Divine Guidance and the Will of God. Genesis 31
NKJ Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Genesis 31 is our touchstone this evening as we continue our study of the life of Jacob. As I pointed out in the previous chapters there are two doctrines that seem to be embedded or underlying what is going on in this section. Actually there is more that we could develop if we took the time to do so, such as the faithfulness of God, the promise of God. But that is really built on and underlying doctrine of divine guidance. God is directing the life of Jacob as he leaves the land and goes to the land of his forefathers in Padan Aram in Haran which is the city where his uncle Laban lives. This is the city where Abram had stopped for awhile on his way to the land that God directed him to.
It is during that time while he is there that he undergoes several adventures. But the biggest test that he has to face is the test of his father-in-law who is more of a chiseler and craftier and more of a finagler than he is. In the process of going through the deception - he was supposed to marry Rachel and he woke up the next morning who he thought was Rachel and he realized that his father-in-law had switched girls on him and he was married to Leah and not Rachel. Then he had to work another 7 years for Rachel. We saw that God used that as a means of divine discipline. He got a taste of his own medicine. God often disciplines us that way by taking the areas where we tend to be weak in the sin and our sin nature and uses that against us to teach us a few lessons in our spiritual growth.
Then we saw after that Jacob uses an ancient Near Eastern superstition to try to increase his own holdings among the flocks of Jacob. He does this strange thing where he takes the sticks and he strips off the bark so that they are stripped. He pounds those into the ground so that as the sheep and goats are mating that this will somehow influence the production so that they will produce stripped and spotted offspring which he has made a deal with Laban that he would get all of the stripped and spotted offspring.
But what we discover in chapter 31 is that God appears to him in a dream and speaks to him and says, "That didn't work. It was Me."
What we discover through this whole process is that God is the one who is covertly guiding and directing the affairs in Jacob's life. God is the one who is disciplining Jacob who is working in his spiritual life, bringing him to spiritual maturity. God is the one who is blessing Jacob not because of anything Jacob does. In fact Jacob is making a lot of bad decisions. Nevertheless God blesses him not because of who and what he is but because of the Abrahamic Covenant. God has a broader sovereign purpose that He is bringing about through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob as He is building the Jewish people. That takes precedence over the flaws and failures in the lives of the individual believers like Isaac or Jacob or even Abraham earlier.
So what we see here are some lessons related to divine guidance. I want to stop and this week and next week go through what the Scripture says about divine guidance and decision making. What we see when we get into chapter 31 is that Jacob has to start making some decisions about how long he is going to stay with dear old father-in-law and uncle Laban. Now that is interesting both uncle and father-in-law. He is staying with dear old father-in law-Laban.
How much longer does he stay out of the land? When does he go back to the land? What does he take with him? What are the conditions? How does he leave to go back? All of these are various decisions that Jacob has to make. Behind the scenes what we discover is that God is working. God has not spoken, given direct guidance and special revelation to Jacob since he was way out of the land. He stopped at Bethel and spent the night there. He had a warm comfortable bed with a stone pillow. While he was there he had this vision of angels going up the stairway to heaven. The angels were ascending and descending. It was there that God not only reconfirmed the Abraham Covenant with Jacob, but promised him that wherever he went and whatever he did outside the land God was going to bless him. That is important because our first tendency might be to think just as when Abraham left the land that he is outside the geographic will of God. Isaac started to leave the land. He went to Jarar of the Philistines and he might have to avoid the famine but God appeared to him and said, "Don't leave the land."
So we see that there was clearly a geographical will that God had for this family related to the Promised Land. But when Jacob is leaving, God appears to him and says that He will be with him while he is out of the land and God will bless him and prosper him while he is out of the land and God will bring him back. With Jacob there is a divine contingency to take care of him outside the Promised Land. But God is going to bring him back.
The question that people always ask and younger people tend to address theses questions more than more mature folks do because frankly the older you are the more you have made these decisions good, bad or indifferent and we have set the course of our lives. But as parents you give guidance to your children. They have decisions to make. If they will listen to you, you give guidance to your children. It depends on if they are between 16 and 22. Before that you can give guidance. After that you can give guidance. In between you might as will keep your mouth shut. We have these decisions to make. If you are grandparents you can give guidance and direction to younger people as they try to make those tough decisions about where to go to college, whether to go to college, what to pursue for a career, what should they do with their lives, how should they devote themselves to a career, what about getting married, should they get married, when should they get married, should they marry this person or that person. All of those decisions that are so crucial and so formative usually come between the ages of 18 and 28.
