The Christian Response to Suffering, Part OneActs 21:1-16
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, October 10, 1999
Copyright © 1999, P.G. Mathew
As we examine this text, we want to consider the question, “Does the Spirit of God guide us into suffering?” In this passage we find the apostle Paul returning to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey. After proclaiming the gospel in Syrian Antioch, Cilicia, Galatia, Asia Minor, and Europe, he set out to go to Jerusalem. This was Paul’s last recorded trip to Jerusalem, and it was during this time that he lost his freedom.
We must state at the beginning of this study that Paul did not decide to go to Jerusalem based on his own ideas. While Paul was in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit guided him to travel to Jerusalem, as we read in Acts 19:21 and Acts 20:22-23. He went because he was directed to do so by the Spirit of the living God.
In Acts 19:21 we read, “After these events took place Paul decided under the direction of the Holy Spirit to travel to Jerusalem. . . .” This is the New Berkeley Version1, which, I believe, provides a better translation of this passage than the New International Version. And in Acts 20:22-23 Paul told the elders of Ephesus as they were gathered at Miletus, “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, and what is going to happen to me there I do not know; except that the Holy Spirit in one city after another testifies to me that bonds and afflictions await me” (NBV).
Purposes of Suffering
Suffering is a result of the Fall, but the Scriptures teach us that God uses sufferings for various good purposes in the life of his church. For instance, in 1 Peter 1:6, we discover that God uses suffering to purify our faith. Peter writes, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul speaks about another of the many purposes of the troubles, afflictions, and trials that we experience: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” Paul is agreeing with Peter that God has a way of removing all our props to find out whether we believe in Jesus Christ alone.
In Hebrews 12 we find several purposes of sufferings and hardships. One purpose is to demonstrate to us that God loves us. As a father disciplines the son he loves, so God chastens us through suffering. Another purpose is that we may share in Christ’s holiness through suffering. Still another is that we might experience a harvest of righteousness and peace. When God works suffering in our lives, overseeing it and superintending it, this experience of suffering produces righteousness and peace. We come to obey God more and more, which is righteousness, and we experience great peace.
We Are Appointed to Suffering
In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul writes that all those who want to live godly lives in this world will suffer persecution. Do you want to have assurance that you are a Christian? If you are being persecuted for the sake of your faith–because you believe in Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and God’s moral law–you can deduce that you are saved.
Conversely, if we are not persecuted and hated for the sake of Christ, we should wonder if we are Christians, or if we are acting as witnesses of Christ in the world. In Acts 14:22, during his first missionary journey, Paul tells the people of Galatia that Christians must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations, troubles, afflictions, pressures, and problems. Paul uses the Greek word dei, which means it is a divine necessity. In other words, suffering is a divine ordination that we cannot get out of. But, as we said before, although suffering is a result of the Fall, in the hand of God it does wonderful things in the lives of his people.
When the Lord appointed Paul to preach the gospel, he was told to expect suffering. The Lord Jesus Christ told Ananias to tell Paul, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings.” Then God said, “I will show him how much he must”–again, we find the Greek word dei–“suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16). Paul’s appointment as an apostle included the fact that he would suffer for the sake of the name of Christ.
Let me be very clear about this: A Christian’s path is littered with all kinds of troubles and problems. In Luke 14:26-33 Jesus told a crowd about the cost of being a Christian. “If you want to follow me, you must count the cost of being a Christian,” Jesus was saying. “You must hate your father and mother and your own life. You must love God more than anything else in the world and not follow me to get fame, wealth, prominence, position, or power. If you want to receive me and follow me, then you must realize that I am called by my Father for the specific purpose of giving my life as a ransom for many, which includes great suffering, and my disciples are called to suffer with me.”
Americans don’t like the idea of suffering, so they rarely preach on this subject. To Americans, suffering is for people of third-world countries, not for Americans. One of our missionaries recently sent me an e-mail saying that some believers who were found with Christian videos were tried and put in prison because they had the videos in their possession! Even now Christian ministers are being tried and killed in China while this country enjoys good business relationships with the Chinese. People are suffering all over the world for the sake of Christ.
The Will of God Includes Suffering
Jesus said anyone who follows him must count the cost of being a disciple, which includes suffering. Christianity is not for the weak or those who want an easy life. If you dislike suffering, if you want to be rich and famous in this world, if you desire approval from the world, Christianity is not for you! Christianity is for those who desire eternal life and entrance into the kingdom of God, who are not afraid to follow Jesus Christ in the path of suffering.
