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Warned, Yet Willing

Last week we learned in Acts 20:22-25 that Paul was guided by the Spirit to return to Jerusalem, where he knew that he would face suffering, imprisonment, and possibly death. The Spirit, he said, testified to him in every city that this was coming, and in today’s passage, that’s exactly what we see: wherever Paul goes, the Holy Spirit speaks through prophets, and in every city, Paul is warned and entreated not to go to Jerusalem.

What the Spirit reveals is what will happen to Paul; what the disciples (wrongly) conclude is that Paul shouldn’t go. But Paul concludes the opposite. What the church sees as a warning, Paul sees as his destiny, the moment that he has been waiting for his whole life. He wasn’t losing or wasting his life; he was spending it. If Paul misses this opportunity, then his life would not be worth living anyway, and so Paul is willing to go to prison and even die for Jesus’ sake.

The first lesson for us from Paul’s example concerns spiritual resolve, that is, the determination to carry out God’s plan, to live God’s way, even if it costs us our stuff, our freedom, or our very lives. This courage and determination is what you need to pray for for those who are risking persecution and death to follow Jesus. This is the conviction that you need to be cultivating in your own life and in your family: dying for Jesus is better than living for anything else.

This doesn’t begin with life-and-death situations, though. It begins with little obediences. The smallest act of self-denial is training for the greatest act of self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is for every Christian, but it follows a definite order: shepherds, husbands, men die first. Husbands, this is why you were made the head of your home: not so that you can be the big boss, but to ensure that when it’s time for someone to die, the choice of who it’s going to be is in your hands, so that you can make sure that it’s you. Either you or your wife is going to take the lead in self-denial this week. Be a man: make sure that it’s you. Be like Paul – follow Jesus even when it means suffering.

This is basic training for the day when you will be called on to die. Just because it’s hard, just because it might hurt, just because it might cost you, just because you might die, these considerations are no reason why you should not follow Jesus. Actually, these considerations are exactly why following Jesus is good: because dying is gain. You were made to lay down your life for others; don’t waste your life by trying to keep it for yourself!

The second lesson comes from verse 13: self-denial involves discipling your emotions to follow Christ. “What are you doing,” Paul says, “weeping and breaking my heart! You are trying to alter my course through emotional displays that affect my heart.” In saying this, Paul attacks one of the biggest idols of our age: the false god “feelings”. There is a right way to use and display the affections, and there is a wrong way. One way serves Christ, the other way betrays Him. Here, the disciples are using tears and cries to try to convince Paul to think of them first, before anyone else. They forgot to ask which was worse: feeling sad or disobeying God.

A godly emotional appeal happens when you try to move someone’s heart to follow Jesus. Emotional manipulation happens when you try to move the heart away from the will of God rather than into the will of God. God calls you to submit your feelings to your faith, to disciple your affections to submit to Jesus. By doing this, you encourage yourself and others toward holiness, instead of being led by your affections to discourage obedience.

Paul has faced his own weakness, he’s persevered through years of persecution, he’s resisted well-meant warnings, and he has stood firm in the face of the heartbroken and heartbreaking grief of his friends. He has submitted His life to Jesus Christ, which means that He is not only ready to be imprisoned but even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. O God, to us may grace be given to follow in his train.

Posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2015 by CJ Bowen