Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.Acts 16:6-10
I have given you the map again so you can track the journey to understand better what Luke is telling us. Notice this time Paul and Silas have moved north from the regions of Cilicia and Pamphylia into Phrygia and then turn east to Galatia. Note in Acts 18:23 the direction of their journey is the reverse, in that instance they are heading from east to west. This time they are heading west to east. Ah but which Asia? Is Luke meaning Asia as we know it now, or some other geographic location known by the name Asia in his time? It is not mainland Asia in Luke’s mind, even less likely archipelago Asia ((Philippines or Indonesia). Luke was probably not even thinking about what we call now Asia Minor. Rather he most likely has in mind the western coast lands of the Romans Province of Asia. This was called Proconsular Asia, which included only Ionia, Aeolia, and Lydia. It was in this area of Proconsular Asia where the seven Churches mentioned in Revelation were located. Cicero speaks of Proconsular Asia as containing the provinces of Phrygia, Mysia, Carla, and Lydia.
It is not so much the specific places that Paul and Silas visited that were important as it was the direction they were heading in. Paul and Silas were intent on heading toward the east. We know nothing of Paul’s plans after they had passed on from Galatia, concerning their continued journey into Asia Minor. Luke was not with him during this period of his work, and so the details given us are very sketchy.
The thrust of this short passage (6-10) is more about the their leading in the places they visited. We are given the overall schema but not the details. We know they moved through the Taurus Mountains via the Cilicia Gate then westward into Pamphylia and northward to Phrygia. From there they planned to turn east into Galatia but the HOLY SPIRIT PREVENTED THEM. We are not told how, but the Holy Spirit clearly stops them from taking that route in order to preach the word in Roman Province of Asia. This very likely occurred before they set off or early in their journey, they evidently turned northward almost immediately. There is much debate among the experts as to whether this prohibition was after the journey through Galatia or before it. If it was the latter, then Paul and Silas didn’t actually go through Galatia at all on this trip. I won’t bore you with the complicated grammatical argument related to definite article used with names Phrygia and Galatia. If we take the words at face value it seems the Holy Spirit intervenes before they move eastward. Isn’t that the point of this passage, the effect of the guidance and intervention of the Holy Spirit.
How does God guide his apostles (read missionaries) to the right place to work? There will be “closed” as well as “open doors.” There will be guidance addressed to individuals as well as to the team. There will be guidance via circumstances, sometimes extraordinary, as well as through the use of reason in evaluating circumstances in the light of God’s Word. The specific guidance will come only to those who are already on the road in their general obedience to the Call they have received. It has certainly been our experience over the years that there have been things which happened to close the door on our plans. A slip cutting off the road, a problem with the vehicle we were using, a flood or some other “act of God” or weather bomb.
I love Isaiah 30:21.
- “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice saying, “This is the road! Now follow it.” (CEV)
- If you wander from the right path, either to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, “You should go this way. Here is the right way.” (ERV)
The strength of the Hebrew in this verse is captured well in these two translations – “in your turning to the left or the right”, in other words “when you wander from the right path”. There many times we are looking for guidance while we are heading in the right (correct) direction according to what He has shown us already. Mature children of God don’t need to be reassured every few minutes that they are on the right track. Just keep going and trust that the Sovereign God of the Universe to steer you if you deviate from the course He has set for you. When God needs to intervene to correct your intentions to match His, He will. That is what happened to Paul and Silas. It is what has happened to Tania and me many times. Trust Him to be there at the fork in the road directing you in the way He wants you to take if your way differs from His.
Notice in this short passage the Lord intervened twice. The leading of the Holy Spirit came when they sought to go east to Galatia and then it happened again when they were headed northeast and into Bithynia. While they were on the border of Mysia, they clearly planned to moved northeast and into Bithynia which naturally would have taken them around into Pontus along the coast. That would have taken them back toward the east again, the direction seemingly the Holy Spirit didn’t want them to take. “But again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.”
“So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.”
It was while they were in Troas, the key seaport in the region and the gateway to Macedonia and the west, that Paul had a vision in the night. ‘That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” ’.
As Peter asked me, is this all based on a vision given to Paul? It all seems too circumstantial. Couldn’t he have been wrong? Yes, he could have been wrong Peter. But that is when we have to trust ourselves to the consistency of God, rather than the inconsistencies or whims we may have. Notice each time Paul and Silas try to go east they are blocked. They end up at the extreme western port of the area and then Paul has a vision in the night calling them to Macedonia. Oh, you can bet Paul and Silas would have prayed about it lots. When these things happen we need to seek the peace of God in the process. The vision, dream or any other remarkable event must be outworked over time and in normal everyday life. When we change the plan and it is not God’s intention He will continue to redirect us. It is only when we willfully keep deviating that He might leave us to our course for a while so we learn the lesson.
I am still working out a dream I had at the end of 2015 in which God seemed to say to me I needed to help a family of refugees get to NZ. The dream was vivid and real and I knew without a doubt that is what God was asking of me. But then it takes months or years of plodding in the direction that God sets in order to achieve His will. There may be times we want to turn in a different direction but He will always bring consistency to our steps. Our part is to trust Him in the macro steps and allow ourselves to take the micro steps as long as they lead in the overall direction preset by Him. If you need input on this Peter feel free to ask me but I won’t take up more time in the Gems to address it.
The point of these five verses is to cause us to see that the Holy Spirit of God was orchestrating things behind the scenes in order to lead Paul and Silas in the way. When they sought to turn to right, and then turn to the right again, He was there blocking them at each right-hand turn in order to bring them to Macedonia. But why? Why must they go left (to Europe and the West) and not right (to Asia and the East)?
We will investigate this issue of the Macedonian Call and the Westward movement of Christianity in the next Gem.
Everything in life is a lesson. Refusing to learn the lesson means that it will be repeated until the lesson is learned!Rick Godwin
Learn to allow God to fine tune your life direction by the little compass corrections He makes for you.Ian Vail
Every day of your life you have a choice to move in the direction God has indicated or keep turning in the direction you wish to go.Ian Vail
If you develop a habit of going your own way, you will eventually need to be corrected in ways that will embarrass you.Ian Vail
The more instantly gratified we are, the less permanently satisfied we are.Matthew Ruttan
Realize that if you have time to whine and complain about something then you have time to do something about it.Anthony D’Angelo