“For the love of Christ compels us, . . .” – 2 Corinthians 5:14
What are you willing to endure to reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Maybe you thought from the title that this was to be a teaching on enduring personal hardship or suffering. We are often willing to endure great trials without sacrificing our faith in God. Unexpected terminal illness for us or loved ones are storms many have gone through while maintaining their faith in Jesus. Injustices, prejudices, persecutions, tragedies, betrayals, losses, disappointments, dissatisfactions, are all things we chalk up to living in this fallen world. We bear these and help others to bear them while still maintaining our walk with the Lord.
But all those things are primarily self-related. The Lord helps us, me, you, by His grace, through such hardships. “No temptation [or trial] has overtaken you except such as it common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [or tried with a trial] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’’ (2 Corinthians 12:9a). Isn’t it all about “me”? No, it’s not.
Something we often overlook is that the suffering that Paul speaks about was for the furtherance of the gospel. Just peruse his humble list of hardships he suffered for the furtherance of the gospel in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Can we honestly say that the gospel is why we endure our difficulties? Isn’t enduring for us more for the personal prospect of eternal life instead of eternal damnation? If we suffer, but never witness or share the gospel, isn’t this evidence of a private isolated faith that really isn’t endorsed by the Lord? Shouldn’t we have a deeper more eternal motivation for our faith? Shouldn’t we have a more sacrificial, a more loving motive for what we endure? “And though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long…” (1 Corinthians 13:3-4). When we endure is it for love? Or am I enduring just for me? It’s something for us to think about.
Matthew 5:13–16 (NKJV) – 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
We are called by Jesus to shine in a dark world and bring a certain holy flavor and purifying presence.
Matthew 10:32–33 (NKJV) – 32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
During persecution and hardship, Jesus calls us to confess Him before people.
And Jesus said:
Luke 6:27–28 (NKJV) – “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
We may frequently recite Jesus remark that His disciples would be known by the love they show for one another (John 13:35). We can live with that. But what we often forget, sometimes willfully, is that Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. That would include those who have rejected the gospel and who outright oppose the gospel.
In the Book of Acts, Paul was driven to go to Jerusalem. This was by no means because the people in Jerusalem liked him most or it was where he had experienced his greatest successes. In fact, of all the places Paul ministered, Jerusalem was the one place he had little success in. Why then did Paul have such a persistent desire to go to Jerusalem? What drove him so passionately? What drives us? What drives you?
Two things need to be in mind here. First, in Acts 20:24 Paul said he knew that “chains and tribulations await me.” But then he adds, “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 had been warned by the Spirit and fellow believers that hardship lay ahead for him if he went to Jerusalem. But nothing, not even being bound, chained, or tried severely, was going to prevent Paul from preaching the gospel (cf. Acts 20-21 context). The gospel is not always preached to friendly people. Sometimes the gospel must be preached to those who hate us. Paul knew from personal experience that the gospel can change the staunchest of enemies of Christ. He had been one of them. His attitude was that if he could be converted to Christ, anyone could. Paul had a deep burden for the lost.
Secondly, Paul had an even deeper burden for his lost countrymen, the Jews. In his letter to the church in Rome Paul shared, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9:1-5). That’s quite a statement by Paul, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren. . ..” Paul’s heart was grieved that those who had been given so much by God, had failed, and even refused to accept His Son Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah. Now, there was and is no need for us to step in and be “accursed from Christ for my brethren,” Jesus has already atoned for the lost. He became a curse for us (Galatians 3:10-13). But catch Paul’s sentiment, his passion for the lost. Do we have such a passion for souls? Do I? Do you?
It is this heartfelt burden for the lost of Israel that is behind his driving force to go to Jerusalem. Paul is driven by a burden for his brethren’s salvation. A passion for the lost should drive all of us. Are you willing to put up with persecution and opposition to share the gospel with those who might hate you in response? Paul is an example of how we should be willing to put up with anything, and not be moved away from our sharing the gospel with the lost, even our enemies.
We are too often deterred, and our attention diverted from sharing the gospel because of petty nonessential distractions. We think that no compromise whatsoever is ever a good thing. But there are times where compromise on nonessentials is essential to sharing the gospel with the lost. When Paul finally arrived in Jerusalem, that is exactly what he was called upon to do, compromise. There is such a thing as “good” compromise.
