Tod Kennedy,  April 29, May 6, 2001, May 13, 2001

Main points of application or “So what?” from Acts 21

  1. Christian camaraderie is a wonderful blessing that God has given believers who share the same faith—that is, believe, hold, and apply the same Bible doctrine. Preserve it, strengthen it, and enjoy this camaraderie.
  2. God guides us into his will. Know and be willing to do his will. The main ways that God guides us are through his word, through the Holy Spirit compelling us within our soul and spirit, and through events and circumstances that coordinate with his word and his Spirit.
  3. God does not always guide us away from trouble.  We often have hard choices to make about jobs, school, Christian service, rejection by others, and even personal danger because we, like Paul, live in a world that is at war with God. Like Paul, we should push ahead, once we know God’s will, even thought pressures lay ahead
  4. Each of us must apply the Bible doctrine that we know and listen to the guiding from the Holy Spirit. We will at times ask for the wisdom of others; but, ultimately we must make our decisions before the Lord and be willing to take the consequences.
  5. Pray for other believers even if they do not serve in exactly the same way that we would if we had their job. Pray for their Christian lives, their ministries, and for God to use them and bless them.
  6. Hospitality is a cordial and generous attitude toward and treatment of Christian guests. It comes from the gracious attitude of believers to believers. What about us? Do we resent the opportunities to show hospitality to other believers? Why not show hospitality to believers; we like to receive it and God likes us to show it.
  7. Legalism can ignite pride and emotion. This combination can destroys people, churches, and service.
  8. Paul gave us the principles of spiritual liberty, love, sacrifice, profit, restoration, and burden bearing to guide us in doubtful circumstances. How well do we apply them?
  9. We cannot always say whether another person has disobeyed God’s will about the way he goes about his own ministry. In fact, that is not our responsibility. We ought to think graciously toward him even when he disagree with our ministry, and not only that, we continue to pray for and encourage him. He is responsible to God to gain and to apply Bible doctrine.

