By Larry Ray Hafley
Our title is taken from Acts 20:13. While his brethren sailed to their next destination and a rendezvous with him, Paul determined “himself to go afoot.” We may feel guilty for wondering why he did so, for his wearied, wounded, worried heart evidently desired the solace that, at times, only solitude can provide. Thus, it is almost an intrusion to ask why he had decided “to go afoot.” What doubts, fears, hopes, concerns, pressures, prayers, promises, and purposes filled his aching, anxious soul as he tread along, alone? If he wanted anyone to know, he would have remained with the company of disciples and shared with them his burdens. That he chose not to do so is a signal for us, even twenty centuries later, to keep our distance and allow him the quite privacy that he needs.
Accordingly, we shall leave Paul to himself for this time. Though there is much we would like to know, it is not our place, our business, to become involved. At times, neither we nor Paul need to be alone. We need the comfort and compassion of those who love us (2 Tim. 1:16-18; 4:16,20). However, this is not such a time for “our beloved brother Paul.” “Minding himself to go afoot” may serve to ease and soothe the sorrow that he suffers in the sanctuary of God.
Our Lord himself knew the value of time away from even the legitimate cares of this life. Said he, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (Mk. 6:31). Perhaps you are one who needs this advice to recoup and regroup your energies for labors of love that he ahead. If so, neglect it not. It may require that you lay aside necessary items, but if you, like the Lord and Paul, have had “no leisure,” then you must mind yourself to go afoot and rest a while.
All of us realize that brooding self-pity, bitterness and depression may drive us out into the wilderness of despair, defeat and discouragement (Elijah, 1 Kgs. 19), and that circumstance we must avoid. “It is not good for man to be alone” often applies to more than marriage. There are times when we need the caring companionship of those whom we love. Will you be there for me? Will I be there for you? “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Heb. 12:12). “Encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all men” (1 Thess. 5:14, NASB). “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (Heb. 13:3). Whether we go to heaven or not will be determined, in part, by our response to the suffering of others (Matt. 25:34-46).
Still, we are drawn back to Paul as he strolls and struggles alone, “minding himself to go afoot.” Of this poignant scene, J.W. McGarvey wrote:
His motive in choosing to walk this distance, and to go alone, has been a subject of various conjectures. But the deep gloom which shrouded his feelings, caused by prophetic warnings of great dangers ahead; by the critical state of the churches everywhere; and by the final farewell which he was giving to churches which he had planted and nourished, naturally prompted him to seek solitude for a time. On shipboard solitude was impossible . . . . His only opportunity, therefore, . . . for solitary reflection, such as the soul longs for amid trials like his, was to seize the occasion for a lonely journey on foot. Amid the more stirring scenes of the apostle’s life, while announcing, with . . . authority the will of God, and confirming his words with miraculous demonstrations, we are apt to lose our human sympathy for the man, in our admiration for the apostle. But when we contemplate him under the circumstances like the present, worn down by the sleepless labors of the whole night; burdened in spirit too heavily for even the society of sympathizing friends; and yet, with all his weariness, choosing a long day’s journey on foot, that he might indulge to satiety the gloom which oppressed him, we are so much reminded of our own seasons of affliction, as to feel with great distinctness, the human tie which binds our hearts to his. No ardent laborer in the vineyard of the Lord but feels his soul at times ready to sink beneath its load of anxiety and disappointment, and finds no comfort except in allowing the very excess of sorrow to waste itself away amid silence and solitude. In such hours it will do us good to walk with Paul through this lonely journey and remember how much suffering has been endured by greater and better men than we.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 8, p. 231
April 16, 1992