Acts 21:18-25 – 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;21 “but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.22 “What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.23 “Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.24 “Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.25 “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
Paul met James and the church in Jerusalem. He shared his testimony of what the Spirit had done among the Gentiles through him. But Paul shared with the leaders how the Spirit was winning souls to Christ. That is always encouraging. A testimony of what the Spirit does in your life is always encouraging to those who hear it. Christians should share often what the Lord is doing in their life. Share with others what the Lord is doing in and through you!
Paul recounts the ministry the Lord had been doing amongst the Gentiles (21:18-19). But as Paul fellowships with the Jerusalem church brethren, he is told of a slur by his opponents that accused him of teaching that Jews should not circumcise their children. At first glance this may appear to be an accurate statement, but it is not. Paul taught that relying on circumcision to save a person was a dead ineffectual work of the flesh, but he did not prohibit altogether circumcising the children of Jews according to their customs (21:21; see Romans 2:17-29).
There is a time for compromise. One should never compromise on the essentials of the faith such as the gospel, deity of Christ, authority of God’s word. But there is a time when compromise in nonessentials may be called for to further the gospel. The solution posed by the Jerusalem church leaders was that Paul should pay the expenses of “four men who have taken a vow” (21:22-23). Then Paul was to join these men in submitting to purification rites which would be a good will gesture that “you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law” (21:24). Gentiles weren’t required to abide such practices, but only to “keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality” (21:25). Paul was not compromising his faith in Christ by doing this, only complying with practices which would keep the door open to minister Christ who felt strongly about such practices.
Paul’s Vow – Becoming All Things to All Men
What we have here is a situation that is similar to what Paul wrote the church in Rome about. In Romans 14 Paul addresses a hypothetical situation where those who are weak in faith believe it is important to refrain from eating meat that had previously been offered to pagan idols. Leftover meat that was sacrificed to pagan idols was sold in the market. Some Christians believed eating meat that had been offered to idols was a sin akin to partaking in the worship of those idols. Other stronger in the faith Christians felt it was just meat and probably on sale and had no problem eating it. Paul’s message in the chapter on this issue was, “let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Romans 14:19). He said the stronger Christian should restrain his liberty to preserve the faith of the weaker Christian. “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense” (Romans 14:20). In other words, don’t let incidental minor issues undermine the essentials of edifying people in their faith. In the end Paul says, “whatever is not from faith is sin,” or let each person be governed in these nonessential things according to their faith (Romans 14:23).
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he clearly states that observing days legalistically, or to attain righteousness, is a wrong way of thinking (Colossians 2:11-23). He talks about circumcision, food and drink, festivals, new moons, sabbaths which “are a shadow of things to come,” but then adds, “but th substance is of Christ” (Colossians 3:17). He shares how observing such things lends itself to a “false humility” (Colossians 2:18). His conclusion about such rituals and religious practices is, “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). So Paul picked his opportunities to speak straightforwardly and to the point about such things, but he would never risk ruining or wrecking a person’s faith by way of secondary issues.
Therefore to keep the door of ministry to the Jews open, Paul follows the advice of James and the other brethren to fulfill a vow of purification, which is likely a Nazarite vow (21:20-26; Numbers 6:1-7; see also our discussion in Acts 18). These actions are not evidence of a compromise in Paul’s life but a willingness to be all things to all men. To the Corinthians Paul was moved by the Spirit to write:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”
Paul was willing to sacrifice his personal freedoms to have a door opened to share the gospel and minister to the lost. This was the Holy Spirit at work in him to present him in a way that would open a door to ministry. The Holy Spirit presents us as all things to all men that by all means some might be saved. What is the Spirit speaking to you about that would enhance your use to the Lord and possibly open a door of ministry to those around you? What are you willing to sacrifice, what freedom will you forego, to reach the lost?
The Spirit Persists and the Religious Continue to Resist
Sometimes, even though you try to do all the right things, you still meet with opposition. That is what Paul encounters here. It must have broken Paul’s heart to be rejected by his brethren for whom he had such a burden for their salvation.
Acts 21:26-36 – “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.
Paul purified according to the Jewish ritual would proceed to the temple. You weren’t allowed into the courts of the temple unless you had been through certain purification rituals. Today when climbing up the southern steps to the temple mount there remains the Mikveh, or purification baths used by pilgrims going into the temple area.
