January 22, 2015

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV. The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

Subtopic C: The Second Missionary Journey (15:36-18:22)                 

                          

                                                                            

         Lesson: IV.C.3: From Galatia To Mysia To Troas (16:6-10)                

 

 

 

Scripture (Acts 16:6-10; KJV)

 

6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.

9 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.

10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Nothing is said of any plans Paul might have had for what they would do once they had seen how the Galatians were getting on (though we might guess that he had set his sights on Ephesus, the capital of the province of Asia).  Instead, the emphasis is entirely on the divine guidance that took them to Macedonia.  The story is told with a minimum of detail, which only heightens the impression that they were carried along, as it were, by the irresistible wind of the Spirit, much as Paul and Barnabas had been on the earlier journey (13:1-3).

 

 

 

Commentary

 

6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

 

Having completed their visit of the churches established on Paul’s first mission, the three now headed north, probably from Antioch in Pisidia.  A glance at a map of the area will show the general westward direction taken by the missionary team.  Everywhere he went Paul saw need.  He saw lost people and ripened harvest fields. He would have stopped everywhere, but that would mean that Europe never would have been evangelized in his lifetime.  Somewhere along the way they determined to go to “Asia.” Just what is intended by “Asia” is uncertain.  The term was used in various ways.  It could refer to the Roman province of Asia, which included Lycia, portions of Phrygia, and Mysia, as well as ancient Asia.  It could be used in a much narrower sense as the cities along the Aegean Coast, with Philadelphia as the eastern limit.  It probably is in this narrower sense that Paul determined to go to Asia, perhaps to the major city of Ephesus, where he eventually did spend the greater part of his third mission.  At this point he was forbidden by the Holy Ghost to travel into Asia, which caused him great inner turmoil.  The method of the Spirit’s revelation is not given.  However, it’s not necessary for us to imagine that Paul heard the voice of the Holy Spirit forbidding him going into Asia.  That was not the method of the Divine government or guidance.  The fact was that the apostle acquired some affliction, some illness, which made it impossible for him to travel through Asia, and which turned him aside, conceivably for rest and quiet.  The important point is that he was stopped.  God had other plans for him at the time.

 

There is a mixture of strategic goal planning and inner leading about Paul’s movement.  Asia was to be evangelized—but not on this journey.  He was to come back later to evangelize Ephesus and plant the church there that would reach the whole region, but this was not the Holy Spirit’s time.  So burdened, but bound, he led his team westward, ever westward, listening all the while to the still small voice of God.

 

 

7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

 

The route of the missionaries from this point is anything but clear.  They obviously traveled northward because they eventually came to Mysia.  The questionable point is how far eastward they traveled.  To what does “the region of Phrygia and Galatia” refer? The most natural reading would give a consecutive travel narrative, starting from Antioch, moving into northern Phrygia, and then evidently swinging eastward into portions of northern Galatia before arriving in the northeast corner of Mysia where it bordered Bithynia.  Again, a glance at the map shows Bithynia to have been to the north of Asia Minor.  Its coastal waters touched the Black Sea. It embraced one bank of the famous sea narrows that we call the Dardanelles. A good guess is that it was somewhere around Dorylaeum, where they were stopped in their travel plans a second time.  Their intention was to go into Bithynia, probably to witness in the populous cities along the Marmara Sea like Nicomedia, Nicea, and Byzantium.  Paul would have evangelized this province but, from the Spirit’s point of view, it was not the time.  There was a more strategic way to go.  So, troubled in spirit, uncertain of the Lord’s leading except in the negative—not Galatia, not Bithynia, not now—Paul kept moving, sure that sooner or later the Holy Spirit would make everything clear.  All those who would walk with the Lord had experienced such trouble periods: the Spirit indicates a change, all kinds of options seem to beckon, and the temptation is to force open a door.  Wisdom says “wait.”

 

So Paul, leading westward, leaning northward, continued on this way, unsure of what the Holy Spirit had in mind but for a seasoned saint to make a move without Him is unthinkable.  Again they were prevented, this time by “the Spirit of Jesus[1],” possibly a special vision of the risen Jesus but more likely an alternative expression of the Holy Spirit.[2] The third expression of the divine leading is indicated in terms of God’s calling (v.  10). The geographical scheme is certainly not the dominant theme in this section: the divine leading is, Father (v. 10), Son (v. 7), and Spirit (v. 6) together led Paul to the decisive new breakthrough—the mission to Macedonia where he would witness on European soil. The Holy Spirit was leading Paul westward.  So you see, it was not Horace Greeley of The New York Sun who first said, “Go west, young man, go west.” Instead it was the Spirit of God speaking to the Apostle Paul! 

