Reading: Acts 20-23
(Context: Paul is finalizing his 3rd Missionary Journey, en route to Jerusalem.)
What would you do if God were to clearly show you your future, there to see that it was to be full of suffering? Would God ever will for us to undergo pain, suffering, and trouble? The Biblical answer is a resounding yes, even while many modern preachers try to manipulate this fact.
Why God would allow His children to suffer is a crucially important although difficult question to answer. The Biblical answers generally have to do with God’s desire to see us mature in our love for our Father and others, to see us love the future world instead of this miserable one, to teach us to run from sin and learn to love righteousness, and to grow in the realization of our absolute dependence on God. I’ve written on this topic before, perhaps you will want to look at it: “Thoughts on Suffering”.
Paul was called by God to suffer, and that is what stood out to me as I read through the second half of Acts. The Apostle, in contrast to myself, didn’t ask why, but instead counted it a privilege to “share [in] his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10, ESV), making reference to Jesus Christ. His courage in the face of adversity should be imitated, so as to be able to do what God has willed for us to do, otherwise we may miss the opportunity and the blessing.
In Acts 20:16 we see that Paul stops briefly in Miletus, on his way to Jerusalem, this being at the tail-end of his third missionary journey. There he meets with the elders of the church in Ephesus, and the love Paul has for these men and the church is evident as he ardently entreats them to continue strong while being wary of coming opposition and even heresy. During this time he also expresses what God has told him about his future, that ahead lie persecution, trouble, and even death. In this final goodbye he confides in them:
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24)
Paul’s courage is surprising to me here, and it almost seems ludicrous – It certainly seemed like it to those who were to hear this message on his return to Jerusalem. The key here is the fact that he never addresses why he was called to do this, only that he trusted in Him who had called him to do so. His courage was based on trust, trusting that God would not abandon or cause him unnecessary harm. It reminds me of the encouragement that Joshua received as he looked on at the foes and cities before him and all the war and bloodshed to be had: “Only be strong and very courageous” (Josh. 1:7).
As Paul leaves Ephesus, his journey by ship takes him next to Cyprus, eventually landing at Tyre. Here an interesting twist comes into the story: “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” (Act 21:4). Is the Holy Spirit here contradicting Himself?