So Jesus said, in essence, “Do you want to follow me? Deny yourself, take up the cross daily and follow me.” What is the cross? The will of God, which can include suffering and death. We must embrace the will of God daily if we want to follow Christ.
This is real evangelism. I am not interested in an evangelism that says, “Receive Jesus Christ and your migraines, will go away; you will get “As” in school; you will get into medical school; you will marry a handsome man and everything will go smoothly for you.” I have nothing to say about those matters. But I will say to you, “Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and your sins will be forgiven. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be hated, persecuted, and mocked. Troubles and afflictions await you, and you may even be killed, but you will be saved.”
Comfort in Suffering
Is there any comfort as we think about the guaranteed sufferings of Christians? Yes. The Lord Jesus has promised us, “I will be with you always. I have overcome the world. I have received all authority in heaven and on earth.” We must believe these truths. He is the Lord of all, the head of the church, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Because of this, no one shall be able to harm us. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church of Jesus Christ. No one is able to snatch us from his hand, and our life is hid with Christ in God. We are in Christ, and it is impossible to sever us from our union with God in Christ.
Church, be encouraged when you think of these things. God is with you and for you. And if God is with us, who can threaten us? There are some who think that Christian life should be a life of ease, a life of plenty, a life of power, a life of fame, and a life of political connection. I say such people should read 1 Thessalonians 3:3 where Paul says we are destined, appointed by God, for trouble.
Our sufferings and problems demonstrate that we are God’s people, citizens of heaven. That ought to give us great encouragement and satisfaction. No wonder Peter told the people in Asia, in essence, “You can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory as you are suffering.”
If you are going through suffering at this time, I hope you will listen to Jesus Christ, who said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In the midst of your pain and agony I pray that you will experience his presence and power in your spirit so that you will not complain and murmur, but glorify and rejoice in him, singing the praises of this great God who is with us always.
Paul Goes to Tyre
Let us now examine this passage from Acts 21. As Paul traveled toward Jerusalem in obedience to the direction of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit warned him in every city what he could expect in Jerusalem, including bonds and afflictions. “Paul, make up your mind,” God was saying to him. “Do you still want to follow me and walk in my will? I want to tell you what is out there for you so you are not surprised by it. I want to tell you ahead of time. Paul, as I promised you when I appointed you to be an apostle, my way is the pathway of suffering. Do you still want to follow me? If so, you must sharpen your focus and understanding, Paul.”
When Paul and his friends arrived in the Phoenician city of Tyre, they found some disciples and stayed with them for seven days. Tyre’s ancient seaport had been ravaged by Nebuchadnezzar after the fall of Nineveh and completely destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. Jesus went there and healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman, as we read in Mark 7.
The church of Tyre was founded by Hellenistic Jewish Christians who fled persecution in Jerusalem and traveled all the way to Phoenicia, as we read in Acts 11:19. Paul and company were able to discover the church and meet with them. I suppose the Syro-Phoenician woman and her daughter were among the members of this church.
While Paul and his companions were meeting with the church, something strange happened. In Acts 21:4 we read, “Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” This seems a strangely contradictory word coming from God to Paul. Paul had been directed to go to Jerusalem, as we read in Acts 19:21 and Acts 20:22-23. Now we are told that through the Spirit these people urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
An Apparent Contradiction?
We must examine this question: Does Acts 21:4 contradict Acts 19:21 and 20:22 and 23? Does the Holy Spirit contradict himself? No. The truth was, in every city, Paul encountered this prediction that bonds and afflictions awaited him. These were the words of the Holy Spirit, but they did not contradict his earlier guidance.
The people of Tyre were surprised when they heard the Holy Spirit’s message, and from that point on, their natural reaction was to see if Paul could avoid the suffering. You see, we don’t like suffering, do we? We want to avoid it by all means. I try to do the same thing. All of us want to avoid suffering, and the people of Tyre were no exception. The people of Tyre loved Paul and did not want him to suffer. So, in essence, they told him, “Paul, we don’t want you to go over there and get arrested and killed. We want you to stay with the church and bless us. We want you to be with us. We want you to be for us.” They allowed their natural love and affection to take control of the situation in view of the Holy Ghost’s revelation of troubles. So they urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
The disciples of Tyre reacted to this revelation in the same way many of us would react to such a word. The apostle Paul was loved by the people of Tyre, and I am sure they did not want to see him suffer.
