Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. But he said, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.” When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” Acts 21:10-14 NLT
What do you do when you feel like God is moving you in a particular direction, but almost all the brethren you know who really care about your life are desiring that you should not move in that direction? This was the dilemma that Paul, the Apostle, faced in Acts 21. Earlier on in his address to the Ephesian elders in the previous chapter, he had told them of how he was going “bound in the Spirit” unto Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there (Acts 20 vs. 22-24). So, his journey into Jerusalem was not merely a desire to navigate himself to Jerusalem, but because the Spirit was compelling him onward to Jerusalem. However, as Paul journeyed onward, wherever he found himself resting a while with the believers, he obtained a warning not to go down to Jerusalem. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the coming of Prophet Agabus. He was a man with a strong prophetic unction, and through his prophetic ministry he had warned the Church ahead concerning a famine that later hit the whole world then. So, no one was doubting the reality of his prophetic gift. He took Paul’s belt, tied it round himself hands and feet, and declared that this was what the Jews will do to the belt’s owner if he goes to Jerusalem. So, everyone, including the writer of Acts of the Apostles (Luke) begged Paul to forfeit his Jerusalem journey. But Paul refused, and insisted that he would press on and was ready not only to suffer but to also die for the sake of the Lord.
Now, was the Apostle foolhardy? Was he disregarding Divine instructions through the mouths of his brethren? Was he being prideful and refusing to receive advice from other brethren? Far from it. Now, this is what really happened. Note that in actual fact, the Spirit of the Lord did not tell Paul not to go down to Jerusalem. The Lord did not say that it was against His will that Paul should go down to Jerusalem. Paul had earlier declared that his journey onto Jerusalem was compelled by the Holy Spirit. So, what was the matter? The Spirit of God was warning him in advance concerning what he was going to face when he gets to Jerusalem. The Spirit of God was simply preparing him for the Jerusalem experience, this was why he told him ahead through many prophetic words so that he will not be surprised when it happens. However, the brethren misinterpreted it to mean that Paul should not go down to Jerusalem. Is the fear of troubles enough reason to avoid going to a place? Jesus did not teach us so. Even our Lord Jesus, when he was in earth, had a time that he set his face towards Jerusalem. He knew what would befall him there, and his disciples tried to discourage him from going, but he pressed on.
It is sobering but I must say this. Sometimes the brethren give us advice not because they are following the Spirit, but simply because they are ‘concerned’ about us. This is not strange, it is not a sign that they hate us. It is us simply being men. We care about those we love and do not want them to suffer. Hence, if we feel any path they want to take will lead to suffering, we try to dissuade them from taking that path. But that is a dangerous matter, because any attempt to dissuade a man from going in the direction God had led him to go will simply mean that you have joined Satan in his business of deception. This was why Jesus looked Peter in the face and told him, “Get behind me, Satan!”
You must be very careful how you ‘advise’ brethren. That something worked for you does not mean it is God’s plan for another brother or sister to tow that path. Don’t be in a hurry to try to counsel a brother in his poverty, or in one challenge or the other. Pray with him/her, issue your advice, but be careful to tell him/her to pray and listen to the voice of the Spirit of God inside of him/her. That a path looks difficult and unconventional does not necessarily mean that it is not God. I bless the Lord for the tenacity of the Apostle Paul. When they could not persuade him, they simply let it go and said, “God’s will be done.”
However, this was not to say that Paul does not bend down to the opinion of the brethren. Because, when he arrived Jerusalem and visited the Apostles in Jerusalem, they were happy about what God had done with him. However, they told him of other Jewish believers who were not happy because it appeared that Paul was teaching the Jews to abandon the observances that Moses gave them in the law. However, Paul taught no such thing. He simply said that a Gentile believer had no obligations to follow Jewish customs and traditions. As far as a Jew was concerned, being that from the time past, his ancestors had served the true and Living God, and his customs and traditions had been shaped by that God, Jesus had no issues with him continuing observing the Sabbath, circumcising his male children, honouring the annual feasts, etc. A Jew can be a Christian and still be observing his Jewish practices. However, he must no longer look to these things for his salvation, but that in them he continues to perpetuate his normal life as a man, and even find opportunities to reach out to other Jews for the sake of Christ. For the Gentile, however, he has no need keeping the Sabbath, or circumcision, or all those observances, except to respect blood, stay away from idol worship, and avoid sexual immorality.
When they explained to Paul the rumours that where going on about him, in order to please the brethren and keep the peace, he agreed to enter the temple and participate in certain Jewish rites. Now, some say he compromised his faith, but that was not true. Paul had learnt the secret of being all things to all men. There was nothing against Jesus in going into the temple and observing the temple rites. It does not make Paul less a Christian. So, he did not see any issue with doing that. If that will ease the hearts of some of them brethren and keep the unity amongst the Jerusalem brotherhood, he was willing to do that.
It is a pity that a lot of Christian brotherhood and fellowship had been lost over small issues that could have simply been overlooked. A Christian is not a man of principle, but a man of Love and of the Spirit. As long as something is not against the Spirit of Jesus nor against His commandments to His disciples in the new covenant, it makes no sense that you should sacrifice the unity of the Church of Jesus, and the goodwill of your Christian brethren because of one stupid ‘principle’ that you could have let be. Paul was a man that knew when to fight and when to refrain from fighting. Hence, while he was not ready to listen to brethren (even with their prophetic words) when it was merely about concern for his life over what he was sure the Spirit of God was leading him to do, he was willing to bend low for the sake of a simple ‘advice’ (not even a prophetic word) from his fellow believers and elders when it concerned the unity of the Church, and was not a matter which was against Christ.
Of course, the whole arrangement did not work out. Paul still got into trouble, but was that a surprise? Could he had avoided it? Had not the Spirit of God told him that it will happen? So, the fact that Paul still entered into trouble concerning it does not mean that he went against the will of God in that matter. It was simply God’s word to him being fulfilled; and because God was with him, the temple mob did not kill him. He was rescued by the Roman centurion and whisked away from the mob. This began the story of Paul’s testimony before kings and rulers all the way till Emperor Caesar. From this arrest, the word of the Lord moved from the streets to the palaces; and in the coming days we would see that a lot of souls where won which could not have heard the Gospel had Paul not moved down to Jerusalem by God’s Spirit, and be arrested.
AND SO? Is there anything God is putting in your heart to do, but the brethren are saying ‘No’? Well, step back and pray very well; but if you are sure it is the Lord, then you must pray for wisdom on how to proceed in action. However, be careful not to be derailed from doing God’s will because of what people will think about it. If you are in such a position in your life presently, I am including a link to a message by Andrew Womack which you may need to listen. The title is FOLLOW THE PEACE.
However, be sure that you are not a stubborn brother who simply cannot be talked to, but wants to have his own way. Be sure that you are humble about, and not prideful about your knowledge and understanding of God’s mind. If you are humble God will guide you. Be passionate for the unity of the brethren, and let that passion help you in adjusting in issues not necessary for salvation, for the sake of love and of the unity of the brethren.
God bless you