We call them “the greatest generation.” By this we are speaking of those who were quick to sign up to fight the personification of evil in World War 2. It was not simply a matter of the army making good soldiers out of those who had to serve because they were drafted into the military. No. By the tens of thousands, men did everything they possibly could do to get into the army and into the war, believing the cause was a worthy one that was bigger than themselves and their own lives.
My own biological father was beyond the age of prime fitness for combat, but he maneuvered to get himself into the military by using his skills and voice in radio communications in the Asian theater. This generation was willing to give their lives if necessary so that other generations may have a land and world with freedom – willing to die in the race so that others could run and compete. It was all about the bigger vision and greater truth.
The Apostle Paul was such a man as he ran his life race. His own personal safety and well-being was far down the list of personal considerations. Over and over the missionary to the Gentiles would suffer, yet counting his persecutions as a blessing to be so honored. Most others, then and now, would have a first consideration for their personal security and comfort. But this never seemed to be much of a conscious thought for Paul. Others around him saw it, worried for him, and as in today’s passage they also warned him about trials soon to come. But Paul persevered and ran on … being mulish, obstinate, pertinacious, dogged, and tenacious – words which all mean essentially the same thing.
We pick up in Acts 21 with some travel narratives as Paul was headstrong on getting to Jerusalem. And even though he was warned everywhere by Christians with prophetic gifts that he was sure to suffer in going there, Paul put his head down and continued with focused perseverance to move toward what he believed was God’s calling on his life.
Acts 21:1 – After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. 2 We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. 3 After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. 4 We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. 6 After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.
7 We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. 8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”
So, why is Paul being so bullheaded here? It would seem that God’s people are the instruments of God’s message of warning as what would happen if he continued on. The answer is “yes,” it was a warning, but it was not a deterrent. Paul realized through all of this, as well as through his own conviction, that trials and sufferings awaited him. Like the model of Jesus in the final week of his earthly life, Paul was pressing toward the goal in spite of the pending personal ramifications.
And what was that goal? Surely it involved the big idea of what Paul was all about – the preaching of the gospel. But we’re talking here about Jerusalem, not some Gentile, Roman center of commerce.
There is another answer, though it is not in this text. It has to do with Paul delivering an offering for the poor in the Jewish-dominant, mother church in Jerusalem … an offering generously raised and coming from a very dominant Gentile world. Paul’s passion was for the unity of the church in the coming together of Jew and Gentile under the larger common denominator of the gospel of Christ.
Among multiple passages that speak of this collection of funds from the Gentile churches are these …
Romans 15:25-27 – Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 – Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
Later, in Paul’s defense before Felix, Paul speaks of his purpose in coming to Jerusalem on this occasion … “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.” (Acts 24:17)
Often in true service for God, replicating the model of Jesus Christ in his incarnation and obedience to going to the cross, we are called upon to give up our personal preferences for the sake of others. The world is bigger than our preferences. In the church, the needs of others are bigger than our preferences. Thirty-nine years after graduating from college with a music degree, and having seen the world of church music preferences morph multiple times, I no longer have much patience for those who simply have to have the worship service exactly meet their stylistic liking. That’s nice if it happens. But there are so many other needs in a church family that are so far beyond music preferences that such items of “taste” simply don’t make the menu of serving priorities.
I am not sure I am going to live any longer than Paul did so as to be able to see a very similar desire come true in the evangelical church, even at TSF. He wanted to see the Jews and Gentiles become one true church together – recognizing the common denominator in Jesus Christ. I would like to see the CHURCH truly be on earth as it will be in heaven – a conglomeration of varied ethnic peoples in one family of worship, around the common denominator of Jesus’ sacrifice. We will have a five-week sermon series this fall to address this very issue.
We could mention quite a host of items that are bigger than ourselves. We’re worker bees in the hive, and it is not all about us as a single bee; it is all about the hive. Coming to truly understand this and give our lives away for others is the true mark of maturity in Christ. It is a way of demonstrating mulish, obstinate, pertinacious, dogged tenacity.