There is only one problem with their reaction: It does not reflect the way God thinks. In Isaiah 55 we read that our thoughts are different from the thoughts of God. Our thoughts are not his thoughts, neither are his ways our ways. So we would say, “God, could you not keep Paul from being arrested and experiencing afflictions and finally being martyred? Isn’t there another way of doing your work?” God certainly is able to do things differently, but that is not what he chooses to do. He is the Sovereign Lord, who knows what is good for his church. He does everything wisely, and so we must embrace his will, even if it includes suffering.
So now we understand why the Tyrian disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When the Holy Spirit revealed that only troubles awaited Paul, they on their own accord urged Paul not to go.
As I was studying on this subject, I read the treatment of a famous Reformed preacher and scholar on this chapter. This man surprised me by saying that Paul was disobedient, obstinate, and arrogant in making and carrying out his plans to go to Jerusalem. This man said the Holy Spirit was trying to tell Paul through the Tyrian disciples not to go to Jerusalem but Paul stubbornly refused to change his mind. This man said that Paul sinned in his persistence, and, like Moses, fell.
Why do you think this famous preacher said this? Because he does not understand the point I am making that God leads his people into suffering. This preacher said that when the Holy Spirit warned Paul about the afflictions that were awaiting him in Jerusalem, he was telling Paul not to go to there. Then he said that Paul, because he was rebellious, refused to obey this divine guidance and so was sinning when he went to Jerusalem.
I would say this preacher is wrong, and as I studied this passage, most commentaries that I read rejected that interpretation. But the truth is, the Holy Spirit directed Paul to go to Jerusalem and the warnings were designed to test his resolve, his obedience. It was a trial of his faith. Paul was obeying the guidance of the Spirit of the living God as he traveled to Jerusalem.
Paul’s Obedience/ Christ’s Obedience
The life of Paul in many ways parallels the life of Jesus, especially in this issue. When Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the last time, he told his disciples what would happen to him there, as we read in Luke 9:44. Jesus predicted that he was going to be arrested, tried and killed. He said this several times.
Yet we discover what Peter did to Jesus was exactly what the disciples of Tyre did to Paul. What did Peter tell his Master? “Don’t go! Don’t go!” But in Luke 9:51 we read, “Jesus set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus rebuked Peter and continued on the path of obedience to God, even though it meant he would suffer and die.
I pray that God would give us such iron wills so that we can live out our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, even when the pathway is littered with troubles and bonds and afflictions. Americans don’t like this idea, but there is no different gospel for Americans. God guides us in his path, which is a path of suffering for his people. We are not exempt from suffering.
Because of his own fear of suffering and death, Peter denied Jesus three times. But after Peter’s restoration, Jesus Christ prophesied that he would die a martyr’s death. Peter was then able to accept this will of God and later died for his Lord.
An Iron-Willed Man
Paul was very obedient to God in his desire to go to Jerusalem. In spite of knowing that bonds and afflictions awaited him in Jerusalem, he did not shrink back from the will of God. Like his Lord, he was resolute and told the church in Caesarea, “Why do you weep and soften my will?” That is what it is in the Greek. In other words, Paul was saying, “Stop it! I am resolute! I am ready to be arrested and even to die for Jesus’ sake. Stop urging me to stay!”
So, notice, Paul did not pay any attention to the urging of the believers in Tyre, who tried to prohibit him from going to Jerusalem. He knew their actions were due to a natural reaction to suffering. As an apostle, he knew the will of God, and so he set his face to obey it.
Paul was also aware of the story we read in 1 Kings 13 of a man of God who was sent to do a job for God. He knew exactly what to do, but he did not continue in obedience to God’s direction. When another man of God gave him a contradictory word, the man of God listened to him and changed his course, with disastrous results. He was killed by a lion for his disobedience to God’s clearly revealed word.
Paul Goes to Caesarea
Paul and his companions left Tyre and went to Caesarea, where they stayed with Philip the evangelist and his four daughters. Church history tells us that Philip and his family later emigrated to Hierapolis in Asia Minor. Philip died and was buried there, and his daughters became a source for early church history, as we read in Eusebius.
While Paul was at Philip’s house, a prophet named Agabus came and prophesied the same thing that people prophesied in Tyre. But we must note that Agabus did not tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem. His prophecy was that the man who owned Paul’s belt will be bound and handed over to the Gentiles by the Jews.
Like the Christians of Tyre, the Christians of Caesarea were also influenced by natural affection. When they heard Agabus’s words, they began to weep and urge Paul not to go to Jerusalem. “Avoid trouble,” they said to him. “Stay here and be safe.”
