God’s Will & The Spirit-Led Life (Part 1)

Acts 16:

Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

There are some very interesting points in this passage of Scripture regarding how God’s will comes about in our lives.  As we learn to live the Spirit-led life, more and more, we cease from making decisions in the natural, based on what we see and think, and instead make decisions based on what the Holy Spirit is telling us.

Let’s look closer at these encounters that Paul was having with the Holy Spirit.  First, the Holy Spirit forbid him to go into Asia and preach the word.  I’m sure it seemed like a good idea to Paul to go into Asia, but it was not the right time in God’s plan.  There are good ideas and then there are God ideas!  The original word translated “forbidden” in verse 6 is the Greek word kolyo and it means “to prevent by word or act.”  There are times that God will prevent something in our lives by some act – making it impossible to go in a certain direction.  In other words, God closes the door.  The promotion at work falls through… the scholarship to school gets denied… the relationship that you thought was from Him ends abruptly, etc. In these times, God will give you a peace in your spirit that this is from Him.  It meets with discouragement initially, but as time passes, you begin to understand that is was not God’s will.  And then, there are times when the Spirit of God prevents something in our life by speaking to us in the inward man.  He gives us a “check” in our spirit that something is not from Him at this time, or gives us peace and a “green light” to move forward.  In this instance, Paul got the check in his spirit – a red light – “don’t go!”  If we want to be effective messengers for Christ, it is important that we not only have the right message, but also the right audience – at the right time.

Next, Paul and his team tried to go into Bithynia, but again, the Holy Spirit did not permit them.  One may think that as long as you are doing what God has called you to do, that you can do it just anywhere.  While there may be a measure of blessing in this approach, the fullness of the blessing will only come from being in God’s perfect will.  Kenneth Hagin used to have a saying about doing the right thing in the wrong place or at the wrong time; he said that it was like washing your feet with your socks on.  If we want God’s full blessing in our lives, we must be willing to go where He wants us.  We cannot pursue God’s will with built-in conditions.  “God, I will do what You want me to do, but only if…”  There is also danger in relying solely on outward signs and confirmations to determine God’s will.  While God will often confirm what He is saying in your inward man with outward signs, to base decisions solely upon these external factors is to deny the presence of the Holy Spirit within you.  God’s highest order of guidance is through direct communion with you.

I once moved across the country and accepted the pastorate of a church because all of the external factors lined up.  I felt that I was finished where I was… this congregation contacted me and wanted me… my house sold on the first day I put it on the market… But all the while, I was miserable in my spirit.  I kept ignoring His voice and it got weaker and weaker.  I let the outward things overrule what the Holy Spirit was telling me… warning me.  It ended up being one of the worst experiences in my life.  It is certainly acceptable to pray for God to open doors that He wants you to go through and to close doors that He does not want you to go through; however, we must understand that we have an adversary who seeks to deceive us with a counterfeit.  The antidote for that is the discernment that the Holy Spirit gives us in our spirit to know what is from God and what is from the enemy.  The word translated “discern” in the New Testament is the Greek word diakrino and it means “to separate, to distinguish one from another.”  When two things look the same on the outside, the Holy Spirit is able to show us which one is from God.  I have had God tell me that something was from Him and it appeared in the natural that there was no way that it could happen.  In fact, everything that God has truly blessed me with has looked impossible at one point or another.  If I was basing everything off of opened and closed doors, I would have walked away from God’s blessing many times.  If God speaks to you that something is His will, stand in faith, no matter what it looks like in the natural.  God has a plan and a purpose in how He is doing things.  It’s great when everything falls into place and you have the peace of God to move forward, the green light.  But sometimes, God gives us His peace but allows the devil to test us in order to make us battle-tested.

Back to our passage: Paul finally got God’s direction.  He saw a vision from God of a man from Macedonia asking him to come over and help.  After prayer, it says that Paul “concluded” that this was from God.  Once you get God’s direction, make a conclusion!  The time for being wishy-washy is over.  Don’t be double-minded.  James warns us that if we are double-minded that we won’t receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-8).  In our next installment, we are going to see why it was so important that Paul made a firm conclusion in this matter.  Stay tuned.

