We have been studying Acts, which is the history of the church in its early years from its beginning in Jerusalem until the time that it became founded and formed in Rome. So it's the sweep of Christianity as it begins in Jerusalem and sweeps across the Gentile world to Rome. The history of the church is not the history of events, but it's the history of people.
The church catalyst in the early years was Peter. And soon after that, we met people like Philip and Steven. And then there were others unnamed. And then we met the Apostle Paul. And starting in Acts 13, everything was about Paul. And we see him in combination with Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and Luke. And now, Paul is filling out the rest of the Book of Acts in his ministry.
As we come to Acts 21, he is concluding his third missionary tour. He is on his way back to Jerusalem. And woven into the history and this narrative are principles that apply to life. So the Book of Acts has become for all of us, a precious and practical instruction manual on the life of the church and the believers inside.
And we have seen examples rather than precepts, and great principles that are applicable to our lives. And in Acts 21:1-15, we have seen the courage of conviction as kind of a focal point. Paul is a man of conviction, and that conviction needs to be transferred to us. We are not talking just about commitment, but more about a life that is committed.
We can learn more from Paul based on what he does than what he says. What makes it so powerful is that he does what he talks about. If we study the epistles of Paul, we get all that exhortation, which is good. But when we study Acts, we can say, "This guy believed that. He made it operable. And here are the results of it." That gives application to this information.
Now Paul expressed his commitment in Acts 20: 22-24, “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Paul says, “I have a ministry that the Lord gave to me. I'm going to fulfill that ministry, and I don't care what the price is." Now the issue is this: Can you practice what you just preached? At stake is the issue of the supreme lordship of Jesus Christ in the life of a believer. It is about my submission to His supremacy and my obedience to His Lordship.
God knows what it is He wants us to do. And we have been given the opportunity to fulfill that ministry. The question is whether we submit ourselves to that Lordship totally and thereby accomplishing our job. Now dedication begins with a conviction, and then secondly with the courage to see it through. And there are different levels of conviction or commitment.
First of all, there is the incomplete commitment. In other words, you are committed up to a point if it doesn't get too scary, or if it doesn't really intrude on my schedule a lot, or if it doesn't conflict with my own self-desires. For instance a man by the name of Demas. He was a good fellow, or Paul wouldn't have chosen him as a companion.
And Paul loved him, which says something else about his character. And he accompanied the Apostle Paul on certain ministries with apparently some degree of involvement and success. But then Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” If you're struggling in your life where you do not obey the Lordship of Christ, you are not committed.
The second type is an insincere commitment. This is the verbal commitment that is not followed through. Peter said, "Lord, whatever happens, I will die for you." And when given the opportunity, he denies Christ on three occasions. That is an old word, defined in Scripture under the term hypocrisy. This is all talk and no action. This is all pretense and superficial.
A classic illustration was a couple named Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, who wanted to be treated as holy people. So they said to the church, "We will give all we have from the sale of our land to the Lord." But then they gave only a part, and kept the rest for themselves. And Peter said, "You have lied to the Holy Spirit." And God took their life and they both died. Many people who want to appear pious but who are really not.
The third kind is an intermittent commitment. It all depends on which day you talk to them whether they are committed or not. And the extreme form of it is in the church of Ephesus, in Revelation 2:4, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” These are the ups and downs of Christianity. And very often, the downs take over, and they just subsist at that low level.
Now God's choice for his people is not an incomplete, an insincere, or an intermittent commitment. God's choice is a total, constant, and full commitment, the kind of dedication that continues, no matter what happens. And Paul was this kind of a man. He had convictions, he was committed to them, and it didn't matter what the consequences were, he had the courage of conviction.
And he did not have a different Holy Spirit. He had the same resources all Christians have. So don’t say, "I'm no Apostle Paul." Well, he did not start as the Apostle Paul either. He began as Saul of Tarsus. It was the Holy Spirit that made him like that. And you are nothing either, neither am I, but we both have the same Holy Spirit. So in His power, you have been given that same ability. Are you going to use it?
God desires that we all have the courage of conviction. All other kinds of commitments are worthless. Jesus established the norm when He said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Commitment means that you only think about what God wants, which means to deny yourself. Yes, but that's for spiritual giants. No, it is for normal Christians, you and me.
We see in Paul that the courage of conviction has four features. First, the knowledge of purpose. You cannot be convicted to fulfill something if you don't have a purpose. Secondly, it can't be diverted. Thirdly, it pays any price. And fourthly, it affects others. Paul put it this way: "That I may know Him." Or maybe the objective can be to walk in the Spirit. There needs to be a godly goal.
Paul was a man of conviction, and his goal was Jerusalem. He was going to get there with that offering. What's so big about delivering the money? Well, he felt it was important to unify the church, and to meet the needs of the poor saints in Jerusalem. Secondly, it can't be diverted. Now once the conviction is established, the courage comes.
