Acts 20:23—“Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”
“And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:4)
“Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem…” (Acts 21:11, 12)
“And they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.” (21:30)
What you just read was the Apostle Paul’s path to getting out of the will of God.
God’s will for Paul was that he be the "apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11) But here we find him returning to Jerusalem to preach to the Jews who have already made it clear they've rejected the gospel.
Paul had good intentions and was justified in his own eyes in going against the will of God (Acts 20:24) This proves that even the greatest of Christians is in danger of getting out of the will of God for his or her life. Further, it proves Satan can take advantage of your good motives, burden for souls, and willingness to suffer for Christ, and use those things against you to get you out of God’s perfect will.
This is accomplished when the Christian takes those positive things and forces them in a self-gratifying direction, rather than in a God-gratifying direction. A good thing can be a bad thing if it isn’t done FOR God, God’s WAY.
It's clear that God has His ideal plan for the Christian’s life. It's also clear that He doesn't MAKE a Christian follow that direction, but leaves it to him to choose to do things his own way, or God’s. That places every Christian in one of three categories---His good, acceptable, or perfect Will (Rom. 12).
Now, all those sound pretty good (even “last place”) because they are! Christian, your worst day saved is better than your best day lost! The very worst condition you could find yourself in as a Christian, you're STILL on your way to heaven, right?
But is the fact that you are on your way to heaven the only thing that matters?
Is having your destination fixed the only thing to consider when planning a trip? Isn’t how you get there important? Isn't the time it takes to get there important?
A farmer down in Alabama was discussing the profit-potential of his herd of swine with a buddy. He said to his friend, “Now, if’n ah take ‘em hogs over ta Atlanta, ah can git me a dollar sixty-five a pound on the hoof far ‘em.”
His buddy said, “Well ‘at sounds purdy good.”
“But hold on,” the farmer continued, “if’n ah was ta take them thar hogs over ta Omaha, ah done found out ah could git me a dollar SEVENTY-five a pound on the hoof far ‘em.”
“You talkin’ ‘bout Omaha, Nebraska?” his friend asked.
“Yep, ‘at’s the one.”
“Naw, you gotta think about the time, man (he spits). Lookie here: Atlanta’s right across the state line…not 75 miles from here; but Nebraska’s clear over on the other side of the country! Now, time is money man! You gotta think about the time it’d take you to get ‘em hogs to Omaha.”
The farmer looked at his friend and said just as sober as can be, “Shoot, man; WHAT’S TIME TO A HOG?”
I submit to you that the world has it wrong when they say, "the destination isn't important, only the journey.” But Christians have it wrong when they emphasize the importance of the destination, and then dismiss the importance of the journey! They dispense with their road map, and forget about HOW they will arrive, and in what condition!
Folks, according to the Bible, the journey is almost equal in importance to the destination. It shows clearly that (2 Timothy 2:5) "... if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully."
The sin of the “contemporary mentality” (the modern view of building a church) is old-fashioned pragmatism—“the end justifies the means.” Let’s take for granted the modernist preacher actually has good, if misplaced, intentions (many of them just want to build a following and cash their checks). He says to himself, “We have to get as many people as possible to ‘love Jesus’ and live their ‘best life now’ where ‘every day’s a Friday’, so let’s do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get people into the building and God will bless us for our motives and effort!”
Well, of course God wants people to come to His Son for salvation; but the verse above reminds the Bible-reader that God has also mandated how the Christian is to win the lost sinner and disciple him, and God’s approach is not “whatever it takes.”
God will not cut corners, sacrifice His holiness, or diminish from the truth, even if it means saving a soul. A man has to approach God on GOD’S terms, not his own, and God has made His terms perfectly clear. No one is doing God a favor by throwing the Bible out the window in order to pack out a stadium with a bunch of Americans who are either chasing money or impressed with those who have it, and calling it a “church.”
So, God is just as concerned with HOW you are “striving,” as He is THAT you are “striving.” Further, It's plain that however important it is that you're on your way to heaven, it is equally important HOW you live on the way.
I was on my way to meeting a while back and had to catch a plane—sick as a dog. Sicker than I've ever been in my life. Can I tell you that, the shape I was in, I DIDN'T CARE where I was going. I wasn't worried about the plane taking me where it said on the ticket. I was suffering so badly I couldn't think about it!
Is that how you're living your Christian life? Is that how you want to live it?
