“In the pursuit of one’s life purpose, there providentially occurs defining moments in the form of refining crises, freeing us from confining limitations, and enabling us to grow in godliness…and perhaps even empowering us to step into greatness!” –Chip Buhler
“Faith never knows where it’s being led, but it loves & knows the One who’s leading.” -Chambers
“I have no faith in my faith. My faith is in the faithful God!” -Ravenhill
The story of Paul’s mission adventures in Acts 16 are commonly referred to as “the Macedonian Call.” This statement refers specifically to the spiritual vision and invitation Paul received 1 night at Troas (16:8-10). This vision was the culmination of a series of strange, unplanned events that providentially served to re-direct the team to Troas; and to convict them of God’s calling to go to Europe together and preach. Also, sometimes the phrase “Macedonian Call” is used generally of an individual’s sense of calling to missions or ministry leadership. For the purpose of our study, however, we will look at this more broadly as a topic that deals with God leading us through difficult or unforeseen circumstances, into a transition or change of life direction and calling. I call this a “Redemptive Realignment,” and it is usually experienced by every believer (1-2 times) in their life and faith journey.
Acts15:33-41 tells of the plans and preparations made for the 2nd Missions Trip. Barnabas and Paul had sharp contention over the issue of taking John Mark again. Why did John Mark leave the team on the 1st mission trip and return to Jerusalem, his childhood home (12:12, 25)? Was it the attraction of his earthly home, his wanting to see his mother and old friends, or his being upset that cousin Barnabas was becoming the “second” man as Paul was ever coming to the forefront as a leader? Regardless, this young man who wavered under the pressures of ministry and spiritual warfare would persevere and obtain glorious victories in Christ. He was not unwilling to go on this 2nd journey, and would accompany Barnabas back to Cyprus, the place of his vacillation (15:39). Nor did Paul always retain an unfavorable judgment of him. John Mark had promising qualities which would later develop and be appreciated (“receive him”-Col. 4:10; “my fellow-laborer”-Phile.1:24; “he’s useful to me for the ministry”-2Tim.4:11).
I. ANOTHER MISSION JOURNEY BEGINS: (Acts 16+)
This is the beginning of the 2nd Missionary Journey of Paul with Silas. Early on this trip, they meet Timothy, who was held in high regard in Lystra and Iconium; and Paul, desiring to take him along as a traveling companion, circumcised him (16:3). Then after some travel through Phrygia, the team was prevented from continuing because of Paul’s sickness. This illness necessitated a change of direction to Galatia for ministry. Not long after that, they say, ‘the Spirit kept them from preaching in Asia.’ However, shortly thereafter, they turn back again, and come to the border of Mysia. This was a province in NW Asia Minor. There, feeling the lure of Bithynia, they intended to go this way…but “No!” Luke records, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” So, Paul passed through Mysia, and pressed on westward to the coast. There, 1 night in Troas, came the vision and voice of a man from Macedonia to Paul. The vision was shared with the team and they “concluded God had called” them to preach there. So, they embarked from the chief port of Troas on the first mission voyage to Europe.
Note: Onesiphorus, a Christian from Ephesus, who was martyred some time between 109 -114 A.D., is supposed to have later evangelized this part of Asia (2Tim1:16-18; 4:19).
TROAS (a Trojan, area near Troy) was the chief city on the coast of Mysia in NW Asia Minor (modern Turkey), visited at least 3 times by Paul (Acts16:8, 11; 20:5-6; 2Cor.2:12; 2Tim.4:13). It was 10 miles SW of the ruins of ancient Troy. It was here that God would later restore to life a young man named Eutychus, who had fallen from a 3rd-story window while Paul preached late into the night (Acts20:5-12; compare 2Cor.2:12; 2Tim.4:13). The vision at Troas of the “Man of Macedonia” brought the team to Philippi, a Roman colony; and Luke the beloved physician also joins the team there (Acts16:10).