Paul would make an offering. There were various offerings under the Old Covenant: Sin offerings, burnt offerings, peace offerings. For Paul, because of Christ, the sin offering would have been an appropriate offering to make. But he might have made a burnt or peace offering which were made to commune with God and show one’s consecration.
27 Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him,28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
When one entered the temple mount there were courts. There was first the Court of the Gentiles, then there was the Court of the Women. Then there was the Court of the Men. Lastly there was the Court of the Sanctuary where sacrifices were made and within that the Holy of Holies. Around the Court of the Women there was a wall and on the wall signs were hung warning Gentiles to keep out and if they did go beyond that point, they would be put to death. To go beyond the area of the Gentiles, the gentile would be responsible for their own death.
Paul was being accused of bringing Gentiles beyond the prescribed point and therefore desecrating the temple area. Paul hadn’t done that, but he was being accused of doing that. The enemies of the gospel will often stoop to false accusations to persecute the gospel messengers.
30 And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.
Again we see the religious try to undermine the work of the Spirit through Paul. The Spirit persists in presenting the gospel to the lost, even the religious lost; and the religious continue to resist Him. The religious were so caught up in their legalism that they missed the good news the Spirit through Paul was trying to present to them. Paul was accused of defiling the Temple by bringing Gentiles beyond the outer Court of the Gentiles into the inner courts of the Temple precincts.
31 Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.32 He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.33 Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done.
Just as Agabus had predicted, Paul was bound with chains in Jerusalem. They were seeking to kill Paul and were beating him. When the Roman commander came they stopped beating Pual and Paul was put in chains.
This was a serious civil disturbance. Josephus tells us that for feast days Jerusalem would be crowded with up to two million people. One of the prime duties of Roman soldiers was to keep the peace. That was the law of Rome, Pax Romana. A vast empire could not afford insurrections that challenged their order and rule. Therefore, this was a serious situation.
34 And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.35 When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, “Away with him!”
Again we see that the result of religion is not order but “tumult,” a sure sign that they are not following God’s plan (21:34; 1 Corinthians 14:33,40). This is the sixth time a riot started because of Paul’s ministry (14:19; 16:19-22; 17:5-8, 13; 19:25-43). The accusations brought against Paul were like those brought against Stephen (21:27-36; 6:11,13-14). There can be little doubt this mob desired to do to Paul what had been done to Stephen (Acts 7).
As the riot gathered steam, news of it reached the Antonia Fortress situated to the north of the Temple and soldiers were summoned to go and control the crowd. In the expansive Roman Empire rioting or insurrection was always viewed as a serious threat to the peace of the Empire and a potential challenge to their governing authority. Therefore, when a riot started it was met with serious attention by the Roman military (21:31-32). It is the governing authority that is used by the Lord to save Paul and the shouts of the crowd, “Away with him!” reminds us of the shouts against Christ years before (21:33-36; Luke 23:18; John 19:15).
The Spirit Provides an Opportunity to Share the Gospel
Acts 21:37-40 – “Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I speak to you?” He replied, “Can you speak Greek?
Paul’s father was Greek and therefore he had evidently learned Greek. Paul was a gifted communicator.
38 “Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?”
Unsaved government officials often assume the wrong things and Paul needed to clarify who he was. This led to an opportunity to share the gospel with those opposing him.
39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.”40 So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,”
Picture this situation. Paul has made every effort to avoid controversy, but it finds him anyway. A riot breaks out where a mob is trying to tear him apart and beat him to death. Is Paul afraid? Does he panic? Does he want to run away? No, no, no. Instead, Paul wants to speak with his attackers. The peace and courage Paul demonstrates amid chaos is evidence of the presence and anointing of the Holy Spirit in his life.
Paul was not about to let a little disturbance stop him from completing his heartfelt desire to share the gospel with his fellow Jews. And so the chapter ends with Paul about to do so. It was because Paul walked in the Spirit that the chaos and confusion around him did not distract or deter him from presenting the gospel. When you walk in the Spirit you have received the peace of God (Romans 5:1) and you have peace with God (Philippians 4:7). This peace enables you to be alert, unshaken, to stand firm in the Lord and be effective for Him though the world around you is in tumult.
