Acts 16: Spiritual Discernment

Happy Valentine’s Day

I have always been drawn to the following passage:

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, since the holy spirit had forbidden them to speak the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus didn’t allow them to do so. . . . Then a vision appeared to Paul in the night . . . When he saw the vision, at once we set about finding a way across to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the good news to them. (16:6-10)

I am convinced spiritual discernment is a huge topic I have neglected.  I think that is because I come to passages like this one and I leave confused.  I just can’t see my way forward into the topic.

How do we know the will of the Spirit?  How did Paul know the Spirit had forbidden them from going into Asia and Bithynia?  Was it that sixth-sense “knowing” that many of us feel at times, or was it something more?  Was this knowledge from a prophecy he had received?  The Macedonian Call came through a vision; was that how he discerned the stops on his journey?  Then we come to the word “concluding” in verse 10 and it seems some level of reason and deliberation was involved, but to what degree?

Some are sure that every whim and fancy is a message from God.  Others say God gave us a brain and expects us to use it, and the implication often is to use it to the exclusion of all other options.  I am convinced the way forward is somewhere between these extremes, as we see in this passage.  I would like to learn and experience more on this topic.

Do you have wisdom on this matter you can share?  

Categories: Acts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Acts 16: Spiritual Discernment

  1. susan rubio

    I’m very familiar with the Spirit’s “forbidding.” My mouth often runs ahead of my brain. For about 45 years now God’s Spirit has very much been about the business of helping me listen, helping me keep my mouth closed until the better moment, until the invitation to speak. I’m pretty sure the same Spirit of God beckons others–the quiet, the fearful, the reluctant– to speak boldly. I recall often the frustration of recognizing (after the fact) my sin in an encounter. I would cry, “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you stop me?” His reply? “I tried; you weren’t listening.” The issue may not be whether or not the Spirit is working but whether or not I am listening and obeying.

    • Susan: Have you ever had a sense that God was saying something only to find out later He clearly was not? If so, how do you discern whether the “voice of God” from within is in fact that?

      • Susan Rubio

        Jason, absolutely have experienced that. Still do. I’ve found that the enemy does a really good imitation of the Spirit’s voice, especially in those early days The longer we follow the Spirit faithfully and the more we experience His power, recognize our weakness, and look for those lies, the better we get at this discerning thing.

  2. Trent Williamson

    I have no real wisdom in this matter but am convinced that the work of the Spirit is far more than the use of our brains. I, too, would love to learn more and experience more and agree with Susan that most times it more of an issue of my willingness to listen, be led and ACT on the Spirit’s promptings.

    I have another question – does the circumcision of Timothy indicate that Paul disagreed with decision by the Council at Jerusalem in chapter 15?

    • Trent: You ask a good question. You can point to this example here and see Paul taking a more “conservative” approach or you can go to 1 Cor 8 and see him taking a more “liberal” approach to the decision of the Council by saying that food sacrificed to idols doesn’t really matter and can be eaten. Where did Paul line up with this decision?

      It goes back to the question of whether the Council’s decision was just a specific one for the church in Antioch. This chapter says Paul and Barnabas spread the ruling with churches beyond Antioch so it seems like it is not just a specific one.

      I think I am inclined to say Paul seems to have applied the ruling of the Council as the context dictated.

      In Timothy’s case, he is from Galatia which was evidently a very Jewish area. Think about the emphasis on Law in Galatians. Think about how much traction the Judaizers were able to get in this area according to these chapters we have just read. Timothy is well known as the son of a Greek father who was likely a pagan and a Jewish mother who was quite devout. Presumably, Timothy’s mixed background could have been an issue with some Jewish-leaning people in Galatia. Wishing for no stumbling blocks to be there, maybe Paul has Timothy be circumcised so as to open as many doors as possible.

      Then when he gets to the very pagan Corinth, where the Jewish law would have been less of an issue, he contextualizes his theology in a different way. In a city where almost all meat sold in the marketplace would have been sacrificed to some idol, the meat’s association with idolatry need not be a concern. Again, why put up more barriers and impediments to conversion? Leave as many doors to conversion open as possible.

      While Paul could be seen as both conservative and liberal on the surface, when you get below that to his actual core values, we see a consistent guiding principle: make conversion easier, not harder.

  3. Melanie Semore

    I have envied people who seem so clearly to hear God’s voice. Most of the time, his voice isn’t clear to me at all. I appreciate so much what Susan has said. I continue to pray for wisdom and discernment, for help on listening for God’s voice, for being quiet enough with my overactive mouth and with my racing mind actually to hear him.

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself, Melanie. My thoughts exactly. I want it to be easier than I often find it. Maybe with the time and practice that Susan mentions it will become that. Thanks for the hope, Susan!

  4. Jason – couldn’t find a better way to contact you. Did you take this photo? Could I use it for a discernment guide for our organization? Thanks! – Scott

  5. I’ve always wondered about how this chapter ends. Paul and Silas have been released. They are free to go. But then they demand an apology. They want the big-wigs to come out and give a public apology. It just seems a bit pompous. What do you think?

  6. Following Jesus has an economic toll. Paul and Silas free the slave girl of her evil spirit and it costs her owners. They lose money because of her. It probably affected her too. Why do we think following Jesus won’t negatively affect our standard of living? It seems like it surely might.

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