Conviction Leads to Courage (Acts 21:1-16)

Conviction Leads to Courage

Acts 21:1-16

I once taught a thousand Christian high school students one session about the Church, and in the midst of the sermon taught that God commands the Church to gather weekly from many passages, one of them being Hebrews 10:25, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Gathering as a church is what the Church is–a gathering. Weekly attendance at worship is both a New Testament pattern and a New Testament principle, as well as a New Testament command.

During the question and answer session that followed my sermon, their reaction to the command to faithfully attend church it was as if God commanded them to drink poison. I quickly realized some students didn’t know Christ, others had a weak understanding of God’s Word and the rest had no convictions.

You’ve experienced someone who does not have any convictions. You’re talking to a friend, and you discover they don’t believe abortion is murder. You are with a group of families and find them redefining homosexuality. You are hanging out and hear a so-called Christian boast about sleeping with his girlfriend, or that men and women have the same role before God, or God expects all Christians to be wealthy. And quickly you discover many of those who claim to know Christ don’t have any convictions.

You can believe truth about Christ and the Bible, but convictions are beyond belief. A belief is something you hold, but a conviction is something that holds you. A conviction is a non-wavering truth which you passionately seek to never compromise. Christians today desperately need convictions. Sadly, many believers today have no backbone. Some believers function more like chameleons who blend in, and not lions who stand out.

Christians must function by absolutes. What is true in the Scripture is always true and must be followed. Today, you have to stand for something, or you will fall for anything. Grow to be people of principle. It is your convictions which result in courage. It is your convictions which drive your commitment to Christ. And that is the way it was with the apostle Paul. He is on his way to Jerusalem, and he is driven by his convictions in Acts 21:1 to 16. Open your Bibles to Acts 21 and follow along in your outline, as we see Paul’s convictions and witness his courage four different ways, as he races to Jerusalem for Pentecost.

#1  Convictions come from CALLING  Verses 1 to 3

To have a conviction, you must have a clear purpose. When you know what you are doing is what God wants, clearly seen in God’s Word, you will have conviction. And convictions always result in courage to stand firm against opposition. Were there convictions in the Old Testament? Joshua and Caleb were convinced God had given Israel the land of Canaan. David was convinced God would judge Goliath and preserve Israel from the Philistines.

And Paul is convinced he ministered in the purpose and power of God. From that unshakable conviction came his amazing courage. After his emotional goodbye to the Ephesian elders, Dr. Luke, author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, joins Paul’s party traveling to Jerusalem. You know Dr. Luke is with them from the inclusion of the pronoun “we”–you see it? Verses 1 to 3, “And when it came about that we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; 2and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3And when we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo.”

Look at the word “parted” in verse 1–it means to tear away. Luke is describing the trauma of this particular parting. Paul had ministered in Ephesus for years, and there is a massive bond between them. Paul literally had to tear himself away from his friends. Friends–on Earth until Heaven, Christians will experience difficult partings, from the death of a loved one, the moving away of a friend, to the sending of a pastor. They are deep, painful departures and in God’s providence, necessary for God to be glorified.

It was that way for me with Morgan, and has been that way with many others. I celebrate the Church being strengthened, but I miss my friend and ministry comrade. When you lose a friend or family member to God’s providence—remember, Paul was torn. It hurt emotionally, it was difficult, but Paul also was convinced God had a good purpose.

Their journey by sailing in verses 1 to 3 is an eye-opening picture of 1st century transportation. They took smaller vessels almost like a shuttle service–a ferry, an early form of Uber, which held 6 to 12 to 20 people total, boats which traveled only along the coast closer to shore. Verse 1, they went from Miletus, to Cos, to Rhodes to Patara. Then, when they crossed the great Mediterranean Sea they would board a big ship–a larger vessel about 100 feet long which held close to 300 people. Verse 3, sailing past Cyprus, they eventually land in Tyre, which is just north of the nation of Israel on the coast.

But why the hurry? Here’s the conviction that is driving the apostle Paul, and the key to understand this text. The apostle Paul was completing a critical mission to deliver relief funds from the Gentile churches in Asia Minor and Greece to the many poor in the Jerusalem church. Because there were so many pilgrims in Jerusalem, and because of the Jewish persecution of the Jerusalem church, there were many desperately poor among the Jerusalem Christians.

The Church had depleted its resources and now it needed financial help. And Paul’s goal was not only to meet the basic needs of the Jerusalem believers, but there was something far greater Paul desired–to solidify the loving unity between the Jewish and Gentile churches. This is what is driving Paul to press on.

As the apostle traveled to Jerusalem to deliver the money, he is repeatedly warned of the trials and persecution he would face when he got there. Despite those warnings, he never wavered in his conviction to fulfill God’s will, which gave him the courage to see his ministry through, no matter what the personal cost. Paul was on a mission to promote unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. Paul would do anything to promote unity.

