For this installment of Faithful Fridays, Mom asks me for my thoughts on this particular chapter of Acts 21. This chapter looks upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Paul’s passion for sharing the Good News, notes on the prophecy made by Agabus, and how we are to take heart in the midst of struggles.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit
We have in the passage a demonstration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as referenced in one of Paul’s letters:
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
— Romans 12:6-8 (NKJV)
The gift of prophecy was displayed by Agabus, when Paul passed by Caesarea:
As we were staying there for some time, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to [see] us, he took Paul’s [wide] band (belt, sash) and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this same way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this band, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles (pagans).’”
— Acts 21:10-11 (AMP)
The gifts of the Holy Spirit fill us with awe and wonder, and we are shown as to how this is put into practice by those who have accepted Jesus and have placed their faith in Him. Of course, Paul’s friends are sad and worried for him, but we are surprised by his response:
Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart [like this]? For I am ready not only to be bound and imprisoned, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
— Acts 21:13
If you think about Paul’s personality before he met Christ, he has always been a passionate man. In persecuting the followers of Christ, he did not cut corners, and went about his duties with passion. Here, after encountering Christ, Jesus took Paul’s passion and used it for his glory: we now have Paul, instead of going out of his way to please the Pharisees, is now willing to suffer and to die for Jesus and the Gospel.
His passion is such that he is very one-minded about his mission. He lives and he breathes Jesus and the Great Commission. While this chapter details his struggle and his being captured (which had the prophecy come to pass), it serves as a prelude to the next chapter, which outlines his speech. Technically, he was just defending himself, justifying as to why he should not be imprisoned. However, his being captured lead to him giving his testimony, telling about the event he met Jesus, and that it was all about Jesus that he found himself in that present time in the first place.
Prophecy: Hope, or warning?
The prophecy at the beginning of the chapter has theologians divided: was the vision given to see what was to pass, or was it a warning? Paul seems to have taken it as the former. He had all the choices in the world — he could’ve run away, or decided to go elsewhere to preach (he did the latter several times as well) — but he decided to face his mission head-on. We can freely suppose that it was because of these choices that became chances to share his testimony and to preach that he was lead to write:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
— Romans 8:28
We find out later in the chapter that Paul had been mistaken for someone else. Of course, the crowd rabbled because of his preaching, but the authorities believed otherwise, and so he was arrested. Regardless, as far as God’s plans were concerned, he was where he was supposed to be: lead by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and to share his testimony.
“Taking heart” in the midst of struggles
In our daily lives, it’s easy to praise God when we’re in easy, successful situations; but we’re not inclined to do so when we’re suffering. Paul shows us how his joy and comfort are not found in the things of this world, and that all things work for the purposes of God. If we wanted happy lives and for God to answer our prayers the way we want Him to, we’re not looking at God, but looking for a genie instead.
Those of us who have been saved by the blood of Christ all have the purpose of pointing people to God so as He will be glorified. God’s character — of mercy, grace, love, peace, justice — cannot be shown in times of comfort, but in times of adversity. Jesus didn’t lack in telling us about a life dedicated to Him (my own commentary [between square brackets]):
And Jesus said to [a scribe who said he would like to follow Jesus], “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
— Matthew 8:20
But Jesus also reminds us to “take heart”:
“(…) I have said these things [the troubles and challenges outlined in the whole of John 16] to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
— John 16:33
Further punctuated by one of His final words on the cross:
“It is finished.”
Jesus was not referring to the awful drink He was served as He was dying on the cross — He was referring to the ultimate victory against sin. The veil was torn, the grave was opened: God is once more reconciled to His children, and death no longer has its sting against us. Paul had this truth in his heart, 24/7. Whatever he suffered was nothing compared to the physical torture and the wrath that God rained upon His only Son, so as those who believe will be saved. To wrap up, Paul unveils his heart to the Galatians as so:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
— Galatians 2:20
It’s a powerful statement, especially when you think about how Christ lives, literally; how available God is through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross; how the power of the Holy Spirit is available to those who believe because God is that generous. The world is a treacherous place, but because of Christ who has overcome, we can overcome. Paul may have died an unenviable death, but his life shines because Christ lives in and through him.