I know some Christians trying to get along outside the will of God who are in such misery, THEY DON'T CARE IF THEY ARE GOING TO HEAVEN ANYMORE. They're not able to enjoy thoughts of heaven, they're so entangled with problems down here. And that's what living outside the will of God will bring—more problems than you can imagine.
It astonishes me how some Christians think. "It's too much trouble and sacrifice to live a committed Christian life. I'll just quit on God, or just back off a little (that's the real temptation) and just go do what I want, and enjoy myself like somebody that's lost."
What, lost people don't have problems?
The difference between a crucified life, and a selfish life lived outside God's will is NOT that one is a life of trouble, and the other is a life of ease. BOTH are lives of trouble. The real difference is, do I want a life where God handles my problems for me, or a life wherein I HANDLE MY OWN PROBLEMS?
Now, what are the problems that come with getting out of God's will? Well, they're too numerous to count in detail, but let me show you a few obvious problems ANYBODY who gets out of God's will will certainly have.
First of all, when you get out of God’s will, you will bring displeasure to God.
Paul’s problem was, he’d been warned exactly what God wanted him to do over and over again, and he still chose to disobey God’s warnings. Disobedience is a displeasure to God. When you disobey God, you immediately begin to color outside the lines of His will.
Disobedience is never justified—even when you have a good reason. A woman was pulled over by the police and fined for not having a driver's license. When she stood before the judge, she had a good excuse. She explained, "I only drive on roads with very little traffic, and NONE of those roads lead to an office where I could apply for a driver's license!”
Her “good reason” gained her nothing; she still had to pay the fine.
God has the big picture in mind, and you don't need to understand His will to obey it, you simply need to OBEY it.
Years ago, the US Army's North African Command got a new General named Montgomery. Many battles had been lost in that region, and Montgomery quickly discovered the reason—every order was questioned by subordinates right down the line. To fix things, Montgomery said, "If we're to win the battle, ORDERS SHALL NO LONGER FORM THE BASIS FOR DISCUSSION, BUT FOR ACTION."
I understand Paul's reasons for disobeying and getting out of the will of God. You could even call them noble. Maybe you've got some good reasons of your own for getting out or staying out of His will. But just so you know, you're letting God down and fighting a losing battle.
God sees everything that’s going on in the battle at once, and you don't. And if you're saved, you're a soldier in His army who's to be where the Commander needs him to be, when he needs you there, no questions asked. The song says, “Trust and Obey.”
During the Civil War, General Lee, commander of the Southern forces, one day sent word to Stonewall Jackson that, the next time he rode in the direction of headquarters, the General would be glad to see him on “a matter of no great importance.” General Jackson received the message and immediately prepared to leave the next morning. Rising very early, he rode the eight miles to Lee's headquarters against a storm of wind and snow, and arrived just as Lee was finishing breakfast. Much surprised, Lee asked why Jackson had come through such a storm. General Jackson replied, "You said you wished to see me. General Lee's slightest wish is a SUPREME COMMAND to me."
My, how Christian lives would change were they to approach living for God with that attitude! Most of the time, Christians expend their energy trying to figure out just how much devilment they can get away with and still be recognized as “Christians,” rather than taking what may appear to be God’s mere suggestions as supreme commands—opportunities to please Him. If God gives you a clue He might not be thrilled with something, you and I should stay AFAR OFF FROM IT.
Secondly, when you get out of the will of God, you place yourself in harm’s way.
Look back at Acts 20:22, 23, along with 21:26-32, and notice the sure enough MESS Paul gets himself into.
Now, it's one thing to “suffer for righteousness' sake” (1 Pet. 3:14), but it's just a downright drag to suffer when you don't have to!
God sometimes places his children in a position where it hurts in order to teach them patience, or how to comfort others who are in the same kind of trouble, or how to have more faith in Him—but Paul’s is a case where God's trying to protect him from danger and harm.
A lot of folks try to "play it safe" by not sticking their necks out to serve Jesus Christ. They are scared that, if they give their lives or their children’s lives completely to the Lord, the first thing He’ll do is call them to Saudi Arabia or to the heart of a jungle filled with cannibals where they will be martyred. Better to stay home in the western, civilized world where it’s safe. Make no mistake, the SAFEST PLACE TO BE is where God wants you to be, doing what he wants you to do.
