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Acts 15:36-16:15: God Guides the Mission Print E-mail

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It is the Lord who guides the mission of the Christian.  I would venture to guess that most of us, if not all, agree with that statement.  God is in charge of the mission.  This is true personally for the Christian and corporately for the Church as well.  Yet, how does He do it?  How do we know that we are to go to Southeast Asia and partner with missionaries there?  How do we know that we are supposed to go to World Changers in St. Louis next year?  How do we know that we are supposed to keep going to Roberta Rowe Park and have our VBS there again?  We all agree that God should guide us, but how does He do it?

The book of Acts gives us insight into this question.  The persecution that came after Stephenís death caused many to leave Jerusalem and take the gospel to Samaria.  Through miraculous means God led Philip to the Ethiopian and Peter to Cornelius.  When Paul and Barnabas went on the first missionary journey, we saw that the Lord set them apart through the Church in Antioch and guided them to Cyprus, where Barnabas was from, and then Galatia.  In each of these circumstances the Lord is using various means to guide the mission: persecution, visions, circumstances, even where a person was from (Barnabas and Cyprus).  Not only that, but once they arrived in these places, the Lord continued to use various means in getting the gospel to the people: signs and wonders, persecution, curiosity, etc.  The Lord used these to open doors for the Apostles to preach the good news, which they continually did. 

In our passage this morning, we continue to see the Lord using different means to move the second missionary journey forward.  This journey will last until 18:22, when Paul finally makes it back to Antioch.  On this journey, the gospel will be preached for the first time in what we know as Europe.  Many Churches will be planted as well, including those to which Paul would later write.  What means does the Lord use to guide Paul at the beginning of this journey?

Conflict with Barnabas (15:36-41)

After the Gentile question is answered by the Jerusalem Council, Paul suggests to Barnabas that they should go back and encourage the Churches that they started on their first trip.  But thereís a problem.  Look at verses 36-38.  John Mark, who would later write the gospel of Mark, had left them during the first journey.  Barnabas wanted to give Mark another chance, but Paul did not want to take someone with them who might abandon the work again.  Luke makes it plain that there was a serious disagreement over this issue.  Look at verse 39a.  Luke does not make a judgment between Barnabas and Paul, but he does not cover up the conflict either.  They could not reach an agreement, so they decided to separate and go in two different directions.  Look at verses 39b-41.  Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus.  Paul took Silas and went north. 

What do we do with this passage?  What lessons can we highlight?  First, we have to be honest and recognize the fact that conflict will arise at times between Christians, even Christians on mission.  This does not justify our sin when such disagreements happen, it simply keeps us from over discouraged by such conflict.  Second, we see that God can use even the sinfulness of men to move the mission forward.  Again, this does not negate our responsibility in sin, but it teaches us that God can use all sorts of means to keep the mission going.  The Lord moves the mission on in spite of their sin and disobedience toward each other.  Finally, if we step back and look at the rest of the story, we know that Barnabas and Paul and Mark would later reconcile (Col. 4:11).  Because of sin, conflict will come, but reconciliation should follow.

Compromise with Timothy (16:1-5)

Paul heads back to Derbe and Lystra (yes, the place where he was stoned), where we are introduced to Timothy.  Look at how Luke describes him in verses 1-2.  Timothy was a disciple and because of his parents, he was half Jewish and half Greek, which is important in light of what happens.  Look at verses 3-5.  Luke tells us that Paul had Timothy circumcised before taking him with them to encourage the Churches.  Why did he do that?  Paul was the one who was arguing in Antioch that a person did not have to be circumcised, just as they had all agreed at the Jerusalem Council.  So, what is Paul doing?  The issue for Timothy is not about his salvation.  Paul believed and taught and practiced salvation by grace through faith in Jesusí life, death, and resurrection.  Timothy was saved by turning from his sins and believing in Jesus.  But, if he was going to go with Paul and Silas to minister among Jews, then as a half Jew, he needed to be circumcised to prevent problems. 

We see in this Paulís wisdom and his desire to become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).  He was not going to compromise on the message, but he was willing to use all means to get the gospel to people.  If that meant having Timothy circumcised, then he was willing to make that compromise.  Although we do not have time to delve into this subject at length, we do need to notice Paulís willingness to do all that he could to get the gospel out.  Would you be willing to listen to music you donít like?  Eat foods you donít like?  Follow customs you donít like?  Go to places you donít like?  Would you do that to get the gospel to someone?  Timothyís circumcision allowed the mission to continue without unnecessary interruption.

