November 17, 2019
Pastor Ricky Smith
I love the Olympics. I realize it is not even the season for it, but I love the Olympics. One of my favorite stories from the Olympics actually happened in the 1992 Barcelona Games. There was a British sprinter named Derek Redmond, I’m going to unveil for you a little bit about what happened.
What’s interesting about Derek’s story is that four years prior, in the 1988 Olympics, he did not even make the qualifier. So, here he comes. He’s finally got his chance in 1992. He’s in the 400-meter race, and he’s running for Great Britain. He’d worked so hard for this moment. So much of his life has been dedicated to this moment. He now could compete and represent his country. He makes a turn in the race; this is his time on the international stage, and he pulls his hamstring.
Now, everybody would have been able to understand if Derek Redmond had walked off the track. I mean, it would have made sense, right? “You tried. You got an injury. We’re going to give you an opportunity to bow out.” But he couldn’t do that. He had worked so hard. He had fought for so long. There was this groan on his face, but he was determined, I’m going to finish this race.
Have you ever been in one of those moments where everybody would have given you an excuse to quit, but you were determined to keep going? It would make a difference if you had some help. Derek’s father runs out of the crowd, runs along his side, and is committed to helping him. Derek puts his arm around his dad, and his dad speaks into his ear saying, “Son, we’re going to finish this race together.”
I can only imagine, though, if I could read the lips in this moment when a guy comes and tries to tell him, “Sir, you’ve got to get off the track.” I can almost imagine him saying, “Listen here, Son. Let me tell you, there’s nothing that’s going to stop my boy from finishing this race.” It’s like, “Get out of my face. We’re finishing what we’re doing.” The determination and resilience were amazing.
Here’s the beauty of this: Yes, there is the determination of Derek Redmond to finish the race, but it’s the overwhelming compassion of a father to come alongside him in this moment and say, “You do not have to run this race alone. I’m going to be with you through the end.” Even in the midst of when people are coming alongside him saying, “No, you need to quit,” he’s committed to finishing.
Here’s what I know about my life and yours: There are moments in life when we fail, when we trip, when we stumble, when we fall, and everybody tells us we should quit and give up. But what if we had someone like Derek’s father to come alongside us, helping us fight through? The sad reality is that there are moments we would love to have someone come alongside us, and they never come. We sit alone and we begin to question, should I keep going? Should I quit? Should I keep running? In that midst where we need encouragement and it doesn’t always come, it makes a powerful difference when it does.
I. Seek out faith relationships
Today, we are going to look at Acts chapter 21. We’re going to see Paul’s determination and how he responds when discouragement comes and when encouragement comes, and I think we can find ourselves in this story. Here’s the first point of the day: We need to seek out faith relationships. Let’s read Acts chapter 21, verses 1-6.
1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.
A. Determined journey to Jerusalem
I want to make some observations. As I studied this passage, the Lord taught me, and we’ll see if He teaches the same thing to you. Here is the first thing that I noticed about Paul: In verses 1-3, he is on a determined journey to Jerusalem. He is determined to go somewhere. We see this in verse one.
Circle or underline that word parted. The intent behind this word is not the idea of just this casual, “Hey, we’ll see you later.” It’s more of a depth of, they were torn away from each other. It was a painful goodbye. If you want to rewind, in fact, you could even listen to past sermons on our podcast or go watch on YouTube because in chapter 20, we saw that Paul had called the pastors from Ephesus to come, and they had this encouraging moment.
He challenged them, and then they had this separation where they prayed together before he got on the boat. Here we see in this first verse that it was a painful parting. But why was he motivated to even leave and continue his journey when it was painful? -because he was determined to get somewhere. We saw in Acts 20:6 that he was determined to get to Jerusalem. By the time of Pentecost, not only was he determined to get there; he could celebrate. Also, he had to deliver this offering that they had been collecting all throughout Asia.
B. Detoured by relationships
He was determined to reach his destination, but what I find interesting is, even in the determination of his journey and his commitment to reach Jerusalem, he was detoured by relationships.
We see this in verse four, and I think there’s an interesting contrast in chapter 20. We saw that he intentionally did not go into Ephesus because of relationships. Here, we see him pausing and spending a week because of relationships. He allowed himself to be detoured by these faith relationships. Why? Because they were invaluable to him, and they should be invaluable to us. There is something special about a faith family. The depth of a spiritual relationship with someone else is invaluable.
If you’ve ever had true community with people, if you’ve ever had a soul-level, deep relationship with somebody, you understand what I mean. You crave it. You long for it. It is healthy. This is why LifeGroups are so critically important. That’s the place and the space with this should set the platform for us to be known and to know others. If you’re a God-fearing military family, you understand this well.
Whenever you PCS and move into a new community, you so value the depth of a spiritual family that you find that connection because you realize that without it, you’re incomplete. Paul understood this. He craved it; he craved it so much that he made it a priority to pause his journey for a week so that he could have relationships.