 

The change from“the Holy Ghost” (v. 6) to the Spirit has no significance other than to remind us that the Spirit is as closely associated with the Son as with the Father (John 14:16, 26; 16:7) and maybe variously called “the Spirit of God” (Matthew 10:20), “the Spirit of Christ,” or “the Spirit of Jesus” (Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19; 1 Peter 1:11).  The truth revealed here is that these men, in fellowship with Christ, simply could not go to Bythemia.  They were driven on.  There are many that will understand this story from their own experience.  Paul wanted to preach in Bythemia[3], but somehow he could not.  He could not do it because he was sick, he was ill, he had some infirmity of the flesh; and he could not go on.  It was necessary for him to take another direction, and he went into Galatia, and preached there.  These men could say, “The Spirit of Jesus drove me against my own inclination.” But there is yet another revelation revealed here; the fact that the Spirit guides, not always by flaming visions, not by words articulated in human ears, but by circumstances, by commonplace things, by difficult things, by dark things, by disappointing things.  The Spirit guides and molds and fashions all the pathway. 

 

The important thing, however, is that the man whom the Spirit will guide is the man who is in the attitude in which it is possible for the Spirit to guide him.  So we look once again at this man Paul, and we find an attitude of life revealed.  It is that of loyalty to the Lord, faith in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and constant watchfulness.  There is where we too often fail.  It is when a man is in fellowship with the Lord that he sees that the disappointment and the difficulty are also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It is the watcher for the Lord who sees the Lord. If we are watching for Him we shall find Him guiding us in the day of difficulty and the day of disappointment, and a day of darkness; when it seems as though there is no hope.  What we need, then, is confidence in the guidance of the Spirit in the hours when no voice is heard and no vision is seen.

 

 

8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.

 

The missionary group must have been thoroughly perplexed as they were led away from the cities of Bithynia through the wild backwoods country of Mysia over to the coast and down to Troas.[4] To reach Troas, Paul would need to pass through Mysia; but he would be “passing by” it in the sense that he did not attempt to “speak the word” in it.  Troas lay in the region associated with Troy, some 30 miles to the south of the ancient city.  It had been founded in the fourth century b.c.  by Antigonus and from the start was primarily a port city.  An artificial harbor constructed there provided the main sea access to Macedonia and was a significant harbor for sea traffic to and from the Dardanelles.  Having been given the status of a colony city by Augustus, Troas was an impressive city with a sizable population and would itself have been a suitable candidate for a major mission.[5]

 

Silas and Timothy must have wondered what was going on.  They had been prepared for tremendous bursts of activity, for mass meetings, wholesale conversions, bitter opposition, for stripes and imprisonment, for apostolic miracles, for breath-taking escapes.  They had expected to see a trail of churches strung out behind them in Phrygia, Asia, Bithynia, and Mysia.  But there was nothing.  Was this Paul’s usual way of evangelizing?  Surely there was more to it than this aimless drifting from place to place.  Had Paul lost his nerve?  They had expected almost anything but this uncertainty, this constant tramping the highways for hundreds of miles with nothing to show for it but Paul’s vetoing of every suggestion that they stop here and get to work.  No doubt Paul, too, was greatly perplexed.  And when he encountered the doubtful looks of his friends, it hurt his pride.  “Have patience, friends,” he would say, “The Lord is leading us.” But he, too, must have had his doubts.  However, it is comforting to know that even apostles were not always clear as to God’s will for their ministries!

 

Then they saw the sea.  The road from Bithynia ran along the banks of a river and passed near great lakes.  Rivers run to the sea, and perhaps now Paul had some inkling that the Holy Spirit was leading them out of Asia Minor altogether.

 

Troas was an important city with a crowded harbor and important sea links to Macedonia, Greece, and Europe.  It was here that Paul finally halted.  The others look to him expectantly.  Of course!  This was just the kind of strategic city they could expect Paul to evangelize.  But still he did nothing.  He needed a direct word now from the Holy Spirit.  It would come soon.  He could afford to wait.  The Holy Spirit, after all, was Lord of the harvest.  Paul was only a worker, willing, but obliged, like everyone else, to take orders.

 

 

9 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.

 

Paul wanted to expand his mission field by taking the gospel to Asia, but God had other plans and sent a vision to Paul, perhaps in a dream in the middle of the night.  A man of Macedonia appeared to him begging him to come and witness to the Macedonians.  This vision marks one of the most important turning points in history. It turned Paul westward into Europe and resulted in the evangelization of the West.  Europe became, as a result, the great center of Christianity.  If Paul had been directed eastward, back the way he had come and on to India and China, how different would have been the history of the world. 

