We all know about the other side: the other side of a coin, the other side of the moon, and if you have more than one child, the other side of the story. The other side is a good thing. If we’re seeing just one side it means our perspective is fragmented, partial, and incomplete. Seeing the other side brings richness, depth, and understanding. We encapsulate this principle into maxims like, “The other side of freedom is responsibility,” or “Plan the work and work the plan.” Jesus spoke of the other side when He said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).
Luke has some interesting “other sides” for us to contemplate in the first part of Acts 21. Paul is concluding his third missionary journey. He’s traveling to Jerusalem with the contribution he’s collected for church there (Romans 15:25-26). He sails across the Mediterranean and lands at Tyre (Acts 21:3), where he meets the disciples there and stays a week. Luke informs us that “Through the Spirit, they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (v. 4).
At face value this seems pretty straightforward—God, through the Spirit, is telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. But appearances can be deceiving, and in truth, such conclusion is premature because it is the result of seeing only one side. Paul and his companions go on to Caesarea where a prophet named Agabus tells him he will be bound and turned over to the Gentiles (v. 11). But Agabus doesn’t forbid Paul from going. In fact, he seems to be speaking to the people around Paul as much as he is speaking to Paul.
Is it possible that this is also what was going on in Tyre? Through the Spirit the disciples were being told what awaited Paul in Jerusalem, and they consequently urged him not to go. That seems to be the case because we’re told in v. 14 that when they are unable to convince Paul not to go they say, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Something they wouldn’t say if they were convinced it was God’s will for him not to go to Jerusalem).
And with that, they let go of what they want for Paul and give him to God. Turning things (and people) over to God is a powerful thing to do and one of the reasons the church in Acts is so dynamic. Too many times in our prayers we never get to this other side—we spend all of our time telling God what we want and as a result, the church is weak and ineffective. You can’t experience this power until you pray “Your will be done.”
Paul had previously spoken of being “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem (20:22). He also said that the Holy Spirit warned him in every city of the imprisonment and hardships that awaited him (v. 23). That’s exactly what happened at Tyre and Caesarea. It makes for a more complex situation though—if the Spirit is compelling Paul to go to Jerusalem, why is He also stirring up people who will urge Paul not to go?
I think the explanation takes us back to our “the other side” theme. God is fully disclosing what awaits Paul. He wants Paul to know (see 9:15-16) as well as the other disciples. We see Paul fully disclose when he tells disciples “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22). God wants His people to see the other side! He’s not gloom and doom about it (and neither are we to be), but He lets us know up front that being a follower is more than sweet songs and lovely fellowship (Luke 9:23-24). We’re not only called to believe but also to suffer (Philippians 1:29). God isn’t looking for religious consumers but disciples of Jesus.
This is the other side of God being with us. Luke spends quite a bit of time showing us that God is with His people (Acts 2:17ff, 4:31, 5:32, 18:9-10). But he also shows us people who are with God. They are not with God because they are uninformed, following superficially, or anything like that. They have counted the cost and committed themselves to being with God—come what may.
This is the church functioning as the body of Christ. Luke tells us at the beginning of Acts that his first book (The Gospel of Luke) was “about all that Jesus began to do and teach” (1:1). The implication is that Acts is about what He is continuing to do and teach through His body, the church. Luke has shown us here that the church functions powerfully as His body when they see the other side.
They weren’t satisfied to see one side and we shouldn’t be either!