LET THE SPIRIT BE YOUR GUIDE ACTS 16:1-10
That fateful week began and progressed as normal for the majority of Christendom. Oh, this week was quite different, but only a few Christians would notice—far too few.
One pastor arose early on Sunday to review the sermon that he had prepared. He would begin his three-point evangelistic message with a funny story. Then he had included a few Bible verses, the quote from Time magazine, and a story about a dramatic conversion. And, of course, he would conclude with an emotional appeal to come forward and make a decision. “Yes,” he thought, “this one has been planned perfectly. It ought to produce great results.” As he reread the sermon for the last time, it was obvious that he didn’t notice the difference.
Sunday morning services throughout the country went exactly as planned. Each sanctuary was full of smiling, well-dressed Christians. The services began with the doxology, prayer, announcements, a couple of hymns, and special music during the offering. Although the hymns sounded rather dead, it was no worse than usual. In fact, people responded to the ministers’ pleas, and the offerings were larger than usual. Even the invitations were a success. As the congregation finished the third verse of “Just As I Am,” many came forward for rededication, salvation, or church membership. As the people filed out the door to get home in time for the football game on TV, it was obvious that none of them had noticed the difference.
The week continued on flawlessly. The banquet Tuesday night was a huge success, as the church raised enough pledges for the down payment on the new sanctuary. The Wednesday evening prayer meeting also went on as usual. The few who came prayed that God would bless all of the missionaries. For the Friday night high school social, the youth pastor had come up with some crazy new games that made it a roaring success. But no one noticed the difference.
A few church members even got to witness at work that week. Rick, for example, had been feeling guilty about not talking with Don. So at lunch he took a deep breath, pulled the booklet from his pocket, and read the laws to Don. Although Don didn’t seem very interested, Rick plowed through the entire presentation. He left the booklet with Don and encouraged him to pray the prayer at the end to invite Christ into his heart. Rick felt a sense of relief that he finally had shared the laws. But Rick didn’t notice. In fact, few Christians would have noticed, even in an entire year.
But there were a few Christians that had a most frustrating week. One pastor sat and stared at his Bible, but couldn’t get anything out of it. He knew the Bible and he knew how to prepare biblical sermons. But the Bible had become a dead book to him.
He was frustrated and perplexed. But he noticed the difference!
Some other believers also noticed. One man kept succumbing to lusting after an attractive woman at work. He couldn’t get the victory, no matter how hard he tried. Another man angrily snapped at his wife and yelled at his kids. When he felt a twinge of guilt, he justified himself by blaming them for being insensitive to his needs. A small group that normally was overflowing with joy in the Lord and love for one another found themselves depressed and bickering. Several other Christians found themselves doubting their salvation, and even wondering if God existed. These believers were defeated, frustrated, and confused. But, they definitely noticed the difference!
When those at the church who had experienced a normal week heard about those who were having trouble, they weren’t surprised. They knew that something like this would happen sooner or later. They knew that these other Christians were just too radical. Those whose week had gone well smugly thought, “It serves those fanatics right! You can’t be excited about Jesus week in and week out!”
What was there to notice as different about this week? God decided to see which Christians were living in dependence on His Holy Spirit, and which ones were just depending on their own intellect and human plans to live the Christian life. So, He completely withdrew His Holy Spirit from the earth for the entire week! Think about it—would you notice the difference?
As we have already noted earlier in our study of this great book that it was more than just the Acts of the Apostles; it was the Acts of the Spirit. In other words, this book has been about the guidance of the Spirit in the life of the early church. And this is definitely true in our passage, this morning. Luke tells us that the Spirit gave guidance for a new disciple and guidance for a new direction.
GUIDANCE FOR A NEW DISCIPLE – 1-5
Paul and Barnabas separate due to a sharp disagreement over John Mark. So Luke picks up the story with Paul and Silas embarking on the second missionary journey. In verse 1, Luke said they came to Derbe and Lystra. It had been five years since Paul had been in either of those two places. And if you recall, Paul preached in Derbe and there were many disciples made. But it was in Lystra where Paul was stoned and left for dead by the Jews from Antioch and Iconium.
I am amazed at Paul’s confidence in the Lord to return to these cities that treated him so badly. Most people would not go back to such places, especially if they endured hardships there. Isn’t it like us to believe that it must not be God’s will if we suffer in certain places or among certain people? Surely we must have misread the directions of the Lord because God wouldn’t bring suffering to us because we are willing to serve Him.
Yet, if I read the New Testament correctly, we are going to have many trials and tribulations. There is suffering on this earth for doing the Lord’s work. But I encourage you that God promised never to leave us or forsake us. He tells us to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. So Paul must have sensed that this is where he must go.