II. TIMOTHY, introduced here in Acts 16:1, was Paul’s friend and chief associate, who is mentioned as joint sender in 6 of Paul’s epistles (2Cor.1:1; Phil.1:1; Col.1:1; 1 Thess.1:1; 2 Thess.1:1; and Phile.1). Timothy was the son of a Gentile father and a Jewish-Christian mother named Eunice, and the grandson of Lois (Acts16:1; 2Tim.1:5). Birthed under Paul’s ministry, he is called “beloved and faithful son in the Lord” (1Cor.4:17), and “true son in the faith” (1Tim.1:2). Timothy played a prominent role in the remainder of the 2nd missionary journey. When Paul was forced to leave Berea because of an uproar started by Jews from Thessalonica, Silas and Timothy were left behind to strengthen the work in Macedonia (17:14). After they rejoined Paul in Athens (18:5), Paul sent Timothy back to the believers in Thessalonica to establish them and encourage them in the faith (1Thess.3:1-9). During Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, Timothy was also active in the evangelizing of Corinth. After that, Timothy is listed as one of the group that accompanied Paul along the coast of Asia Minor on his way to Jerusalem (20:4-5). Timothy later appears as a companion of Paul during his imprisonment in Rome (Col.1:1; Phil.1:1; Phile.1:1). From Rome, Paul sent Timothy to Philippi to bring back word of the congregation that had supported the apostle so faithfully. Timothy’s strongest traits were his sensitivity, his affection, and his loyalty. Paul commends his proven character and faithfulness (Phil. 2:19-23; 2Tim.1:4; 3:10). Yet Paul’s warnings to “be strong” (2Tim.2:1) suggests that Timothy may have struggled with fear (1Cor.16:10-11; 2Tim.1:7) and perhaps youthful lusts (2Tim.2:22). But in spite of his weaknesses, Paul was closer to Timothy than to any other associate. Some believe that Timothy later became the Sr. Pastor/leader of the large-growing church at Ephesus.
Note: Acts16:1-8; 2Tim.1:5; 3:15: Paul had refused to circumcise Titus at Jerusalem (Gal.2:1-5+Acts15:1-6). Here, Paul circumcises Timothy as a Jew and not as a Greek Gentile. He did this as a voluntary act of expediency for the purpose of making Timothy more useful among the Jews, who had a claim on him as the son of a Jewish mother. Otherwise, he would not have been allowed to teach in a Jewish synagogue without this token of membership. In the case of Titus, a pure Greek, Judaizers had demanded circumcision as a principle and as a condition of justification and salvation (21:23-26).
III. DIVINE GUIDANCE: Acts 16:10, 2Cor. 2:12
The early church and its leaders depended on the guidance of God in their lives and ministries. They believed in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and were open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in everything they did. This story is deeply suggesting that Paul was left to consider what would be best, and yet stayed open to the Spirit’s leading to keep him from what might not be God’s will. If we desire God’s ways and are seeking His will for our lives, we too should have faith in God’s ability to make His voice known to us; and believe it’s His responsibility to convict us if we are going the wrong way (Jn.10:3-4, Is. 30:21, 50:4-5). “It is surely safer to walk by faith in God, than to be led by my whims. I choose what is most agreeable to me; but God chooses what is most advantageous for me -and proves, in his disposal of me, that his love to me is greater than my love to myself” (J.Meikle). Let’s take a closer look at some unique ways God guided Paul’s team:
The Spirit was working in and through the separation of Paul and Barnabus. As painful and disturbing as it was for them, and is for us who read this (or experience separations of mature adults or Christian leaders because of “sharp disagreements”), God clearly used this to accomplish some distinct and wonderful things through their lives. The separation gave freedom to 2 leaders’ different convictions of the will and purpose of God for that season of ministry. The separation gave 2 godly men opportunities for mentoring young leaders with lasting results (Bible books of Timothy/Mark written). The separation gave 2 missionaries for “the work” of revisiting churches and going to the regions beyond. When studying this situation, you may see that Paul and Barnabus seemed to be both right and wrong concerning different aspects of this disagreement. However, the results that God would bring about through both of these godly men will prove that the Lord Himself was guiding them and using it all to grow them in maturity, and even to teach us. We too may find that the Lord has directed our lives through a difficult time of separation from close or long-term relationships. Out of the darkness of broken relationships may come the light of fresh vision, renewed hope for the future, and maybe even new-stronger bonds of friendship or purpose. These may even prove to be the greatest opportunity and blessing of our lives and ministry, when we look back upon them years later.