Paul also fulfilled prophecy. Acts 9:15-16 says, “But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” God didn't say, "I'm going to make him suffer." God said, "I'm going to show him how much he is going to suffer." God promised to reveal to Paul his sufferings before they came.
God was really confirming to Paul that He was still in charge of his life. God was still right on course in spite of what he knew was going to happen. See, how well God prepared him for that? God just fulfilled the prophecy all along. So Paul was not disobedient, he was following the leading of the Spirit of God.
Now in the Bible, there are a lot of people who illustrate a lack of this kind of courage. Such a person is portrayed in Acts 13. There was the first Gentile church in Antioch, their pastors were Barnabas, Simeon, Niger, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul. They were all God-blessed men. But God wanted to sent Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey.
Now they took with them a guy named John Mark, who felt the call of the mission field. And in Acts 13:13, “Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.” John Mark saw the Taurus Mountains, where all the robbers that inhabited the caves of those mountains were, he simply quit.
Now Paul was a strong man and had a difficult time tolerating weakness in anybody else. And so when he heard the suggestion to take John Mark again, he refused. The last time he didn't have the courage to go with them. So Paul and Barnabas split up. God used that for His glory, because now He had two teams. Paul took Silas, and Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus.
Thirdly, the courage of conviction pays any price. This is where John Mark blew it. Most of us probably have already done that many times. It may be as simple as this: you know you should share Jesus Christ with somebody, but because of your ego, you don't want to be rejected or embarrassed, so you don't do it. Or God wants you involved in a ministry, but that would diminish the time you need to make more money, etc.
Let’s come back to Acts 21:7, “And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day.” So now their ship had crossed the Mediterranean and docked at Tyre. And they went from Tyre 27 miles to Ptolemais, either by ship or by walking. They have only one day there, but they maximize it.
Paul did not waste any time. You can imagine that he taught them, that he shared with them, he listened and solved some of their problems. He worked with them, this was his kind of life. This wasn't his congregation, but at the same time, he felt a spiritual obligation to maximize his time for them.
Verse 8, “On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.” Caesarea is west of Jerusalem about 70 miles. It was the port of Jerusalem in Bible times, not now. Today you have to go south of Caesarea about 20 minutes to the port of Tel Aviv, which is the largest city in Israel.
Caesarea was a Roman city, the headquarters of Pilate and the Roman Garrison. It was a fortified city and remained so throughout many centuries, even to the time of the crusaders. And the Jews even considered it, though it was in the territory of Israel, to be almost a foreign city.
We entered the house of Philip the evangelist who was one of the seven. What seven? The seven in Acts 6. Remember that the first church grew so fast, they didn't know what to do. By Acts 4 there were 20,000 people in the Jerusalem church already. So they chose seven deacons in Acts 6:5, “Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas.”
This is the same Philip who is also mentioned in Acts 8:5-8, “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by him, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 8 And there was great joy in that city.” And in Acts 8:40 it says, “But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.”
Philip was an evangelist. That's the only time that anybody has been given that name. He started out as a deacon and now he is an evangelist. Remember this principle: God honors those who have been faithful in little things. If you want to be used by God, let God lift you up to a ministry of the future. Just be faithful now.
Paul arrives in Philip's house and lives with him. And he had a few extra days until Pentecost in Jerusalem. Did you know that Philip had met Paul indirectly 20 years before? Under what circumstances? When Paul was persecuting the church, Philip was one of the ones who ran out to Samaria. And now Philip hosts Paul in his own home as a brother in faith.
Imagine the joy meeting his original persecutor and knowing what Paul had become? Galatians 1:22-24 says, “And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. 23 But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God in me.”
The first guy who started non-Jewish evangelism was Philip. He preached in Samaria to the half-breed Samaritans. And while preaching there, the Holy Spirit said, "I want you to go to Gaza," which is the desert. He obeyed and there he met the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah and led him to Christ and baptized him. That was the first gentile convert.
So Philip was the predecessor to Paul. God used Philip to begin what Paul expanded. And the two ministries in the church now are evangelism and pastoring. The work of an evangelist is to plant churches. So look what happens. Verse 9, “Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.”
Now the gift of prophecy functions in two capacities. One, in terms of revelation, and two, in terms of proclaiming the truth. Maybe Luke, the author of Acts, is hinting to their involvement with him. He didn't have firsthand experience of everything, so the Holy Spirit had to get it to him using revelation. Paul, after he becomes a prisoner is shipped back to Caesarea for two years.
So Luke would have time to talk with these girls. An early church father by the name of Papius said that Philip's daughters were commonly known as informants on the early history of the church. The historian Usivius, also quotes Papius to support the fact that these four girls were used to transmit revelation of the Holy Spirit.
The real issue in courage here is the word “trust.” If you do not follow up on your commitments, you do not trust God and you have dishonored God, because you are questioning God's faithfulness. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to determine your goal, and then live committed to that goal, Amen? Let us pray.