Monday, February 27, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 21:1-14

Taking into account the travel routes and geography mentioned here, it seems that Paul and company were still feeling a time crunch to arrive in Jerusalem by Pentecost in order to allow the gift they were bringing to express as best it could the love and support of the various churches for the Jerusalem Christians. (v.1-3, see also 20:16)

In verse 4, Luke describes how he and Paul stayed with some disciples who "through the Spirit" were telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Yet in 20:22 Paul said he was "constrained by the Spirit" to go to Jerusalem. Was the Holy Spirit sending mixed messages?

The answer might be found in observing that the phrase used in verse 4 to describe the Spirit's involvement in the words of the disciples is not Luke's usual description of prophecy, or expressing truth uniquely and directly inspired by God. (See IVP Bible background Commentary, Keener. pg.385) The original language here allows for the idea that the disciples were made aware of the suffering Paul would experience in Jerusalem and as a RESULT of this information, pleaded with him not to go. (v.4)

We see again an example of the deep relationships formed by these early Christians. Although many of these relationships were even more disconnected than our "online friendships" of today, the bond they shared through Christ led them to want to spend as much time together as possible, praying for and encouraging each other until those last moments when they finally had to go their separate ways. (v.5-6)

The tools we have to connect with and encourage other believers that we may never meet in person are readily available and so much more powerful than the long-distance communication tools of Paul's time. The example of these believers serves as a challenge for me to engage with and pray for my online friends more consistently.

After some further travel they stayed with an evangelist named Philip who had "four unmarried daughters who prophesied". It's not completely clear why their unmarried status is mentioned, but its possible that they had in some way especially dedicated themselves to God's service, choosing to remain unmarried to better serve that purpose. (v.7-9)

Secular culture is obsessed with sex. Christian culture is often obsessed with marriage and 2.5 kids. We can make the mistake of thinking that if we are not driven to find a spouse, if we are not driven to have sexual experiences, that there is something wrong with us. Some of us geeks are perfectly content to live without pursuing marriage or sex. (Yes, it's true!) And if this is the case for you, you should know that amazing good can come of the single life, whether it lasts a few years or for the rest of your days. Jesus taught that some people choose to remain single and some were even born to remain single for the sake of God's amazing purposes! (See Matthew 19:11-12)

While still with Philip, a prophet named Agabus prophesied that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem, an indication of imprisonment and suffering. Luke and the other believers begged Paul to not go to Jerusalem based on this revelation. But Paul made it clear that he had counted the cost and was ready to give his comfort, his life, everything he had in service to what the Spirit was telling him to do. Eventually, Luke and the others resigned themselves to allowing God's will to be done. (v.10-14)

As a geek and an observer of geeks, one thing I have noticed about us slightly more than in some others is that we are selfish. We've gotten used to being different and like doing things our own way in our own time, and we don't seem to be very good at putting aside our preferences and creature comforts in favor of others. Our geeky things are a safe harbor we retreat to when we've been wounded and sometimes we end up living for them without realizing it.

Paul's inspiring example stands in contrast to that mentality. It seems that none of these other believers would have blamed him for cancelling his plans to go to Jerusalem, where suffering inevitably awaited him. But Paul knew this and STILL chose to set aside his comfort and security to do what he knew God wanted him to.

As horrible as setting aside our comfort might sound, God can empower us to serve him through it if we are willing. And as we'll see in the coming passages of Acts, God may just use the opportunity to bring about something well worth the cost.

Next- Paul meets his destiny in Jerusalem

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