The Apostle Paul, part 5 of 5

The Writings of an Apostle

Paul wrote a total of thirteen epistles, fourteen if you count Hebrews (no author named). These epistles were later canonized as being divinely inspired as Holy Scripture.  Paul wrote to the newly founded churches across Greece and Asia Minor, as well as Rome.  There were many issues in the early Church that needed addressed.  As an apostle, Paul wrote as a spiritual father, caring for his children.

Winds of doctrine were blowing through these churches.  False teachers were on the prowl, seeking to devour these new converts. Paul’s writings were passed from church to church as a compass to keep them on the right track.

Today, we are blessed to have the writings of the greatest apostle to ever live. The Pauline revelation is the heart of the New Testament.  He brought the deep truths of God out in an understandable way.  Paul was a master of the Greek language.  He could have written in classical Greek, but instead chose Koine Greek, the language of the people. Though easy to understand, Paul’s writings were weighty and hard to discern without the Holy Spirit’s help. Listen to Peter’s words concerning Paul’s writings:

2 Peter 3:15-16
And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

Though apostles today cannot write divinely inspired Scripture, it is still vital for an apostle to weld the power of the pen.  His teachings and testimony should be recorded for the continuing blessing of generations to come.

The Hardships of an Apostle

The book of 2 Corinthians offers us a unique peer into the personal life and hardships of the apostle Paul. It was extremely difficult for the apostle to the Gentiles.  But God was always faithful to deliver him in times of trouble. Let him who thinks apostleship is an easy road, one to be desired, consider the following from just one of Paul’s epistles, 2 Corinthians:

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. (2 Corinthians 1:8)

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:5-6)

For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. (2 Corinthians 7:5)

Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.  From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;  in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;  in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—  besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.  (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul’s hardships served only to make him greater.  Some say that he had to suffer because he had no faith. This is ridiculous thinking. Paul did not operate in the “cadillac faith” that some modern prosperity preachers teach.  Paul was a living example of faith in everything he did.  Paul was the greatest apostle of all because he made himself the least. The following passage portrays the heart of Paul throughout his life, ministry, and death as a martyr:

Phillipians 3:7-14
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;  that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The Apostle Paul, part 4

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

Missionary work is central to the life of an apostle.  Not all missionaries are apostles, other qualifications must be met.  Not all apostles are missionaries, per say.  That is, an, apostle will do missionary work, but not necessarily be a missionary. Paul was not just a missionary, but it was the most outstanding aspect of his ministry.  Paul took three major missionary journeys in his life.

I. First Missionary Journey

After being separated as an apostle, along with Barnabas, in Acts chapter 13, Paul set out on his first missionary journey. Barnabas and John Mark were his companions and co-workers.  Early on, Barnabas was mentioned first in the team, but after a while Paul was spoken of first.  An obvious indication of Paul’s leadership as the head of their apostolic team.

Early church ministry was done by apostolic teams. This began with Jesus sending out the seventy, two by two (Luke 10:1).  However, on Paul’s team, John Mark got homesick during their travels and returned home. This would later be a point of contention that would break up this apostolic team.

During the two-and-one-half-year missionary journey (spring of 47 A.D. to. fall of 49 A.D.), Paul and Barnabas made disciples, built churches and trained leaders in the following places:

  1. Seleucia
  2. Island of Cyprus (struck sorcerer blind)
  3. Perga
  4. Antioch of Pisidia
  5. Iconium
  6. Lystra (crippled man healed; Paul stoned and left for dead)
  7. Derbe

After completing these stops, Paul and Barnabas went back to each of these new churches and followed up on their work.

Acts 14:21-23
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Ordaining elders is an important function of apostles. They didn’t perform this function on their first trip through.  Time was needed to develop the qualities and characteristics that were necessary.  Those who had distinguished themselves as leaders were set apart to lead these new congregations, under the supervision of the apostolic team, and more specifically, Paul.

After this lengthy, prosperous apostolic journey which spread over 1,200 miles, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, their home church.  Regardless of how large and successful Paul’s ministry became, he never saw himself as being above, or better than being accountable.

Acts 14:26-28
From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.  Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.  So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

II. Second Missionary Journey

After a Church Council at Jerusalem (Acts chapter 15), Paul began to feel the stir once again to visit the newly formed churches he had founded.  When the Word said that Paul and Barnabas “abode long time” at Antioch, it is estimated that it was two years.  Antioch was a training center among churches. Paul’s leadership skills were put to good use. But the call to return to the mission field stirred his nest.

