How Not to Seek the Lord's Will

Be overconfident.

Acts 21:15-26 (ESV)

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.

When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

The brothers have devised a clever plan to keep the Holy Spirit’s prediction from coming true. Really. What were they thinking?

Their brilliant plan is for Paul to pay the expenses for four non-Jewish converts to shave their heads and join Paul in offering a sacrifice at the temple in accordance with the rules of a Nazirite vow. This will show that Paul is not teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses. Since he is promoting observing Mosaic custom even for non-Jews, they all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.

Wait ‘til you see what happens next.


This seems almost unimaginably stupid. Notice that the passage doesn’t mention them praying to seek God’s will. What were they thinking? Not seeking the Lord’s will, that’s for sure.

This looks like overconfidence. The apostles assume that they’re the good guys and that interferes with their humility. They’re not staying mindful of their fallen human nature. That’s a sure path to pain.

But we’re just as dumb as they are. Yes, we’re making progress throwing off the old self and putting on the new self, but it’s not much relative to the goal.  We’re far from a finished work.

Memorizing doctrine isn’t enough; we need to take a close look in the mirror.


The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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