It seems as we mature we look back and say, "How in the world could I have made these decisions? I was so young and dumb way back then. I didn't know then what I know now if I could do it all over again."
We often ask those questions about divine guidance and decision making early on. So I want to go through this because there are ultimately two views that we find among Christians on how to know the will of God. So these issues come up. There is a sort of traditional view that many people teach that has this idea of living in the center of God's will, that God has a specific will for each believer at any point of time. This includes geographical will – that God wants you at "X" location all of the time. There is always a specific place where God wants you. There is a specific person God wants you to marry. There is a specific job that God has for you in life. Everything is directed by God. He has one specific thing for you so you need to find out what it is so that you can have maximum happiness by living in the center of God's will.
This is juxtaposed to what I consider to be a more Biblical approach to decision making in the will of God and divine guidance. That is that God gives us the principles for living in His Word. We need to learn that. As we learn His Word under the guidance and direction of God the Holy Spirit, He builds maturity into our lives. We all know that as we learn the Word of God that doctrine that we have learned, the principles of Scripture that we learn that become part of our soul are often referred to in Scripture by the Greek word epignosis[e)pignwsij]. Gnosis [gnwsij] means knowledge. Epignosis means full knowledge or useable knowledge. It is that reservoir of doctrine in the soul that one can use for application.
When we start applying it as we mature, the Old Testament describes that as wisdom and uses the Hebrew word chokmah. Chokmah has to do with skill. Skill is the idea of taking this knowledge that you have and being able to produce something that has significance, value and beauty. It has an aesthetic quality to it. It is part of who we are as image bearers of God being created in the image and likeness of God. We also have the ability to create and make things. A much neglected area of doctrinal study is the whole area of beauty and aesthetics and art. You come to the psalms and you have David as the king of Israel developing from the framework of his own creatureliness and creativity aspect the worship in the tabernacle. Isn't it interesting that when you look at the scaled down version of worship in the Mosaic Law, you have all of the rituals but there is no music. There is no choir. There is very little instruction in regard to prayer. All of this is developed though by Old Testament believers from within the framework of the doctrine that they learned. That comes under the category of wisdom. The Jews understood this as wisdom literature so that when they classified the Old Testament books, they had three categories. The English loses a lot because we categorize books according to a little different scheme.
The first five books are the books of the Pentateuch. That's the law. Then we have the historical books. Then we have what we call poetry - Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Then we have the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. These are the five basic divisions of the Old Testament.
That's not how the Jews looked at it. The Jews divided it three ways. You had the law which is the foundation of the Old Testament. Then you have what they called the Nebiim or the prophets. The prophets began with Joshua. Now that doesn't fit most people's understanding of prophecy. We think of prophecy as that which foretells the future. We think of prophecy as Isaiah's prophecy about the future of Israel, the destruction of Israel, the coming of the Babylonians, the judgment of the Babylonians, the coming of the Redeemer, the suffering servant in the last part of Isaiah related to the coming of the Messiah. Jeremiah is the prophecy of the destruction of the nation and their future restoration. We think of Ezekiel's prophecy. We think of prophecy as foretelling the future. But the foundational role of a prophet in the Old Testament was to serve as sort of a prosecuting attorney from the Supreme Court of Heaven. The role of the prophet was based on Leviticus 26 which was the five cycles of discipline outlined by God as He warned Israel.
"If you disobey Me I will take you through this stage and that stage. Then if you continue to be disobedient we'll go to the third stage and then fourth stage. Ultimately I will take you out of the land."
Those were the five cycles of discipline. It is expanded in Deuteronomy 28 where we have both blessing and cursing. The role of the prophet was sort of like a court reporter because he was recording the obedience and blessing and cursing and judgments of God. He often would come announcing judgment on Israel because they had disobeyed God. So that was the role of a prophet. So when we look at Joshua, Judges, Samuel (In the Hebrew they did not divide the two.) and Kings. Those are called the former prophets. We look at that as history. But see what the prophet is doing is, he is giving the divine interpretation of Israel's early history in light of the blessing and cursing and outworking of those divine judgments as listed in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. That is what is happening with the latter prophets with Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the 12 Minor Prophets. They are working out how that fifth cycle of discipline is going to occur. They are foretelling it. Then they talk about how there will be another dispersion and finally a complete restoration. That's the prophets.
Then you have this other group called the writings or wisdom literature. Wisdom literature was Job. Job is designed to teach people how to handle what appears to be underserved suffering. You have the psalms. Psalms is wisdom literature. It talks about all matter of things – how to handle suffering, the laments toward God where the psalmist brings his complaints to God.
