The word of the day is “discourage.” If others try to discourage us from doing something we believe that God has called us to do, do we listen to them? How do we tell whether our resolve is not mere stubbornness? In our reading of Acts 21:8-14, Paul is bound to go to Jerusalem, although a prophet tells him that in the Holy City, the Jews will “bind” him and hand him over to the Gentiles. But Paul replies, “I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (OSB vs. 13). Today this incident suggests how we can tell that our purposes are right even if the opinion of those we love and respect is against them.
A Symbolic Prophecy of Warning
When Paul met with Ephesian elders, he said that if I go to Jerusalem, “the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me”(OSB Acts 20:23). On the doorstep of Jerusalem, in Caesarea, a prophet bound Paul’s hands and feet with his sash. This symbolic action signified that the Jews would bind the apostle and deliver him to the Gentiles. In other words, he would be arrested, tried, and possibly killed in the Holy City. Luke says that out of concern for their leader, “Both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem” (OSB vs.12). Note that “we” indicates that even Luke joined in the appeal for Paul to change his plans. Thus, Paul stood alone in his resolve to go to Jerusalem to present the money that he had collected for the poor in the Holy City to the church leaders there.
Paul was distressed but not dissuaded by these appeals. He stated, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart?” (OSB 13). The Greek text reveals Paul’s feelings as he responds to his friends’ advice. It uses the Greek term “to do,” which means to make, to cause, or to produce (Strong’s #4160, 205). Thus instead of translating the sense of Paul’s response as “What do you mean?” other versions say more strongly, “What are you doing….”? This rendering expresses Paul’s exasperation with his followers’ weeping. Their dismay is breaking his heart. The Greek term breaking comes from the idea of crumbling and means to be breaking in pieces or to crush. Thus, the misgiving of Paul’s followers is crushing his spirit.
Paul’s Resolve Does not Weaken
But is it weakening his resolve? Paul’s reply cuts off this possibility. Just as the Lord said, “Get behind me Satan” (Matthew 16:23), when Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from taking the way of the cross, so Paul answers with quick resolve. He says, “I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (OSB Acts 21:13). Thus, Paul puts away any thought turning back from his plans. His fellow believers can only accept his resolution saying, “The will of the Lord be done” (OSB vs. 25)
When Others Undercut Our Sense of God’s Call
What should we do when others try to undercut our good intentions? Paul’s response to his detractors suggests some helpful ways to test our resolve. First, Paul has an inner conviction. He says to the elders of Ephesus, “I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem (OSB Acts 20:22). Likewise, we may believe that the Spirit is inspiring our purpose. If so, it may be difficult to explain our motivation to others. But in response to their discouragement, we can pray for discernment. We can put our motives to the test to ensure that they are not our interests and desires but the Lord’s. Paul shows that purity of purpose when he says that he wants to “finish my race with joy, the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus” (OSB Acts 20:24) and again that he will proceed “for the name of the Lord Jesus” (OSB 21:13).
Second, Paul does not minimize the dangers or difficulties. Again, Paul says to the leaders from Ephesus, “I go…not knowing the things that will happen to me there except that… chains and tribulations await me” (OSB Acts 20:23). Just as the warnings of prophecy and concern identified the perils that Paul faced, so our loved ones can help us see the risks of what we plan to undertake more clearly. If we find that we are denying the difficulties that others point out, then we must ask ourselves whether we are being foolhardy or brave, stubborn or faithful.
Third, Paul is willing to accept the consequences of his decision to forge ahead with his plans. Paul says to the Ephesians, “None of these things move me…” (OSB 20: 24), and to the believers in Caesarea, “I am ready…” (OSB vs. 13). Paul is prepared to suffer imprisonment, brutality, and even death. Our readiness to suffer the consequences of our course of action is a further test of our intentions. Our spiritual willingness to face the results of our plans is a sign that we believe that our calling is “of God.” If so, then we can trust that the Lord will provide what is necessary for us to fulfill the calling that He has given us.
When God calls us to carry out a mission in His name, he does not promise that it will be easy. He only promises to be with us. He does not promise to give us magical powers to accomplish it; He only promises to empower us with the gifts of the Sprit. He does not demand that we be successful. He only asks us to be faithful.
Paul said to the Philippians, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him but to suffer for His sake” (OSB Philippians 2:29). God is all-powerful and does not need us to fulfill His will. He could simply say the Word, and it would be done. Or He could make His assignment comfortable for us to carry out. But the Lord gives us the privilege to serve Him. He honors us with His calling not only for His sake and not only for the sake of others. He gives us His work to do for our sake. Every calling, every challenge, and every mission that comes from the Lord benefits our souls. Despite the difficulties, fulfilling the Almighty’s will strengthens our faith, bolsters our willingness to obey the Lord, and increases our love for God and those we are called to serve.