Acts 21:3-4 - Through The Spirit

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Welcome to our Bible Study! We are studying Spiritual Applications from the Book of Acts. Today we will emphasize the importance of hearing from God through the Spirit. My text is Acts 21:3-4, and my title is "Through the Spirit."

Paul was returning to Jerusalem on his third missionary journey. After making his farewell speech to the elders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17-35), Paul and his traveling group left the port city of Miletus by ship. Then, after several stops and a change of ships in Patara, they bypassed the island of Cyprus and landed at Tyre in Phoenicia. The ship unloaded its cargo in Tyre. The traveling group looked up the disciples that were in Tyre and stayed for seven days. We will call several points to your attention.

1. The Disciples Warned Paul Through The Spirit Not To Go To Jerusalem.

The disciples at Tyre "kept telling" Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. Luke uses the imperfect tense. Thus, we know that the disciples repeatedly warned Paul "through the Spirit." It is apparent that they felt very keenly that he should not go there. They spoke with a sense of urgency because Paul was on his way.

Earlier, when Paul met with the Ephesian elders, he described himself (Acts 20:22) as being "bound in spirit" (or Spirit) to go to Jerusalem. Then, Paul said (Acts 20:23), "the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me." So, Paul knew there would be difficulty in Jerusalem but he did not conclude that he should "not to set foot in Jerusalem." On the contrary, he was determined to go.

2. The Holy Spirit Seemed To Be Sending Mixed Messages.

The urgings of the disciples seem to pose a problem. Many believe that the word "spirit" in Acts 20:22 means the Holy Spirit. In my view, Paul was bound in his spirit, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, to go to Jerusalem. Our text (21:4) says that the disciples "through the Spirit," meaning the Holy Spirit, urged him "not" to go. How can these seemingly conflicting statements be reconciled? I will mention two views and then give my own.

One solution is that Paul misunderstood God's command. Therefore, he was bound in his spirit but not in the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Paul, according to this view, had an intense desire to go to Jerusalem and misunderstood the will of God. He had a goal that God had not given him. Under this view, Paul was mistaken, and he should have listened to the disciples. Because I hold that Paul's spirit was under the influence of the Holy Spirit, this view is unsatisfactory to me.

Another solution is that the disciples went beyond what the Spirit said. They understood through the Holy Spirit that Paul faced great danger in Jerusalem. Because they loved Paul very much, they did not want him to go to Jerusalem. So, they took it upon themselves to urge him not to go. Under this view, the feelings of the disciples were mixed with the warning by the Holy Spirit. The problem with this view is that Luke directly says that the disciples "kept telling Paul through the Spirit [Holy Spirit] not to set foot in Jerusalem."

Sometimes, as we follow the Lord, we seem to get mixed signals about what we should do. The people of God make suggestions. They do not always agree. In addition we may have mixed feelings about our course of action. I believe that the first step toward coming to a solution is to realize that the Holy Spirit does not give us signals that are confusing. We just need to determine what He actually is saying to us.

3. The Holy Spirit Gave Paul A Conditional Warning.

Now, I will express my view. Once again, here is the situation. Paul was "bound in spirit," under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:22), to go to Jerusalem. Moreover, the Spirit warned by the disciples at Tyre through the Holy Spirit not to go. Given these two points, Paul understands that the warning or prohibition was conditional, not absolute. We could paraphrase the prohibition in this way: "Do not go to Jerusalem unless you are willing to endure the dangers and consequences that await you." Obviously, Paul knew the disciples did not want him to go. However, he not only was willing, but he also believed it was God's will for him to go.

4. Paul Submitted To The Will Of God.

Later (Acts 21:8-14), the disciples in Caesarea begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. We will discuss this passage more in my next message. We note here, however, that the disciples warned him of the coming trouble that he would face. Even with this warning, Paul remained determined to go. He said he was willing to be bound and even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. Then, Luke said (Acts 21:14), "And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, 'The will of the Lord be done!'" We must submit always to the will of God. His way, in His time, is the best way!


In summary, we can "take away" two key thoughts from this passage. One thought is that the Holy Spirit does lead us. When we properly understand His leading, we will not be confused. The Spirit will help us settle our minds and act without misgivings. A second point is that our commitment is to do the will of God. Naturally, our friends will want us to avoid persecution and trouble. We must be grateful for their concern and prayers, but in the final analysis, we must be obedient to God's will. That may require the ultimate in sacrifice for us.

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