2. Salvation –Acts16:1-5
“Special Redemption”…at Lystra, the place of Paul’s stoning (14:19), he finds Timothy. When did Timothy become a Christian disciple? It probably was in the days of Paul’s previous visit on the 1st mission journey. When younger, Paul had once watched the stoning of a saint called Stephen. He had heard his dying prayer and the vision of the face of Stephen had fastened into his heart and mind. Then at Lystra, Paul had gone through a similar experience, but had miraculously survived. Perhaps another young man had seen this, and so it’s commonly believed that Timothy’s life was changed and faith began by seeing and receiving from Paul’s testimony. Now, Paul returned, scars still hurting and memories vivid and intimidating, but this time to find Timothy at the place of the stones. Then and there, from that moment on, began a rare and wonderful friendship that would become an encouragement and example for Christians and leaders through history. We too must face our fears and failures, trusting God for His special redemptive purposes and fruit. Believing for Him to turn it for our good, and bring salvation to and through a hurtful, disappointing situation or place. Our God is able…and ever bringing redemptive surprises into our lives. “How often God’s servants return after years of absence to some rough, rugged place of battle, blood, agony and find the fruit” –GCM.
After finding Timothy and inviting him to join the mission team, they tried to go to proconsular Asia, but they could not do it, because Paul was sick. The missionary apostle had become ill with an infirmity of the flesh so bad, that he could not go on. It then became necessary that they take another direction. So, they go to the Galatians to preach instead. The Spirit guided through Paul’s illness, which necessitated him taking another direction, and serving as a bridge to an as yet unforeseen destination by the Providence of God. Notice, we are not saying that God caused this illness, or that Paul deserved it, etc. We are saying that God used it in a rare but real way. We too may find that a sickness or physical problem is used by God to bring about a change in direction or lifestyle that opens doors for God’s purposes and special ministry opportunities. This was true of Paul, and has been the experience of some who through injury in 1 profession heard a call to another…or even to ministry; or by an experience of sickness may have redirected their life into medical, teaching or other fields. Sometimes being sick or stuck, with an inability to move forward with commitments or desires, becomes a turning point in perspective, priorities or life toward future blessings and benefits.
4. Spiritual Restraint-Acts16:6-7
Most of us view the leading of God’s Spirit in a positive light, as the search for Divine confirmation of purposes. Yes, it’s normal to receive guidance from God proactively through His word, promises, personal convictions and even applying wisdom or counsel to our decision making and direction in life. It’s also, however, true that God may lead us by saying “No,” or by allowing circumstances or conscience to make it uncomfortable or even impossible to move ahead as planned. We may not even discern or understand this until some time later, when we realize He guided us reactively toward His desired destination. God’s word and Spirit can work powerfully as a restraining force in our life decisions, if we will discern and allow it. As you read this story, you notice that the declarations concerning the guidance of the Spirit are put in points of great difficulty, where the Spirit’s leading conflicted with their own intentions. This insight can be a helpful outlook on life. You may look back and say, ‘There was a point where I desired to go a certain way, and circumstances prevented it.’ But Paul and Luke say, ‘the Holy Spirit prevented it.’ There is a time when, perplexed and unsure, difficulties and an uneasy conscience turn them back from the direction they have; and years later Luke writes that “they were forbidden or kept from…the Spirit of Jesus would not allow us to” and Paul would write “a door was opened to me by the Lord” (16:7, 2Cor.2:12). We too may have a time in life where God prevents or does not allow us to continue a certain direction; and we may also experience a series of closed door circumstances that we later call the Lord’s open door!” Every “no” in life may eventually serve as a shout “yes” for something better! HE only takes away to establish (Heb.10:9).
5. Supernatural Vision-Acts16:8-9
There actually are times in Scripture and possibly in our lives, that God does not leave the decision or inspiration for something to us. HE reveals His will supernaturally in visions (5x in Acts). Also in Acts, God’s guidance is sometimes clarified through prophets, Angels or personal-subjective-inward communication or sensing. Here, Paul is lead supernaturally through a vision into the center of God’s will. “What we need then is the confidence—the faith in the guidance of the Spirit in the hours when no voice is heard–no vision is seen. If we will follow then, the hour of vindication will come, there will come the vision, the man from Macedonia, His voice distinctly heard;”(GCM) and then “we” shall “conclude” that God would have us go in a specific direction.