In Lystra, God directed his heart toward a new disciple, who would help him in the missions to the Gentiles. The young man’s was Timothy. Timothy means “honoring God.” Timothy may have been influenced by Paul’s testimony and bravery while in Lystra on his first missionary journey. It may have been then that he gave his heart to Christ.
He was cultivated in the faith by his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. Paul had seen evidence of a sincere faith in these two women and knew that it was in Timothy, as well. In fact, his faith had become a topic among the people in Lystra and the nearby town of Iconium. This was a continuous witness to those who had known him.
Folks, I wonder if people say the same thing about our faith. Can people see the difference that God has made in our life? Or is the only thing we can point back to is the time we were baptized? I believe our testimony is what God is continually doing in our lives on a regular basis. We ought to be more like Christ today than when we first believed. We ought to be more in love with Christ now then we have ever been. So can people that know you realize that you are who you are because of the Spirit’s work in your heart?
So Timothy was well spoken of by the people of his town and the nearby city. In knowing Timothy’s reputation among the people, Paul wanted him to accompany him in the missions. But for the sake of the ministry Paul had to have Timothy circumcised. Now I thought that was not necessary for salvation. It, isn’t? That is the reason Paul did not have Titus, a full Greek, circumcised. Gentile liberty was at stake in that situation.
The situation of Timothy is different. The reason Timothy was circumcised was a question of efficient service, not salvation. Timothy as we know was a part Jew and part Greek being that his mother was Jewish and his father was Greek. In fact, strict Jews did not marry into other races, especially Gentiles. But due to the fact that Timothy was from a mixed marriage, Jews would have considered him Jewish and therefore it was essential to circumcise him.
So Paul did not want to give offence to the Jews and cause him to be a stumbling block for them not receiving Christ. In fact, if Timothy did not get circumcised, then he would be unable to preach in the synagogues. So Timothy’s case was different from that of Titus. The reason for the delay in his circumcision is that some believe that Eunice was Jewish but not practicing Judaism. Yet, I believe that more than likely that Timothy’s father was an unbeliever and would not allow Timothy to be circumcised. But the text seems to indicate that Timothy’s father is now dead and Timothy volunteered himself for this ceremony. In either case, Paul wanted to make sure they gave no offense in order to win the many to Christ.
Folks, may we take note of this and search our hearts to see if there is any offense in us that is keeping people from coming to Christ. If so, then take the necessary steps to eliminate those things that keep you from being an effective witness for the cause of Christ.
So Paul, Silas, and now Timothy went into the cities that Paul visited before and gave them the decisions that were reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Silas gave validity to these decisions because he was one of the leading men in Jerusalem. This decision was permanent, continual. It wasn’t a temporary measure or compromise that would fade over time. It was a living decree that was concluded on in this meeting.
This news strengthened the churches in the faith. This word “strengthened” is a medical term that means to make firm and solid like muscles. This word was used to describe the healing of the lame man by Peter. As a result, their numbers increased daily.
Now I want you to notice the two-prong ministry of Paul. He was encouraging the saints and evangelizing the sinner. Our ministry here is to be the same as the Apostle Paul. Marble City Baptist Church exists to encourage the saints and evangelize the sinner. We gather of Sundays and Wednesdays to get encouraged in the Word so that we can go into the world to evangelize the sinner.
Both are necessary in order to have an effective ministry that exalts Christ. Imagine, for a moment what our church would look like if all we did was evangelize to the lost and never equip them for the work of the ministry. Or what would the church look like if all we did was encourage the saints, but never won another soul to the Kingdom of God. Someone once said, “We either evangelize or fossilize.” So we must have a balance ministry that does both encouraging and evangelizing. So the Spirit gave guidance for a new disciple. Now, the Spirit gives
GUIDANCE FOR A NEW DIRCETION – 6-10
Paul saw people in need everywhere he went. He saw lost people and ripened harvest fields to be plowed and sown the Word of God. He would stop anywhere and everywhere, but God had different plans. God wanted Paul and his team to take the gospel to Europe. If Paul would have never been constrained by the Spirit somehow, then Europe may have never been evangelized.
Paul and his team entered Phrygia and Galatia to preach the gospel there. These places definitely needed to hear the good news because there was the worship of a false god there. People here worshipped the mother-goddess Cybele and her consort Attis. Among the Greeks she was known as Artemis and her consort Adonis. Artemis had a temple built for her in Ephesus, which was one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. She was the goddess of fertility and all kinds of sexual immoralities were performed in her midst.
Yet, we know from history that Christianity made great strides in these areas. Many people turned from the worship of false gods to the one true and living God. Eusebius, a historian, reported that by the third century the entire region was almost all Christians. So Paul desires to go to Asia. This is not Asia the continent, but Asia Minor a province in the Middle East.
