Acts 13: How Can We Know the Way?
In Acts 13 we will read of the missionary call of Barnabas and Saul; Saul will be referred to as Paul from now on; and later on we will read the first recorded sermon the Apostle Paul preaches.
As we have been reading this story of the early church, it seems obvious( at least to me) there is a vast difference between the early church and the church today. Where is the power? Where is the leadership of the Holy Spirit? We know and profess to believe the Word of God and that God is the same today as He was then as He will be tomorrow and forever. What is missing? And what can we do in the 21st century to regain what was so obviously there in the first century?
Last week we looked at the weapons we have that are not carnal but mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. We saw the miraculous delivery of Peter from prison as an answer to the prayers of the church. We reviewed the powers that God has given His church and the individual believer. We are empowered by : the power of prayer, the Word of God, the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.
What we have that the early church did not have is : buildings with every comfort and convenience, programs, Bibles of every kind and description, study guides, video conferences, electronic media and all of the advances that civilization has wrought in the centuries since the days of the apostles. Like the church at Laodicea, we would say we are rich and have acquired wealth. But have we also become lukewarm? Have we left our first love like the church of Ephesus?
Do you not know who your best friend is as a believer? He is the Lord Jesus. My best friend is Jesus. He sticks closer than a brother and He alone knows everything about me and still loves me.
I want to remind you of what the Lord has done as your best friend:
He loves you unconditionally. This is the greatest need we have to be loved. He loves you and me so much He said He could not live without us- so He died for us.
He freed me and you from sin. It is for freedom, that Christ set us free. Remember we talked about the power of the Word of God. Jesus said- if you continue in my Word, you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Have you forgotten what it was like to be a captive?
He not only set us free- He lifted us up to serve with Him. He has empowered us.
Have we forgotten like the Galatians? Who having begun in the Spirit, then tried to do the will of God in the flesh in their own power. What has happened to us?
Jesus told the church at Ephesus: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first. ( Revelation 2)
Remember the height of first love. The constant thinking about one another; the desire to always be together- and if that first love asked you to do them a favor- you did not need to ask what that favor was- your ready reply was YES. Nothing could be more important that pleasing that one who you loved.
Psalms says whatever concerns us- concerns the Lord. What we care about and what we are concerned about- the Lord is concerned about also. Why? Because He loves us so. Should we not care about what He cares about?
He cares about the lost and since the story of Acts is about witnessing and carrying out the Great Commission, which is really His Great Concern. So let us review the Great Commission. For the Lords last commandment is our first priority.
All power is given unto me in heaven and earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe(obey) all things whatsoever I have commanded you and lo, I am with your always even unto the end. ( Matthew 28)
Notice there are four alls: all authority/power; all nations; all things; always. What keeps us from His priority? The very cause for which He came and died for.
Why have we not carried out the Great Commission, His Great Concern? Are you worried about the economy? Job security? Having enough money for retirement? Health issues? The Lord knows we have these issues, worries and concerns and here is His advice. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Let us notice in Acts 13 how the Spirit works. Let me make a practical statement: have you ever tried to steer a car that is sitting parked? Cant do it can you? You can steer a car that is moving. So first things first- lets get moving.
I believe that God still works in the lives of believers and in His church. One of the questions most commonly asked by believers is : how to recognize the guidance of God; how to know the directions of life; and how to find the will of the Holy Spirit in these matters. Lets see how these men in the first century did and then let us follow their pattern.
First thing we observe in this passage(Acts 13:2) is sensitivity to the Lords will and call comes when we are serving Him. Notice they are worshipping the Lord and fasting. The KJV says they ministered to the Lord and fasted and the Holy Spirit said.. Ministered means serving. These men had at that time recognized the gifts the Lord had given them- teaching and prophecy. They were using those gifts which God had equipped them with when the Spirit spoke to them. They did not have a long range planning committee to set up a strategy. The strategy they had was to serve the Lord where they were with the gifts He had equipped them with. If you are sitting in a car in San Francisco and want to go to Boston, but are waiting until all the lights turn green- you will never get there. God spoke to men who were already at work doing what they knew they were to do. Arent we supposed to wait on God sometimes? Yes, but we are to wait and do good.