C. Dependent on God
But notice, even in that pause, even in that detour in verses five and six, he exercises this steadfast commitment to depend on God because he knows, “Even though I would love to still spend time with you, my commitment vertically is more important than my relationships horizontally. Although I would love to spend more than a week with you, I love these faith relationships, and they are incredibly valuable to me, my ultimate commitment is to be dependent on God and what He has called me to do.
We see them exercise this because one, he continues his journey. But notice again, very similar to the way that chapter 20 ended, he ends with all of them together on the beach in this posture, positioning his body and his heart in prayer. He bows and bends the knee, which is this outward expression symbolizing that ultimately, I am under the authority of King Jesus. Ultimately, I’ve got to be about His mission and what He has commissioned me to do. I’m dependent on God even in this moment.
There is so much richness in those first six verses of Acts chapter 21 that we can learn from. Probably most importantly, though, is to prioritize that vertical relationship with Jesus, because here’s what I know: This will change your marriage, and this will change your relationships with your your church family.
If I am pursuing Jesus and that vertical relationship first and foremost and I prioritize that vertical relationship over horizontal relationships, if I’m chasing after Jesus and you are chasing after Jesus, He takes us to the same place. -because we’re all following the same leader, being led by the same Spirit. And it is a beautiful picture of mutual submission and the sovereignty of the Lord.
II. Stick with it
Paul was seeking out faith relationships. The second big idea is that he was encouraged to stick with it. Let’s read verses seven through nine and see.
7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. 8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.
This is beautiful. Here is the first thing that leaps off of the page for me: When Paul is on his journey, he finds a servant who has been found faithful. His name is Philip. See, if we want to compare, we haven’t heard anything about Philip for a long time. Philip, we learn here in this text, was one of the seven men mentioned in Acts chapter six when the church began to grow, and it needed some help and some resources. We attribute them as being the first deacons. Although they weren’t given that title, per se, they were modeling that leadership.
So here, Philip is one of those. We read of him in Acts 6, and we read of him again in Acts 8 when he begins to grow and proclaim the Gospel. In fact, it’s Philip who encounters this Ethiopian man, and they have this beautiful exchange of the Gospel. The Ethiopian says man says, “When can I get baptized? Why can’t I do it right now?” So Philip (here’s what I want us to understand), we saw him in Acts chapter six, verse eight, and now we fast forward and see him again in Acts 21.
Approximately 30 years had passed. 30 years where we don’t read or hear anything of him. And now he comes back onto the scene in this one little verse in Acts 21. And where does Paul find him? -being an evangelist in Caesarea. He’s being faithful. He’s been faithful all this while. There’s so much encouragement here for us, and it causes me to ask this question of my life, Could people say that of me? -that I’ve been faithful? -that I’ve been faithful for the long haul?
Can I just be transparent with you for a minute? When I was a small boy, about 6, 7, or 8, my brother and I shared a room, and I had this one little square that was my free space to do with what I wanted. Every couple of weeks, I would re-decorate my little square. That may mean that I was putting different baseball cards in it or I would prop up different G. I. Joe figures. Whatever it may have been, I would make that my space.
And I was not satisfied to just make it look good; I was determined to go find my dad. I would drag him into the room, and I’d say, “Hey Dad, look what I’ve done! Look at this!” I don’t know what was going through my dad’s mind. Maybe it was, Oh, here we go again. He never said that, though. He would always say, “Son, that looks great! Good job!” As a little boy, I was desperate for his affirmation, and those were the moments and the ways that I found it.
A. Servant found faithful
Now, let’s translate that idea that you may have experienced as well in your own life into something much more important. There is nothing in life I desire more than to stand before my King one day and for Him to look me in the eye and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.” What an overwhelming joy that will be! I want that to be said of me. I strive to live my life in a God-honoring way, and I know you would want the same for you.
That could certainly be said of Philip here. Can it be said of you? -being found faithful? We may want to drill down, and even in verse nine, we get a little more insight into how this looked, where Philip was found faithful, and we see it was evidenced in his daughters. He had four unmarried daughters, and what we read about them is that they are prophesying. T
his is really, really important because first of all, we don’t read the contents of the message that they delivered. We don’t know what it is they said, but it’s important because this was a fulfillment of what was declared all the way back in Acts chapter two, verse 17. “When the Spirit comes upon you, your sons and your daughters will prophesy in my name.” Here we begin to see this happening. This is a further fruition of the promise of Christ.
B. Children are a heritage
So, it’s important that we read of what his daughters were doing. But what I think is noteworthy (quickly and faithfully reading between the lines) is that his daughters were faithfully following and pursuing after God because he had modeled that for them, and he had disciple them that way. So, we see the faithfulness of Phillip not simply to proclaim the Gospel, but to disciple his family to do the same thing.