 

This vision of Paul’s is one of those interesting parallels the Holy Spirit introduces into the narrative to show the equality of Paul with Peter.  Peter had a similar, critical vision, and his vision sent him to the Gentiles, to a European, to Cornelius the Roman, and it opened the door of the church to the world.  Paul’s vision sent him into Europe, to the Greeks, and it opened the door of the world to the church.  Peter’s vision was confirmed immediately afterwards by the appearance of three men.  Paul’s vision seems to have been confirmed by the presence of a man—Luke.

 

So that night, still very much in the dark about the mind of the Lord, Paul went to bed.  And the darkness ended.  Light dawned.  A man from Macedonia appeared in a vision: “come over into Macedonia, and help us,” he said.  It was such a call as would appeal to the very depths of Saul’s soul—to evangelize the Greek world.  To preach in the cities of Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon, to preach in the land of Plato and Aristotle and Pathagorus and Archimedes and Homer and Socrates. Why that was a mission field indeed! To preach to the Greeks, who had given the world culture, art, sport, democracy, oratory, ideas.  To preach beneath the shadow of Mount Olympus, where the Greeks had created fallen gods in the magnified image of fallen man.  What a mission field!  Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, even Athens itself.  This is Paul’s call to Macedonia.  Paul could have received no greater call.  Now Macedonia is across the Aegean Sea, over in Europe.  Paul is in Asia.  The gospel is going to cross from Asia into Europe.  The Spirit of God is moving him in that direction.

 

Scholars have often speculated about whether the person in the vision might be defined more closely.  One suggestion is that he may have been Luke himself, that possibly Paul had needed a physician’s aid and consulted him in Troas.  This is based on the fact that the “we” narrative first occurs in verse 10, indicating Luke’s presence.  It is a fascinating view, but ancient tradition connects Luke with Antioch, not Macedonia, and the Philippian narrative contains not the slightest inkling that he was on home territory.  Somewhat more fanciful is the view that the man in the vision was that most famous of Macedonians, Alexander the Great.  Alexander had a vision of “one world”; Paul would make it a reality through the gospel.  Luke gave us no basis for such speculations.  The identity of the man as a Macedonian was all that counted. 

 

I do not know why Paul was not moved east to China.  All I know is that the Spirit of God moved him west to Europe.  I thank God that this is the direction he went.  At that particular time my ancestors, from one side of the family, were roaming in the forests of Ireland.  They were pagan and they were evil, worshiping all kinds of idols.  They were a low, heathen people.  I am told they were the dirtiest, filthiest savages that have ever been on the top side of this earth.  I thank God the gospel went to Europe to reach my people over there.

 

Now maybe you are smiling, thinking that your ancestors were very superior to mine.  Well, you can wipe that smile off your face because your ancestors probably were living in the cave right next door to mine!  They were just as dirty and just as filthy as mine were.  Thank God the gospel crossed over into Europe.  This was a great and significant crossing.

 

 

10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

 

The abrupt change from the third person to the first person from “they” to “us,” indicates that Luke had now joined the team.  There are several such “we” passages in Acts.  Where they occur we gather that Luke was personally present.  It is really quite a team now—in fact, it is a quartet.  There may have been others along also but we have four who are named: Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Dr. Luke.  This is quite a delegation that crossed over into Europe.

 

Perhaps it was Luke’s arrival that prompted the Macedonian vision, for Luke seems to have been a Greek.  Or perhaps Luke showed up immediately after the vision, thus confirming it.  It has been suggested that Luke was himself the “man of Macedonia” in Paul’s vision.  Others think he hailed from Pisidian Antioch and that he was one of the Gentiles converted at the time of Paul’s first visit to that city.  It has been suggested that Paul and Luke were old friends from college days, and that the two first met in Tarsus, where there was a notable medical school.

 

Another suggestion is that Luke was Lucius of Cyrene, one of the elders who commended Paul and Barnabas to the mission field from Antioch in Syria (13:1), and that he was the brother of Titus (Galatians 2:1).  Others have suggested that Luke was a practicing physician at Troas when Paul and his party showed up there.  The idea has been put forward that Paul at this time was in poor health and that he needed Luke’s professional services.  In any case, Luke’s willingness to accompany Paul into Macedonia was an added confirmation of the vision.  In one way or another he joined the team at Troas, and his doing so was divinely ordained and another proof to Paul that his next mission should be in Macedonia. Timothy and Silas readily agreed, once Paul had shared the experience with them.  Now four shared the vision of evangelizing[6] Macedonia.