One of the great qualities of FBC is the sacrifices you make in order to maintain unity. Overlooking preferences, accepting one another, love covering a multitude of sins, living out Ephesians 4:3—”being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Working to exhaustion. Paul is sacrificing everything in order to keep the Church, Jew and Gentile, one–together. His conviction comes from his calling to 1) honor God’s character, 2) obey God’s Word, and 3) shepherd Christ’s Church. As he travels, you clearly see Paul driven to fulfill the priority of meeting the needs of the poor and especially to unify the Church. It shows that his courage stemmed from a devotion to display God’s heart and God’s will.

#2  Convictions come from being CONVINCED of God’s Word  Verses 4 to 6

Paul and his traveling team are now in Tyre, which is about 110 miles northwest of Jerusalem and about 65 miles north of Caesarea. Paul could have reached Jerusalem by foot in time for Pentecost from Tyre, but he stays seven days to minister to the believers in Tyre. These believers are those who came to Christ since Acts 2, and those who fled Jewish persecution of Christians after Stephen’s stoning.

So while the crew is unloading the ship in verse 3, they go find the church in Tyre. Read verses 4 to 6, “And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. 5And when it came about that our days there were ended, we departed and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. And after kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. 6Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again.”

Luke reports that the Tyre disciples seek to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit has informed them that Paul will meet adversities there. The Tyre church members grow to love Paul and want him to avoid the afflictions which lie ahead. But Paul is determined to accept all these foreordained sufferings as a true servant of Christ, and to accomplish his mission to bring aid and especially promote unity.

So were the disciples in Tyre wrong to tell Paul not to go, or was Paul right in going? 1) When it says the Tyre Christians were telling Paul through the Spirit, it means speaking through the gift of prophecy, which at times can be wrong. 2) Paul lived sensitive to the Holy Spirit in all things. 3) The Spirit never explicitly informed Paul not to go to Jerusalem. 4) Paul described this mission as coming from the Lord. 5) Acts 19:21 records, “Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem,” while in Acts 20:22 the apostle describes himself as “bound in spirit … on my way to Jerusalem.” He was compelled in his innermost being by the Holy Spirit to pursue this mission. 6) And finally, the Scriptures nowhere suggest that Paul sinned by going to Jerusalem.

Sometimes making a God-honoring decision is not easy. I believe the Tyre Christians were right to warn Paul to count the cost, to express their love—and Paul was right to go to Jerusalem and accomplish God’s Word. Listen to Paul’s heart expressed back in Acts 20:23 and 24, “The Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” My life is not what matters.

Paul had to go–look at verse 5. I love the way the Tyre church loved on Paul and his team. “And when it came about that our days there were ended, we departed and started on our journey, [the wording tells us the boat crew had finished unloading the cargo and were ready to continue the voyage—then] while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city.” I love this–can you feel the closeness of Christians here, the intimacy of the Church to Paul, and Paul to them?

Nearly the entire congregation accompanied the team to the ship. “And after kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. 6Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again” (verses 5b and 6). Posture in prayer is not the issue here–you can stand, kneel or prostrate yourself according the New Testament.  But here on the beach, at oceanside near Tyre, the entire congregation, Paul, and his friends all knelt and prayed for each other–what a great statement to Jews and Gentiles, reaffirming they are all one body in Christ. What a witness to the watching sailors on the boat and what a delight for Paul to pray for this church to grow spiritually, and for the church to pray for Paul’s safety.

In just one week, they were already bound together in Christ. There is a supernatural intimacy genuine Christians share all around the world–every language, race, people. The fellowship of the saints is closer than physical family. Being one in Christ is a taste of the actual oneness of the Triune God. The world knows nothing of this–no lodge, no bar, no club, no team, no sports league and no fraternity offers anything that can compare with the fellowship of the saints.

If you don’t know that intimacy, it’s because you have not been part of a church which strives to live that oneness. Those of you not in a community group or a ministry will never know this kind of fellowship at FBC. And nothing will stop Paul from his mission. Not the threat of persecution, or the pleadings of fellow-believers could divert Paul from his mission. God had given His Word, unity must be promoted, and Paul had conviction to pursue it.

#3  Conviction comes from being Christ-centered  Verses 7 to 14

Paul finally arrives in Caesarea, the Roman capital of Israel–and once there, there was only one place to go. Philip’s place–not a club or hot restaurant, but the house of Philip the evangelist. Verses 7 to 9, “And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. 8And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. 9Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.”