Calling from a vision (16:6-10)

Paul had a plan to go into Asia, but the Lord had another plan.  Look at verses 6-8.  Paul was not allowed to go to Asia at this point.  Luke says that the Spirit would not allow it. How did the Spirit do that?  How did Paul know not to go to Asia?  Luke does not tell us the details.  We could speculate any number of scenarios, but they would simply be guesses.  Of course, another question we have to ask is why?  Why would the Spirit keep them out of these places?  Again, Luke does not give us the specifics, but we can say that it was not because the gospel was never to go there.  Paul will preach the gospel in Asia.  He will do it before the second missionary journey is over.  But for whatever reason, the timing is not right for him to go there now.  So where is he supposed to go?  Donít you know that was a difficult question for Paul?  ĎIf not there, then where, Lord?  Where should we go?í 

Luke does not tell us how long Paul wrestled with this question, but it could have taken some time to have an answer.  And how does the answer come?  Look at verses 9-10.  So Paul is wrestling with where to go and the Lord gives him a vision of a man from Macedonia.  The man tells him to come there.  Paul shares this with his companions, who now include Luke, and they conclude that the Lord wants them to go and preach the gospel there.  Pretty simple, right?  Well, in one sense, it is simple, but the difficulty comes with whether or not this still happens.  Does the Lord still use visions to guide His people on mission?  The simple answer is Ďyes.í  Now, does this mean that every dream I have at night is a message from the Lord?  No, and the passage supports that.  Notice that Paul and the others concluded that the Lord was uses this vision to get them to Macedonia.  They talked about it, prayed about it, and concluded thatís where the Lord wanted them to go.  We should use the same wisdom with visions or dreams.  It is not a normal means that the Lord uses, but I donít think we can say that the Lord has stopped giving visions altogether.

Conversion of Lydia (v. 11-15)

Luke continues the story by telling of their travels between Troas and Philippi.  Look at verses 11-12.  They decide to stay several days in Philippi, an important city in Macedonia.  As they have done before, they look for those who have a Jewish background.  Yet, the situation is different in Philippi.  Look at verse 13.  Apparently they did not have enough men to have a synagogue in the city (10 were required).  Thus, the women gathered together at a Ďplace of prayer,í which was outside the city near the river.  Paul speaks to the women here and tells them the good news of Jesusí death and resurrection.  Again, we see him taking every opportunity given to speak the gospel.  Some in his day might have moved on since there were no men, but not Paul.  He preaches to any who will listen.  And what happens?  Look at verses 14-15. 

Lydia was from Thyatira and was a seller of purple goods (a common trade from her city).  Luke tells us that she was a worshipper of God, which indicates she was Gentile who worshipped Yahweh.  When she heard the good news about Jesus, The Lord opened here heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  We see in this phrase Lukeís understanding of Godís work in salvation.  If a person is to listen to the gospel and respond with repentance and faith, then God must open their heart.  Salvation belongs to the Lord, which is why we pray that He will do this very thing with those that we long to see saved.  We want Him to open their hearts like He opened Lydiaís on the river that day.  The conversion of Lydia led Paul and the others to stay in the city, which will lead to more conversions and a Church being planted.  The Lord opens her heart and essentially opens the door for a work to begin in Philippi, which we will look at more next week.

In this passage, we see various means the Lord uses to move the mission forward.  Of course, the Lord does not always use these same means on every occasion.  In fact, we see other means being used in the book of Acts.  We can conclude from this that the Lord will use various means at times to direct us on mission.  They may be miraculous or more mundane.  They might be more or less clear at times.  They might simply be circumstantial, such as a particular missionary being sent to preach at our Church during a missionís conference or the fact that St. Louis is a little closer than Tupelo.  But the Lord can use these means and others to guide us on mission.

I do think we can identify two more specific ideas that can help us in discerning Godís guidance.  First, we pray and ask for it.  We see the Church and the missionaries repeatedly asking for Godís guidance as they move forward on mission.  We should be doing the same.  Pray individually that God would guide you throughout the day and give you opportunities to speak the gospel.  Second, we seek Godís guidance together.  We should be praying that the Lord would guide us as a Church.  We want to see our city reached for Jesus.  We want to see the Lord open hearts to believe in the Savior.  We should come together in seeking for that goal.  We should pray for His wisdom as we move forward with the mission here.  May He show us where we can compromise to open doors.  May He call us to specific areas and ministries.  And may He open the hearts of those we share with.  May He guide our mission for His glory.  Amen.    

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 22 August 2014 )

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