Paul’s Travel Toward Imprisonment and Affliction

Acts 20 records Paul’s activities when he finished his work in Ephesus and  then traveled to Jerusalem with other brethren. There was so much Paul was busy doing during those weeks that the historian did not mention (which is understandable), but had he done so, Acts 19-20 would have been full of the writing of his three major letters (1-2 Corinthians; Romans). In those letters, he detailed his efforts to fulfill the desires which the Jerusalem brethren had expressed to him so many years before.

In Galatians 2 Paul mentioned his meeting with the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church when brethren had dealt with the issue of circumcision and the role of the law for Gentile Christians. The brethren had given Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship recognizing the authority Christ had given Paul (Galatians 2:9). The brethren made one single request: “only they would that we should remember the poor which very thing I was also zealous to do” (Galatians 2:10). The journey to Jerusalem, the company of men who traveled with him, and the three letters he had written all had some connection with the need of Jerusalem saints and Paul’s rallying Gentile churches to fill that need, fulfilling the earlier request of brethren there. He had written Galatian churches and the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:1), and brethren from Macedonian had responded enthusiastically also to the contribution. Ephesian Christians as well as others from Asia also participated. There were seven men traveling with Paul and Luke making the company number at least nine. These men were the messengers of the churches (2 Corinthians 8:23) and included brethren from Galatia (Timothy and Gaius), Macedonia (Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Luke), Ephesus, and Asia (Tychicus and Trophimus). No messenger was specifically named from Corinth but since brethren from there did have part in the offering (Romans 15:26), either those messengers were traveling with the company but left unnamed or, as more likely, brethren in Corinth had chosen to entrust their offering into the hands of the messenger of another church.

For Paul the trip, along with the offering being carried to Jerusalem, was of epic proportion. He knew the eminent danger in his going there. Even as he traveled, the Holy Spirit through various men had warned Paul “that bonds and afflictions awaited him” (Acts 20:23). But those dangers could not offset the significance of this offering he would deliver to the elders.

Perhaps some have thought that Paul disobeyed God when he went to Jerusalem because of the many warnings He gave him (Acts 21:10-14), but I do not agree. I do not consider the warning a commandment that he should not go, but rather a warning of the dangers which he would experience if he did. Consider the request Paul made of Roman brethren that they pray for him that he might be delivered from the disobedient, and that the gift he was bearing to Jerusalem might be acceptable to the saints. Paul knew the animosity which existed between Jew and Gentile. This animosity was not always removed when they became Christians, and he knew there was the possibility that because of that animosity the saints in Jerusalem might refuse the gift Gentile churches sent them. Thus, the gift would not only serve to fill the physical needs of brethren; it could be a bridge to a greater bond of fellowship for them. Should that happen, for Paul that was far more important than any personal injuries he might suffer.

In Romans Paul wrote of the great sorrow in his heart because of the unbelief in his nation in the Messiah God had prophesied of and sent: Jesus Christ. He wrote, “For I could wish that I myself was anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsman according to the flesh…” (9:2-3). But Paul could not be anathema for them because Jesus had become a curse to make the appropriate sacrifice for the removal of their sins. However, their unbelief kept them from sharing in that pardon just as it would have in any sacrifice Paul might make for them. Paul could not do something for them that even Jesus could not do. Yet, in a sense, for his Jewish brethren in Christ (and for his brethren in the flesh), he did give up his liberty and ultimately his life because he chose to go on to Jerusalem despite all warnings he received of the dangers there. Nowhere in the records of Paul’s life after his imprisonment was there ever even a hint from Jesus that Paul had been disobedient in the matter.

For Paul, the completion of the offering was a matter of greater significance than any personal loss he might experience as the consequence of the completion of this mission. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, than that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In this matter Paul demonstrated the love he had for his nation by the personal trials he suffered. These were a consequence of his decision to personally accompany the delivery to Jerusalem of this generous and gracious gift Gentile Christians had made for Jewish saints.

Jim McDonald

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