Philip was one of the original seven deacons in the Jerusalem church. He was called, and truly was, an evangelist. Philip is the only person in the New Testament called an evangelist. There were others, but he’s the only named evangelist. And Philip owned that title. He became the first foreign missionary by taking the Gospel to the Samaritans, winning the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ, and evangelizing the cities on Israel’s coastal plane. Philip was a Hellenistic Jew who now settled in beautiful, coastal Caesarea. He’d been there about 20 years. His ministry must have been a blessing to the young churches in the region, and his witness a powerful tool for God’s glory.

Imagine their time together, what they talked about, how eagerly Philip would welcome Paul’s Gentile friends. And don’t forget who is with them. How painstakingly and carefully did Dr. Luke, with his coming manuscript in mind, question Philip about his own life and ministry. This encounter is another major contribution to the books of Luke and Acts in your New Testament.

And when you read verse 8, don’t merely skip over it—read, “and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven.” One of the seven, meaning one of the first super deacons. One of those deacons and a close friend of Philip was Stephen, the first church martyr. And who oversaw Stephen’s stoning by the Jews? Saul, who became Paul. Philip invites into his own home the man who killed his friend.

Paul was Philip’s bitter enemy and opposed the Gospel Philip preached. My family, this is the power of the Gospel. After Christ dragged Paul to Himself, now Paul and Philip are brothers, missionaries and fellow-preachers of the only way of salvation. The feared persecutor, tormentor and killer of Christians, Paul, is now embraced, welcomed into Philip’s house–all of them treasured, as honored guests. That, my family, is the power of the Gospel to transform lives.

In verse 9, Philip had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. Why does Dr. Luke mention this? Because they were a help to him in writing the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. The fact they were virgin suggests they were set aside by God for a special ministry. Luke is not saying singleness is required, but a reminder of what singleness is, 1 Corinthians 7:34 to 35 says when you’re a single, this is your opportunity to be singularly focused on the things of the Lord and undistracted in your devotion to Christ. That’s singleness!

And they were prophetesses. They are different than apostles. Apostles were the ones God used to record the Scripture. Their ministry was to the Church at large–the universal Church. But prophets were used to proclaim the Scripture during the time when the 27 books of your New Testament were not yet completed. And the prophet’s ministry was to one specific church, a local church.

Apostles established the foundation of doctrine and recorded the New Testament Scripture. During the apostolic age, prophets taught Scripture before the New Testament was completed–rarely future, sometimes revealed, but most often reiterative. They would exposit truths already taught by the apostles, which is what pastor-teachers are supposed to do today. The main thrust of a prophet’s ministry was the reiteration of, or exposition of, existing divine revelation, much like today’s preachers and teachers of the Word.

First Corinthians 14:3 affirms this, “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” Near the completion of the New Testament canon, in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, Paul never mentions prophets at all, but that the main church teaching is to be done by elders, which is the same pattern we have today.

Luke records no details regarding Philip’s daughters’ prophetic ministry. It’s impossible to know how often they prophesied, or even if they did so more than once. These four gals would have been directed by the rest of the Scripture and God’s New Testament design for women in the Church. When it comes to public preaching in gathered worship, the New Testament says in 1 Corinthians 14:35, “for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” So because Luke mentions them, but doesn’t explain them, these four daughters prophesied, not by preaching sermons, but possibly by giving future predictions. But most likely by supernaturally recalling truth given earlier by apostles and speaking instructively to individuals.

This would confirm what we know about the four daughters from Church history. Early Church historian Eusebius mentions the four gifted girls. He says they were a help to the Church father Papias. And I believe the reason Luke mentions them here was that Luke was impacted by the information the girls shared with him about Early Church history and the life of Christ, from this visit and then later when Luke was in Caesarea for two years while Paul was a prisoner here, before sailing to Rome. Whatever the nature of their prophetic ministry, the four daughters did not prophesy on this occasion regarding Paul. That job was left to another prophet.

As I read verses 10 to 14, see if you can discover the one single command in this text. “And as we were staying there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” ‘ 12And when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ 14And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!’ ”

Be done” is the command–a resolute affirmation of wanting what Christ wants. Doing the will of the Lord is the most important. Conviction comes from knowing His will. Now you know Agabus–he’s the one that informed the Church of the worldwide famine to come back in Acts 11:28. “One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.” This is what started Paul’s collection of funds from the Gentile churches to the needy Jewish believers in Jerusalem.

And now Agabus is back to remind Paul of what’s coming. And he does it in a dramatic manner familiar to the Old Testament prophets. Not stripped off outer garments like Isaiah, or a rotten apron like Jeremiah, or cut hair like Ezekiel–but Agabus ties himself up with Paul’s own belt and says, “This is what the Jews will do to you if you go to Jerusalem.” This tests Paul’s conviction and I believe is preparing the Church for Paul’s long imprisonment–an imprisonment which, in God’s providence, freed him to write four New Testament letters and dramatically enabled him to clearly proclaim the Gospel to the leaders of the known world, including Caesar. “The will of the Lord be done!”

