Understanding God’s Will

Throughout Luke’s account of Paul’s hurried trip to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 20:1-21:15) a common refrain is repeated… Paul would suffer in Jerusalem. Despite knowing it was God’s will for the apostle not only to go to Jerusalem but suffer there, his friends kept trying to keep him from going to the city. Let’s explore why they were wrong to do this and along the way we’ll learn how we can better understand God’s will for our lives.

Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem:

  • 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 | Didn’t originally plan to go
  • 2 Corinthians 8:19 | Changed his mind and decided it was best to go
  • Acts 20:22-23 | Paul said he was constrained by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem
  • Acts 21:4 | The disciples at Tyre, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, testified to the persecution that awaited Paul in Jerusalem and pleaded with him not to go.
  • Acts 21:10-11 | The prophet Agabus dramatically foretold that in Jerusalem, Paul would be arrested and handed over to the Gentiles (Romans).
  • Acts 21:12 | Hearing all this, Paul’s friends tearfully pleaded with him not to go to Jerusalem, despite the fact it was God’s will for Paul to proceed to the Holy City.

Why did Paul encounter such pressure from his friends to go against what they knew was the will of God?

a. God’s will is less about being in the right circumstances and more about being the right kind of person.
b. 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 | The popular way of thinking about God’s will is that it involves having the right circumstances. This way of thinking is exhausting because we’re constantly searching for the “right place” to serve God. However, Paul pointed out that circumstances have very little relation to our ability to live out God’s will.
c. Romans 12:1-2 | We can know God’s will because it’s more about being the right kind of person regardless of our circumstances.
i. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 | God’s will is that we live sexually holy lives.
ii. Ephesians 6:5-8 | God’s will is that we’re sincere in our conduct
iii. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 | God’s will is that we constantly rejoice, pray, and giving thanks
iv. Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 2:13-17 | God’s will is that we’ll do good and avoid condemnation and win commendation that shuts the mouths of critics.

a. Too often people think that if life is hard, or hurts, or doesn’t make us happy it must not be God’s will for our lives. We must not make God’s will for our lives conditional on our own happiness or sense of completeness. Rather, we should yield ourselves to His plan for us.
b. Matthew 6:10 | Jesus taught us to pray to God, “Your will be done.” We must submit our lives to God’s purposes, plans, and glory even when they may seem hard.
c. Matthew 26:36-46 | In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus poured out His heart to the Father for another way instead of the cross. Yet, He ended each prayer yielding to the Father “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
d. Romans 15:30-33 | Paul prayed for deliverance from the unbelievers in Jerusalem. Yet, he was willing to submit to God’s will for his life.
e. Act 21:13-14 | Hearing Paul’s resolute attitude, his friends finally yielded to God’s will saying “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

a. The love and loyalty of Paul’s friend was commendable – they wanted to preserve their friend from hardships and even death. But ultimately, they were looking out for Paul’s best interest but not God’s.
b. 1 Peter 3:13-17 | If God’s will is that we suffer, it’s in the hardship of our circumstances that enables our hope to shine brightest.
c. Acts 23:11 | Paul’s arrest and persecution in Jerusalem opened the door to proclaiming the gospel to people he would have otherwise not encountered, even Caesar himself. Paul would eventually make it to Rome (Romans 1:9-11; 15:23) with the blessing of Christ, despite his chains.

Despite his friend’s urgings, Paul held firmly to God’s revealed will and did it! “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” (Acts 21:13). The apostle Paul trusted in God’s sovereignty. He believed God knew what He was doing when He sent him to sure arrest and persecution in Jerusalem. The apostle withstood the pressure and followed God’s will. May we all do the same when tempted to doubt God’s will for our lives because they are hard, or hurt, or are unhappy. Let us understand, and hold to this truth, that God’s will is less about being in the right circumstances and more about being the right kind of person.

Digging Deeper:

1.If you had witnessed all the people warning Paul not to go the Jerusalem what would you have told him to do (Acts 20:22-23; 21:4, 10-11)? Explain.

2. What impresses you most about Paul’s single-minded and radical devotion to God’s will (Acts 21:13?

3. How might you be able to model his dedication to God?

4. Why do you think it is hard to see God’s will for our lives less about the right circumstances and more about being the right person?

5. This week spend time prayerfully considering your reaction to life’s circumstances and praying “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

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