Paul was very well educated being able to speak more than one language (21:37-40). There is a place for education in ministry. The problem is that many equate ordination with education. Ordination is an anointing from the Lord. Education is an academic achievement. The two are not necessarily linked. Ordination is God’s anointing and call on a person’s life that the church recognizes (sometimes in formal ceremony). The church does not ordain a person, God does. Education is something that can be edifying if done in the Spirit, but like anything else, it often is corrupted and is done in the flesh proving to be a contradiction of the Spirit and His work.
Sometimes we can make every effort to avoid controversy or offense, but controversy and offense still finds us. Turmoil, upheaval, disorder, and rioting are all strategies of Satan to undermine the furtherance of the gospel. In such situations we need to remember, like Paul does, that “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). God can take what is intended for evil and use it for good (e.g. Genesis 50:20).
How much are you willing to endure? How much would you endure to share the gospel with the lost? Do you have a passion for souls? Do you realize that the reality is that people who die without a saving relationship with Jesus will spend eternity in what God refers to as the Lake of Fire (cf. Revelation 20). Eternal life and eternal torment are the only two options that lie before every person.
Why did he have such a passion to share the gospel with the lost, even those trying to kill him? The answer to that can be found elsewhere in his writings where he was inspired to write, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). For the Christian, appearing before ethe judgment seat of Christ means receiving rewards for what we have done in the name of Jesus once we become a Christian. But for the unbeliever who dies without the benefit of forgiveness for their sins through faith in Jesus, they face a terrible alternative.
In Revelation this terrible scene is described. The Final Great White Throne Judgment is described like this:
Revelation 20:12–15 (NKJV) – 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Paul had this vividly in mind when he shared the gospel. He was inspired to write, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences” (2 Cor. 5:11). Contrast this with the New Heaven and New Earth, a holy environment where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes,; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4). Do you see now what Paul saw regarding the two doors of destiny that stood before the lost? Do you see why he was so burdened?
But what motivated Paul? What was the nature of that fire in the belly to share the gospel with the lost? He goes on to say, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Love, Christlike love was the compelling passion for Paul, and he was inspired to assert, such love should compel us in all we do, especially sharing the gospel with the lost. Without love, “I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Paul had a burden for sharing the gospel with his lost brethren. But there was a dilemma. Israel and his brethren the Jews, and really the entire lost world, could not hope to be saved from their sin and final judgment unless the gospel was shared with them. See what Paul said about this:
Romans 10:1–4 (NKJV) – Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Paul knew that zeal was not enough to save a person. Zeal without knowledge is fanaticism. They needed to know the truth of the gospel.
Romans 10:8–13 (NKJV) – 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Here is what you must believe to be forgiven for your sins and receive eternal life. Have you believed in your heart that Jesus has risen from the dead? Have you confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord? Salvation takes place in the heart. Do you believe in Jesus with all your heart? To confess Jesus as your Lord means you have forsaken your sins, you repent of your sins, turn away from your sins to God and receive forgiveness for those sins based on the just sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to pay your debt of sin (Romans 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:21). To confess Jesus as Lord is to affirm you live for Him. Have you done this? If not you remain in your sins and are destined for hell. If you have believed and confessed, you are saved and there is no more condemnation for you (Romans 8:1).
All of this is in response to God’s gracious provision, not a product of our efforts. We only receive in faith. The salvation Paul preached was by grace through faith not our works (e.g. Ephesians 2). I want to make that clear. And because it wasn’t a work of keeping the law or some other human effort, there could be a certainty that one is saved. When you depend on your efforts, you never know how much is enough. But when you depend on the finished work of Jesus, you can be sure of your destiny because Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The work of salvation is completed. We need only receive it by faith in Jesus. We know its true and just because He rose from the dead demonstrating effectual victory over the final enemy, death (1 Corinthians 15).
Romans 10:14-15 – 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 1:15)
But here’s the problem, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” If no one cares enough to tell the lost about Jesus, they will have no decision to make. Without the gospel being shared, they will remain hopelessly lost. Therefore, of those who share the gospel it is said, “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” Do you see now why Paul was willing to endure riots and persecution and attacks and trials of all kinds? How much are you willing to endure? How Christlike is your love? How much are you willing to endure to share the gospel with someone destined for an eternity in hell? What temperature is your love?