Just like the church in Tyre, the Caesarean Christians were appalled when they learned of Paul’s coming fate. Along with Luke, the rest of the apostle’s companions began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. You’d say the same thing. You’d try to talk Pat Levis out of his plans to go to downtown Mecca, Saudi Arabia to publicly preach the Gospel on Ramadan–then plant a Christian church. You’d say, “Pat, it is too dangerous, and what does Nat say? What about your four prophetess daughters–your bevy of beauties?”

In view of Paul’s inevitable capture, love for the beloved apostle caused them all to try to talk Paul out of risking his life. I remember stopping Jean from ministering to young pregnant moms who were on bedrest in order to not lose their babies. She’d clean the entire house, play with the kids, organize the drawers and closets after doing all the laundry. She came home exhausted–I thought it was wrong, at first. Until I realized just how important it was to her heart. She was tired, but blessed doing God’s will.

Paul was willing to pay any price to do God’s will—so “Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’ ” (verse 13). Paul displays unflinching determination in the face of an emotional appeal from his closest friends. Paul is not obstinate, but obedient. But Paul sees their efforts as an obstacle. So Paul rebukes his friends by asking, “What are you doing?” With their weeping, they are breaking Paul’s heart.

Under grace now, Paul has a heart that easily cries–but Paul is also convinced he must obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit and go to Jerusalem. He has convictions. The Lord Jesus told Paul in Acts 9, right after he was saved, how much he’d suffer for Christ’s sake. Paul was unafraid of being bound or dying. Paul confidently knew that Christ loved him, was all-wise, and always determined the outcome of all things. Paul’s attitude is completely free from fatalism, but full of reliance on Christ.

What a strong message for you and me in Southern California in 2020–not fatalism, but reliance. Paul’s team and local believers realized they should not persuade Paul otherwise. They were not defeatist in their resignation, but confident in their trust in God’s perfect, sovereign will commanding, “The will of the Lord be done!”

#4  Convictions are Contagious

The entire team got ready and started on their way up to Jerusalem. Instead of their fears affecting Paul, Paul’s courage motivated the team. Verses 15 to 16, “And after these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16And some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge.”

They knew Paul would be a marked man in Jerusalem, facing hatred, imprisonment, and death. They also knew that by identifying with Paul, they put themselves at risk. Yet they were willing to accept that risk, because the apostle had convictions. Paul’s courage was contagious. When you stand on the truth, no matter what the cost, you will impact others. And friends, now is the time for you to stand on the truth with conviction.

TAKE THIS HOME

A.  Convictions are based on biblical TRUTH and historical FACTS

Luke does an amazing job recording exactly what actually happened historically. He tells you where they went and how many days they were at each location. The birth, life, miracles, teaching, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ were all historical facts, recorded with absolute accuracy. These truths were not made up, they were not invented–they are historical fact. Christ died for sins, and Christ rose from the dead–Christ is God in the flesh.

This is fact, history and the only truth–Spiderman, Superman and the Easter Bunny are fanciful fantasy. Jesus Christ is factual history The only way you will be able to live in God’s presence in Heaven is to entrust your life to the only one who came from Heaven and returned to Heaven and is coming again. You need to be perfect to live in God’s presence and you will never be perfect–you’re too sinful. You have lied, yelled, stolen, lusted, cheated, been afraid/passive.

God must judge your sin and the only way for you to become perfect in God’s eyes is for God to impute His righteousness to you–to cover you with His perfection. That requires you to turn from your sin and put your faith and trust in Christ alone. Do that today.

B.  Convictions are the source of COURAGE

It’s your convictions on Christ, His salvation and why He left you here which will give you the courage to stand up to opposition and face difficult trials. When you have conviction that Christ loves you, is all-wise and is completely in control, you will show courage through His Spirit in you.

C.  Convictions are tempered by love and GRACE

No one had stronger convictions than Christ Himself, yet the Bible tells us He was full of grace and truth. He spoke 100% truth, while also functioning in 100% grace. He was uncompromising in truth, but also overwhelmingly gracious. Your goal with convictions is not to harshly pound people, but to humbly point them to Christ.

D.  Convictions are necessary for spiritual growth and facing CONFLICT

Paul knew what he was heading into in Jerusalem. But he was convinced his mission would bring more unity to the Church, which was torn up by Jew and Gentile conflict. But also his mission would lead him to great opportunities for ministry and witness. So the potential of bondage, torture, death and conflict was overruled by his conviction to follow the Lord’s will. May each saint of FBC grow in your convictions. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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