There’s a tremendous challenge for you and me in that way. For Paul, here’s what I can only imagine was true for him: He understood that seeing the faithfulness of others can motivate him to stick with it.
Seeing the faithfulness of others can motivate us to stick with it.
Have you ever been in one of these moments where you were internalizing and processing your pain or your situation or your circumstances, and you may have felt in that moment very low, defeated, and frustrated? -perhaps even hopeless? How am I going to get through this? How is God going to provide? How am I going to be reconciled? How, how, how, why, why, why?
We ask those questions, and in those moments, sometimes the Lord will let us see the faithfulness and faith of someone else. It’s like, “Wow! I can look to that for some encouragement! And sometimes God provides us with a way to see the faithfulness of others to help us recognize, “God’s going to be faithful to me, too.” And it can motivate us to stick with it.
Have you ever observed that? Have you ever observed the faith of someone else and found it encouraging to you? Maybe you’ve looked and seen what someone else is going through, and you realize, maybe I don’t have it that bad after all.
III. Stay the course
Here’s the third thing we see in Paul: Not only was he challenged to stick with it, kind of more in the meat of what we want to talk about today was to stay the course. Like Derek Redmond, who pulled his hamstring, no one would have blamed him for quitting. They would have felt bad for him, but no one would have blamed him, had he just walked off the track and quit. But he didn’t.
Paul sticks with it. He stays the course. Let’s read verses 10-14:
10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”
There is power in what we just read. An object lesson is really helpful, isn’t it? I don’t have one for you today. I could come up with one on a whim, but that’s not important. We understand what an object lesson is. We see some earthly object, and it helps us understand a deeper, spiritual illustration or context.
Here, Agabus comes in and uses this object lesson of taking this belt and binding his arms to say, “Hey listen here, Paul. I love you, but you’re going to Jerusalem, and this is what’s going to happen to you.” Underline or circle the word we because notice, it wasn’t just the people there who were trying to convince Paul not to move forward. It also included all of those people who had travelled this journey with him.
Luke and others who had seen the faithfulness of God, had seen the miraculous power of God and had seen Paul walk through one trial after another, even they were saying, “Paul, don’t do this. Don’t go this way. Don’t walk through this fire.” And notice the discouragement that comes. Paul, in this moment (I can’t help but imagine) begins to feel discouraged.
In fact, if you look at verse four and you also see the word used again in verse 12, Paul responds to their loving concern or discouragement by saying, “Why are you breaking my heart?” In the original language of the Greek, it’s this imagery of pounding something over and over again with a stone. It’s the same word that would be used to describe someone down at the river, washing some soiled clothes, and they’re just pounding it with a rock, trying to remove a stain, and Paul says, “Why do you guys keep beating at me and pounding my heart? This is so heavy! Do you not see what God has called me to do?”
And in the face of that discouragement, I can’t help but begin to step into the mind of Paul because Paul was determined. And here’s what I know: Determination can overcome distraction. The distraction in this moment may have been the pounding on Paul’s heart from people saying, “Don’t do this. Don’t do this, Don’t do this.” And their motivation was out of deep love. They cared for him so much, but Paul didn’t have a choice.
Determination can overcome distraction.
B. Trust the Lord!
Paul’s response was, “I have to trust the Lord.” This is important. Paul’s determination was not in his own plan, nor was it in his own preference. Rather, it was in response to a clear direction given from the Holy Spirit on where he should go and what he should do.
Now, from the next few statements I’m going to make in our logic of processing what we’re learning today, we’re now at a crossroads, because sometimes our determination can be interpreted as stubbornness, and sometimes our determination can be interpreted as steadfastness. How do I know the difference? (I know none of you are this way) Sometimes, because I’ve said so and I’ve already made up my mind, that’s what we are going to do.
That could also just be stubbornness, not willing to listen to counsel from others, but here, Paul is very clear in knowing, this is not just some idea that I had; this is something God has instructed me to do. So, he is determined to be steadfast through it, and what he begins to exercise is (the next point) that he trusts the Lord. I’ve got to trust the Lord here. I’ve got to trust the Lord. Even if it means I die, I trust the Lord.
You and I have to trust in our call and not in our circumstances. You have to trust in the mission and not in your mess. We have to trust in the purpose of God and not in our problem or pain. We have to listen to the Lord and not that lingering doubt. We have to listen to the Scripture and not just the situations of our surroundings. We have to listen to the Spirit and not the skeptics. I have to trust the Lord, to obey and do what He says.
And then in that moment, perhaps we can respond like Paul and say, “I’m ready for whatever may come, because I know that what I’m doing is what God has commanded me to do.” I can now be determined in the midst of distraction, and I am ready. God has commanded and encouraged us to live with this commitment and level of steadfastness.
