We have all done things in our zealousness that were, what we thought, was right at the time. Only to find out that it was our own zealous desire from our heart and not necessarily God’s desire or His perfect will for us. But we have a loving Father who is gracious, patient and forgiving and oft well pleased and delighted that we would be so zealous for Him.
Have you ever had a loved one go out of their way to do something for you, that you did not really want them to do? Or buy something for you, perhaps something expensive, that you did not really want, nor did you really want them to spend such an amount of money on you? And even though you did not want them to do this, you would never even think of telling them because you were delighted that they would think so much of you that they put their whole heart, effort and personal resources into doing this thing, just for you? You loved them for it, didn’t you? Is our loving Father any less loving of us when He sees us going out of our way just to please Him? Even if it may not be His perfect desire for us? Or even if we did not quite listen to Him or seek or heed his counsel as to what He really wanted us to do. Or even if He knows that our own zealous choices will hurt us and bring us unnecessary pain?
Paul was such a zealous man. His more exceeding zealousness caused him to succeed way beyond his peers as a Pharisee of the Pharisees.
And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. Galatians 1:14
After his dramatic conversion, he now refocused his zealous nature on spreading the gospel instead of fighting it. He was like Peter in this way, who is also known for his zealousness which got him into trouble many times.
It is clear from his own writings that Paul was intensely zealous for his own countrymen, the Jews. This was where his heart was, to win them to Christ, by any and all means. But it was not Jesus plan, nor was it His direct instructions to Paul. Jesus even told Ananias, who laid hands on Paul, for him to receive his sight and the Holy Spirit, that Paul would bear His name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel and that He would show Paul how great things he must suffer for His name’s sake.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. Acts 9:15-16
To bear Jesus name is not the same thing as to be sent as an apostle to a designated people. To bear witness of, or to uphold or, to take up with the hands, or raise as a flag or, carry as a banner or, to support, exalt, and hold upright Jesus’ name, was for a testimony against them as being a martyr because of doing so.
To be an apostle is to be sent as a delegate or ambassador representing Christ and to act as if Christ Himself was sent. Paul did bear Jesus’ name before all these groups even though he was not specifically sent to them as an apostle. Jesus had also foretold this to His disciples that they would do likewise.
And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. Matthew 10:18
And Jesus did show Paul how great things he must suffer for His name’s sake, especially because he bore Jesus name before these groups of people he was not specifically sent to.
The gospel accounts clearly show that Paul was the apostle sent to the Gentiles. Even though Peter was the first apostle sent to the Gentiles, after his vision of unclean animals now made clean as a sign that the unclean Gentiles were now considered clean by Jesus, it was Peter who was specifically sent to the Jews and Paul to the uncircumcised Gentiles which Paul himself admits to in his letter to the Galatians.
But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) Galatians 2:7-8
These were Jesus’ clear instructions to Paul when he knocked Paul off of his horse on the road to Damascus. There is not one verse indicating that Jesus ever sent Paul to be an apostle to the Jews. Paul himself confirms Jesus’ verbatim instructions before Festus.
Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, Acts 26:17
The word “send” here is from the Greek word “apostello” which means one who is set apart and sent forth. Paul here in his discourse before king Agrippa, is quoting exactly what Jesus told him on that day. The word “now” in the above verse means that on that day, the day of his conversion, and at that time, Jesus sent Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles. Notice that Jesus did not send Paul as an apostle to the Jews. If Jesus had wanted Paul to be an apostle to the Jews, would He not have included this is His commission to Paul? Even though Paul was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision, since he eventually did go to the Gentiles, he clearly states that he first went to the Jews before he finally obeyed and went to the Gentiles.
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. Acts 26:19-20
The word confirms that he immediately went to the Jews, whom he was not sent to, and bore Jesus name before them for which he volunteered as a zealous witness and martyr.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. Acts 9:20
And true to Jesus’ intimation, he was made to suffer for it.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him. Acts 9:23
Then when Paul saw Jesus in a trance, Jesus warned him to flee and told him specifically that the Jews would not receive his testimony about Him.
And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. Acts 22:18
And at that time Jesus repeated His original instructions to Paul sending him to the Gentiles and far away from the Jews that sought only to kill him.
And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. Acts 22:21
Next Paul had to be let down in a basket to escape the city because they were watching the gates in order to capture him. This was only the beginning of his many sufferings for continually going to the Jews whom he was not specifically sent to.
This caused him all of the persecutions which he could have avoided by not going to the Jews in the first place and riling them up against him. This was the very reason he was now appealing his case before king Agrippa and refused to be tried in Jerusalem before the Sanhedrin. In his zealous attempt to escape a prejudiced trial and inevitable execution at the hands of the Jews, he pulled out his trump card of Roman citizenship and ultimately appealed to Caesar. He had bound himself to this through his own words when he made his appeal. Even though it was not God’s will or plan for Paul, He honored Paul’s own words and actions because Jesus Himself told us that whatever we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Paul was snared by his own words and hung by his own tongue so to speak.
Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar. Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go. Acts 25:10-12
Had he not appealed to Caesar he could have been set free.
Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar. Acts 26:32
It was not until after his appeal to Caesar that an angel spoke to him confirming his own words and said:
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Acts 27:24
But, you may say, did not Jesus send Paul to Rome as stated in Acts 23?
And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. Acts 23:11
Not quite. If you read it correctly, Jesus didn’t tell Paul to go anywhere. Jesus was merely prophesying what must happen to Paul because of his own choices.
First of all, Paul was the one who said himself that he must also see Rome after he had purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem.
After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome. Acts 19:21
Paul did not heed the Holy Spirit’s warning of what would await him in Jerusalem and could have avoided all of this suffering had he listened to the Holy Spirit’s warning by Agabus, a prophet from Judea.
And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. Acts 21:11
It is important to understand that the Holy Spirit did not forbid Paul to go but He did warn him what would happen if he went. This was similar to the forewarning Jesus spoke of to Ananias about Paul in Acts 9:16. Yet, the Lord honored Paul’s heart and desire to go and be willing to suffer for Jesus name sake, despite His several warnings.
Only once did the Holy Spirit forbid Paul to go somewhere when the Spirit would not allow him to go into parts of Asia to preach the word.
Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. Acts 16:6-7
These parts were later visited by Peter as described in 1 Peter 1:1.
All the other times the Holy Spirit did not forbid Paul but instead, as a loving and concerned Father, warned him what would happen if he persisted to do what he wanted to do instead of heeding the warnings. Ironically, in a way, he was still kicking against the goads.
Was it God’s plan for Paul to go to Jerusalem and be arrested and bound? No, it was Paul’s own doing and choosing. Was it the Lord’s will as they said when they realized that Paul had made up his mind and told them that he was willing to go and die for Jesus name sake? Not initially or the Holy Spirit would not have warned him exactly what would happen if he did go. But it became the Lord’s will when It clearly became established as Paul’s will by his own mouth. God honored Paul’s choosing to sacrifice himself for Jesus’ name sake.
As a father myself, it would not be my desire for my son to join the army and go into battle and risk being killed. But if that is what my teenage son said he wanted to do, I would sit him down and warn him of the danger and that he could lose his life if he pursued this particular career path. If after my stern warning, he stood up and said that he was not only willing to fight for his country but even to die for it, I would back off my warnings to him and instead support him and his decision. Why? Because it is his conviction and it is his life. I have no business going against his will or what he decides to do with his life. But he will bear the burden of his decisions as well as the full responsibility and consequences. And because I know that he is a believer, I would rest assured that even his death will not harm him. As a much better Father than I could ever be, would our heavenly Father respect our decisions and commitments any less?
When does God ever force or override our will? Did He force your will to become a believer? No, that was your choice. And once you were a believer, did He force your will to believe a certain way? No, again He let you decide how fast or how slow you wanted to grow in your faith. Did He force you to be baptized in water? No, that was your choice from you heart to declare to the world that you now belong to Him. Did He force you to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? No, he let you decide when you wanted to and were ready to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Did He force you to speak in tongues? No, he left that choice up to you and even when you decided to speak in tongues. Has He ever forced you as to how you must serve Him? No, he leaves that entirely up to you and let’s you choose exactly how little or how much you desire to serve Him from your own heart even to reckless abandon, casting all caution to the wind and if so, even His desire and will for your life.
Are you getting the picture? The only choice you had nothing to do with, is that we did not choose a Him, He chose us.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. John 15:16
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Ephesians 1:4
All of our choices, He leaves completely up to us so that we may be free to choose for Him that which we are willing to sacrifice for His name’s sake. As much as Paul accomplished in his life, could he have possibly accomplished more if he had more closely followed Jesus instructions? Possibly, but we will only know that once we get to the other side. What we do know is that had he heeded closely Jesus’ commission to go directly to the Gentiles instead of first going to the Jews, he would have been spared a lot of unnecessary suffering and persecution. We also know that had he heeded the Holy Spirit’s warning by Agabus, he would not have been imprisoned or had his life cut short.
But this was Paul’s passion and a thousand wild horses would not have stopped him. This was Paul’s reckless abandon because he was head over heels in love with His new Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Who could possibly argue with that? Certainly not Jesus, nor the Father, nor the Holy Spirit who all sat back and watched with sheer delight how much Paul was willing to prove his love for the One who had set him free, the very One whom Himself had rushed to His cross to give Himself for His brethren as a sweet smelling sacrifice unto His Father.
Now, let us go and do likewise.
PS: here is an excellent dissertation on this same topic by Ray C. Stedman: Paul’s Mistake
Franciscus M. Dartee
Grow in Faith | Walk in Power
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