Refusing to listen to their cries, Paul silenced his friends. Paul was committed to doing the will of God, not to pleasing man. He was not an apostle who avoided trouble, and he knew the will of God was for him was to go to Jerusalem.
Finally, the people realized the will of God, and in verse 14 we read that they said, “If that is the case, the Lord’s will be done.” Jesus Christ himself had prayed, “Not my will but thine be done.” This should be our reaction also when we face suffering. May God help us to say, “Not my will but thine be done.”
The Exemplary Obedience of Paul
Did Paul disobey God when he went to Jerusalem? No. Paul was a man who always was led by the Spirit of the living God, and I want to examine some scriptures which demonstrate this. We already said that when Paul was appointed to be an apostle, he was told, in essence, “You must suffer many things in your position as the apostle of Jesus Christ,” and he understood that. Paul did not receive Jesus Christ for superficial and wrong reasons. Just as Jesus Christ knew that his purpose was to die and give his life as a ransom for many, Paul understood that he must die for his faith. God gave him an iron will to persevere in that understanding.
In Acts 13:2-3 we read that the Holy Spirit commissioned Paul to be a missionary. There we read,
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
In Acts 16:6-10, the Holy Spirit told Paul not to go to Asia and Bithynia and was lead to Europe instead. He obeyed, as we read,
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
In Acts 18:31 Paul promised to return to Ephesus if it God’s will, as we read, “But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God’s will.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus.”
There are many more scriptures which demonstrate Paul’s obedience, but we do not have time or space to deal with them now. Rest assured, Paul always acted according to the will of God.
Paul himself speaks of this in Acts 23:1. “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.'” And in verse 11 we read, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'” Here we must notice that the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who appointed Paul, was not rebuking Paul or correcting him, telling him that he was disobeying. No, he was encouraging Paul, knowing that trials awaited him.
In Acts 24:16 Paul himself spoke when he stood before Felix, “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” Do you think this could be the testimony of a man who disobeyed God? And in Acts 26:19 Paul made his defense before King Agrippa and others, saying, “So, then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”
In Acts 27:23 Paul told the people on the ship, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said. . . .” Did the angel rebuke Paul for going to Jerusalem? No. In verse 24 we read, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”
The point I am making is that Paul did not disobey when he planned to go to Jerusalem. He obeyed, fully understanding that the path of God was a path of suffering. He resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem and there is absolutely no evidence in the Scripture that Paul disobeyed God by going there Jerusalem. There is no proof that he acted in stubbornness and obstinacy. (PGM) The truth is, Paul was totally obedient to the will of God. He was obedient to his calling, to carry Christ’s name to the Gentiles, to the kings and to the people of Israel.
Paul was a man of iron will. He made up his mind in Acts 9 to follow Jesus Christ and did not change, even though he knew what he must suffer. You and I make up our minds in the morning at nine o’clock and may change them by eleven o’clock. We have this problem partly because we have too much money and too many comforts and will not put up with any kind of suffering.
The Spirit of God powerfully worked in Paul and enabled him to steadfastly follow Christ. He was unafraid of the world and its hatred, mockings, beatings, and killings, because he knew that nothing could separate him from his life in Christ. And, as predicted, when he arrived in Jerusalem, he was seized, beaten, and thrown into prison.
The Iron Will of Martin Luther
Paul was not unique in his resolution to follow Christ into suffering. Martin Luther also had an iron will which kept him going even when he was led by the Holy Spirit into suffering. R. Kent Hughes speaks about this in his commentary on this passage.2
As a professor, Luther had studied the book of Romans in which God revealed the truth to him that salvation is by grace through faith. Luther was gloriously saved and began to publicly oppose the teaching of the church, which said that salvation is by grace and works. The emperor ordered him to appear at the Diet of Worms to answer charges of heresy, and his old friend, George Spalatin, pled with him, saying, “Don’t go. They are going to kill you just like they killed John Hus.”
Luther told Spalatin, “Though Hus was burned, the truth was not burned, and Christ still lives.” Then he told him, “I shall go to Worms, though there be as many devils as tiles on the roofs.” He went to Worms and stood before the emperor on April 17, 1521. He made one request: to spend the night before his trial in prayer. Here is Luther’s prayer:
How frail and sensitive is the flesh of men, and the devil is so powerful and active. . . ! O Thou, my God, my God, help me against the reason and wisdom of all the world! Do this! Thou must do it, Thou alone! For this cause is not mine but Thine. For myself I have no business here with these great lords of the world. Indeed, I too desire to enjoy days of peace and quiet and to be undisturbed. But Thine, O Lord, is this cause. And it is righteous and of eternal importance. Stand by me, Thou faithful, eternal God! I rely on no man. . . .
