About 20 miles west of Pisidian Antioch, the road on which Paul, Silas and Timothy were traveling intersected with a smaller road which headed north. Initially it seemed right to these missionaries to continue going west into the highly populated coastal region called Asia and they may have passed the intersection and kept walking for awhile before stopping and turning around, because Luke says they were
cut short from speaking the word in Asia by the Holy Spirit. He doesnt tell us how this was done, but there are a number of ways the Holy Spirit could have corrected them. He might have spoken to one of them, or imparted a word of knowledge (1Co 12:8) about what lay ahead, or He may have simply caused them to feel grieved in their spirit as they walked along (Eph 4:30). But one way or another they felt they should turn around and take the smaller road leading north. It skirted along the eastern border of a rugged hill country called Mysia, until it arrived at the city of Nicea on the southern border of the heavily populated area around the Black Sea, called Bithynia. And, this time, they thought they should go into Bithynia, but Luke says,
the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them to do so. In the previous verse he said the Holy Spirit was the One who prevented them from going into Asia, yet here its Jesus who guides them. While it is certainly true that the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus, and for that matter, the Spirit of the Father, all dwell within us (Ro 8:9, 11), Luke is probably not trying to make a theological statement about the Trinity. Rather, it is much more likely that hes describing the manner by which Gods guidance was communicated to them. Apparently, Jesus spoke to one or more of them in a dream or vision or they simply heard His voice, whether audibly or inaudibly, telling them to stop walking toward Bithynia, and to turn around and go back to the road that led west toward the Aegaen coast. This road ran along the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara, and then followed the Aegaen coast south, passing through the port-city of Troas (near ancient Troy).
Nearly the entire journey from Nicea to Troas, which was over 250 miles, ran along the northern border of Mysia. Luke uses a word here (v8) which means they went beside Mysia, meaning they didnt travel into the interior of the region, or stop to minister. During this portion of their journey it appears they were not aware of any particular destination, but felt they must keep moving forward, and when they took a wrong turn, God corrected them. At Troas, Gods method of guiding them changed. Paul received a vision specifically directing them to go to northern Greece (Macedonia). This vision may have come more than once during the course of the night and in it Paul saw a Macedonian man beckoning him to come near, and saying Come over into Macedonia. Run to our rescue!
Up until verse ten, Luke has been reporting events that involved Paul, Silas, and Timothy, but he was not personally part of those events. But at this verse he begins to include himself in the story. Instead of telling us what they did, he describes what we did, meaning it was here, in the city of Troas, that he joined them. We dont know that Troas was Lukes home town, but we do know that when they set sail from there, he was with them. Its quite clear from what weve just read that Paul and his team did not know beforehand that they would travel through Troas. Without divine intervention they would have been in Asia or Bithynia, so Luke could not be someone they already knew and had pre-arranged to meet there. They must have either converted this Greek physician (Col 4:14) during their stay in the city, or met him and discovered he had already been converted by someone else before they arrived. In either case, they considered him already mature enough to join them on their mission. And their confidence in him turned out to be well-placed. He would continue with Paul for years, and later on when others abandoned him during his final trial in Rome, Luke remained loyal (2Ti 4:11). Luke says, when Paul saw the vision,
we immediately sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them (v10).
Foreknowledge (Ro 8:28-30)
We need to keep some important facts in mind whenever we are seeking Gods will or trying to understand His timing:
1) God knows those who will come to Him.
2) He knows where they live, and where they will be at every moment of the day.
3) He knows when they need to hear the gospel.
4) He knows who to send to reach that person.
We need to keep these facts in mind, because as we watch God guide this missionary team, what may seem chaotic to us, is not. God knew they had to be in a certain place at a certain time. They were in a hurry, though they didnt know it. They were told to bypass one spiritually responsive place after another in order to arrive in a town called Troas where they would meet a man named Luke.
Yet please notice: Through most of this process God was never specific with them, and these are elite spiritual leaders. If anybody can hear God, they can. Where their greatness shows is that they kept moving forward while not knowing where they were going. They didnt know Luke was waiting for them, a physician and fluent Greek-speaker who would accompany them to Greece, and later write a gospel and the Book of Acts. But God knew
yet He didnt tell them. They had to discover His plan by walking in faith.
