Formations 05.28.2017: The Lord’s Will Be Done

Acts 21:7-14

Ruins of the Byzantine Church in Caesarea

About poems, the poet Richard Hugo says there are two subjects—the triggering and the real. The triggering subject compels the poet to write, but poets must uncover the real subject as they write.

Though the triggering subject is necessary for creation, Hugo recognizes that writers’ perceived responsibility to it may stop a poem before it even starts. He describes someone who sets out to write a poem titled “Autumn Rain,” writes three lines about an autumn rain, and spends the rest of the poem analyzing what was written in the first three lines.

But Hugo also describes a different type of stubbornness. This type of stubbornness resists the urge to control the poem’s meaning. Instead, it pays more attention to language’s music than to its logic and moves from place to place and from voice to voice as the language directs. Naturally, we may be concerned that such writing leads to nonsense. But Hugo responds, “In the world of imagination, all things belong. If you take that on faith, you may be foolish, but foolish like a trout” (5).

There is no question that both Paul and Philip are stubborn people of the latter type. Over the past month, we’ve seen Philip model this stubborn openness to following the Spirit. It has led him to serve the church in Jerusalem, to experience community with Samaritans and an Ethiopian. And now we see that it has led him to family life in Caesarea. Paul’s stubbornness, too, is evident in this week’s passage as he refuses to listen to those who love him and insists on traveling to Jerusalem.

Just as Hugo’s instructions often lead to poems that don’t quite fit together, in this week’s story, Philip and Paul respond to Agabus’s prophecy differently. On one hand, Paul agrees to go to Jerusalem, while the local believers and those he traveled with insist that he must not go. While Paul responds out of his love for God, his fellow believers respond in a positive and loving way that seeks his care.

Eventually, however, those who disagree with Paul recognize that “the only thing [they] could say was, ‘The Lord’s will be done’” (v. 14).

At least to me, their affirmation sounds less like a theological statement and more like a sign of their exasperation. And yet, the same stubbornness to love God and each other—and that caused conflict—leads those believers beyond frustration to continue together as the people of God (v. 16). Even if they couldn’t tell it at the time, the writer of Acts recognized their statement as an honest, if perhaps unintentional, recognition that when all is said and done, God’s will remains.

Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979).

Discussion

• Where in this passage does encouragement enable the work of the Spirit? Where in this passage does encouragement inhibit the work of the Spirit?
• How has stubbornness, both your own and that of people around you, been an encouraging force? How has stubbornness been a source of discouragement?
• How can we support others in ways that fully encourage their freedom to follow God?

Reference Shelf

Agabus’s Prophecy

When Paul’s companions and the local residents hear the prophecy, whose truth is assured by an earlier fulfillment of a prophecy of Agabus (11:27-28), they beg him not to go up to Jerusalem (v. 12). But Paul resists them. “I am prepared not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 13; cf. Socrates’ resistance of his followers’ pleas to avoid his death—Plato, Phaedo 116E-117A). Since Paul will not be dissuaded, his cohorts say, “The Lord’s will be done” (v. 14; Luke 22:42; Martyrdom of Polycarp 7:1). The paragraph shows that for Luke what will happen in Jerusalem is a part of the divine plan. That Paul and his friends know ahead of time what to expect allows them the opportunity to submit to the divine will, as Jesus did. This is the Pauline Gethsemane. It shows that suffering may be a part of the divine will for his servants, even though they be Spirit-empowered (Luke 3:21-22; 4:16-19; Acts 9:17). It shows, moreover, the Spirit-filled person’s submission to the divine will, whatever that may be. If it is to return to Ephesus (18:21), that is fine; if it is to be imprisoned and die in Jerusalem, that must be done (21:13).

Charles H. Talbert, Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 185.

The Community and the Spirit

The community plays a crucial role in the interpretation and application of Scripture and, with that, the discernment of the will of God. Though Acts is not reticent to speak of visions offered directly to key individuals to guide these persons in discerning the divine will, the community consistently plays an important role in legitimating and sanctioning such visions and personal experiences. An obvious example would be the role played by the Jerusalem church in offering legitimacy and sanction to the mission to those who were not Jewish (cf. Acts 11, 15). It is not an exaggeration to say that the Spirit finds its voice in the voice of the community (cf. Acts 15:28).

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 24.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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