O God, stand by me, in the name of Thy dear Son, Jesus Christ, who shall be my Protector and Defender, yea, my mighty Fortress through the night and strengthening of Thy Holy Spirit.
On April 18, 1521, Luther was brought before the emperor and other civil and ecclesiastical authorities–the whole world, really. Archbishop Johann Eck asked him,
Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than them all? You have no right to call into question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ the perfect lawgiver, proclaimed throughout the world by the apostles, sealed by the red blood of the martyrs, confirmed by the sacred counsels, defined by the Church in which all our fathers believed until death and gave to us as an inheritance, and which now we are forbidden by the pope and emperor to discuss lest there be no end of debate. I ask you, Martin–answer candidly and without horns–do you or do you not repudiate your books, and the errors which they contain?
What was Luther’s reply?
Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
That is iron will. We are to preach the gospel: that Christ died for our sins, that Christ is God, that Christ is Lord, that Christ is King, that Christ is coming again. We must preach that we have to repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ alone in order to receive eternal life. If the Spirit of the living God is in us, his power will embolden us to speak as Luther and Paul did, knowing that nothing can sever us–even death–from Christ’s life.
God Is with Us in Suffering
God is with his people when they suffer. In Isaiah 43:1-3 we read this wonderful promise:
But now, this is what the LORD says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
May God help us to experience him when we go through the waters and the fire. May we recognize that we are given eternal life in Christ, vitally connected to Christ, and nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Does the Spirit guide us to suffering? The answer is yes, but that is not the entire answer. Not only does God guide us into suffering, but he also stays with us through suffering and gives us his grace–his all-sufficient grace–to enable us to persevere through suffering. God gives grace to the humble and uses sufferings to humble us. Let us, therefore, rejoice even in suffering, knowing that God is with us and for us and will bring us to him. If God is for us, who can be against us?
The Blessing of Christian Fellowship
In conclusion, I want to say something about the blessing of Christian fellowship. As Paul traveled to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit told him in every city that bonds and afflictions were awaiting him. In this situation we notice that Paul receives great comfort and encouragement from one source: Christian fellowship.
The Importance of Fellowship
The word for fellowship first appears in the New Testament soon after the birth of the church. In Acts 2:42 we read, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship.” In the Greek the word is koinônia, which infers that these people who were fellowshiping together had something in common: Fellowship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
All Christians have the same Father and the same Holy Spirit. We have the same Mediator and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We belong to the same family as brothers and sisters. For us, the church is where love is, where encouragement is, where guidance is. In the church we bear one another’s burdens, love one another, encourage one another, and receive guidance. The church is the family for Christians.
Although Paul was told by the Holy Spirit that he was going to experience troubles, he continued to travel to Jerusalem in obedience to God. Whenever he came to a city, he would look for a church so that he could fellowship with the believers there.
The Purpose of Fellowship
What did Paul do when he got together with the Christians of a city? We read something about it in Romans 1. Paul writes to the Roman church, expressing his deep longing to go to Rome to fellowship with the Roman Christians. In Romans 1:11-12 he writes, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” One purpose for church fellowship is that we can find comfort, strength, edification, and sweet fellowship from other members of the family of God.
In Hebrews 10:24-25 we read, “And let us consider how we may spur,” or inspire and motivate, “one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. But let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Do you have problems, difficulties, and burdens? You should go to God and to his church so that you can be built up, encouraged, strengthened, inspired, and motivated toward love and good deeds. I don’t consider coming to church as a burden or as a duty. It is a delight to my soul.
Paul Experiences Christian Fellowship
n Acts 20:7-12 we find Paul in Troas. What was he looking for there? He was looking for the church, the people of God of that city, so that he could worship with them. Paul wanted to find other Christians so that he could celebrate Holy Communion and meet with God with them. He wanted to minister to them and be ministered unto–to build them up and to be built up.
When Paul and his companions found Christians at Troas, they stayed seven days until the first day of the week, at which time they met to break bread. Paul preached all night, pausing only to raise Eutychus from the dead and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The next day he and his companions left to continue their journey to Jerusalem.
