for Christ was true and while his attitude was based on Bible doctrine, he was moving in the wrong way geographically. Paul should have been on his way to Rome and to Spain but he was on his way to disaster in Jerusalem. Even so, Paul also had the right to make his own mistakes without interference and judgment from others, as we all do.
And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!” They tried persuasion which meant that they merely communicated information without comment or judgment. They presented what God the Holy Spirit had made real to them and simply turned it over to Him. The Greek word for fell silent is “hesuchazo,” which means to be quiet or be at rest. For a believer it means to have a relaxed mental attitude. These believers allowed Paul to make his own decisions without inflecting a judgmental attitude. Even though they knew Paul was wrong they did not abandon him. There is a basis for separation from believers when there is apostasy, or when they are trouble-makers; but Paul was neither of these, he was a great believer taking a wrong turn. The Lord would deal with Paul through discipline and the grace of God would eventually triumph by turning cursing into blessing. The application for us is to put others in the “Lord’s hands” and to not interfere with their privacy or their volition.
The royal priesthood must have privacy to fulfill its function. No believer has the right to intrude into the privacy of another believer. In John 21:21-23, Peter was sticking his nose into John’s business and Jesus told him it was none of his business what happened to John. Peter was to pay attention to his own spiritual life before the Lord. Violation of privacy means judging others. (Romans 14:10-12) When you judge another person, you violate their privacy. Privacy includes the principle of “live and let live.”
(II Thessalonians 3:11-12)
After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.”
Caesarea was a sea port; Jerusalem was located up in the hill country at a higher altitude inland. Paul arrived at Jerusalem and was out of fellowship with God having ignored His warnings not to enter Jerusalem. In Jerusalem there were many churches with many pastors. Generally speaking, the pastors held their church meetings in homes. James was the head of the local churches in Jerusalem and James and the other believers greeted Paul and were happy to hear what God had been doing among the Gentiles. However, James and the churches in Jerusalem had fallen prey to legalism.
And when they heard it they began glorifying God. ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.’” While the elders glorified the Lord because of the report, they seemed to be more concerned about the fact that Paul was a controversial figure. They were disturbed by having someone who would come in and upset their and possibly call them on the issue of grace. Remember that in Jerusalem there were a lot of pastors who had little knowledge of the Word of God, as evidenced by the fact that they were not oriented to the grace of God and were not teaching spirituality by grace. They did teach salvation by grace, but they did not teach spirituality by grace. They simply used the Mosaic Law for the Christian way of life, which was legalism.
Now began a series of disasters that lead to a maximum catastrophe in the life of the apostle Paul, a total disorientation to the grace of God. In verses 21-24 we have the bad advice from the Jerusalem pastors. They began to focus their attention on getting Paul to conform to their form of spirituality, which was legalism. They were going to entrap him in a legalistic gimmick so that they could stand up and say Paul has changed his mind! They were going to start involving him in legalistic actions which would neutralize the grace of God in his life.
“You see brother how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law” The Greek word for see is “theoreo” from which we get our English word “theory.” It means to be a spectator, to observe a situation, and to draw conclusions from a situation that may or may not be true. It was true that thousands of Jews had come to know Jesus Christ as Savior, but they had been erroneously taught that spirituality was by keeping the Mosaic Law. Because James and the pastors in Jerusalem were legalistic, they used the “numbers game” on Paul. The pastors in Jerusalem based their success on how many people were in their congregation. God does not keep count of the number of people in a congregation; He is interested in the spiritual growth of those in the congregation regardless of the number. These thousands of believers were legalistic like their pastors and were totally ignoring grace. Therefore their objective was for Paul to cater to their legalism. Instead of inviting Paul to teach their congregation, the pastors at Jerusalem demanded that Paul take a Jewish vow.
“They have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.” The pastors themselves had been running down the apostle Paul. The Greek word teaching is used for oral teaching in the local churches. They had been maligning Paul for teaching grace instead of the Law for the Christian life because they had no understanding of grace. Their motives were fear of the unbelieving religious Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem. Christ had fulfilled the Law and abolished it as a way of life for believers. This does not mean that the principles of the Mosaic Law with regard to morality are to be ignored. However, Christ introduced a new covenant of grace which excludes the Law of Moses as a means of spirituality. The filling of the Holy Spirit in this dispensation is the basis for spirituality. (Galatians 3:1-5, 23-29, 5:16-25)
What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, andpay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.” In this phrase we can readily see the fear of the pastors in Jerusalem. The very place where the church began historically on the basis of grace was now a place where Satan had made great inroads. The only way that Satan can make inroads with believers is to infiltrate their minds with false doctrine. (I Timothy 4:1) Grace was not being taught in Jerusalem, believers were not growing spiritually and legalism was the order of the day. They were ordering Paul to comply with their demand. They were saying that Paul was going to have to do something to appease the legalistic Jews. The demand of the Jewish pastors in Jerusalem was both dishonest and blasphemous. Paul did not need to go into the temple to commit an act of legalism in order to vindicate his ministry of the grace of God. The grace of God does not have to be apologized for. The grace of God is its own defense and its own power. The rituals of the temple were something to be avoided. Because Paul was out of fellowship with God he bowed to their command in order to please them. But Paul was an apostle himself and had the highest authority from God available in the early church. Paul had ignored God’s warnings to stay out of the city and by taking a vow he would be out of the operational will of God. Vows are not condoned by God under any circumstance in the Church Age.
“But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.” What did it mean to take this vow? Usually a person had committed some sin or they wanted to make points with God. When they declared their intention they had to do certain things: a) they had to let their hair grow; b) they had to go on a certain rigid type of diet; c) they had to come up with a monetary offering within 30 days; d) they had to go to the priest at the completion of the vow and he would shave all of their hair which was taken to the altar and burned. Then they had to stand up before the people in the temple and specify the things they would not do—all of the taboos. Once this was done it meant that God had forgiven him, and everything was all right spiritually. This was actually a Nazarite vow from Numbers 6, which the Jews still practiced but had added some of their own tradition. This was the lowest point in the life of Paul, but Paul would recover through Rebound and continue to serve the Lord until his death.