We must not overlook the fact they were fasting. Fasting is something the Lord did, it is something He taught about that we should do- right along there with praying and giving. Throughout the Bible fasting combined with prayer played a significant role in changing lives and nations. Fasting is essential in what appears to be hopeless situations. Fasting is invaluable in national crisis. Fasting is invaluable in knowing the will of God. Fasting breaks strongholds.
Now the second part of this verse says the Holy Spirit said Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Did the Holy Spirit speak aloud- audibly? I do not know and Luke does not give us details. But we do know from the study of Scriptures, that often the Holy Spirit will speak through an individual and when He does, everyone else who is praying realizes this is what God desires to do.
Example: In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat receives word a vast army is coming against you. The Kings reaction- resolved to inquire of the Lord ( pray) and proclaim a national fast for all of Judah. As they were praying and fasting, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and he told the assembly: Listen the Lord says do not be afraid or discourage because of this vast army, for the battle is not yours but Gods. When he said this- everyone was in agreement this was what God wanted to do. ( Would you not like to have a leader who when faced with vast problems- would proclaim a time of national prayer and fasting? A leader who listened to the common people like Jahaziel- like you and me.)
We have talked about the weapons we have that are mighty and the powers that God has equipped us with- but there is something here that must not be overlooked that is the first and foremost weapon. It is in fact the greatest weapon in battle- a SURRENDERED LIFE. These men had surrendered their lives to the service of the Lord. Paul would later write, -I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. ( Galatians 2:20)
This is the principle of mutual submission. We give ourselves- surrender our lives to Him, because He submitted Himself for us- gave up His life for us. Paul would also later write: Therefore I urge you brothers in view of Gods mercy, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- for this is your spiritual act of worship. And be not conformed by this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you might be able to test and approve what the will of God is- His good, pleasing and perfect will.(Romans 12:1,2) P+T=R.
So we observe these men were doing what they were equipped to do- serving the Lord where they were with what they had been gifted to do. Their desire was to concentrate on what God would have them to do. So great was their concern- they fasted in order to discover Gods will. Here is your checklist: meeting together, exercising our gifts, praying and fasting and the Spirit of God spoke in such a way that they all knew what God wanted them to do.
Now, next we see where Gods Sovereignty and Mans free will to choose can work together. Verse 3 tells us: So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. Verse 4- the two of them being sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.
The way this scripture is written- we know they are sent forth by the Spirit- but the Spirit does not specifically tell them to go to Cyprus. This appears from this text to be the choice of Saul and Barnabas. And we can understand why this was a natural choice- for this is where Barnabas was from. Later Paul would be trying to go where the Lord directed him and it says Paul and his companions were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they TRIED to enter Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. (Acts 16) I find this story very encouraging and applicable to todays lesson. Do you know how Paul decided which cities to visit? Paul apparently went where he wanted. He was not trapped by thinking- what if I do the wrong thing or get out of Gods will? He did not suffer from the paralysis of analysis. He was following the principles and commandments of Gods Word to be a witness and spread the Gospel. In this situation, the Lord re-directed Paul to the right city. The key word in that verse is tried. Paul was trying to do the known will of God. In the first situation where Barnabas and Saul decide to go to Cyprus it is a choice of their own free will and common sense. It was following Gods commandments and adhering to His principles. If God has something specific He wants us to do- He can make it known to us when we are in an attitude of going- He will provide the Knowing.
Perhaps it was this very situation Paul experienced that led him to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he was confident that He who had begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ( Phil 1:6) And also Paul would write in that same letter to the church at Philippi- ..so continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.( Phil.2:12,13)
Do you get it? God works in you to the desire and the power to do His Will. You work it out- by prayer and fasting and using what God has given you where you are. If He is sending you forth- then get moving and in your attempt in working it out with fear and trembling- these words speak of effort on our part to do Gods will He will direct your path.