Our own understanding (Pr 3:5-7)
Gods will can be frustrating, because often we dont know why He is directing us as He does. Our natural mind says He is making a mistake, and at a certain level, He may indeed be passing up a great opportunity. But He knows the future. He knows why we need to do what He is asking. And notice: He probably wont tell us, He expects us to obey Him without understanding why. Also, notice what damage we can cause if we ignore Him and choose to do what seems right in our own eyes.
What if Paul had decided to skip Lystra (Ac 14:8-20) because it was too small and too far out of the way? Remember he walked everywhere he went. He would have missed Timothy.
What if Paul decided to skip Derbe after being stoned in Lystra? He could have taken the highway east through the Cilician Gates and gone home to Tarsus relatively soon. Who could blame him for wanting to rest and heal from his wounds. He would have missed Gaius (Ac 20:4).
What if Paul had ignored God and gone into the beautiful, populated and closer region of Asia (Laodicea, Philadelphia, Sardis, Colossai, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum) (Rev 2, 3)?
What if he had chosen to go into the beautiful, highly populated cities of Bithynia, which would later on become a region full of many Christians (Nicea, Chalcedon)? He would have missed Luke.
What if Paul had decided to stay on in Troas, rather than sail to Macedonia? He would have missed Lydia (Ac 16:14), and a young girl would have continued to be possessed by a ferocious demon (Ac 16:16-18), and a jailer would still be in spiritual darkness (Ac 16:30-33), and he may never have written Philippians.
Proverbs 3:5-7 applied to Paul as much as it applies to you and me. God has ordered our steps (Ps 37:23). His plan is not our plan. His goals are not our goals. His timing is not our timing. And He will not deceptively manipulate His children into doing His will. He may manipulate unbelievers and force them to serve Him (Pharaoh, Cyrus), but He asks us to listen carefully, and then step out in faith. The process is usually risky and challenging, if not frightening.
So, what lessons do we learn from these missionaries that we can apply to our own lives? Here are a few:
1) They were being guided because they were pursuing the will of God. Their greatest desire was to see Gods kingdom come, they wanted His will, not their own. This attitude is the foundation of everything else. They were not trying to use God, they were trying to obey God. They were disciples and the promises in the Bible were meant for disciples.
2) They continually listened for Gods voice. They acted on whatever information they had and kept moving forward, until corrected. Obviously, they were not afraid of making a mistake, and whenever they did, God turned them. Your ears will hear a word behind you, This is the way, walk in it, whenever you turn to the right or to the left (Is 30:21).
3) They continued walking without knowing where they were going. They didnt grow impatient and quit, saying, We should have known where were going by now! They kept doing the last thing He told them to do, until He changed their assignment. Probably the biggest area of failure in most of our lives is quitting too early, growing exasperated and giving up.
4) They had no formula for guidance. Every time was different (the Holy Spirit, Jesus, a vision). They let God decide how He would communicate with them. And notice, they didnt test Him with a fleece (Jdg 6:36-40). They obeyed immediately.
5) They were humble. They let God overrule their common sense. Asia and Bithynia were great places for evangelism, but they didnt ask, Why should I keep walking (400 miles in all), when I could start right here?
Taking the first step
So how do I start walking by faith? Whats the first step? Surprisingly its not by going out and doing something scary for God. That wont work because there is no genuine faith in my heart. The place to start is by getting alone with God, turning off the media, and reading His Word slowly, carefully, until I feel fear lift. Then I need to ask Him to show me what step He wants me to take now. Then, I must do what He says, and only what He says, not try to be heroic. You see, faith comes by hearing, hearing from Him, one way or another. The important thing is that I believe He is guiding me. That is what brings real faith alive. Im doing this because I believe God told me to do this. And if I refuse to turn aside from my course, unless He corrects me, and wait patiently for Him to do His part, I will see His faithfulness.
The first step is the hardest, but it cannot be avoided. I must step out in faith for myself, no one can do it for me. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (He 11:6).
1) Have you heard God tell you to do something and then done it? Give us an example. How did He communicate with you? How long did you have to wait before His answer came?
2) Have you ever felt grieved by the Spirit? What does that feel like?
3) Has God ever guided you by a vision? If you are comfortable in doing so would you tell us what you saw?