There the disciples were forbidden by the Spirit to preach the gospel. It is not until the third missionary journey that Paul came back to this area with the gospel. So with this door closing, Paul heads north to the province of Mysia (modern Turkey). He attempts to enter the region of Bithynia.
Bithynia has a rich history of Christian witness there. Early legends attribute the evangelism of the province to Peter or Andrew. In any case, by a.d. 110 the Christian movement had permeated both city and countryside, causing neglect of pagan temples and social unrest.
After NT times, Bithynia figured significantly in church history. Early in the second century, its Roman governor, Pliny the Younger, elicited from the emperor Trajan the earliest stated imperial policy on persecution of Christians. Later, the church councils of Nicaea (ad 325) and Chalcedon (451) were held in two of Bithynia’s western cities. The Council of Nicaea declared the full deity of Christ; the Council of Chalcedon made pronouncements on the nature of the person of Christ and the canonicity of the 27 NT books.
But again, the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Despite these close doors, Paul knew that God ruled in order to advance the Kingdom of God. Folks, may we realize this fact. Paul succeeded where we often fail in our attitude and approach to life – he maintained loyalty to the Lord and faith in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For example, Paul never saw his imprisonments as being out of the will of God, but as an opportunity to further the preaching of the gospel. He told the Philippians that the imperial guard learned that his imprisonment was for Christ.
Again, I think we often believe that when things go wrong or we suffer for the cause of Christ that somehow we are out of the will of God. That being in the will of God eliminates all suffering. I believe this is a western culture thinking rather than biblical thinking. So we see the Father, the Son and the Spirit leading Paul and his men in their mission efforts. Let us remember God is in charge and we must follow his leadership.
So they leave the province of Mysia and go to Troas. The Seleucid king Antigonus founded the city about 300 bc and named it after himself. Later, the name was changed to Alexandria Troas in honor of Alexander the Great, who had passed through it in pursuit of the Persians. The city became a Roman colony when Roman influence replaced that of the Greeks. According to some scholars, Julius Caesar envisioned Troas as his eastern capital, and Constantine considered making it his capital before deciding on Byzantium instead. It was an important seaport during the time of Paul because it was the easiest and shortest route from Asia to Europe.
While there Paul had a vision in the night: a man standing there, urging him and saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul had frequent visions that always came at real crises in his life. While in Corinth, Paul was opposed for preaching the gospel, but God told him in a vision not to be afraid, but keep on speaking, for I am with you because there were those who would respond to the gospel. Another time while in Jerusalem, Paul was warned to get out of Jerusalem because of his enemies. And even at sea when all seemed lost and they were going to die, God promised Paul that he would stand before Caesar.
There are many theories of who the man was calling Paul to Macedonia. Some believe it was Luke himself, others see it as a dream which needs no explanation. Still others believe the man to be Alexander the Great who conquered the world at a young age. After all, Troas full name was Alexander Troas, Philippi was named after his father and Thessalonica was named after his half-sister. In fact, it was his aim "to marry the east and the west." Alexander quest for conquering the world gave Paul the impulse to conquer the world for Christ.
This was at the heart of Paul's soul to evangelize the Greek world. To preach in the cities of Alexander the Great and Philip the Macedon, to preach in the land of Plato and Aristotle and Pythagoras and Archimedes and Homer and Socrates. To preach to the Greeks who had given the world culture, art, sport, democracy, oratory, ideas. To preach beneath the shadow of Mount Olympus, where the Greeks had created fallen gods in the magnified image of fallen man. What a mission field!
And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately he sought to obey it, concluding that God had called them to preach the gospel to them. This word “concluding” means to make go together, to coalesce or knit together, to make this and that agree and so to conclude. This word here gives a good illustration of the proper use of the reason in connection with revelation, to decide whether it is a revelation from God, to find out what it means for us, and to see that we obey the revelation when understood. God had called them to preach to the Macedonians. They had to go.
So as I conclude this message, this morning, I believe we can draw two very important lessons from this passage. First, God can use unhappy, perplexing failures to bring fresh purpose and direction to our lives. God certainly used this fracture between Paul and Barnabas to do some pretty amazing things for the Kingdom.
Maybe you have had wasted years in which Joel says the locusts have eaten, but I remind that God can restore those years and bring abundance. Even when we are at fault, God will use our failures to bring greater blessings!
A second lesson is that God will lead you according to his own perfect plan for your life and ministry. God can direct us through every situation. Our biggest problem in doing God’s will is our attitude. Maybe we want to go in a certain direction, but God want let us from some unknown reason. We need to learn to yield to God’s caring hand. In G. Campbell Morgan’s words, “It is better to go to Troas with God, than anywhere else without Him.” So instead of taking Jiminy the Crickets advice, “Let your conscience be your guide,” take Jesus the Christ advice, “Let the Spirit be your guide.”