Acts 21:1-6 :
When it happened that we had parted from them and had set sail, we came with a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. Having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard, and set sail. When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left hand, we sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload her cargo. Having found disciples, we stayed there seven days. These said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. When it happened that we had accomplished the days, we departed and went on our journey. They all, with wives and children, brought us on our way until we were out of the city. Kneeling down on the beach, we prayed. After saying goodbye to each other, we went on board the ship, and they returned home again.
One of the many wonderful things about being a Christian is that you can find people you love that you haven’t even met yet. You can find them almost anywhere in the world. When we become members of God’s family, we find that we have many brothers and sisters and that we all have very important things in common.
One thing that may be difficult to understand about this passage is that Paul is given advice “through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” Arguments among honest teachers have been had over this. It is clear to me that Paul believed that it was God’s will to continue to go because in Acts 19:21 it says that he “determined in the Spirit… to go to Jerusalem.”
A good question to ask, however, is why would two people who have the Holy Spirit get such opposing messages from God? One thing that we know, is that the Holy Spirit can’t lie. If the Holy Spirit was telling two Christians to do two different things, it wasn’t an attempt to deceive.
As I considered what the reasons might have been for this, I came up with a couple of possibilities.
The Holy Spirit may have been testing Paul’s resolve. In other places in the Bible, God gave people seemingly opposite instructions as a test of their dedication to God. One of the most obvious of these was the time that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son that He promised that would have many children. So God can give seemingly opposite commands.
The second thing that appears to be being communicated here, is that, unlike the commands to Abraham, Paul didn’t have to follow the ones that didn’t come directly to himself. There is no indication that Paul was under any obligation, under God, to follow the commands given to someone else. Once commands were written as scripture, everyone was to obey them, but not these things that came to ordinary prophets about day-to-day things.
This turns out to be important to us today, and I think that the Holy Spirit recorded this for our benefit. There are misguided people who attempt to control others by speaking for God. Paul’s example shows us that we all should listen to the Holy Spirit individually and get our commands directly from Him.
We will read that Paul did this and it resulted in many good things later.