Sticking to our convictions..what Paul can teach us.
Leaders make loads of decisions. People expect them to. They need to.
But leaders also make many personal decisions.
Paul made a decision to go to Jerusalem. At this point, he has made significant impact all through West Asia and Southern Europe. We read in Acts that his decision was called into question twice.
Fellow believers in Tyre “through the Spirit” urged him to abort his plan (Acts 21v4). Later in Caesarea, a prophet named Agabus shared that Paul would be captured and subjected to godless men. Again fellow believers tried to dissuade Paul but he refused to budge so that they had to admit, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Acts 21v14)
The rest of Acts is a record of Paul’s tumultuous trip to Jerusalem, the severe troubles he faced there which led to his arrest first in Jerusalem then to Caesarea; and finally to Rome after a two-week long storm. The episode ended on this note:
“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Did Paul make a mistake by insisting on going to Jerusalem? He had consistent trouble with Jews who saw the gospel as an aberration and threat to the Jewish faith; but to walk into the headquarters of Jewish religiosity seems foolhardy. We can speculate about what greater good would come about if he continued with his missionary efforts rather than wait around for justice – first under Felix’s, then Agrippa’s charge. More than four years of waiting for a proper trial.
But many scholars believe that it was this last period of house arrest that afforded Paul the time to compose his many epistles. In the letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul refers to the many he talked with while under arrest; including members of Caesar’s household.
We do not know for sure what happened to Paul.
William Barclay in his commentary:
“And so the Book of Acts comes to an end with a shout of triumph….Now the tale is finished; the story that began in Jerusalem rather more than thirty years ago has finished in Rome. It is nothing less than a miracle of God. The church which at the beginning of Acts could be numbered in scores cannot now be numbered in tens of thousands. The story of the crucified man of Nazareth has swept across the world in its conquering course until now without interference it is being preached in Rome, the capital of the world. The gospel has reached the centre of the world and is being freely proclaimed…. (“The Acts of the Apostles,” 193)”.
The grand narrative of God’s Kingdom pushes on forward. Paul’s personal narrative is part of this. We may never know how things would turn if Paul listened and changed his mind. But God’s grand narrative will march triumphant on.
As leaders, we sometimes follow our convictions and find ourselves in hot soup. We may even struggle with shadows of ‘what-if’ and wonder if we have listened to all counsel etc.
Our hope lies not in our ability to decide with full accuracy, for it is not possible. However, we can learn from Paul that choices require conviction, and sometimes others may not support our convictions. We also learn that our choices and decisions – when it is to obey God – can take us to surprising and hard places. But our heart’s desire must remain unmixed, and we must not waver: we must continue to proclaim the Kingdom.
This means it is good that we do not fixate on our decisions and choices as much as we watch our hearts to stay committed to the core of our calling. If we are faithful, we shall be fruitful.