Acts 20:22 – Constrained by the Spirit

As I read this chapter and prayed about what I would share with you today, the main thing that got my attention about this chapter was verse 22, specifically the phrase, “constrained by the Spirit.” So my message today will be focused on verse 22. Before I begin, I’d like to say that I always thought the story in the first part of the chapter about the boy falling and dying from Paul’s preaching was interesting. I hope nobody dies from my preaching today! Something else is, while I was preparing I began to pray. And instead of praying for God to show me what he wanted to teach you (because I always have this idea that when Pastors prepare to preach they always asked God to show them what to preach/teach others), instead I prayed that God would show me what he wanted me to learn. This is what the Lord has taught me and I hope God speaks to you as well.

Paul – Review

We are first introduced to the man Paul in chapter 9 of Acts. His name was Saul and he was a persecutor of the church. In Acts 9:1-19 we read about Paul’s conversion, and in verse 20-22 Paul preaches the gospel for the first time.

  • Chapter 13:1-4 says that Paul was set apart by the Holy Spirit to work for God. Later in verse 9 it says that Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
  • Chapter 14 with the power of God Paul heels a man that is crippled, and then is dragged out of the city and stoned. (It also mentions that the very next day Paul preached the gospel again).
  • Chapter 16 Paul through the power of God heals a servant girl of an evil spirit, then gets beaten, then gets thrown in jail. While in jail God does a miracle and a jailer gets saved.
  • After this Paul travels to many other cities to preach the gospel, chapter 17, 18, 19, and now in chapter 20 are all about Paul preaching the gospel, working hard, risking his life, and being faithful to God and that call that was on his life.

Speaking to the Ephesian Elders

In verses 17-38 Paul is speaking with the Elders of the church in Ephesus. Paul has now been serving in Asia for quite some time. Now, preparing to leave for Jerusalem, he addresses the elders. An interesting thing to note about this speech from Paul is that it is the first speech recorded in Acts by Paul delivered to believers. All of Paul’s other speeches were delivered either to Jewish non-believers or to Gentile non-believers. This speech is important for us today because Paul reflections on his ministry and how God uses him.

Verse 19: “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews:”

Verse 22: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”

Something that I find very interesting is that Paul knew that trails awaited him. The same spirit that is constraining him to follow is also testifying that hard times will come.

So I think that we can see that Paul’s entire life was about being “constrained by the Spirit.” In fact I think we can say the book of Acts is about people being “constrained by the Spirit.” That is, God using normal people to accomplish his will through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What Does “constrained by the Spirit” Mean?

Ok, at this point you may be thinking, “alright Aaron, we can see that God works through men by the Holy Spirit, but what does being ‘constrained by the Spirit’ really mean?”

In Greek, the word used in verse 22 is, “deh’o”:

  • It applies to chains, like a criminal that is tied up. The same word is used in Matt 14:3, talking about John the Baptist being bound or deh’o.
  • The meaning in verse 22 being, there is a strong obligation, or a strong urge, or you could say strong desire. Paul had a strong desire to follow God.
  • This is what I believe being “constrained by the Spirit” means. When you are constrained by the Spirit you will have strong desires and convictions to follow God. This could mean:
    1. Strong desire to share the gospel with others
    2. Strong conviction to follow God, to do God’s will
    3. Strong conviction/desire to be holy, to not sin

So if you are a Christian, and the Holy Spirit is in you, I think these three things should be a reality in your life. You should want to share the gospel, to follow God and His will, and to be holy. Now naturally some Christians will have these desires stronger than others, I’m not saying you’re not a Christian if you don’t share the gospel with people. But I think that desire should be there, and as we all grow in our faith, these desires should grow stronger as well. I have experienced this in my own life. I did not have the same passion and desire to share the gospel with people when I first became a Christian as I do now, etc. These things should be growing in your life.

Why to be “constrained”?

Now that we’ve looked at what it means to be constrained by the Spirit, you may be asking yourself, do I really want to be constrained? And we look at the life of Paul and see all the hard things he had to go through, getting stoned and put in jail, etc. Three reasons:

  1. We were created to be used by God. Eph 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So from this Scripture we know that even before we were born God had prepared things on this earth for us to do. God created us for good works. How do we fulfill this? We follow the Holy Spirit, we were created to be “constrained in the Spirit.”
  2. Jesus has called us to share the gospel. Matt 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, etc.” Also in Acts 1:8, Jesus says that the disciples will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Also the first part of the verse says “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” So we know God’s desire is for us to share the gospel with others. We need God’s help to share the gospel. To think that we can save people is not right, only God can save. It is God who convicts people of sin, it is God who draws people to Himself, it was Jesus who died on the cross for us so that we could be saved. We can’t save people, but we can tell them what God did for them, and to do that we need to be constrained by the Spirit.
  3. Number three and I think the most important, the gospel. Because God saved us. Jesus went to the cross for us, he bore all of our sin and shame, he took on the all the wrath of God for sin. Can you imagine? God does not like sin, in fact He hates it, the Bible says he has wrath for those who sin, and Jesus took it all upon himself for us. Because of everything Jesus has done for us, how can we not want to follow Him? How could we not want to be holy? How could we not want to share that with others? How could we not want to be constrained by the Spirit so that we can do these things? I have to admit this is something I ask myself all the time. When I sin, when temptations look better than God, when I get lazy or scared about sharing my faith. After all that Jesus has done for me how could I not do better? How could I not give him more? But I thank God that he is rich in mercy and grace. Even though I have failed God over and over, and will keep failing God over and over, he still loves me.
    1. We should make sure to serve God only out of a response for his love for us. We don’t owe God anything, or to think that we can pay back God is a wrong thought. Our fulfillment should come only from the finished work of Christ that he did on the cross for us, not from the things we do for God.
    2. Jude 21 “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
    3. Don’t just know the gospel, but believe it.
    4. TRUE GOSPEL > false gospel. Examples of fake gospels:
      1. Gospel of save yourself through good works. Not worth dying for.
      2. Gospel of social action. Not worth dying for.
  • Gospel of Humanitarian aid. Not worth dying for.
  1. Gospel of religious traditions. Not worth dying for.
  2. Gospel of self-esteem. Not worth dying for.
  3. Gospel of political correctness. Not worth dying for.
  • Gospel of materialism and self-gain. Not worth dying for.
  • The only Gospel worth suffering for is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

How to be “constrained”

  1. Paul’s example in verse 24 – counting our life as no value to us
    • Not something easy to do. Think about the gospel for motivation.
    • Note: “fully testify”, we might be able to testify part way but not all.
  2. Looking at Jesus’ example
    • Phil 2:3-8
  3. Remain in Jesus – John 15
    • Verse 4-5: “4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
  4. Prayer
    • If we think God can/will use us without prayer I think we are lying to ourselves. Even Jesus, God in the flesh, prayed. Luke 6, garden of Gethsemane, examples of Jesus praying before and after big days of ministry. If Jesus needed to pray, so do we.
  5. Do not quench the Spirit: Eph 4:30-5:2 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
    • Anger/bitterness
    • Jealousy
    • Pride
  6. Rely on God and not ourselves – by surrender to God
    • Experience God by stepping out of your comfort zone
    • Put yourself in situations where you are completely dependent on God

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