"Everybody is against me. I am being surrounded by my enemies. I am being slandered. How can I survive?"
Then he turns his focus more and more to the character of God usually ending in praise of God. You have praise psalms. You have thanksgiving psalms. But you see all of this was set to music. There is no mandate of that in the Mosaic Law. This is an outgrowth of the individual believer's orientation to God and the application of creativity as he applies wisdom from the storehouse of doctrine in his soul to worship. So David creates these enormous choirs, musicians, and orchestras. They were enormous. They probably had 400-500 members. They would come into the temple during the great feast days and they would sing these psalms. That would elevate the thinking of the people to the glory and grandeur of God. So, all of that grows out of doctrine in the soul that has been taken to a new level in terms of creative application called wisdom.
Then you have the book of Proverbs which is teaching wisdom principles about every area of life from father to son. Ecclesiastes looks at it from the negative side. Everything is vanity and empty unless you have a relationship with God at the core of your life. Ultimately there is no meaning, there is no hope, there is no happiness without God.
So you have this Old Testament concept of wisdom, chokmah, skill. The place where we learn the meaning of this word chokmah comes out of Exodus when God called Aholiab and Bezalel as the craftsman (the silversmiths, the goldsmiths, the carpenters), the ones who are designing all of the furniture that is going to go into the tabernacle. They are given skill chokmah to work the gold, to work the silver to create all of this beautiful intricate furniture. That's skill. That's where we get the concept. It is a very concrete term in the Hebrew. It's not this sense that we get from the Greeks that wisdom is abstract philosophical knowledge. For a Jew for the Old Testament wisdom is something very practical. It is being able to take the principles of Scripture and apply them to whatever situation you find yourself in in life and being able to create of your life something that is beautiful and brings glory to God within the framework of the angelic conflict. This view of how to make decisions and how to work with the will of God in your life is usually referred to as the wisdom approach.
In contrast to the other position which comes to any decision in life and if they are consistent it would be any decision in life and every decision in life, not just big ones. Every decision in life! Instead of contemplating your naval, looking for some kind of inner vibration from God to tell you to make this choice instead of that choice that in this approach you are not looking to God to tell you which way to go you are looking at the Word of God which is why God has given it to us the way he has is to force us to think deeply and profoundly and creatively about what He has said and apply it to every issue of life.
It is remarkable to think about how the Bible was written. We have this history in the Old Testament. We have the poetry and the wisdom literature. In the New Testament we have epistles and prophecy. It is written in such a way that it is not like a systematic theology that gives you various doctrines – here are 20 points on this doctrine and 30 points on that doctrine. But it is given in the Old Testament in terms of the shoe leather of people lives. You understand their reflections in the psalms and proverbs and their reflections and meditations on life in light of what God has revealed to them.
In the New Testament we have a more detailed explanation of these principles often geared toward directions in terms of prohibitions or positive commands toward obedience. But it is all designed to be communicated in any culture, through any language throughout any place in the world. So whether you are Chinese with an Asian background, Slavic, African, South American you can come to the Word of God and you can learn what is there and meditate on it and think about it in terms of your own life and come up with the principles needed to make the right kind of decisions that glorify God. That is the test. Are we going to go through the decision making process? How will we go through the decision making process is some times as important and sometimes it is more important than the decision we make coming out the other end.
I always go back to when I was in ROTC in college. This is something typical if you are in the military. They will have FTX's. Every semester we would have these small unit leadership drills. They would go back in undeveloped woods behind the military science building at Stephen F. Austin. They would form these lanes and you would be in a team of 5 or 6 men. You would be given a mission. You would leave and all of a sudden something would happen. You would get ambushed. Somebody would go crazy. Someone would step on a mine. If you were the patrol leader you had to make decisions right there based on everything you learned in the classroom and past experiences. You had to make decisions on how to handle whatever the crisis was that occurred. Sometimes there were clear right and wrong answers. A lot of times you would have to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions. There may be 4 or 5 different ways in which you could successfully handle the challenge that was presented before you. There were clearly wrong decisions and there were clearly right decisions. Rarely was there one right decision. I think that is what God does with us. Many times in the decisions that we make in life, He is not looking for us to come up with that one right decision; but He is teaching us how to face the issues and realities of life and the problems and to take the doctrine in our souls and then apply it to those decisions in such a way as to produce that which glorifies Him. Why? Because we are in those FTX training lanes right now in preparation for that future role as those who will rule and reign with Jesus Christ. As we learn to make decisions now and to shoulder responsibilities and to take this reservoir of doctrine that we learned from the Word and apply it to all of these decisions that come our way in life - handling people problems at work, handling family problems, handling financial issues, handling health problems - that builds in us spiritual strength and maturity that in turn is going to be the foundation for our future role in the Millennial Kingdom and on into eternity. So we are going to look at this whole issue of how to go about making decisions and dealing with what God wants us to do in life, otherwise known as the will of God.