God has given us His Word and the Holy Spirit and the privilege of prayer that we might know His will for our lives. Let me share with you three markers to guide us in our decisions of life.
- Gods Moral Will. These are clearly enunciated in His commandments what we are to do and what we are NOT to do. Develop a lifestyle of obedience in harmony with Gods moral will and it will be easier to keep in step with the Spirit.
- Gods principles in His word. A principle is a law like sowing and reaping. They are like an equation that God gives us that says- if you do this you will get this result. You can expect this to happen. In decision making in seeking Gods will and the direction of the Holy Spirit- you must obey His clear commandments and must adhere to His principles.
- The third marker that clearly guides us is wisdom. If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. KJV. The NIV states God gives generously to all without finding fault.( James 1:6) And in Ephesians 5:15 Paul writes: see that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise. Always ask the following questions regarding decisions: is this the wise thing to do in light of my present circumstances? My past experiences? My future goals?
I like practical advice and so does our Heavenly Father. He wants to guide our lives. God wants to provide helpful wisdom in decision making.
If we adhere to these three markers we can discern Gods will. Sometimes His will is parceled out as we need it, never knowing the complete outcome- but only knowing what is the next thing to do. Sometimes it is to wait. Jesus told the apostles before He ascended to heaven to wait for the Holy Spirit. While they waited they did what they knew to do- meet together, study His Word and pray. They did not wait idly, they waited and did what they knew to do.
Sometimes He tells us to go forth or to leave where we are but is not specific as to where we are going. This was the case with Abraham who went out- NOT KNOWING WHERE HE WAS GOING. It appears the Holy Spirit sent forth Barnabas and Saul but they were not told specifically where to go and so they went to Cyprus. Paul was learning you could be confident that the Lord would complete what He had started. God would open doors no man could close.
In other situations, God would send a person to a specific place for a specific purpose, as in the case of Phillip who was sent to a desert oasis to witness to the Ethiopian eunuch.
One thing is for sure- the only way to know the commandments of God, the will of God, the principles of God and the mind of God is to know the Scriptures. Study to show yourself approved- a workman who needs not to be ashamed of his work.
Then be prepared to obey when God commands.
If it is to wait. Wait on the Lord and do good. Dont wait and fret- don t wait and complain you are tired of waiting- quit looking at your watch and look to the Lord.
God has shaped each one of us like a potter does a vessel to serve a specific purpose. You were knit together by God in your mothers womb. You and I are Gods handiwork shaped by the potter in the potters shed.
S- stands for Spiritual gift(s). We all receive at least one when we were born again. Do you know your spiritual gift or gifts?
H.- stands for heart or passion. God has given you a passion for something. Something you love to do. Cannot imagine- not doing.
A- stands for natural ability/ talent which you were born with the first time- that need to be developed. This is something you do better than others naturally.
P- stands for personality. You have a certain personality type given to you at birth. Each personality or temperament has positives or negatives.
E. stands for your life experience- what has occurred in your life- good and bad.
Now do you see how it all comes together. God has given us a spiritual gift when you and I were born again. He will then work in you a desire and will to use that gift- this is your passion what you have a heart for. This will be combined with a natural talent or ability you were born with- something that comes to you naturally. Then God adds the personality and temperament He would have you possess. Then comes life- the experiences that God uses to shape us and prepare us for His use. He never wastes anything and sometimes the greater troubles in our lives shape us specifically for a very specific purpose.
The Same God who directed the lives of the Apostles and early missionaries can still direct our lives. He has shaped each of us for His purpose. He can get us to where we need to be, doing what only we can do best, for He has chosen us and equipped us to do the work of the ministry as surely as He did the early church.
We do not need any more conferences, consultants, conventions, councils or retreats to decide, plan, strategize and act as if it all depended upon our resources.
I am not against being organized. But let the Lord organize us and let the Lord direct us. The Holy Spirit is the only one who knows the mind of God and He is the One who knows how to reach a city, a state and country and a world through a revived church that has returned to its first love and whose hearts burn within them.
Our priority is to Trust and Obey for there is NO OTHER WAY.