However, tThe contention was so strong between Paul and Barnabas regarding John Mark, that they parted ways: And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other (Acts 15:39).

Paul chose Silas as his new partner and received the blessing of the brethren (Acts 15:40). They set out on Paul’s second missionary journey which is spoken of in Acts 15:36-18:22. They visited the following places:

  1. Syria
  2. Cilicia
  3. Derbe
  4. Lystra (Timothy joins team)
  5. Troas (Paul receives vision)
  6. Philippi (beaten and jailed; first European church)
  7. Thessalonica
  8. Berea
  9. Athens
  10. Corinth (joined by Aquilla and Priscilla; stayed at Corinth 18months)
  11. Ephesus

Once again Paul returned to Antioch, his home church and spent time there.

III. Third Missionary Journey

Acts 18:23-20:38 covers the third missionary journey of Paul.  Once again, Paul began by retracing his steps to visit the churches he had founded. He immediately set out for Ephesus.  Paul stayed at Ephesus for over three years, building the church.

The following are the places Paul went to on his third mission aryJourney:

  1. Ephesus
  2. Macedonia
  3. Philippi
  4. Troas
  5. Miletus

The three journeys covered a period of twelve years. Paul was used by God to establish churches in the majority of the cities in Asia Minor and Greece.

Next, we conclude with Paul’s writings and hardships.

The Apostle Paul, part 3

The Revelation Years

Galations 1:11-18
But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.  For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.  And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.

For three years Paul did not confer with flesh and blood regarding his experience.  On the backside of the desert, Paul received revelation knowledge from the Lord Jesus Himself.  This occurred partially through visitations of the exalted Lord, and partially through the person of the Holy Spirit. God was unfolding to Paul the message of the New Covenant.  Hidden and tucked away in the pages of the Old Testament were the glorious truths of the New.  Like no other apostle, Paul was able to extract these weighty revelations from the Law and the Prophets.

Revelation knowledge is a prerequisite to apostleship. Without it, one only has book knowledge , which is incapable of destroying the yokes of bondage.  Paul had such powerful revelation that at times he would refer to the gospel as “my gospel.”

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:16)

Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel… (Romans 16:25)

Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel. (2 Timothy 2:8)

When Paul went up to Jerusalem, fourteen years after his conversion, he was confident in the revelation God had given him. His apostleship had covered four years and his first missionary journey (Acts chapters 13 and 14). Paul wrote, that there was nothing that the apostles at Jerusalem could add to his revelation:

Galations 2:6
But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.

Separation To Apostleship

Acts 13:1-4
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

Paul received his separation to apostleship some ten years after his conversion (AD 45). Up to this point he had been functioning in the office of prophet and teacher.  The call to apostleship was always there but the time for separation to that call hadn’t arrived. It is almost certain that Paul had revelation of this calling, but he did not take the office upon himself without divine order. Part of divine order is confirmation from the Body.

This is likened unto David in the Old Testament. David was anointed King by the prophet Samuel (I Sam. 16), yet Saul still stood in the office of King. David had opportunity to kill Saul and usurp the throne, but he would not take the throne without divine order. In fact, it was many years before David was made King over Israel. Those years were full of suffering and misunderstanding. But through it all God made that little shepherd boy into a King.  After Saul’s death, the private anointing that took place so many years prior was made public by the confirmation of the people: And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah (II Sam. 2:4a).

When was David King?  Was it at God’s anointing or the people’s anointing? The first may be seen as calling, the latter separation.  Did God one day decide to make Paul an apostle, or was he predestined from his mother’s womb?  Paul answers that question in his epistle to the Galations:

Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father… But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace… (Galations 1:1, 15).

The calling to apostleship most likely was revealed to Paul in the early years when he was in Arabia receiving revelation from Jesus for the space of three years (Gal.  1:16-18). However, as with David, that call needed time for development and confirmation. When the Holy Ghost spoke at Antioch it was in the presence of all the church leadership. Upon receiving this message, the church at Antioch confirmed Paul and Barnabas’ apostolic calling and laid hands upon them: and when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away (Acts 13:3). Thus, apostolic calling requires confirmation from church leadership, even more so than any other ministry.  If one has received the call, he must humble himself under God’s mighty hand until the due season of confirmation and separation (see I Pet. 5:6).

Next we will look at Paul’s missionary journeys.

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