This is the 1st mention of “WE,” indicating that Luke, author of the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1), is included in these historical events (with Silas and Timothy). This “first person” continues until Acts 16:40, and resumes again in 20:5-6 (Luke stayed in Philippi). From then till Acts ends, Luke is with Paul! Tradition records that Luke came from Antioch in Syria; others feel that he came from Philippi. He apparently was a humble man, with no desire to sound his own horn. More than 1/4 of the New Testament comes from his pen, but not once does he mention himself by name. He was a careful historian, and Luke’s Gospel reveals his concern for the poor, sick, and outcast; so Paul called him “the beloved physician” (Col.4:10; Phile.1:24; 2Tim.4:11). Dr. Luke was to be a constant companion of Paul, and the eyewitness to his incredible life and ministry (note the “WE” of Acts16:10-16; 20:6, 13-15; 21:1-17; 27:1-7, 15-37). We too may find that God sometimes uses the synergy of friendships, unity and committed partnerships to either confirm or lead us into HIS will for our lives (2Cor.2:12-13).
7. Sailing Faith-Acts16:10-11
Tacitus said, “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” Sometimes, we may know the direction of God, simply because we have come to the “conclusion” that it’s God’s will. The readiness to take a step of faith and risk it all; the conviction to go forward into the unknown after a season of difficulty and uncertainty, may be the confirmation. The actual act of launching forth in a new venture may itself be the proof that it’s in fact the culmination of a long process of discerning God’s best. If life has been an uphill climb, or a series of dead-end streets, and suddenly you sense the season changing and the confidence ‘to release what’s behind and reach for what’s ahead’…you’re likely being led by the Spirit. When the conviction within, call without or “conclusion” we agree on carries more weight than the fears and hindrances that have held us…it’s time to obey God and set sail for Macedonia by faith alone.
We should “never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God!” –CTB.
A Concluding Thought:
How can we know that God has used some unique (negative) things in our lives to guide us into His will? Probably by the results! This is not “pragmatism,” results that are seen immediately or from a temporary, short-term view of “success.” This type of pragmatic measure is usually not Biblical or spiritually accurate. These “results” that prove God’s faithfulness are from a Providential perspective. That means we may look back years later and discern God’s gracious superintendence. We then recognize God’s sovereign, circumstantial guidance through dark or difficult experiences as an “open door” into a most fruitful time of life/ministry. When looking back on separate incidents in our lives, we may see these strange, contradictory and troublesome events merging into a mosaic; until a pattern stands clear, and the beautiful tapestry of our lives reflects the glory of God’s Divine government. When Luke wrote this, years after it happened, he told what they did not know then. The “Spirit” kept, forbid, did not allow…to lead them to Troas. The fact of the Holy Spirit’s guidance is demonstrated by all that follows –vision, faith, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth; salvations, deliverances, church-plants, leaders mentored, books of the Bible written, making life-long friends & ministry partners, godly affections & genuine commitment to peoples & places, etc. All these resulted…all this was Heavenly fruit! The Divine blessing of fruit that remains!
“If we make up our minds that the way of guidance is the way of flaming vision, rolling thunder, articulate voice, and a lifting to a height of spiritual ecstasy; then, we may never be guided…HE may lead us differently. What we need then is the confidence—the faith in the guidance of the Spirit in the hours when no voice is heard–no vision is seen. If we will follow then, the hour of vindication will come. Oh, to go, not where I may choose, even by my love for the Lord, but where I am driven by the Lord’s command. Circumstances of difficulty are opportunities for faith, and the measure of our perplexity in Christian life and service is the measure of our possibilities. Know that God’s shortest way to (our) Troas (open door) may be against our inclinations…”
“It is better to go to Troas with God than anywhere else without Him!” –GCM
IV. Discussion Questions:
1. Have you ever had to trust God by faith, and step into the unknown, believing it was God’s will? When, and how? What was the result?
2. Looking back, have any broken relationships or separations from people through disagreements or difficulties ever been used by God to re-direct you into new, godly relationships or purpose? Reflect, and briefly describe:
3. Was there a time in your life that all the natural circumstances seemed to be allied against you; but in reality, you later discovered that God’s Spirit was guiding you in transition to an unforeseen purpose, place or blessing?
4. Have you ever sensed the “no” of God, been convicted to stop and change course through an uneasy conscience, or found yourself re-directing from a “plan or desire” toward a new way because of a Spiritual or Scriptural restraint or boundary? Explain:
5. In the decisions of your life, have you ever had a supernatural dream/vision, clearly heard God’s voice, or discerned God’s “still small voice” or peace within as a means of Divine guidance or confirmation? Remember and tell of the Living God’s faithfulness: