Sermon Summary - The Spirit’s Guiding - Acts 16:1-10
The Spirit’s Guiding
Luke begins the story of the Apostle Paul’s 2nd missionary journey here. What stands out is not Paul, but the Holy Spirit. Imagine if the Holy Spirit decided to remove Himself from this passage. Obviously, the outcome would have been vastly different. And the same is true if the Holy Spirit were removed from our lives. What stands out in this passage is that the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul and his team to do what they planned to do initially. But He then gives Paul a vision which gives more clear direction. Although the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in v. 1-5, it is not correct to conclude that what took place there was outside of the Holy Spirit’s will. We are meant to infer that Paul and these Christians were seeking first the kingdom, and then the Lord directed their paths.
The sovereign, providential hand of the Holy Spirit brings first Silas (Acts 15:40), and then a young man named Timothy (Acts 16:1) into Paul’s life. Leaving Antioch, they set out to deliver the letter from the Jerusalem Council, returning to Derbe and Lystra. Lystra was the town where Paul was stoned and nearly died just two years prior. This is the first time we are introduced to Timothy, who would become like a son to Paul. Timothy’s mother and grandmother were Jewish women (2 Tim. 1:5), and his father was a Greek. He was raised as a Jew and learned the Scriptures from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15). Most scholars believe Timothy was about 19-23 years old at this time, and Luke tells us that he had already established a good reputation among the churches in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2). This was the start of a Holy Spirit-led, lifelong mentorship between Paul and Timothy. Another relationship we see brought into Paul’s life here is Luke, as he joins Paul’s missionary journey (Acts 16:10). This marks the beginning of the first “we” section where Luke is part of the missionary team (Acts 16:10-40). These new relationships did not happen by chance. The Lord knows what people need and who they need at differing times in their lives. Think about the close relationships in your life. We ought to be thankful to God, as Paul clearly was (2 Tim. 1:3-5).
Paul wanted to bring Timothy on his missionary journey (Acts 16:3), and since he always goes first to the Jews, he made a practical ministry decision to have Timothy circumcised. This was in no way inconsistent with Paul’s convictions or understanding of the gospel. Paul fought tooth and nail against the false gospel that said you must be circumcised in order to be saved. So why does he have Timothy circumcised here when on another occasion he refused to allow Titus to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3)? The context was totally different. With Titus the question was whether a man is justified by grace through faith alone, or whether he must add works of the Law. With Timothy, it was a matter of becoming a Jew to the Jews in order to win them to Christ.
Paul and company go on to preach, teach, and deliver the letter from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 16:4), and this strengthens the churches (Acts 16:5). Then Lukes directs our attention to the leading and directing of the Holy Spirit, as these Christians are already actively serving the Lord. It’s a lot easier to steer a car that is already moving than a parked car. And so it is with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. One thing we learn: often the Holy Spirit leads us by hindering us from something else. These verses raise several questions. Didn’t God want the unbelievers in Asia and Bithynia to hear the gospel? Yes, but not now. Later in the book of Acts we see that they eventually do get in to Ephesus and Asia. How did the Holy Spirit prevent them from going to certain regions (Acts 16:6-7)? Was it through an audible voice, prophetic word, circumstances hindering them, or the internal leading of the Spirit? All are possible, but we don’t know definitively. How did they know it was the Holy Spirit and not the enemy? (Cf. 1 Thess. 2:18). Sometimes closed doors are a sign that we should keep asking and seeking and knocking until the Lord opens the door. Other times a closed door means, “No, not now.” This is why we must daily draw near to the Lord and walk by the Spirit. Often the Lord only gives us pieces. Paul and the missionary team finally get clear direction through a vision (Acts 16:9). They discussed and concluded that the Lord had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia (Acts 16:10). Two main lessons we learn from this: we must be careful not to quench the Holy Spirit, and we must also examine everything (1 Thess. 5:19-22).
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