How do you know where God wants you to live? How do you know who God wants you to marry? We can think of God’s plan as a bullseye. We can be afraid that we’ve been picked the wrong path if we don’t find plan A. What are we missing? You’re right to want to please God in the decisions you make, but there might be a healthier way to view God’s guidance.
Luke 24:46-47 summarises the two books Luke wrote. Paul is faced with a dilemma:
Should I stay or should I go?
The disciples pleaded with Paul not to go. Agabus is also opposed to Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem. At least six different groups of individuals are saying the same thing. Paul’s answer:
Don’t go breaking my heart!
Paul is on one side and a whole group of Christian people on the other. In the end, Paul is undeterred by his friends’ pleas. He is compelled as he is following the task that God has given. The one thing that matters to Paul more than anything is the gospel being preached as Jesus instructed (Luke 24:47). It matters more to him than being in prison, or dying. Were the other Christians wrong? Agabus doesn’t get everything right. They did say Paul would suffer, and he did. Perhaps they were concerned about his welfare and safety. Is that wrong? No. For Paul, he thought it best to obey Jesus’ words. He chose Jerusalem over his own comforts.
How do we make decisions?
We seek wisdom from friends, which can be helpful or unhelpful. Are they pointing you to Jesus? We can ask God for a stamp of approval. Is there anywhere in the Bible that God says he’ll guide you in those ways? These suggestions treat God as a Magic 8 ball. If we view God in that way, we expect an answer. We’re not robots. Our simple human nature is a bit like Adam in the garden of Eden. We like to avoid responsibility in making decisions. We can blame others if things turn out badly.
God is able to speak in whatever way he chooses, and there are occasions where God does speak directly by the Holy Spirit, but it’s not the norm. The primary way that God speaks is through the Bible. There’s nothing new that God needs to say to us. We should turn to the Bible when making decisions.
- God is sovereign. Whatever decision you’re faced with, nothing is outside of his control. We’re never in plan B. We’re all in his sovereignty.
- Obedience – we must obey God. Would a decision cause us to sin?
- Wisdom – we should be wise. Is the decision a wise, God-centred decision?
- Freedom – there are some things that God hasn’t spoken about in his word, but we should trust him. We don’t need to be anxious.
A better question: is the one thing that matters to you most, what matters to God? Be humble and prioritise the gospel. At the heart of gospel decision making is humility. In the decisions we make, are we prepared to do the same as Paul?
Verse 32 is key to this passage. Paul commits people that he loves to the word of God’s grace. He’s not leaving them with nothing.
God and his word build Christians up
If we want to become the building God wants us to be, we need to let him tell us where he wants us to be. God’s word shows us how he wants us to be, whether it’s loving our neighbour, or honouring our parents, for example.
God and his word give an inheritance
It’s life forever with him in a perfect world. This is an inheritance for every Christian. God needs to work in the life of someone to bring them to him. Every person in the world has sinned. We’ve all rejected. We’ve all failed to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. We’re not abandoned and left under judgement. God has acted. He has come to rescue us. Jesus came to live a perfect life and die an unjust death. He died as a substitute. He died in our place. We have an inheritance if we follow him.
A life of love
This passage is a model of what it looks like to follow God (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul gathers the Ephesian elders together. He implicitly says “imitate me”. The church family in Ephesus is a family that Paul loves dearly. They were to never see him again. Mostly, we see Paul lived a life of gentleness and care. He loves people because he knows how much God loves people. This is a responsibility particularly for leaders of churches, but also for all Christians. We should include everyone when inviting people round, instead of just those we have lots in common with.
A life that takes every opportunity to speak
Paul knows he’s going but wants to make the most of the time he has (v7) and so he talks until midnight. Eutychus falls out of a third storey window. As funny as the story is, imagine if that happened to someone you cared about. Paul is a chosen apostle with unique authority. It’s an incredible miracle. It’s not normal, but it’s another reminder of the authority of Paul’s words, that we can trust what he says. Paul has spent his life modelling that it’s God’s word that builds Christians and gives an inheritance. He models a life that takes every opportunity to speak of God and his word. We should do the same. Aren’t there lots of good ways that we can speak to people of God and his word?
