This is a summary of the sermon preached on October 20, 2019.
- Date: Sunday October 20, 2019
- Venue: A Sunday service at Tokyo Multicultural Church
- Title: "God works through our decisions"
- Scriptures: Acts 15:36-16:10
15:36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
16:1 Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. 2 The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.1
We make many decisions in life.
In the time of Acts, they also had to make many decisions just like us today. In particular, we see from today’s text that Paul and others had to make decisions such as where to go, whom to travel with, and so forth.
Today, I’d like us to see
God uses our decisions for His glory
Today’s story begins with Paul suggesting Barnabas that they go visit all the towns they preached during their first missionary journey (15:36).
Paul suggested it because it was not easy for the new believers there to keep their faith due to opposition and persecution (see 13:50; 14:4-5, 19).
Barnabas agreed with Paul on visiting those towns again, but disagreed on whom they take with (15:37-38). In the end, Paul and Barnabas had chosen different paths (vv. 39-41).
It is true that Paul and Barnabas disagreed on whom to take with them,
In our lives, we make many decisions. And sometimes we may not be able to come to an agreement just like the case for Paul and Barnabas.
What is important, therefore, is to work out for the common goal or vision which is aligned with God’s will.
God brings different results from our decisions
God can use many different approaches (decisions) for His glory. But the results would be different for different decisions. This means that we need wisdom as to how to obtain better results.
We can see such wisdom from what Paul did for Timothy in Acts 16:3, where Paul circumcised Timothy.
Notice the reason why Paul circumcised Timothy. It was “because of the Jews who lived in that area” (16:3). In other words, Paul thought that although circumcision itself was not necessary for Timothy to be saved, it would be a best decision (approach) in order to share the gospel with the Jews in that area.
As the church of Christ, we have the common goal of sharing the gospel with others, and making the disciples of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20). But how we achieve it is different in different contexts.
Also, at more personal level, our common goal as a Christian is to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds (Matt 22:37), and to love neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). In other words, we are to become like Jesus. But how we become like Jesus would be different for different people in different contexts.
So we are to continue to pray and ask for the help of the Spirit.
God directs our decisions by the Spirit
What is very surprising about today’s text would be that the Holy Spirit had prevented Paul and his companions from preaching the word in certain areas—the province of Asia (16:6) and Bithynia (16:7).
As you can see from a map, after leaving Pisidian Antioch, they could not go southwest (the province of Asia) or up north (Bithynia); but instead they were almost forced to go directly to Troas from Pisidian Antioch.
And in Troas Paul saw a vision of man asking him to come over to Macedonia (v. 9), and they had decided to leave for Macedonia right away (v. 10).
It appears therefore that
Today we may not hear a prophetic word or see a heavenly vision so often. But still in our lives, we can sense from time to time that the Holy Spirit directs our path.
It is as if something or somebody was blocking your way, and you were almost forced to change your own thinking in order to pass by the obstacle
But the results would be different for different decisions. So we need to
Not always but from time to time, He may speak to us through a prophetic word or a vision. Or He may simply shut all the doors in our lives except for one, so that we may be inclined to make a particular decision.
But we should remember that even though the Spirit may direct our decisions, we cannot blame Him for the decision we make. We must take the responsibility for our decisions—good or bad.
Having said that, personally, what I think is great about God is that
Yes, the results would be different for different decisions. And from our human perspectives, some decisions (approaches) may look more efficient and effective for reaching out the community around us.
He knows all of our decisions in the past, present, and future; and He is able and powerful enough to work out His plan through our decisions.
God can use not only our good decisions but also bad ones to bring something good. The greatest and clearest example is the crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God.
The disciples didn’t expect Jesus to be crucified. So they deserted Jesus when He was captured by the Jewish authority. They made their own selfish decisions, which were not aligned with God’s will at all.
The opponents of Jesus also made their own selfish decisions to put Jesus on the cross. But nobody or nothing could spoil God’s purpose.
But even though God can work through all of our decisions to accomplish His plan,
God wants us to be like Jesus, loving God and people with all that we have. That is our ultimate goal as a Christian. And along the process, we will make many mistakes for sure.
So don’t be afraid so much about making mistakes or making bad choices. God won’t give up on you based on your decisions.
Bibliography and Notes
- Peterson, David. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Nottingham, UK; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Apollos; Eerdmans, 2009.
- Witherington, Ben. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids; Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1998.