Divine Guidance and the Doctrine of the Will of God
- First we have to define our terms. The term will of God is used to describe three different aspects of divine volition in relation to His creation. There are three different ways in which we use this. So when somebody says, "What is God's will for my life in this situation?" what do they mean? Let's think a little more clearly about exactly what you are saying when you use the term "the will of God. The first way in which the word is used in the Scripture has to do with God's sovereign volition with regard to His creation where He brings to pass what He wills and what He has decreed. This is sometimes called the decretive will of God. Sometimes it is the sovereign will of God. Sometimes it is called the secret will of God. It is called the secret will of God because it is a secret. We don't know what it is. We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. But whatever happens tomorrow is what God decreed in eternity past. But we come to that and within that decree there is the flexibility to handle human volition and human decision. The decree doesn't destroy human volition, but it includes that framework. The best illustration I ever heard to help me understand this goes back to the fall. When God created all of the structures and systems in creation - He created all of the biological systems. He created all of the astronomical and meteorological systems, all the ecological systems on the planet; but when Adam sinned it sent shock waves through everything. It changed everything. It changed animals. It changed man. It changed the way our internal organs function. It changed dental structures. It changed the way the world functioned meteorologically. It changed things ecologically. All of a sudden plants that were nice and wonderful are producing thorns and thistles. Animals that ate grass are now eating meat. That affects their gastrointestinal system and their dental system - everything. What happened? God built into every system enough flexibility to handle the chaos that human volition could bring. When we think about it that way we realize that God's sovereign will is broad enough that He can control and bring about that which He intends to bring about. His omniscience is so profound and so detailed that the divine computer factors in all of the variables from human volition so that He can bring about His will without violating human volition. It includes the chaos that can come in from whatever decisions we make. But God's sovereign will is His will. He will bring about in human history what He intends to bring about. We will see some verses on this in just a minute. So we talk about God's sovereign will. The problem is if you say, "What is God's will for my life?" If you are talking about God's sovereign will, you don't know. It is undiscoverable. It is His secret will. You don't know what that is. What we usually mean when we ask that question has more to do with how to make decisions. But there is another category of will that we talk about. That is His moral will or His revealed will. God says, "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not." This is the specific revealed will of God. He wants us not to do certain things and He wants us to do certain things. He wants us to make the study of doctrine the highest priority in our lives. He wants us to walk by means of the filling of the Holy Spirit. He wants us to know the Word. He wants us to pray without ceasing. All of these things are God's revealed will. We know that this is what God wants us to do. This is also called God's desired will. There is a third category. That is God's overriding will. Many times He allows us the freedom to make certain decisions. We make those decision and pass the decision making test. But then He says, "Okay. I am not going to let you bring to fruition the decision that you just made." Somebody may go through a whole process for example where they think through the issues and they decide that "I really want to use to the financial resources that God has given me to support a particular missionary." But then God takes our job away from us. We passed the test but we are not going to be able to do what we thought about because God has other things going on in the plan. We passed that part of the test. Paul for example wanted to go to Rome many times and it wasn't possible. God's overrode his volition. He made a good decision. He wanted to do the right thing for the right reason. But God said, "No. That is not what My sovereign will wants." So God's overriding will is a subcategory of His sovereign will. The circle describes the bounds of God's sovereign will. Everything within the circle would be what God has decreed to take place in human history. There are many things that are outside the circle. Those are the what-if's. Like, what if they had won at the Alamo? What if they had won at Bull Run? There you go! What if the Japanese had decided to send another wave of bombers against Pearl Harbor instead of just being satisfied with what they did in the first attack? What would have happened in history in all of these many different things? At the Battle of Antietem what would have happened if the Yankees had not discovered that Lee's battle plan that was rolled up and hidden inside of a currier's cigar? The South would have won the war and possibly threatened DC. All of the what-if's are outside the circle because that wasn't what God decreed to happen in history. Then we have God's moral and revealed will. These are the things that we know God wants us to do or has told us that He doesn't want us to do. That describes another area of boundary. The circle on the right overlaps because within God's sovereign will there are areas of obedience where we are obedient to God's Word that coincides with His sovereign will. But there are areas outside of His sovereign will where we are disobedient to His revealed will. So there is sort of an area in between where there is an overlap between God's revealed will and God's sovereign will. That introduces us to the basic terminology.
