Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?
for I am ready not to be bound only,
but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
~ Acts 21:13
Paul had set his face to go to Jerusalem. He had spent much time receiving an offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem and was determined to deliver it personally. He hoped to relieve some of the afflictions of the church and to show the generosity and gratitude of the Gentile churches, which, he hoped, would go a long way in easing the strained relations between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. This task could have been taken care of by one of his fellow laborers, a point obvious to most of those that had contact with Paul. In our text, the disciples at Caesarea, along with his traveling companions, have sought to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem himself, and Paul makes his response to their plea.
Paul says, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?” The disciples were persistent and sought to persuade Paul to leave his present course. Paul questions why they would seek to weaken his resolve. Why would they want to hinder him from finishing the course that has been marked out for him? He could understand their sorrow; no doubt, he had some sorrow himself. However, he does not understand why they would try to overrule the leadership of the Spirit. Let us consider this verse and receive instruction.
The Holy Spirit gave a revelation concerning Paul’s trip to Jerusalem on at least three different occasions. Once in Miletus the revelation was given to Paul himself, “And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me” (Acts 20:22-23). The second revelation came to the disciples in Tyre, who spoke to Paul “through the Spirit” (Acts 21:4) concerning his visit to Jerusalem. The third revelation came to the prophet Agabus and he related it to all those that were at Caesarea, “And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11).
We are not given the content of the revelation in the second instance. We are told that the disciples acted on the revelation of the Spirit. However, we have every reason to believe that it was consistent with the other two. These three instances were essentially the same revelation. We have the same message, but at least two different interpretations.
The disciples at Tyre reacted in much the same way the disciples at Caesarea did when they heard the message. Of the disciples at Tyre, it is said, “And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). Of the disciples in Caesarea, we are told, “And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12). They heard the same message and interpreted it in the same way, although those at Caesarea were more fervent in their persuasion responding to the dramatic presentation of Agabus. These parties all agreed, after hearing the message that Paul should not go to Jerusalem.
Several different factors had an affect on the groups. Their intentions were good and sincere. They had a great love for Paul and wanted him to continue to be with them. The Ephesian elders at Miletus experienced the same emotions when Paul departed from them, “Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more” (Acts 20:38). They were concerned for Paul’s safety and well-being.
Still yet, the Holy Spirit never said that Paul should not go. Why were they so insistent that Paul was wrong? What the Spirit did reveal was that the way was extremely difficult and fraught with hardships. They believed that it was too hard and Paul would be risking his life. Like many Christians, upon understanding that the way was difficult and would involve personal sacrifice, they assumed that that meant he should not go.
Paul received the revelation from the Spirit and understood the same things concerning the hardships attending that course. However, he reacted very differently. Instead of being discouraged, he was resolute and convinced that this was the course marked for him by God. “And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there” (Acts 20:22). Acknowledging the great difficulty, Paul said, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24).
Paul knew that the task was hard and he said, “But none of these things move me.” Paul sought to explain, “For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Paul confessed the way would be difficult. He admitted that he did not know what all would happen. He acknowledged that it will probably not end well. Despite all these things, Paul was determined to go, believing it to be the will of God.
Long ago, Paul had resigned his own will, ambitions, and agenda in order to become the bond-slave of Jesus Christ. The Apostle that told others, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) was willing himself to be a living sacrifice.
In the end the disciples showed wisdom in conceding to Paul, “And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14). They thought Paul was making a mistake. They feared that he would fail, so they tried to prevent him from venturing on the enterprise. However, when they saw Paul’s determination, they ceased trying to persuade him and left it to the will of God.
Their intentions were good and they did what they did out of love and concern for Paul. However, on closer inspection, we find an evil in what they did. Peter had once sought to persuade Jesus not to go, and the Lord rebuked him calling him Satan. In essence, these well-meaning disciples were actually seeking to hinder the will of God and persuade another Christian not to follow his calling and were really being selfish. Let us be as Paul willing to go and to do whatever God bids us do and let us never put a stumbling block in the way of one who is seeking to do the same.