person in prayer November 22 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Acts 15:36–18:22

Note: In the interest of keeping with the theme of each day’s study, today’s lesson is long. However, this is a topic of great interest to many people.

Working with the Holy Spirit; Paul's 2nd Missionary Journey

How do we recognize the leading of the Holy Spirit? Do we get a quiver in our liver? Seriously speaking, how do we know the decisions we are about to make are from the Spirit and not from us? How do we work in cooperation with God? What is our work, and what is his work? The Apostle Paul’s example in his second missionary journey and other relevant Scriptures give us answers to these questions.

As we may recall from yesterday’s reading, the Jerusalem Council decided that circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses and its accompanying Jewish traditions were not requirements for Gentiles (non-Jewish people) to be saved. After much debate and testimony they made this decision:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well (Acts 15:28-29, NIV).

These restrictions were given to the Gentile believers in order that Jewish believers would not be offended, and the Gentiles believers would prove their godliness.

Now that the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch have come to a reasonable compromise, Paul wants to take Barnabas on a second missionary journey to share the resolution with the newly established churches in Asia Minor (Turkey) and to strengthen them. However, there is a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about taking John Mark with them again. Mark had turned back soon after they had embarked on their first missionary journey. Paul does not want to take a quitter, but Barnabas wants to give Mark another chance. So sharp is the disagreement between the two men that Barnabas sails on a missionary journey with Mark to Cyprus, and Paul takes Silas on a missionary journey to Syria and Cilicia (the southern coast of Turkey). Who was right, Paul or Barnabas? Paul would later write to the believers in Rome,

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:5,6, NIV).

Are Paul and Barnabas both seeking the mind and will of the Spirit? Do they both want to glorify God? Yes, to both questions, but they disagree on how to do it. Can good Christians disagree and still be in the will of God? Yes! This disagreement works for God’s glory because two missionary teams are formed (Acts 15:36-40). Later, Paul will admit John Mark is profitable to the ministry (2Timothy 4:11). The first way we can tell if our decision is from the Holy Spirit or from ourselves is to answer the question—does the decision fulfill our own desires or God’s desires? (Galatians 5:16-17)

A second way we can know a decision is of the LORD and not of us is to look at the results. Are the results in keeping with the nature and work of the Holy Spirit? In reviewing the results of the ministries of Paul and Barnabas, we must conclude that it was (see more insights on the work and nature of the Holy Spirit).

Continuing on Paul’s second missionary journey, we see something strange about the Holy Spirit’s working. The Holy Spirit forbids Paul and Silas to preach the gospel to cities in Asia Minor, Galatia, and Bythinia but calls them to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). We don’t know why the Holy Spirit permits them to preach to one group of people and not another—only God knows the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:27). We know, however, that the Holy Spirit does everything in accordance with the Father’s will. We must be willing to be flexible as God changes our plans for his greater glory.

In the city of Philippi, Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman who sells purple cloth, is saved. Shortly thereafter, Paul and Silas are dragged into the market place before magistrates (governing officials). There they are falsely accused, beaten, and put in stocks in a dungeon. Some thought something was wrong with their ministry because they were treated this way. Did resistance and persecution mean the Holy Spirit was not leading Paul and Silas? No, God told Paul he would suffer for him (Acts 9:15-16). Does resistance and persecution mean we are not doing God’s will? No, Jesus promised his disciples that if they persecuted him, they would also be persecuted (John 15:17-21).

The ultimate results of Paul and Silas being beaten and jailed in the city of Philippi are life-giving—the Philippian jailer and his whole family are saved and baptized (Acts 16:25-34)! The enemies of the missionaries meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. The next day, Paul and Silas are released from jail. They return to Lydia’s house and then move on to the city of Thessalonica. There they experience more persecution.

Up to this point we have emphasized the Holy Spirit’s work, but how do we work in cooperation with the Spirit of God? What is our part or responsibility?

First, we know it is the will of God for us to be witnesses of Christ and make disciples wherever he sends us (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

Second, we work with the Holy Spirit when we use our minds to study the Bible so we can apply it to our culture and use it in our witness to people. As Paul travels to different cities as a missionary (Acts 17:1-3), on Sabbath days he reasons with Jews from the Scriptures, “explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Acts 17:3a, NIV). Paul uses the mind God gave him. As he reasons with Jews, he considers their culture and their knowledge of Old Testament Scriptures and shows them how Jesus fulfilled them.

Because of heavy persecution by the Jews, Paul and Silas leave Thessalonica at night. They find a more receptive audience in Berea, but again the Jews bring pressure upon them, so they leave for Athens, Greece. The Bereans are commended for examining the Scriptures to see if what Paul and Barnabas testified about them was true. We should also be students of the Word of God.

Third, we can work in cooperation with the Spirit of God by knowing our audience and guiding them into all truth (1Peter 3:15).While in Athens, Paul is disturbed in his spirit because the city is full of idols. Daily, he reasons with Jews and Gentiles in the market place using the Holy Scriptures (Acts 17:17-34). Later, he uses apologetic arguments with Epicureans and Stoic philosophers. He uses natural revelation and specific revelation (the Scriptures) and even their own poetry in relating the gospel to them.

After Athens, Paul travels to the city of Corinth. This is a very wicked city, full of immorality and idol worship. While he is there, he uses the Scriptures to illuminate truth to Jews and Gentiles, showing them that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah for which they are waiting. Although they suffer many threats and are taken before legal authorities, God encourages them to continue. He will be their shield and defender. He is also our shield and defender. Even if we experience resistance, let’s hold fast to the Lord and the work he has given us.

After Corinth, Paul makes a quick stop in Ephesus, before going up to the Jerusalem church and then down to the church in Antioch Syria. This ends his second missionary journey. He stays in his home church for a while and encourages the disciples before leaving for his third missionary journey.

Lessons to Live By

  • If we want the Holy Spirit to lead us, we must obey God’s Word and follow his leading, keeping in mind the work and nature of the Holy Spirit (more...).
  • We can prepare ourselves for his work by memorizing Scripture, being a student of the Bible, and understanding how to relate to our audience.
  • Even if we experience resistance, let’s hold fast to the Lord and the work he has given us.

Focus Verses

Romans 8:5-6, NIV

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Watch a video of today's Bible reading here. Start at 1:43:16 and end at 2:03:44

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A Look Ahead: We may, like Paul, be persecuted for our faith, but God wants Faithful Endurance. Find out how to do that in our Next Lesson in 1Thessalonians.

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