Let me point you to something else Paul described. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, he said:
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
I’m encouraged to live by faith and to be steadfast, immovable, and unshakable. But we come to this really important question: How do I know that what I’m determined to do is not me being stubborn, but is instead me being steadfast? How do I know the difference? -because, I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes the choice is clear because I’m choosing between something unbiblical and biblical. Sometimes the choice is clear because I’m choosing between something bad and something good.
But sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes I’m choosing between good and good. How do I know what to do? How do I know that this thing that seems worthwhile and seems like it’s a good thing is something that God wants me to do? I mean, how do I know if every organization that comes and asks for a donation, I shouldn’t just give it to them? How do I know the difference? When do I make a commitment and I’m able to stand on truth, to know that I’m being steadfast here and not just being stubborn?
A call from God will always:
1. Align with Scripture and won’t go away
2. Advance His name more than yours
I want to present to you two filtering statements that may help you. Before I give them to you, let me say that I don’t intend this to be an exhaustive list. This is from my experience. Here’s the first one: I know that a call from God will always align with Scripture, and it will not go away.
God is never going to lead me to do something that contradicts what He has always said. So, a call from God that leads me to a position of steadfastness must align with Scripture, and it’s not going to go away. It’s not going to be some fleeting idea that’s come upon me this month. It’s going to be there because it’s something that God is calling me to. That’s the first filtering question.
The second one is this: It will advance His name more than mine. I know that you and I want to be well-respected. We want to have a lot of people follow us on social media. We want people to know our name, and we love to see our name in lights. God does not care about your name. It is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is a Lord. We want to make His name known and not ours. So, that’s a good filtering question.
When we have this idea, we feel like, this may be from the Lord, and I could even see in Scripture that this is a good idea. I may need to have this personal check like, is this really about my way, my preference, or my agenda? Is this a way to make my name known, or is this truly a way to make the Lord’s name known? Again, they are just some filtering questions for you, but when it becomes a matter of obedience, when it becomes a matter of knowing this is from God, and it aligns with Scripture, it’s not going away. It’s making His name known. It’s what I know I’m determined and called to do, and I must be steadfast.
This is not like a diet. This is not like a fad. This is not like a trend. This is not like the latest thing; this is about what God has called us to do. And can I just process for you what this looks like for me? You may find yourself in this, as well. First of all, for me personally, I know that God has called me to ministry. I know that. I can look back over time, and it has not gone away. It’s been affirmed and encouraged over and over, so I know that’s what God has called me to do. Therefore, I can’t do anything else. This is all I can do. For me to do anything else would be disregarding the call of God.
God has commanded me and you to be holy and to pursue holiness. That’s something He has called me to do. Therefore, I must commit to live a life that pleases Him. I must commit to make wise choices. Why? Because in this pursuit of holiness, I realize that He has set me and His people apart for a specific purpose. -to give Him honor and glorify His Name. I know that He has commissioned me to disciple my family, and I cannot relegate that responsibility to anyone else. That is my job. That is my weight. That is my burden to bear.
Therefore, I must be determined, steadfast, and immovable in that pursuit. God has challenged me to fight the good fight, to keep the faith, and to be ready to fight and stand for His Word and His way. I’m ready to die for the Gospel if that’s what’s required, because I will defend the Gospel, no matter what it costs. I’m ready.
What about you? What are you determined to be steadfast in? We’re not talking about your latest idea. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about how God has called you to live and who is called to be. -a faithful, following servant of His, pursuing holiness, discipling your family, proclaiming the good news, and defending the Gospel.
Do we have that level of determination? Can I lean into God in His Word in that moment? Here for Paul, there were moments in his journey when people told him to stop. “Paul, you need to quit. Don’t go through with this.” And listen; their intentions were good. They loved him. They knew that he was walking toward pain. They were trying to prevent a person whom they loved deeply from walking through physical pain because they knew this would cost him his life, too. “Paul, please don’t do this. We can go back and see all these other great things that God has been doing. We could go back to Asia.”
“No, God told us to go to Jerusalem and on to Rome. That’s what we’re going to do, no matter what the cost is.”
- Today, I choose to seek out faith relationships and desire to join a LifeGroup.
- Today, I commit to trust Jesus with my life and make Him the King of my heart.
- Today, I will remain faithful to God’s mission and stay focused.
- In Acts 21:4, Paul sought out faith relationships. Why is this important in our pursuit of Christ, and how is this reinforced by Hebrews 10:23-25?
- Philip was faithful to carry out the mission of God, and it was evident in his home. Read Deuteronomy 6:4-10, and discuss why it is important for us to disciple our children and grandchildren.
- Galatians 6:9 encourages us to stick with it. Compare this with Paul’s determination in Acts 21:1-14, and discuss how we can find the courage to follow God’s plan even in the midst of distractions and discouragement.