A life that teaches all of God’s word (even the hard bits)
The whole of God’s word is helpful. God wouldn’t have given it to us otherwise. People will come and try to destroy God’s church (v29-31). When we begin to avoid the bits that are hard, that can happen. It’s not loving to avoid difficult conversations. We are to teach all of God’s word. There are plenty of people who say they are Christians but deny God’s word. Paul has told the truth (v26).
A life that reflects what you say
Christians have been labelled as hypocrites for many reasons. Individually and corporately we need to confess when we’ve failed. The difference between being a hypocrite and being an honest Christian is that a hypocrite tries to pretend otherwise. We don’t need to live for money or comfort; we need to live for the inheritance waiting for us. Shouldn’t we love the community in which we live? If this is the most important news in the world, shouldn’t we use what we have now for the benefit of others? Paul knows how much better life in eternity will be. We will find a delight in it, as we’ll be living more for God’s glory as we trust in him. In what small ways can we imitate Paul? We can’t do it alone. We can only do it by God working through us.
Matthew shows us how Jesus is fully human and over the course of their story, how Jesus is fully God. Christ is God’s chosen king. He’s a direct descendant of David and Abraham (see 1:1-17). God’s promises are being fulfilled in Jesus. Mary and Joseph were legally committed but not yet married. Joseph didn’t need to be quiet. He could’ve had Mary stoned to death. As far as he knows she has cheated on him with another man, yet he has compassion. Mary has probably told him but why would he believe her?
An angel visits Joseph. It’s not normal. This is an unusual thing because this is God’s plan of salvation for the world. From the beginning of the Bible, sin has always been a problem. This is a long-promised saviour. Joseph responds with amazing obedience. He responds in true faith just as Mary had done.
God is good and people are rubbish
This is a shocking story. This baby comes and God chooses him to be dependent on people. Humans can’t be trusted yet God entrusts Jesus to them. God has chosen to humble himself in human form, utterly dependent on Mary and Joseph to look after him. That is shocking. God chose this way.
The sovereign Lord trusts normal people to bring about his salvation plan for the world
God risks everything by trusting his message of salvation to normal people like us. There is not one person who can save themselves and there’s not one person who Jesus can’t save. We can all be willing to do what he asks. We can do it together as a church family. There is real joy seeing God work despite our failures. God continues to use and trust rubbish people to bring about his good and perfect plans.
John’s intention was to focus entirely on Jesus. When we writes these words, he’s an old man. He’s probably the last survivor of the apostles. His purpose in writing this gospel is clear (John 20:30-31).
Who is Jesus?
There’s no doubt that this whole passage is about Jesus, even though his name isn’t mentioned until v17. The opening parallels with Genesis 1. The Hebrew word for ‘Word’ also indicates deed. What God says, he does. The Word is eternal (v2). This passage makes it clear that Jesus has always existed. He is the eternal son of God. He is the creator (v3). When we think of how small the earth is compared to the Sun, it should make us humble and want to worship. Jesus is the uncreated light (v4-5), the light of the world. That is the light that God is shining into our hearts. He’s the source of light and life (v9). At the heart of the Christmas message is the Word became flesh (v14).
Why did he come?
To be light in the darkness (v5). God lives in unapproachable light, but Jesus is God in human form who came and lived among us. The problem is that Jesus said people loved darkness more than light. We don’t like being exposed when we’re wrong. He came to give light to everyone (v9), to give life to all who believe in him (v4), and to live among people and make God known (v14 & 18). What is God like? Look at Jesus. He came to bring God’s grace and truth to us (v17). God’s law shows us our sinfulness, but Jesus came to fulfill the law. He alone can rescue us from our spiritual darkness. Without faith in Jesus, we can’t be accepted by God.
How can we know him?