When Paul reached Miletus (Acts 20:17-38), he sent for the elders of Ephesus to meet him at Miletus. When they came, they enjoyed sweet fellowship and Paul delivered his farewell message to them. The Ephesian church leaders received great benefit from Paul, and Paul, in turn, was built up and encouraged by them. In verse 36 we read, “When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.” Oh, how wonderful it is to pray with the people of God! I believe Paul received great strength, great comfort, and great encouragement from meeting with and praying with these church leaders.
In Acts 21:3-6 we find Paul arriving in Phoenicia. In verses 3-4 Luke writes, “We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days.” The Greek word used for “finding” is aneuriskô, which means to find by doing research. What did Paul do when he came to Tyre? I am sure he was thinking, “There must be a church somewhere here. I will be here seven days, and I need some encouragement, some strength, and some comfort. ” So Paul and his friends searched for a church, going up and down the streets and asking all sorts of people.
Finally, they found the church and stayed with them for seven days. They worshiped together and Paul preached the word of God to them. He received encouragement from this church, and when it was time to leave, the whole church followed them to the ship. In verse 5 we read, “All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.” What sweet fellowship! This is the blessing of Christian fellowship. There is communion with God and with one another, and we are encouraged, built up, and strengthened in the Lord in our most holy faith. That is the privilege of being in the church of Jesus Christ.
Notice, by seeking out Christian fellowship, Paul was receiving all kinds of encouragement during his trip back to Jerusalem. Paul needed strength to face the certain trials that awaited him, so everywhere he went, he looked for a church with which he could have fellowship. So in Acts 21:7 we read, “We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day.” You see, as soon as they landed, they went and looked for the brothers. Perhaps there was just a little church there, but Paul found it. He had only one day there, which he spent fellowshipping with the people of God.
In Acts 21:8 we read, “Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, who had four daughters who prophesied.” Philip had settled down in Caesarea twenty years earlier. He had married and now had four daughters who all prophesied. It may be that all four of these daughters said, “You know, we don’t want to marry. We want to serve God for the rest of our lives.” Imagine the blessing Paul received from such a godly home! They were continually worshiping and praising God. Paul and his companions stayed there several days, during which time the prophet Agabus came and prophesied about the troubles awaiting Paul in Jerusalem.
In Acts 21:15-16 Luke writes, “After this,” meaning after the visit of Agabus, “we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.”
Paul found a place to stay in Jerusalem with Mnason, one of the early disciples. I am sure this was a house church, because the church of Jerusalem was very large at that time. In verse 20 James told Paul there were thousands of Jews who had believed–myriads of people. In Acts 4 we read that there were five thousand in the church. By this time there were perhaps ten to fifteen thousand believers, all of whom met in various homes throughout the city. Paul and his company were able to stay with Mnason and his family, and I am sure they enjoyed sweet fellowship.
The Blessing of Church
The church is where we get a foretaste of that great Sabbath rest that is awaiting us. It is a place of rest, refreshment, and fellowship for God’s people. May God help us to appreciate his church! I hope you will look forward to gathering together each week with the people of God. I love the people of God, and the people of God love me. We all belong to the same Father and have the same Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ. And when we come to church as Paul did, with troubles and trials awaiting us, God will encourage us through his word and his people. He will tell us, “Everything will be all right. I am for you, my Son is for you, my Spirit is for you, and my church is for you.”
May God help us to appreciate and delight in his church, because in his church we commune with God the Father and God the Son through the Holy Spirit. And may we thank God for our brothers and sisters–from all languages, races, and cultures–who are the people of God. May we be thankful for the forgiveness, love, hope, and faith we experience in the church. May we cherish the proclamation of the word of God. May we hear the words God speaks to us: “Cast your cares upon me, for I care for you,” and “Come unto me, all you who are burdened and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. I will take your burden away, and you shall go home with rest and with peace.”
May God also help us to come together to spur one another toward love and good deeds. May we be faithful in coming together to encourage one another, to help one another, to strengthen one another, and to give counsel to one another. May we praise God, knowing that he is the one who built the church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
God is building his church and we shall, therefore, endure, no matter what sufferings we are led into. No wonder Martin Luther was so strong and bold. No wonder the apostles were so strong and bold. No wonder the martyrs were strong and bold in their confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Lord was building them up in the church, and that is what he is doing for us also. May we, therefore, set our faces like flint, be faithful to our God, and live for Jesus Christ and his truth as long as he gives us breath. Amen.
1The Modern Language Bible: The New Berkeley Version in Modern English, Revised Edition, Gerrit Verkuyl, Ph.D., Editor-in-chief, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971.
2R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 283-285.
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