 

The beauty of this passage for us is that it presents conditions with which we are very familiar.  It shows how the Holy Spirit still guides when our intentions are in line with the Divine purpose, even when we see no supernatural sign.  Whether it is an individual life that is filled with sorrows, or whether the perplexity of life is overwhelming, or whether the strife of national crisis is about us, God’s in his heaven and He is overruling and guiding, and out of the chaos He is bringing the cosmos.

 

Our chief interest in this passage is not geographical but theological.  It is made clear by three specific statements that Paul’s travels were guided by God.  First, the Holy Spirit stopped him from preaching in Asia; second, the “Spirit of Jesus” prevented him from going into Bithynia; and third, a “man of Macedonia” in a vision called him to Greece.  Paul was not traveling for pleasure or for profit; he was traveling as an ambassador of God. It is not surprising, then, that he turned to God for directions and that he took for granted a divine strategy of which his travels were only a single episode.  The guidance apparently took different forms and shapes: the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, and the vision of a man.

 

The subject of guidance is one upon which the commentator may dwell a little longer.  The rank and file of the people do not expect to be guided by God, and groups that have taken guidance most seriously have often reduced it to an absurdity and made God in the likeness of a messenger boy to tell us what to do next.  The result is that guidance is either discarded as a superstition or scorned as a fad of religious adolescents.  A clear and intelligible exposition of the guidance of God is therefore in order.

 

The belief that God guides us rests upon the assurance that God has an all-embracing plan by which and according to which He guides us.  That is what theology means by “providence.”  It is somewhere between fatalism on the one hand and accidentalism on the other.  Fatalism says that everything is arrange and planned beforehand.  Accidentalism says that nothing is arranged beforehand.  Belief in providence says that there is a grand strategy within which there is room for personal freedom and response.

 

There are three things worth pointing out about this providence of God:

  1. The providence of God is flexible enough to include free men (man’s free will).  God does not plan what time you get up in the morning or what you put on.  He leaves as much as possible up to you.  Neither does He plan directly for a long spell of illness.  He lets some things work themselves out and take their own course.  His plan is more like the over-all plan of a parent.  A good parent plans for the development of his child.
  2. The providence of God is forceful enough to prevent the possibility of ultimate failure.  God’s plan has many setbacks, but he never gives it up.  A foolish family feud like the one in the story of Joseph can be used by God to carry out His purpose (see genesis 45).  An exile, and imprisonment, a dark night, a miserable failure—all these things can be rearranged and weaved back into the pattern.
  3. The purpose of the providence of God is to preserve life, not only to preserve the length of life but the quality of it and the richness of it.  The purpose does not always make itself evident from day to day.  Things often happen that would seem to have no point whatever and to contribute nothing to the total plan and purpose of a man’s life.  But it must always be remembered that there is more to come, that the story is not yet over, that there is another chapter.

 

For example, take my life, because it is very similar to the experience of many of you.  My life was going in the wrong direction; I was a Christian, but you couldn’t tell, for I was deeply into sin, and getting in deeper every day—alcohol, carousing, cursing, with the wrong crowd, and not concerned about much of anything.  I think you get the idea. But God had a plan for my life, and He stopped me from continuing to live that way when He brought Sierra into my life—a Christian who lived a holy life—my helpmate and wife. My God is a genius!  That was the turning point, arranged by God to get me on the right path and though there have been more than a few setbacks I have continued on that path for 50 years.  Praise God!

 

Once a man is convinced that there is a divine plan which in turn is the expression of the divine will, and to which he can make an intelligent response, it is then possible to show him in what different ways God guides him to the fulfillment of that plan and will.  The manner of the guidance will be different under different circumstances and for different people.

 

 

 

 


[1] This was not another Spirit.  It was simply another way of referring to the Holy Spirit.

[2] For the Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus see Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19; 1 Peter 1:11.

[3] When Pliny wrote as governor in a.d. 112, Christianity had already become widespread throughout the province.

[4] They already must have had some thought of a Macedonian mission because they took the unlikely route to Troas.

[5] A church may have been established at Troas as early as this first visit of Paul.  Acts 20:5-12 indicates a Christian community existed there.  Paul spoke of his witnessing there on a later occasion (2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Timothy 4:13).

[6] It is not a matter of preaching the good news to the Macedonians but of “evangelizing them,” bringing them into a new existence through the gospel.

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