Are We Saying Two Things By One Spirit?

“How to resolve conflict?” a story by Malik Mirza (posted 26dec10).

      “There was a father who died and left 17 camels to his three sons. When the sons opened the will they found it stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels while the middle son should be given 1/3rd (one-third). The youngest son should be given 1/9th (one-ninth) of the 17 camels.

      “As it is not possible to divide 17 into half or 17 by 3 or 17 by 9, three sons started to fight with each other. How can they divide their father’s inheritance?

      “Finally, the three sons decided to go to a wise man to decide how to do it.  The wise man listened patiently about the whole matter and, after giving careful thought, brought a camel of his own and added it to the 17 left by the father. That increased the total to 18 camels.

      “Then he read aloud the deceased father’s will and apportioned the camels as follows:

Half of 18 is 9, so he gave the eldest son 9 camels.

1/3rd of 18 is 6, so he gave the middle son 6 camels

1/9th of 18 is 2, so he gave the youngest son 2 camels.

      “Now add this up: 9 plus 6 plus 2 is 17 and this leaves one camel, which the wise man took back.

The attitude of conflict resolution is to find the ‘18th camel’ (i.e. the common ground). Once a person is able to find the 18th ground by using his or her intellect, the issue is resolved. The first step to conflict resolution is to believe that there is a solution.

      Today we observe the Epiphany, the visit of the wise men to the child Jesus.  They claimed to have been led to the newborn King of the Jews by a star.  Similarly, we are to be directed by a heavenly guide, the Holy Spirit.  Often, however, the Spirit’s leadership is not as obvious as a bright star indicating our destination.  Writing to a divided church in 2 Corinthians the Apostle Paul twice affirmed all believers are given the same Spirit.



      What are we to do when church people oppose one another, both claiming the direction of the Holy Spirit?  We have this example from the book of Acts to instruct us.

The Holy Spirit speaks with one voice, leading the church to a unified expression of faith.

1. Paul said the Spirit led him to go to Jerusalem. (Acts 20:22-24)

      Paul said he was COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT to go to Jerusalem (22).  Previously, in Acts 19:21 = Paul was in Ephesus when he DECIDED TO GO TO JERUSALEM.  Ironically, he also announced he was to go to Rome, which is where Paul would end up, and there surrender his life for his faith.  We don’t know when Paul received the Spirit’s instructions to go to Jerusalem, here he announced his decision to go.  He had organized a big collection of funds from the Gentile churches he founded and wanted to deliver it personally to the church in Jerusalem

      He also said the Spirit warned him that PRISON AND HARDSHIPS awaited him (23).  These warnings came in EVERY CITY, including the ones mentioned in these chapters.  Paul was not deterred by these  warnings, as His ambition was to FINISH THE RACE AND COMPLETE THE TASK THE LORD JESUS HAS GIVEN ME – TESTIFYING TO THE GOSPEL (24).

2. The Syrian believers said the Spirit led them to urge Paul not to go to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:1-17)

      After a tear-filled goodbye with the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:36-38), Luke and Paul finally arrived at Syria (1-3) and spent a week with the DISCIPLES there (4).  We don’t know if the Syrian church had the same emotional attachment to Paul as the Ephesian elders did, but they URGED him THROUGH THE SPIRIT NOT TO GO ON TO JERUSALEM (4).  Paul continued to Jerusalem anyway (5-9).

      Caesarea was the last seaport on Paul’s journey to Jerusalem.  I was there A PROPHET NAMED AGABUS prophesied Paul’s imprisonment, quoting the HOLY SPIRIT (10-11).  This is serious because ten chapters earlier, Agabus predicted a severe famine across the empire.  This prophecy prompted Paul’s work to collect funds from his Gentile churches to support the mother church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30).  This prompted additional pleading with Paul not to go (12-14).

      Resolved, Paul went on to Jerusalem (14-17).  Verse fourteen reports they finally gave up trying to persuade Paul, saying, “THE LORD’S WILL BE DONE.”  It sounds like there was a disagreement over which prophecy came from the Spirit.

      In the end, Paul had to decide for himself, as all of us must.  People have debated whether he made the right choice or not, given all the trouble he experienced; his lengthy imprisonment followed by his execution.

3. How we are to understand and obey the Spirit’s leadership.

      When there are conflicting claims of the Holy Spirit’s leading, there are 4 possible explanations.

      First, one claim is wrong, the other right.  We must discern which is right.  Instinct compels us to think this the obvious explanation, especially if we have a stake in one side or the other.  We should avoid the temptation to make this conclusion but should first discuss the matter. We must never fall out of fellowship over matters like this.

      Second, both claims to being led by the Spirit are wrong.  We must expose falsehood and prevent its recurrence.  This is the most troubling possibility as it means misunderstanding the Spirit is more widespread.

      Third, both claims are correct.  We must discern a divine reason for what seems to be a mixed message.  This is the least likely explanation.  We need to be careful; the Spirit will never contradict the written word, nor will He lead us into sin.

      Fourth, both claims have a portion of the truth; together they tell the whole story. This is what I believe we see here in Acts 20-21.  For his part, Paul correctly discerned the Spirit’s guidance directing him to go to Jerusalem.  For their part, Agabus and the other believers correctly discerned this would be Paul’s last days of freedom; Jerusalem would be the beginning of the end for him.  This news dismayed them and they understandably mistook it for counsel not to go at all.  Instead, God was preparing Paul for what he would have to face.  This is clearly how Paul understood the situation (Acts 20:23).

      When seeking God’s leading through the Spirit we must pray, listen, wait for wisdom, discuss it with maturing believers, test what’s being said against the Bible, make a decision, then try it and see what happens.

      The apparently contradictory prophecies we see here in Acts could be troubling but we need to remember that prophecy by nature can be somewhat enigmatic; it often requires some interpretation to understand it.  After that, prophecy requires application; we have to decide what to do with it. 

      Interpretation and application are both processes where the human element comes in.  The message is purely of the Spirit, but after it has been interpreted and applied, some of the message may be changed in the process.  (This is true of all kinds of human communication so it shouldn’t surprise us if it happens in divine-human communication too.)

The Holy Spirit speaks with one voice, leading the church to a unified expression of faith.

      In these chapters of Acts, we see what seems to be opposing counsel from the Holy Spirit is actually two parts to a single message: Paul was to go to Jerusalem, but he was to go with his eyes open, aware of what it would cost him.  The churches, likewise, needed to know they could never again count on Paul to be with them; they needed to develop leadership within their own members to go forward.

      If we consider the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy to be available today, we have to understand how it works and how to use it.  On a bigger scale, the Bible teaches all claims to speak for the Holy Spirit need to be subjected to scrutiny (1 Corinthians 14:29-30).  We must not be content only to separate true from false but must also correctly interpret God’s message and how to apply it.


More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Acts, Ernest H. Trenchard

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