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NKJV Acts 20:16 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.
17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 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.
(NIV) Acts 20:22 22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.
Modern day Christians, and most other people do not like to use the word compelled today. Instead we like to use words like freedom, and liberty. These words give some measure of peace and even purpose. But the Apostles of Christ knew that even freedom did not come without great cost. In fact freedom in Christ was paid for by the blood and the life of Christ Himself.
It never ceases to amaze me how far we come from the original message of Christ and the purpose for which we are saved. I pray that this message will serve as a reminder that Paul, and the rest of the Apostles never came to Jesus for freedom to live their lives on their own terms, but to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were compelled to do this by the Holy Spirit that lived in them.
The word compel means to force or oblige (someone) to do something. It means to bring about some kind of change by use of force. This is not an idea that Christians seem to cherish. We want to believe than because of God’s grace we no longer have to answer to anyone. But if we are to be like Jesus who is our Lord, we must know that even Jesus did not always do what he wanted to do.
In Gethsemane Jesus prayed that the cup of death, and humility be taken from Him. But thankfully the Spirit won over the fleshly desire to attempt the salvation of the world by some other means. He concluded his prayer by asking that the will of the Father be done rather than his own will that is the will of His human flesh. Even Jesus Christ had to reject the worldly idea of freedom in order to give us real freedom from God’s perspective, that is freedom from the effects of sin. We need to be reminded of this from time to time, because it has become popular to hear many Christians declare that the Spirit led them to do things that are so adverse to the experiences of the early church.
As we will learn, to be compelled by the Spirit means to be bound in mind and indeed to complete the mission that Christ has given each of us on earth. We really need to refrain from saying anything different.
In our text today Paul was nearing the end of his third missionary journey. He would soon be facing imprisonment and death. Paul summoned the elders of the church together to share his feelings about his life. He talked about how the Holy Spirit had been at work in him. (Acts 9:17-18). (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
Now, Paul makes an important statement about what was ahead of him. He states that the Spirit of God was still at work in his life even then, but the Holy Ghost was not directing him to slow down, or take the easy way out. In fact as we know from history, the Spirit was leading him to Jerusalem where he would meet death. We I consider this, I have come to the conclusion that in these times we need to define what being Spirit led really means as so many of us have come use the term so loosely.
A few weeks ago a group of people stormed the capitol building putting the lives of many elected national leaders at risk. One of the people in the building made this statement: ‘(I)’found a little spot, and there was a glass door, and it said ‘US Senate’ on it. I said I need to get in there. I just felt like the spirit of God wanted me to go in the Senate room, you know.”
Apparently he assumed that he was there to ‘plead the blood of Jesus’ over Washington and the nation, because in his mind we really needed it. Now he has been charged with with illegally entering a restricted federal building, and violent or disorderly conduct. Clearly some Christians are in need of pastors after God’s own heart, who can rightly divide the word of truth about what the Spirit of God actually compels us to do.
Here is the deal. I am calling on Christians everywhere to stop blaming the Holy Ghost for things that they want to do. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Holy One. God has granted us the His Spirit to assist us in doing His will plain and simple. One sure way to tell if it is the Holy Ghost telling you to something is to be honest about whether that thing is in complete alignment with everything we know about God. If is isn’t we might want to continue to pray and seek God before we finally take action.
When Mel Gipson produced the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’, he said that he felt the Holy Spirit was working through him to complete the project. I for one was excited at the time to hear someone say that publicly in a way that might cause people to see Christ outside of a church setting. However some of the things that he has said and done since don’t jibe with that of being a Spirit led believer. (I say this knowing that none of us is perfect, but invoking the Holy Ghost will always place your life in a fish bowl of sorts). We need to know this when we talk about being spirit filled belivers. People are going to watch what you say and do, especially those who are haters of Christ. Let’s not give them something to talk about if at all possible is all I’m saying.
