Did Paul Stray from God’s Will? - The Warrior's Journey®

Did Paul Stray from God’s Will?

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

. Photo by is licensed under CC By 2.0

“Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:4) 

Does this verse indicate that the Holy Spirit told Paul not to go to Jerusalem?  Just look at how disastrous his visit turned out. He landed in jail. Doesn’t this imply that Paul should have spent his efforts doing something more fruitful for the Kingdom of God.   

Yet it seems incomprehensible that Luke, the author of Acts, would highlight any mistakes of Paul – or any of the apostles. If anything, Luke’s purpose is to use Paul’s example as a demonstration of sacrifice, courage, and dedication – to inspire believers in the face of persecution. For what kind of soldier runs from the noise of battle? 

Paul’s trip to Jerusalem was no act of willfulness or recklessness. Before the Ephesian elders Paul confessed that he was “compelled by the Spirit” to deliver the gift from the Gentile churches to the church of Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-23). This was part of the course which God had set before him (Acts 20:24). Furthermore, Paul knew from the time of his conversion that he would suffer many things from the hands of the Jewish people (Acts 9:16). Yet, his modus operandi had always been to preach the Gospel first to the Jews of the synagogue. Only after they opposed and persecuted him did he turn to the Gentiles. His trip to Jerusalem was in perfect conformity with this M.O. 

But what about Acts 21:4, “They urged him through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem”? All this verse is telling us is that each time the Holy Spirit testified that bonds and affliction awaited Paul (Acts 20:23-24), his companions piggy-backed on the message with one of their own. “Please don’t go to Jerusalem.” The same was true of Jesus, when He tried to prepare the disciples for the crucifixion that awaited Him in Jerusalem. Peter piggy-backed on that message with one of his own. “This shall never happen to You” (Matthew 16:21-23).  Jesus sternly rebuked him. Besides, look at Acts 21:14, “We gave up and said, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’”  They, not Paul, had to acknowledge Paul’s decision as God’s will. 

Nor was the outcome of Paul’s visit a disaster. As a result of his trip, Paul was able to testify about Jesus to the Jews at Jerusalem (in the temple), to King Herod Agrippa, and to the Roman Procurators (Felix and Festus). Plus Paul would eventually travel to Rome at the government’s expense and with an armed escort. True, the journey would be fraught with peril. But Paul would give a powerful witness for Christ all along the way. And during Paul’s long captivity, he would author a large portion of the New Testament. Paul’s incarceration proved to be a huge boon for the Gospel.  


  • Do persecution and adversity indicate that we have strayed from God’s will? 
  • Since we are called to be soldiers of the Lord, should we run from conflict? 
  • Let’s heed God’s word to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:9) 

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