After all this had happened, Paul decided[a] to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.
– Acts 19:21-22, New International Version
One of Paul’s major goals was to minister in Asia. A large and important city was Ephesus. On his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6), Paul apparently wanted to go there, but he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak in Asia. Instead, God called him to Macedonia. So there was a delay in his plans.
Paul’s Ministry at Ephesus
On Paul’s third missionary journey, he passed through Phrygia and Galatia and reached Ephesus. He had a powerful ministry (Acts 19:1-20) in Ephesus. The apostle spoke boldly in the synagogue for three months then for two years in the School of Tyrannus. All those who were in Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the Word. Many wonderful things happened.
* The Holy Spirit came on some of the disciples and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
* Many extraordinary miracles were performed by the hands of Paul
* Many of those who practiced magic burned their books.
* The word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.
Without doubt the revival in Ephesus was one of the highlights of Paul’s missionary ministry. The fact that he was delayed ingoing there did not hamper his ministry once he arrived. All was done in God’s timing!
It would have been tempting for Paul to stay in Ephesus in order to enjoy and nurture the harvest, but Paul sets his sights on other fields. In this short passage Luke tells us his travel and ministry plans. Paul is a missionary. He wants to go on! He will leave it to others to pastor the church in Ephesus.
According to Luke, Paul “purposed” in the spirit to go to Jerusalem. The Greek verb that Luke uses is etheto (tithemi). According to Strong’s (5087), tithemi means to place, lay, or set. In our text, it means (Thayer, p. 623), “to place (or posit) for the execution of one’s purpose.” The Friberg Greek Lexicon says that “Literally,” it means “place in the spirit, i.e. make up one’s mind, resolve.” Thus, Paul resolved in the spirit to go to Jerusalem.
By using a verb, Luke emphasizes Paul’s action in determining his purpose. However, the verb “purposed” and the noun “purpose” are two sides of the same coin. The verb purposed is his action in setting his purpose; the noun purpose is what he decides to do. In this case he determined to go to Jerusalem and other places.
In the Spirit
Paul purposed “in [en] the spirit” to make his journey. The preposition en can mean “in” or “by.” The phrase “in the spirit” can mean “in Paul’s spirit” or it can mean “in the Holy Spirit.” It was Paul who did the purposing. However, when Luke says “the” Spirit, rather than “my” spirit, he may have had the Holy Spirit in mind. My view is that the Holy Spirit inspired the spirit of Paul. The apostle was led by the Spirit in resolving to go to Jerusalem.
How great it is to so live that the Holy Spirit and your spirit are united and are hard to distinguish. When this happens, we are totally submitted to Christ and the Spirit. There is great harmony between the human and the divine. So when we purpose “in the spirit,” we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
According to the apostle, he wanted to go to Jerusalem and then on to Rome. In his letter to the Romans, he expands on his statement of purpose. In Romans 15:20-25, he writes:
20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation;
21 but as it is written, “THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND.”
22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;
23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you
24 whenever I go to Spain– for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while–
25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints.
The apostle did not want to build on the foundation of another. He would rather open up new territory for the gospel. Although he preferred to minister to minister in-person in new territories, his letters to the churches are the basis of much of our theology and practice.
According to Luke, Paul stayed in Asia for a while before starting his journey westward to Macedonia and Achaia. From there he started his return trip to Jerusalem. The apostle traveled with a high sense of purpose and with the assurance of the leading of the Spirit. We will follow him on his journey to Jerusalem.
Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts: Holman New Testament Commentary. General Editor: Anders, Max. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
© Copyright 2003. GMF.