From Paul’s testimony about being led to go to Jerusalem we can learn some valuable lessons about how the Holy Ghost empowers us to do God’s will. (Acts 20:18-19). (Lk 24:46; Acts 1:8; 2:32).
1) First and foremost Christ has empowered us to be His witnesses in the earth. It is also very clear from scripture that being a witness means more than what we say to others about Jesus. It also involves living a lifestyle that exemplifies Christ Himself.
Acts 1:8 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Philippians 2:12-16 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.
To Paul being a spirit led believer meant to live differently, (in other words holy), in a world that is warped and jaded. The next time you say the spirit told me to do something you should ask yourself how your actions promotes Christ, and how those actions look to unbelievers.
Paul reminded the elders one last time how he himself behaved in their presence. (Acts 20:17-19). We are not only witnesses for Christ. We are witnesses ‘unto’ Him as well. This means that people should be able to see Christ in the things that we do. I will say it again. Christian behavior matters! Since lifestyle is important we need the Holy Ghost to help us to live Christ centered lives. The only way that this becomes possible is with the help of the Spirit. (Ro 8:13; Ga 5:16).
2. The Holy Spirit also helps us to declare the gospel message to everyone without partiality. (Read vv.20-21). Paul’s testimony was that he ministered both publicly and from house to house. He declared it to Jews and Gentiles. He was committed to doing so without prejudice, racism or malice to anyone. By the way, this did not happen overnight. The Holy Spirit worked on him, (and others including Peter), until he was able to transition from favoring those who were like him, to preaching to every one.
One of the tragedies of the church world presently is that with all the talk of the Holy Ghost moving among us, there are still too many Christians invoking the Spirit and the Name of Jesus to promote hatred and racism. We hear it everyday, but this is not how God moves by His Spirit. Paul was committed to reaching everyone and we should be too. (Lk 4:18-19). (Acts 1:8; 4:31, 33).
Jesus called the Holy Ghost the ‘Spirit of Truth’. We really need to make sure that only truth is associated with God’s empowering Spirit. I am growing perturbed with people who have found this new phrase to use to promote things that are so adverse to what I know about God.
3). Finally Paul shows us that the Spirit of God compels us to do God’s will in spite of any hardships, danger, or ostracism it may bring. Paul did not preach the modern day prosperity message, or that God wanted everyone to be happy. He preached to ‘open the eyes of the Gentiles so that they my turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18)
This is a message will get you killed if you are not careful, but Paul was not trying to be careful. He simply wanted to complete his mission. This is why he was so effective and powerful. Preaching like this would bring trials and persecution. (Acts 9:16). But thankfully Paul was filled with the Spirit, and the Holy Ghost compelled him to carry on even when he knew that death was imminent. Today we tend to augment our message when people stop giving, or threaten to leave the church. Still, so many of us claim to be Spirit-Filled Believers.
Many prophets warned Paul against going to Jerusalem. Indeed the Spirit of God also confirmed what would happen there. Yet the same Spirit empowered him to go nonetheless. That is a powerful paradox that we need to consider today. To God, the mission was more important than the comfort or even the safety of those who were called to preach Christ. The gift of prophesy is so powerful, but the gifts of God were only given to us in order that the message of the gospel would be preached.
I have been preaching for over 40 years that the Holy Ghost comes to do much more than make us speak in tongues, and rejoice. Simply put it is the Spirit of God, and the Lord empowered us with it to complete the work that He began. I pray that we as a church and all of us as individuals will also be compelled to do what Paul, Peter, and others did with all of their hearts. That is, to be His witnesses both in word and in deed.
What is the Spirit compelling you to do today?
Bishop Horace Ransom Jr. is the Senior Pastor and Founder of New Covenant Church International in Detroit, Michigan. He is a Jurisdictional Bishop and serves on the Board of Presbytery for the Jabula International Network, North America. Bishop Ransom is an outstanding teacher of the Word of God with a passion for challenging believers to become the best that they can be. Faith, Purpose and the Kingdom of God are frequently the subject matter of his dissertation.