We need to acknowledge that Jesus is who he says he is. The world doesn’t recognise him, but he’s calling people to recognise who he is. We are to believe in his name. God makes us his children. Having faith means following him. God takes delight in his people. Let’s enter that delight. Let his grace be seen in our lives so that people would be drawn to him and follow him.
The gospel the apostles taught is preserved in Luke’s account. The Holy Spirit they relied on is with every believer. We should have the same confidence. How is the church going to grow? There are three scenes in this passage. We can have full confidence because God is building the church on the foundation of his word.
When Christians feel weak, open God’s word to strengthen one another (18:18-23)
Paul had already spent a year and a half in Corinth. It’s likely he felt weak as God spoke to him in a vision. He’s strengthened by the word that God speaks to him. Why does he take an unusual route? He points the church to God when they feel weak. He uses God’s word to preach the message of the gospel. The church is built as the word spreads widely (19:20). When we feel weak, let’s open God’s word.
When Christians disagree, explain God’s word more accurately to one another (18:24-28)
Apollos appears faultless. He’s mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:11-12. He speaks eloquently and is very persuasive. The Corinthian church had started to quarrel. Paul isn’t criticising him. It’s God’s word, not engaging speakers that advance the gospel. One godly Christian couple with a Bible have all they need. Who likes to be corrected? Apollos cares more about the gospel than about his own reputation. As we open God’s word with each other, we are participating in a great activity, as we grow as Christians.
When people are confused, teach God’s word until they are clear (19:1-7)
Paul teaches them until they are clear (19:4). He’s so committed to teaching the Ephesians that he remains with them for two years. As Christians we need to rediscover how to disagree well. It seems that the twelve men aren’t Christians when Paul meets them. On hearing the gospel they receive the Holy Spirit. Why does Luke seem to emphasise the gifts of tongues and prophecy? He wants to reassure his readers that they are Christians. The context of which tongues and prophecy happen needs to be understood in terms of 1 Corinthians 12-13. People may believe different things about prophecy. As we talk to each other, have the Bible open. Let’s listen and meet with the Lord about these things.
It’s God’s word, not our experiences that build churches.
It can be hard to keep speaking about Jesus. We can be too busy, or frightened. What if we say the wrong thing? What about hard questions? Life wasn’t so different in the early church. It’s strangely encouraging that even Paul needed God to intervene to encourage him to continue speaking.
Paul is in Corinth on his own and none of his companions are with him. It’s not that different from Athens. It’s a powerful Roman colony. They’re not interested in Paul. It’s a daunting place for Paul to be on his own.
Christianity is the fulfilment of all of God’s promises
Christianity is the continuation of the faith of all Jews everywhere. It’s the completion of the promises the Jewish people were looking forward to. Paul knows that Christianity is a hope for all Jewish people. He’s willing to do whatever is necessary in order to speak in any place about Jesus. God’s promised Messiah was going to be greater than a human king. This has been God’s plan since before the creation of the world. Doesn’t that give us confidence to speak? We have God’s hope for the world to share.
The Lord is the one gathering a people for himself
It’s not just down to Paul, or any person. If you’re a Christian, do you realise that’s a miracle? It should encourage us that it’s not completely up to us, but we need to keep speaking. Paul has proclaimed the gospel and despite opposition, people are becoming Christians. The ruler of the synagogue and his family became Christians. One new people under Jesus Christ. We need to have confidence in him.
The Lord commands us to speak, and promises to be with us
The Lord is faithful to his promises. He uses a Roman non-Christian to protect Paul from harm. Paul is able to stay there for a year and a half. How can we make disciples unless we speak? We should keep on speaking because the hope of Christianity has always been God’s plan.
We all hope for all kinds of things. Some are good, some aren’t so good. If we’re Christians, God calls us to a different hope. Our hopes are often about our own situations in our lives now. The book of 1 Peter has lots to say about the hope we are called to (1:3-4). Hope is central to this letter. It’s a future hope (v1, 4, 6, 10). The Christian life is one of a living hope, sharing in Jesus’ glory until he returns.