Missionary Ronny Doss started many churches and ran orphanages down in the country of Honduras for years. There were dangers on every side from the indigenous animal population where they lived—spiders the size of basketballs, poisonous snakes dropping down into the baby’s cribs from the rafters above, scorpions in your boots if you didn’t dump them out before putting them on in the morning, tarantulas on the wall while you’re showering—yet, he spent all those years down there without major incident. One summer, on a short trip to his home state of Alabama, as he was preaching, a Brown Recluse spider (one of the most poisonous in North America), crawled out of the pulpit and bit him. He almost lost a leg from the experience!
Now, Bro. Doss wasn’t out of the will of God doing what he was doing, but it goes to show you, you can be PROTECTED in extremely dangerous circumstances, and in grave DANGER in what might seem to be very protected conditions. It all depends on what God allows, and what He doesn’t—not YOU’RE perceptions of danger or safety. So I say again, the safest place for you to be is precisely where God wants you to be—protected in His Hand.
Paul is arrested, beaten, jailed, and placed on a ship to Rome that ends up sinking in the Mediterranean, all because he refused to heed God's warnings and left the safety net of the will of God.
"I'm afraid of what He might have me to do or where he might have me go if I submit to do the will of God”. You better quit being afraid of DOING His will, and start being afraid of NOT doing it!
Somebody said, ”It's better to take a risk, than to spend your life where you don't want to be."
Alright, in getting out of the will of God, you not only let God down, and place yourself in harm's way, but thirdly, you lose your assurance.
"And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” (Acts 23:11)
There's a certain peace that God gives you in your life when you're doing right and following His will. The peace doesn't come from circumstances (it could be chaos in your life!), but when you’re in God’s favor, deep down, you know everything's going to be ok.
You lose that when you get out of His will. It's not that God will no longer have mercy and take care of you—you’re just not SURE He will! You've lost your assurance.
When you sin and get out of God's will, guilt takes over where peace once reigned and fear takes the place of courage and confidence. And it's sometimes a long while before the Lord "let's you off the hook.” He'll put you through some trouble to remind you how much you NEED HIM.
Human nature is such that we don't miss things till they're gone. Paul went through his arrest, his beating, and his imprisonment, and his judgment without so much as a WORD from the Lord. Look at the passage and show me where Paul is in fellowship with God. It isn’t there. God is standing by and watching Paul do things for himself. Weeks went by with the Lord giving him the silent treatment. God finally let him off the hook, but that was an awfully rough way to go for a while! And Paul knew the whole time that it was unnecessary.
Lastly, when you get out of the will of God, you let God down, you place yourself in harm's way, you lose your peace and assurance, and finally, you lose the most valuable thing you have—time. (24:24-27)
Paul testifies before the chief priests, he's cross-examined, he's hauled in and out of the court, and finally he testifies before the Governor Felix and his wife; and after they hear him, Felix leaves him to rot in jail for TWO YEARS.
You lose time when you get out of the will of God. How much time do you think you’ve lost, doing things your own way and living for yourself? I know Christians who’ve lost 10, 20, 30 years. And IF (that’s a big “if”) they come to their senses and try to get back in the game, they discover they simply cannot do what they once could have done.
There are also some invisible consequences when you get out of the will of God. The problem is—they are invisible! You'll NEVER KNOW what could have been different, how much better life would have been, how much more you could have done, how many others could have benefitted, what greater GLORY GOD COULD HAVE RECEIVED from your life, if you spend time outside of His will.
That's why I believe God has to wipe away all the tears from our eyes after the judgment seat of Christ. At that day, we aren't judged for our sins, and there is no fear of going to hell—why the tears? The answer is, BECAUSE OF WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN.
Maybe you're out of the will of God right now. If you’re out, you KNOW it.
If you’ve gotten out of the will of God, behold, NOW is the accepted time to get back in. Turn to God in prayer and tell Him you’re ready for things to be RIGHT for a change.
Maybe you have made some mistakes that can’t be reversed. Don’t despair that you can’t “put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
Perhaps you will remain in God’s acceptable will, rather than His perfect will—that’s beside the point now. Don’t get mentally bogged down in the reminiscent mire of “what might have been.” What’s important now is that you commit to God whatever you have left and “be of good cheer” (Acts 23:11). God’s always got a purpose for you, no matter where you’ve been or where you are in life, if only you’ll let Him use you TODAY.
Quit playing around before you waste the life God gave you.