by Jeremy Fuller, Director of Home Missions
"And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." (Acts 16:9)
The emergence of the church at Philippi in Acts 16 is as much a model for Christian leaders in the twenty-first century as in any other. In the beginning of the chapter (verses 1-5) we find a team of earnest-hearted Christian leaders (Paul, Silas, and Timothy) encouraging and nurturing the newly founded churches of south central Asia. Verse five reads, “And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.” And so, what does a church leader do when he is satisfied that the work he has already undertaken is healthy? He looks for new ground to break.
God Opens the Door to New Fields of Service
In verses 6-8 we discover that is exactly what they did. They began to purse their desires to take the gospel into the heart of Asia. But God had other plans. What does a loving, sovereign God do in such cases? He begins to frustrate our plans. We find phrases like “[they] were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia" and “they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not.”
Sometimes Spirit-filled men go through seasons of frustration. Paul and Silas were Spirit-filled men, but God was getting ready to do something big. Not only big, but radically different from what He had done in days gone by. Thus, it was necessary for this cutting-edge missionary team to run up against some closed doors in order to prepare them for the call of God to a brand-new field of service.
God Establishes His Church
Not only did the Macedonian Call involve a great physical journey, but it meant that Paul and Silas were going to Europe – a gospel frontier where the name of Jesus Christ had never been preached. Lydia, a wealthy merchant woman became the very first European convert. The Philippian church was born not in a cathedral, but by a river at a place of prayer. We don’t know how many from that river-side prayer meeting crowd ended up becoming members, but we know that the God who opened Lydia’s heart also opened many other hearts and minds to the gospel message.
We read about the mid-night prayer and praise meeting, the heaven-sent earthquake, and the Philippian Jailer and his family come rushing into the Kingdom of God. But none of these things would have happened had Paul and his companions not had great faith in God’s character. God is trustworthy! When we obey His call, wonderful miracles will take place.
God's Call Requires Total Dependence on the Holy Spirit
There are parts of the story that are missing in Acts 16. How did Paul and Silas find Lydia? Did Paul know that casting out the demons of the unnamed damsel who brought much profit to her masters would get them thrown into prison? Were Paul and Silas scared during the earthquake that led to the jailer’s conversion?
There are many questions I would like to ask the apostles and details that I wish were included in the story. But they are not. What is very evident is that these early Christian missionaries who didn’t have access to the New Testament or to the biographies of Hudson Taylor or Adoniram Judson had a reliable guide. They had learned to be led by the Holy Spirit of God. And that was enough!
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