The Christian life can only be explained by this living hope
Live a good life now (2:12) even if it means being hated and accused of being wrong because Jesus is coming back. Our hope isn’t just for now but for the future promised by God. Why would a Christian slave keep working hard? Only if they’ve got a living hope for something more than this life. Why would you go out of your way to show kindness to someone who’s hated you? Only if you have a living hope. It’s a wonderful way of living but it’s still hard. When Jesus comes back he will remake the world as it should be. We don’t deserve to be part of that.
It’s only possible to lead a church in the way Peter describes if you have this living hope. He was one of Jesus’ closest followers. What’s the motivation to be a humble serving church leader? Verse 4. Isn’t it just easier to want an easy life? Peter says to be submissive to church leaders. Humble service is only possible if you have this living hope.
The Christian life is shaped by this living hope
Living a missional life is about remembering that the whole Christian life is lived for the glory of God. That’s what helps us share the good news of Christianity with others. It’s hard (v7). It’s okay to be anxious if we’re taking our anxieties to God because he cares for us. Be self-controlled and alert (v8). The devil wants the pain of suffering to stop people from being Christians. He wants you to keep the fact you’re a Christian secret. The best way to resist him is to meet Christians in local churches. We are to support and challenge each other. We need to be reminded that we’re not alone when we suffer.
Are your choices shaped more and more by your living hope for Jesus’ return in glory, even knowing that this might mean suffering for you? How do you use your time, money and home? Seeing a Christian living with this hope speaks volumes.
Christians can live distinctively because of the living hope that we have. We live distinctively in order to point others to Jesus. Living distinctively, especially in tough times, is what allows Christians to share the hope that we have.
Noah is an example of a distinctive life. It’s a story of God’s judgement on the world. Noah is far from a perfect person but was the best of a bad lot. He listened to God and built the ark. He was ignored by others. Only eight were saved. Through Jesus’ death, God declares throughout history the justice of his rescue. Jesus rules over all. In one sense, the ark saved Noah, but it was simply the evidence of his faith in God. Baptism is a symbol of us dying and being risen to new life. We don’t think of it as being distinctive. For Peter’s first hearers that might have meant death. Peter says it’s worth it to be distinctive. It’s a way of saying that we’re not good enough.
Imagine living in a country with a corrupt government. The world says to get out of that situation. Start a resistance. We think it makes sense to get even. Peter says to submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake (2:13). It’s not easy to submit to injustice. Why? It’s distinctive. It gives Christians the opportunity to tell others about Jesus. What does our culture say? Fight back. It’s controversial to submit yourselves to your masters (2:18). Peter says even when they’re beating you, stay, because it’s a way of being distinctive. What does our culture say? Get out.
Peter says to be distinctive from the world. He says to repay evil with blessing (3:9). This isn’t a call to stay in harm’s way. We should encourage people to move away from abusive partners. Don’t take vengeance into your own hands. We’re called to follow Jesus’ example (2:21). We know that Jesus suffered unjustly. He lived the only perfect life (2:22-23). We point people to Jesus as we inherit a blessing (3:9). Peter quotes Psalm 34 in 3:10-12. We are called to live distinctively in every area of our lives.
Are you ready to give a reason for the hope that you have (3:15)? When we live distinctive lives for Jesus, people will ask us why. That gives us the chance to give a reason for the hope that we have. We have this hope because Jesus has rescued us.
Are there things that we find easy to talk to others about? There are also things that we find hard to talk about. Do we find it hard to talk about Jesus? We are commanded to do so. We know that everyone needs Jesus yet we find it harder to talk about him than about football. Christians are to offer sacrifices acceptable to God (v5) and declare his praises (v9).
