Acts 21:1-16 Messy New Covenant Fellowship

Acts 21:1-16

Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem with Messy New Covenant Fellowship

Ezekiel 36:25-27

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Jeremiah 31:33-34

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The glorious promise of the New Covenant of the gospel of the kingdom promises the removal of a heart of disobedience that is unloving to God in order to replace it with a new heart that loves God and wants to obey and has his truths/laws written on it.

The New Covenant promises the Holy Spirit to dwell in each person.

The New Covenant promises that each one will know the Lord and that our sins will be forgiven to never be remembered again.

That’s good news!

We see the fulfillment of that promise in Acts 2 when the Spirit is sent by the Lord Jesus as he said he would do and a New Covenant community is born.

In this community, there is no longer one priest to whom all look, but now all know the Lord, sons and daughters prophesy, young men see visions, old men dream dreams, the whole covenant community is empowered and gifted to advance the cause and everyone outside the kingdom who calls on the name of the Lord is saved and brought in to be sons and daughters.

We now live in that “end of time” season. We live in the “restoration of all things” and this time is marked by the fact that all of God’s people know him and can walk with him closely.

However, each person knowing God and walking with God can create some challenges that require discernment, unity, love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and perhaps a letter or two from an old crusty apostle (Bible/Paul’s letters to help reign in and lead and instruct Spirit-filled communities) to keep things in order and guide present and future life together under the word of God.

We, together in fellowship (think RL groups), can mix Spirit led insight and personal longings that are not sin, and that can lead to conclusions by multiple people that are opposite.

Such is the case in our text today with Paul and those who follow Jesus who minister alongside him.

Paul addressed this kind of life together in 1 Corinthians 12-14. A Spirit gifted community that has to navigate the waters of Spirit enablement and “flesh” and love for one another that subjects itself to authority, mission and unity.

It would be so much easier to just have a “Gentile” system of small group/community life that lord’s power down through chains of command and the underlings just smile and wave and depend on the group’s teacher to tell everybody what to do.

But Jesus said that the great are servants, the last are first.

In the kingdom all of Jesus’ people are given complementing gifts and the way forward in community is to love patiently, kindly, not being envious, not boasting, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful, but rejoicing in the truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping in all things and enduring all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

We get a sample of that kind of life together under the Word as Paul journeys to Jerusalem to deliver the aid to the church that he has collected and as he lives life in New Covenant fellowship while on that journey.

What do we see? What does it mean?

An Early Look at New Covenant Community: The believers had differing interpretations of what they were hearing, they submitted to one another in love, and the church commend all to the will of the Lord in peace

Notice: It was clear that the Spirit was telling them all that hard times awaited and some interpreted that as Paul should not go.

Acts 20:22-23; 21:4, 10-12

It is interesting that here, as in Caesarea (10–12), believers received through the Holy Spirit some indication about what was about to happen to Paul. In both cases, however, the human interpretation of this divinely granted insight, while understandable, was wrong: they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. Paul correctly relied upon the insight granted to him, and the other believers had to reinterpret their own prophetic insights to fit with that. When the Holy Spirit warns that something is going to go wrong, it is not necessarily the case that he is saying the attempt should not be made.[1]

This should be a warning that even if we are shown that a ‘door will close’, it does not necessarily mean that we should not attempt to go through it. Some must have thought that Paul was being disobedient to the clear leading of the Spirit, but Paul had the courage to stand firm and would not be dissuaded. In the end, everyone could agree on the formula The Lord’s will be done, and thus they parted.[2]

  • You will, as a group, have insights for each other and are going to have to wade through what those all mean and how to apply those insights.

It was clear that Paul understood hard times awaited but that he should go.

Acts 20:22-23

  • Paul in no way wavered on getting the offering to Jerusalem.
  • Paul didn’t rebuke his friends for having a contrary opinion.
  • Paul did express his love for the church in the fact that their begging him to not go was breaking his heart.
  • Paul reaffirmed his desire to lift up the name of Jesus.

Conclusion: There is a clear display of love for one another, each obeyed what they knew and they trusted the Lord to determine what should come about

Acts 21:13-14

  • Awaiting difficulty should not be interpreted as “don’t go through with the plan.”
  • They did not come to agreement. They submitted to one another peacefully.
  • No one sought to “win”, everyone sought good for the other.
  • No one compromised what was “right”. Do not buy into the fellowship killing lie that your insight is “truth” and everyone else’s insight is not in line with the truth. Unless there is a clear Scriptural mandate being abused, then one must be careful in applying “truth” to their insight. We should not confuse or application of truth with the truth itself.
  • Everyone had good intentions and everyone believed the best of each other.

How do we obey?

  1. Recognize it is no contradiction for us to hear from the Spirit and the Word and come to differing conclusions on what to do with that truth.
  1. We must all be convinced with a clean conscience having been informed by the Word and the Spirit as we walk with the Lord and each other.
  • This is not a negative. This is a positive. This kind of community causes us to 1. Believe the best about each other and each other’s intentions 2. Submit to one another in love 3. Obey what we believe based on how Holy Spirit is moving our conscience 4. We can still be together and unified although not in conformity with each other’s individual practices.
  1. Watch out for manifestations of the “flesh”

Galatians 5:18-26 (ESV) “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

  1. Let love for each other point us toward what we believe is good for each other and leave room for any good way to be chosen.
  • Its one thing if a person chooses clear sin. Its another thing when people choose one of 2 or 3 good options.
  • Our love for each other should compel us to be gentle and open with each other.
  • Our love for each other should compel us to not share everything on our hearts but only what lifts up. It’s selfish to share everything just so you can get it out when that information may hurt or cause doubt. This is called restraint.
  • Our love for each other should cause us to pray that regardless of the tactics chosen that the Lord’s will would be done in spite of our tactics.



[1] Conrad Gempf, “Acts,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1099.

[2] Ibid., p. 1099.

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