Moments come in life when we need to listen to others, even when we would prefer not to do so. Many factors about us may hinder that from happening. But we need the humility to remove the blocks and hear what’s said. Paul was approachable in that way, as we see in our verses.
Across 10 years, the apostle has been planting churches in Turkey and Greece. In each, Jews and Gentiles have become one people through Christ – a radical development! Indeed, many social barriers have been lowered (Ga 3:26-29). This revolution came to a peak in Ephesus, and other nearby churches, where Paul was based for 3 years (Ac 20:31). They truly reflect the wonder of the project the Lord gave to Paul (Ep 3:1-6). Now, however, he feels he must go up to Jerusalem. In the next decade, history will shift with the terrible Jewish war with Rome, and Judaism will change forever. Paul wants to testify to them, before that happens, of what Jesus is doing. His hope is that some will be provoked by his witness to come to salvation (Ro 11:13-14).
Luke describes Paul’s journey in detail since he is sailing in the team with him as they round the south west corner of Turkey and head across the Mediterranean to Tyre (v1-3; today in Lebanon). The group then stays in the city with fellow believers, where conversations take place about whether Paul needs to make this trip. Already, Paul has been warned that he is following in Jesus’ footsteps and faces pain in Jerusalem (Ac 20:22,23). The disciples of Tyre ask him, therefore, not to continue (v4). This human uncertainty and questioning makes Paul and the believers like Jesus in Gethsemane. The Saviour knew he must die for his people and was committed to it, yet he asked his father if another route was possible (Lu 22:42). We are no all-knowing; we have to be open to querying our behaviour and choices. To disobey God is to side with Satan (Mt 16:21-28). But to ask God if a less painful path is possible, is normal and right. Luke emphasises that here by saying that their concern flows from the Spirit (v4) who binds believers together in love.
Paul does not agree with his friends and so presses on (v5). However, he doesn’t fall out with them. As one body, they fall on their knees on the beach and pray together. His fellow Christians stand with him in the crisis, rather unlike the disciples who fell asleep whilst the Lord prayed (Mk 14:40,41)! So the team continue on their way (v6), visiting other disciples (v7), before arriving in the city of Caesaria, down on the coast of Judea. At which moment, a very moving scene occurs.
Twenty five years earlier, seven men were chosen for practical service in the Jerusalem church (Ac 6:1-6). One of them, Stephen, was murdered and the others scattered in the following persecution (Ac 7:60-8:2), including a man called Philip. Philip preached the gospel as he moved around and was so effective that he became known as ‘the evangelist’. Now settled in Caesaria, it is in Philip’s home that Paul finds himself (v8). The dwelling is full of the gospel: four daughters are present who are gifted as prophets (v9). This ability was given by the Spirit to the first generation of the church to help build the foundations of Jesus’ kingdom (Ep 2:19-22) by enabling believers to understand all that Christ had done and his plan for his church. However, in viewing this godly family scene we should remember who Paul once was. As Saul, he watched Stephen die and rejoiced, before violently and angrily ripping apart homes like this (Ac 8:3). To see him now welcomed into Philip’s lovely home, is to see the beauty of Christian forgiveness.
However, once again Paul’s plans are queried. Agabus, whom Paul already knows (Ac 11: 28), visits and graphically prophesies the suffering which lies ahead (v10,11). The result is that everyone, including Paul’s team, plead with him to change direction (v12). The apostle is deeply touched by their love but is clear what he must do, even at risk to his own life (v13). When that conviction is plain, the believers entrust all the plans to the will of the Lord (v14 cf Lu 22:42).
To be human is to be uncertain. Even when we are convinced as Christians of a course of action as best, it is still normal to wonder about alternatives. That questioning may come from our own hearts, or through others. Like Paul, we must be ready to listen. We will make mistakes, miss options and fall into sin; others can help us see that. We must listen, putting bias to one side. But if after discussion we are sure in our conscience that we are doing (or have done) the right thing, then with those others we can leave it all in the hands of the Lord and be at peace.