The Essential Question (Part 8): Paul's Journey to Jerusalem

Day 1 of 5 • This day’s reading

Devotional

Knowing God's Will

Prepare: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Read: Acts 21:1-26

Reflect: Paul definitely needed a smart phone with GPS. After leaving Miletus, he journeyed down the coast of modern Turkey, crossed the Mediterranean Sea and landed in Tyre. His objective was to reach Jerusalem. Paul could have gone to other cities in the region, where he could have planted more churches. So why did he go to Jerusalem, ground zero of his opposition?

Luke tells us it was a result of two things. First, Paul made a decision to go. It's important that we take time to wait on the Lord when facing an important decision. But holding out for "handwriting on the wall" (see Daniel 5:5-6) can sometimes immobilize us. As we see in this passage, God can use our decisions to move us toward his purposes; God steers a moving ship.

The second and more significant factor driving Paul to Jerusalem was the clear leading of the Holy Spirit. That's what we should desire most when facing a decision. But even when we sense the Spirit's leading we still need prayerful discernment. On the surface it may seem that God was giving mixed signals (21:10-11). But a careful examination shows that both Paul and Agabus got it right. God was leading Paul to Jerusalem, and he was warning it would be difficult. The point is, neither Paul nor Agabus knew God's full plan-and neither will we. Our responsibility is to faithfully seek God's direction for the next step while trusting the final outcome to him.

Our passage ends with an example of the importance of prayerful dialogue in seeking God's will. James, the leader of the Jewish wing of the church, and Paul, a pioneer of the Gentile wing, met again, with the Jerusalem elders, to confront the most divisive issue of their day: How can Jews and Gentiles be in the same church? What's fascinating is how the two men avoided a blowup and maintained unity.

First, they agreed to meet (21:17-18). When you have an issue with another Christian, even a doctrinal issue, is your first instinct to criticize them to others, or invite them to lunch? Next, they shared mutual respect and accountability. Paul reported what he had been doing (21:19); James praised God for the results (21:20). Are you able to affirm God's work in Christian traditions other than your own? These basic steps created the context for discussing a more delicate issue: what to do about the perception that Paul was encouraging believers to reject Jewish customs (21:21).

Some have criticized Paul for agreeing to James's proposal, claiming Paul compromised his principles. To that, John Stott says, "The solution to which they came was not a compromise, in the sense of sacrificing a doctrinal or moral principle, but a concession in the area of practice." This passage is a case study of what Paul meant when he said, "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Apply: Who are the nonbelievers you'll be with in the next week? What would it mean for you to "become all things to all people"?