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.
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.
Jokes take something that’s familiar and changes it. It breaks patterns. There is no area that’s not affected when the gospel is proclaimed. It changes everything. Here we see the planting of the Philippian church. What makes them distinct?
This becomes the first church in Europe. Whenever Paul and his team go to a city they preach the gospel in a synagogue. Here they find a group of women. Purple was a colour of royalty, extravagance. Lydia was a worshipper or God. She’s a successful business person but she can’t save herself. The Spirit opens her heart. She’s the first European Christian that we know of. She goes from praying on the outskirts of town to offering hospitality. When the gospel is proclaimed it breaks up all of our religious pretence so that it can take root.
The demon in the slave girl was trying to hinder Paul’s mission. The gospel means how you make money matters. It has cultural consequences. It can mean upsetting unjust systems. Do we act ethically? Paul and Silas could’ve escaped prison after the earthquake but they didn’t. The jailer asks what everyone wanted to know. What must you do to be saved? Let go of everything and believe in Jesus. The gospel affects both the body and the soul.
Paul knew that the magistrates had acted illegally. What pattern in your life needs to be upended by the gospel? Let go of your hurt or pride and believe in the one who is raised and has defeated death. The gospel changes everything. It takes root in our hearts and grows into joy.
This passage seems like random incidents. In first century terms we are the ends of the earth. They ask us a serious question – what are you prepared to do for the sake of the gospel? It’s all about faith. Have we put our faith in Jesus so that God declares us righteous? It’s all about teamwork. When Jesus sent his disciples out, he always sent them out in pairs. This was carried out by the apostles. Occasionally you get someone who goes out by themselves (Philip).
Paul had a good model of encouraging others to keep going. Barnabas modelled this too. They agreed on visiting people who they’d met to see how they were doing. They fell out about the little details. That can happen quite often. The text doesn’t pass judgement on Barnabas. He seems to disappear after this. Paul takes a different view. Mark grew sufficiently in his love for Jesus (Paul refers to him in Philemon). Don’t write off struggling disciples. The disagreement is described as sharp. It seems that from what happens that God’s intention was that there should be two missionary teams. They didn’t divide the church over it. They were strengthening the churches.
Team building (15:40-16:5)
Paul chose Silas who was recognised by the leaders of the church in Jerusalem and a prophet. Timothy was clearly a convert from the missionary journey. Paul is desperate to make sure no one has a barrier to understanding the gospel. The Holy Spirit moves when people are committed.
Team direction (16:6-10)
All scripture is God breathed. As we absorb the word of God we start to agree with God and approve of what he wants to do in our lives. How does God guide this team? Paul and his companions were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching in certain areas. The Holy Spirit was guiding them as to where and when to preach. We are not the only ones doing the job. You can only be in one place at one time. Are we listening to his voice? Make sure you’re part of an active team for the gospel.
This isn’t normal (getting up and walking having never been able to). The crowds were ready to believe that a miracle had happened. What matters to you more than anything? We are all prone to false worship.
Stop worshipping worthless things (v14-18)
Is Jesus what matters most to you? How much more should we worship God who has revealed his love in sending Jesus? The crowd didn’t want to stop.
Don’t be surprised if you suffer (v19-22)
Paul was stoned because the people refused to believe the good news of Jesus. Paul shows that following Jesus is costly. We should have a desire to share the gospel with others but there will always be people who reject him and persecute Christians, making them suffer. Paul and Barnabas didn’t stay out of sight. We’re not facing threats but we need to be prepared for rejections.
Celebrate what God is doing (v23-28)
Acts points us to God’s work. The purpose of Paul’s work is God’s work. The work of God establishing churches isn’t just for Israel, but for the whole world. God’s concern is for the advance of the gospel (Acts 1:8). Are we celebrating what God is doing? His good news is for all people. Do we give God thanks for what he is doing among us? Is what matters to you what matters to God?
God is gathering a people for himself (Revelation 7:9-10). Jesus says we need saving. If we think we can be saved in any other way, we’re saying Jesus’ death is a waste. Christians are called to join in with God’s mission (Acts 1:8).
The local church sends missionaries (12:25-13:3)
This is a group of people gifted by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s word to others. Worship is giving glory to God. It’s communal and focused on Jesus. Fasting is done to remind ourselves that we depend on God. It’s wise to test what the Holy Spirit is saying. We should take time to listen to the Holy Spirit; the primary way is through the Bible. When churches gather together, this is a bit of what we’re trying to do. Are you there expecting to hear from the Holy Spirit?
Missionaries do the things that Christians do (13:4-12)
This opportunity comes with opposition. Saul stands against opposition to the gospel. If someone tries to stop us, we should stand against that. They’re not opposing just us, they’re opposing God. The teaching causes them to believe. We should send people to every area of the world and support them. Are we willing to send our very best? We need to join in with God’s mission where we are, too. Do we see the opportunities around us and speak up? We are to gently and firmly tell people the truth.
Who is Herod? He slaughtered the babies in order to try to kill baby Jesus. This Herod is his grandson. He had been brought up in Rome. He was popular with the Jewish people as he was Jewish. He used his influence on behalf of those people. The one in between had John the Baptist’s head chopped off.
This Herod made a political calculation and is using his power to do what he wants. Sometimes we wonder why politicians make the decisions that they do. Jesus said there will be trouble. Herod was popular and so Peter was kept in prison. Release was humanly impossible.
How should the church respond to this? They’ve lost James, now the leader is in prison. They were earnestly praying to God. What might the church have prayed for Peter? Jesus showed to Peter that when he was old he would be executed. God intervenes because it was impossible for Peter to escape. He doesn’t float out. He was given things to do. The angel did for Peter only what he couldn’t do.
How did the church respond to answered prayer? They are still praying. What does the church look like? Where are they doing it? In homes, through the night, sustained over days. It’s easy to say the same things. Do we believe God is going to answer our prayers? We must take none of the credit. Listen to what God has done in answering prayers.
Herod ignores the possibility of divine intervention, but it was normal if guards lost a prisoner. God always has the last word. Who’s in charge? The word of God continued to spread.
Why are Christians different? Church should be a community of people who have been changed to live differently. There was something different about these guys (v26). They needed a new name.
Tell others the hope that we have. We need to speak, otherwise how will others know? We need to do it sensitively and appropriately but we still need to speak. Lots of Jewish background Christians thought you had to become a Jew first. We need to be careful as it’s easier to spot errors in other cultures but not our own. Are there people we don’t consider speaking to?
See God’s grace in the lives of others. Keep on. Remain true to the Lord. These guys had been running away from persecution. They probably didn’t feel successful. Sometimes we need someone else to encourage us. We are called to remain true to Jesus.
Help each other see how to respond to what God teaches us in the Bible. Christian teaching should never be just about information. It should always call us to respond.
Look for practical ways to help others. A whole church that looks to the interests of others is attractive. They want to serve. If you’re a Christian you’re called to live a distinctive life, but you’re not on your own. You’re part of a church. As we do that more and more, the world will see we are Jesus’ disciples.