“And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” Acts 21:4
The whole way to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was warning the Apostle that trials were there. Paul knew that he was to be bound and placed in chains, but he also knew that the Lord was with him, so long as he followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He was ready to die, if need be, in the service of the Lord, and admits such when he says, “What mean ye to 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.” (Acts 21:13) All of the Apostles had once said the same in that they were willing to die for Christ, but of course, we know every one of them ran when Christ was taken in the garden of Gethsemane.
Here Paul claims the same, but unlike the others, he meant it. So, what made the difference? First, when the Apostles had said they would die for Christ, they were not yet saved. Christ had yet to breathe the Holy Spirit into them. Second, since they were not yet saved, they did not have the power of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to strengthen their faith and bolster their resolve. All of the Apostles would die for Him in the end, because all of them would find themselves saved and baptized in the Spirit, including Paul. So, if Paul’s resolve was strengthened and his mind sure to go to Jerusalem regardless of what he knew awaited him, why did the disciples, all along the way, urge him not to go?
The Word says that, what they spoke to Paul, they spoke “through the Spirit.” So, we must realize something. God will not contradict Himself. He is a God of order. So, the Spirit was not telling these disciples to tell him not to go to Jerusalem. He was informing them of what was coming for Paul, that they might be further confirmation to him of what the Spirit had already been telling him, and that these disciples might participate in prayer and encouragement for Paul. We are supposed to be praying for one another, sharing in one another’s burdens, for we are One Body. They were there to pray in support and to act as encouragement for Paul as he continued to move forward toward the goal set before him by the Lord. To understand this better, since God does not change, we can look to the Old Testament.
First, we know that Jonah was told to go to Ninevah to warn them of the coming devastation for their disobedience. Jonah didn’t want to go, and he ran in the other direction, and as he ran, the people around him began to become fewer and fewer, until he finally found himself alone, in the belly of the whale. He was outside of the will of God, and he knew it. God sent no one to encourage him. God allowed him three days in the whale to learn to obey.
The prophet Elijah had a similar experience. He had called down the fire from Heaven, and had exalted the Lord, taking the heads of the prophets of Baal. Yet, in the middle of serving the Lord, he got word that Jezebel wanted him dead. Fearing her, and not trusting God for it, he ran. Elijah ran and eventually found himself in a cave alone. God came to him and told him there were seven thousand who had not bowed to Baal. Elijah could very well have been encouraged by them, if he had stood his ground instead of running from death. God told him to get up and go, and he did, but not without having first done some running.
Even Moses ran from what he knew he was to do for the nation of Israel for fear of being put to death after killing an Egyptian man. He found a wife and her family in a country far from Egypt, but Moses spent almost forty years alone anyway, tending his father-in-law’s sheep. God came to him, after to encourage him to do the Lord’s work.
Now, God allowed all of this to happen in just the way He desired because it is all typology to us presently. The events happened just the way the Word says they did, but these men made choices to go the other way, and God allowed it. They did not get help from other men until they moved again toward the plan of God for their lives. Moses was given Aaron, and the group of priests that aided him in bringing Israel out of Egypt and on their own feet as a nation. Elijah was given Elisha to groom as the next prophet as he got up and went after the Lord’s will in his life. Even Jonah would have had many around him to encourage him if he had only found the joy of the Lord when Ninevah was spared. Instead, he became bitter and walked out of the city, only to find himself, yet again, alone.
So, the Apostle Paul found himself surrounded by many who care for him so much that they urge him and cry for him not to go. They did not want to see him suffer, but they were there via the Spirit to let Paul know he was not alone, and that the effect his evangelizing had had on them might be beneficial still to many more. They were the encouragement he would potentially need to go forth, but notice something else. They did not immediately pray for him to be strengthened. They heard the Lord through the Holy Spirit, but they took what they heard to mean they should warn him not to go, and so they failed to encourage Paul. God tells us that men will fail one another, for we are but men, but God never fails us, and Paul knew that. Though these were sent to encourage and immediately didn’t, Paul was encouraged none-the-less in the Spirit.
When he said they were crying to him not to go and they were breaking his heart, he was telling them that he knew what was coming. He knew what the Spirit was saying. He knew what the Lord’s will was and he was resolved to follow God’s plan for him. He had already proclaimed to the elders of Ephesis:
“None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:24
Paul was encouraged in the Spirit, and it broke his heart that those he had brought the gospel to, who had accepted Jesus and had been baptized in the Spirit, who should have heard what he was hearing and followed him as he followed Christ, were not quite right. He was seeing in them a slight diversion from Truth. There was still self preservation within them, and they feared for Paul in the same way instead of absolutely trusting in God. After they had continued to try to convince him not to go, Paul stood his ground, knowing the will of the Lord. His conviction finally brought them into line with God’s will and they broke off their arguments, giving it over to the Lord. It is then, I believe, that they finally do the encouraging the Spirit intended them to do through prayer.
May we recognize this day that we are indeed one Body. When we are in the Lord’s will, He will have us to encourage one another through exhortation and prayer. We are each only a part, and our part is not going to be the same as another’s. We should not question what the Lord is having our brother or sister go through unless it is completely unscriptural. Let us instead encourage one another to follow the Lord with all of our hearts, and to let go of the worries of this world, trusting in God for one another’s best. After all, the greatest events in the history of the Body were performed through the faith of those who have stepped out undeterred and unfazed by other men. Let’s be courageous, either in doing what God has for us, or in encouraging others to, or preferably both. The Lord will be with us either way. Trust Him and spread some joy!