Summary Outline

  1. Acts 21.1-8. In the spring of A.D. 57 Paul said good-by to his friends at Miletus and began the trip back to Jerusalem. He made short stops at Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea, before his final leg to Jerusalem.  He traveled southwest; most of the trip was by ship—from Miletus to Caesarea. Paul made a seven day visit with believers in the Phoenician port of Tyre, which was probably evangelized because Stephen was martyred; he also stopped at  the Roman colony of Ptolemais for one day, and at Caesarea (some days). Through these stops and visits with believers, Luke impressed the readers that Christianity had spread to many towns and cities—there were believers everywhere. He also demonstrated for us the Christian camaraderie that believers possess, even when they are from different backgrounds and geographical regions. Adherence to the common faith produces this camaraderie—in the past and right now. Christian camaraderie is the good will, rapport, comradeship among believers that must first begin with fellowship with God, learning and believing the same basic Christian doctrine, and living or applying this doctrine by faith. Growing out of this fellowship with God, believers love each other, encourage each other, and apply Bible doctrine in their lives with each other. What we then have is a rapport and comradeship based the same faith that each of us share. Paul emphasized this to the Philippians in Philippians 2.1-4.
  2. Acts 2.9-12. While at Caesarea, Paul stayed in the home of Philip, one of the table-servers of Acts 6 and the evangelist of Acts 8 of some twenty years earlier. At this time, Agabus, the prophet whom Paul had met at Antioch in Acts 11.27-28 and who had predicted the famine that occurred in AD 46, visited Paul. He prophesied by what he said and by his one man drama that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem and be imprisoned by the Gentiles. Agabus did not change Paul’s mind about going to Jerusalem; Paul was resolved to go (Acts 19.21). The Holy Spirit had revealed to Agabus what was to happen to Paul. Was this God telling Paul that God did not want him to go to Jerusalem?  Or, was the prophet simply indicating that which was to happen if and when Paul went to Jerusalem, and God wanted Paul to make his own choice. Paul’s friends and missionary team even tried to talk him out of going to Jerusalem. They loved Paul. They had emotional attachments to Paul, so it was very natural that they did not want to thrust him into danger. We act this same way toward those we know well and work with. We pray, “Use them in your service, Lord, but don’t sent them to a dangerous place.” Instead, pray for their Christian lives, their ministries, and for God to use them and bless them
  3. Acts 21.13-14. Paul answered that he was going to go to Jerusalem no matter what lay ahead. He was ready to be imprisoned and even to die “for the name of the Lord Jesus” (21.13). Paul’s friends accepted Paul’s decision and entrusted him to the Lord: “The will of the Lord be done!” What we learn from this incident is that God very definitely revealed to Paul what was to happen, but this revelation was not to keep him from going to Jerusalem, but to both inform Paul about what was ahead and to test his willingness to stay with the ministry (Acts 16.6; 20.22-24; 23.11). People debate whether Paul should have gone on to Jerusalem. It appears that Paul made the right choice; he certainly wanted to do God’s will, even if there was promised danger. We also have hard choices to make about jobs, school, Christian service, rejection by others, and even personal danger because we, like Paul, live in a world that is at war with God. The battle is on three fronts: the angelic conflict (Ephesians 3.10 and 6.10-18), the non-biblical worldview (Jude 3; 1 John 2.15-17), and the battle within ourselves with our sinful nature (Romans 7.25; Galatians 5.16-17). Like Paul, we should push ahead, once we know God’s will, even thought pressures lay ahead (Philippians 1.30; 1 Corinthians 9.24-27; Hebrews 12.1-2). Just because testing and trouble lies ahead, that does not mean that God does not want us to continue onward. To determine whether to go ahead or change course we need to think through the primary principles of divine guidance: The Word of God (2 Timothy 3.16-17; Hebrews 4.12), events or circumstances (Acts 11.11-15; Jude 3, 4), and the inner compulsion of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 9.16; Romans 8.14; Jude 3). Acts 11.1-17 and 10.1-35 and Jude 3 and 4 illustrate God guiding believers.
  4. Acts 21.15-17. Paul’s missionary team, along with some Caesarean disciples, left Caesarea for Jerusalem about sixty-four miles away. When they arrived they went to the house of Mnason, an early disciple (ajrcaivw/ maqhth) from Cyprus, possibly one of  the 120 of Acts 1.15. Note the hospitality available to Paul wherever he went. Hospitality is a cordial and generous attitude toward and treatment of Christian guests. Paul and his team of spiritual soldiers received cordial and generous treatment; this treatment stemmed from the gracious attitude of believers to believers. What about us? Do we resent the opportunities to show hospitality to other believers? Why not show hospitality to believers; we like to receive it and God likes us to show it (Romans 12.13; Hebrews 13.2; 1 Peter 4.9).
  5. Acts 21.18-26. The next day Paul and his fellow ministers met James, who was the half-brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem believers. Paul gave a complete report of his ministry with the Gentiles. The Jerusalem elders told Paul that there were many believing Jews and that most were very zealous of the Law of Moses. These had heard that Paul taught that the law was done away with in Christ (Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers taught this). The question to Paul was, “What should we do? If they find out that you are here, there may be trouble. Prove to them that you have not forsaken the law.” The case to demonstrate this was that four men were under a Nazirite vow; the Jerusalem elders wanted Paul to participate in the ritual purification and then pay the men’s vow expenses to conclude the vow. Paul had to sort through grace and legalism, the principles of love and liberty, and how to please God and apply doctrine before people. What should he do? The elders seemed to think that he should demonstrate that he also kept the Law (Acts 21.25). Were they right? Did Paul keep the Law? Should he try to prove to others that he kept the Law? Did he want others to regulate their Christian lives around the law? The best that we can say is that the elders wanted to keep the “spiritual peace,” but their emphasis on the law in the life of believers was wrong. Apparently to show that they had a precedent, the Jerusalem elders repeated the earlier recommendations for Gentile believers that they had formulated at the Jerusalem meeting, which Luke narrated in Acts 15. They, themselves, apparently did not understand that the law was completed at the cross. They should have read Galatians. The first three of the four recommendations were counter to Paul’s teaching on spiritual freedom. Paul agreed to ceremonially purify himself, go into the temple, and pay for the sacrifices of the men completing the Narizite vow. Paul gave us the principles of spiritual liberty, love, sacrifice, profit, restoration, and burden bearing to guide us in doubtful circumstances. How well did he apply those principles? How well do we apply them?
  6. Acts 21.27-30. Some Asian Jews recognized Paul. They falsely accused him of speaking out against Jews, against Moses’ law, and against the temple, and of bringing a Gentile, a believer named Trophimus of the city of Ephesus (Acts 20.4), into the temple are reserved only for Jews. Their antagonism and legalism brought about their emotional revolt against Paul and his grace message. These accusations stirred up a riot; the crowd surged around Paul, dragged him out of the temple area, and began to beat him with intent to kill him. Notice how legalism sets people up to believe lies about grace oriented believers. Legalistic people tend to be very self-righteous and non-gracious towards grace believers. They attack those who do not perform exactly as they do. Paul also wrote of this in Galatians 4. Paul stated the principle in Galatians 4.29, “But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” Legalism can ignite pride and emotion. This combination can destroys people, churches, and service. Our test is that we who say we understand grace do not treat legalists the way they treat grace believers.
  7. Acts 21.31-40. The Antonia Fortress (barracks, Acts 21.27) was attached to the northwest side of the temple. Claudius Lysias (Acts 23.26), the Roman commander (cilivarco”, chiliarchos, commander of a thousand, 21.31) of this detachment of the Tenth Roman Legion stationed there to keep peace during the Jewish Passover, took his soldiers (spei`ra, speira, body of soldiers, a cohort, 21.32) and centurions (eJkatontavrch”, ekatontarches, centurion, commander of 100 men, 21.32) and rescued Paul. They chained Paul and tried to question him, but the crowd was out of control so they took Paul up the two flights of stairs to the barracks. Paul spoke up just before they went into the barracks. Paul spoke in Greek to the commander, who immediately found out that Paul was not the Egyptian assassin who claimed to be a prophet—still on the Roman wanted posters—and who had caused so much trouble in Jerusalem in AD 54. At that point the commander granted Paul’s request to speak to the riotous crowd from the barracks steps. Paul began his defense and spoke in Hebrew (Aramaic in this part of the world), which when the crowd heard, they quieted and paid attention.