The problem is that we all find evangelism difficult. If a building was on fire we wouldn’t sneak out, we’d tell others to get out. So why do we find evangelism hard? We’re lazy. It’s easy to keep our heads down. There’s a spiritual battle as well. The devil doesn’t want people to become Christians. It can be hard to be rejected. Sometimes we’d rather not know what people think. Another problem is that we don’t know what to say.
Peter knows that telling others about Jesus is hard. He was so frightened of a little girl that he wouldn’t admit he was a follower of Jesus. Yet God used him to tell lots of others about Jesus. Part of being a Christian is that this world is no longer our home. We’re aliens and strangers in the world. People will think we’re strange. Even if you live a good life people will accuse you of doing wrong, because that’s easier than accepting the message of Jesus. What do we do?
We are to keep seeing who we are together because of Jesus. He is the living stone, the one that shapes what the building will look like. The cornerstone of a building always needs to be right; it’s the key stone for the whole building. Jesus shapes the building that Christianity is. Yet this cornerstone was rejected (v4). The same thing happens today. People reject him as King. Christianity says we are not good enough for God. It causes people to stumble. Jesus is precious to God as he’s his own son and is precious to us as he rescues us. The more we look at Jesus the more we will see who we are because of him.
We are a spiritual house and a holy priesthood. We are now God’s priesthood (v9). That’s why he uses Christians to call others to follow him. We are royal because we are children of the King. We are a chosen people. Once we weren’t a people (v10) but now we have received mercy because Jesus died to rescue us. One person doesn’t make a nation. This is what Christians are called to be together. It’s who we are so that we live good lives among the pagans (v12). This is how God calls Christians to live for him, to live distinctively because of who we are in Jesus. This gives us opportunities to declare his praises so that others follow him.
Sometimes we can either not live distinctively or hide away and not spend time in this world. When others become Christians you can see the change in their lives. People see when Christians live distinctively. It’s only possible to do this together, when we love and support each other when times are tough. People will see this and will be drawn into the community of the church.
Related Bible Studies:
When it’s tough being a Christian the temptation is to live like everyone else. These people had similar struggles. It’s hard to live distinctively as a Christian when times are tough.
Christians live distinctively because we have a living hope
Leviticus is quoted, which is all about how God’s people are to live differently from those around them, but not be separated from them. They are to shine as a light for all to see. It’s tough to live distinctively. Not joining in gossip. Not speaking out about issues from a Christian viewpoint. Thankfully it’s not about what we do, it’s about what Jesus has done.
So why live distinctively? If we are Christians this is who we are. Living distinctively shows the truth of who we are. We have been purified, born again. If we are a Christian we are a child of God and so we show the family likeness. Whether we’re close to our families or not, we still pick up things from them. It’s no different being a Christian. We don’t conform to the evil desires we used to have. We are to live as our Father expects us to. We are to live in reverent fear.
We’ve been redeemed (v18). We’ve been bought back. We’ve been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus (v19). His life for our life. His death for our death. Jesus was willing to come and pay that cost so that we could be redeemed, freed. If you’ve been a hostage and are then rescued, you are free from that life so you can live differently. We’ve been purified (v22), washed clean. Why would we go back to where we were?
The way that we purify ourselves is by obeying the truth. It’s not about our actions, it’s about putting our trust in Jesus. Peter reminds us about needing to be born again of the Spirit. Our bodies don’t last. We’re all born once but through Jesus we are born again. We are born imperishable, lasting forever because God’s word lasts forever. Once you’ve tasted this truth (2:3), of course you’ll live in light of it. Nothing compares. We long for it even if life can be hard.
In light of this
We are to be prepared for action. We are to fix our eyes on the prize. The hope of Christianity is not for today (fully). It’s nothing compared to every day in heaven. We are to love one another. Christians are a family. We are to live our lives distinctively together. We are to get rid of destructive qualities (2:1). They’re things that are part of the world rather than part of God’s people. We are to be supported by other Christians who aren’t jealous, but honest about the difficulties. We spur one another on and help each other live distinctive lives. It can be hard but it’s who we are. We are called to live this way as we wait for Jesus’ return.