- Some people have problems with God's sovereignty because they can't quite mesh God's sovereignty with human individual responsibility. It has to do ultimately with causality. If God is sovereign then He must bring about what He wants to bring about which has to do with causation. But remember we have to think of this in terms of the creator-creature distinction that when you and I as creatures with finite minds and finite reference points think about causation, we only think of causation in the creaturely realm. But you see when you start thinking about God as the creator; God can bring about causation in other ways that are outside the purview of our frame of reference. I think this is a fundamental problem with Calvinism. In Calvinism the way they deal with election and the sovereignty of God is that they are trying to make the causation at the creaturely level the same as at the creator level.
NKJ Daniel 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?"
Daniel is talking. God is the boss. He holds in His hands the heart of the king proverbs says. He accomplishes what He wants. We just don't know what that is.
NKJ Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
He does it in such a way as to not violate the volitional responsibility of the individual ruler. God is not using him as a robot. He is not reaching in there and tweaking his volition.
NKJ Revelation 4:1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this."
The bottom line is the important part. Not what might take place, what ought to take place, what could take place but what must take place. If God is able to accurately predict and foretell what happens in the future that means that He must be able to control all the data- all of what appears to us as insignificant details. I have often thought it would be an interesting thing to write a book of history of how the major events of history hinged on some minor insignificant detail like at the Battle of Antietem where a confederate courier was captured and it was discovered that he had the battle plan rolled up inside that cigar. I mentioned it a minute ago. What an insignificant thing. It changed the course of the battle and changed the course of the War of Northern Aggression. Come on now. Y'all can lighten up a little bit. These things must take place. God is in control but not in such a way that it overrides our responsibility.
NKJ Ephesians 1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
Again the sovereignty of God.
NKJ Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.
NKJ Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"
God is in control ultimately.
- The specifics of God's decreed will are secret. Don't try to figure it out. Don't get yourself all wrapped up in over thinking trying to figure out what God has decreed for tomorrow. The sun will come up. We know that much. Whether we see it or not will only be determined tomorrow. Don't pay attention to the meteorologist on channel 2, 11 or 13 because they could very well be wrong. How many times have we seen that? So the specifics of God's decreed will are secret, unrevealed, unknown and unknowable. They can't be known until after the fact. Whatever happened is what God decreed to happen. That doesn't absolve us of responsibility in those decisions. That is the important thing to remember. The first divine institution God establishes in the garden is responsibility and accountability. So just because God's decrees it as part of His permissive will; it doesn't allow us to come back and say, "That is what God wanted." as if that absolves people of responsibility. How many times do we see people do that? It drives me nuts. Something happens. There may be injustice involved. There may be maltreatment involved or people make a stupid decision and someone says, "That is what God wanted." No, God wanted a responsible good decision. He didn't want stupidity. He allowed stupidity. He allows bad decisions, but that doesn't absolve us of responsibility. That's the problem with the other view of decision making. If God has a specific thing for you to do at every point in life, then all you have to do is get in touch with that inner mystical liver quiver directive vibration or whatever it is that directs you. As soon as you get that and you know God wants me to do this instead of that if something bad happens then you can blame God. You didn't make the decision. God told you what to do. So now you say, "It's God's fault." That is really what happens. People blame God for everything when they are operating on some sort of mystical concept of how to know the will of God.
- We can only know the specifics of God's revealed or moral will. This brings to bear the whole concept that God gives two kinds of revelation. We have to remember this especially as a backdrop to what we are going to get into in Genesis 31. We see that once again God speaks and gives direction to Jacob – special revelation. The interesting thing is that He just tells Jacob to go back to the land, but He doesn't tell him how to go back to the land - what the conditions are, whether or not to talk to his father-in-law and explain what he is going to do. We have this whole strange episode with Rachel stealing the household idols and hiding them on her saddle. There are both good and bad decisions made in the process of going back to the land. So we have to come back to some of these categories in order to understand decision making. We can only know the specifics of God's revealed or moral will. Almost 100% of the time (I will leave room for the possibility of missing something.) whenever you read theologians or writers who are talking about this and they give you some idea that you can pray and God will give your direction. In fact I have a quote that we will deal with on Thursday night in Hebrews on divine guidance that you pray to the Holy Spirit and He will give you an answer. You will be surprise who said this. All the Scriptures that are used come out of the book of Acts. In every one of those examples, it is special revelation during the pre-canon period. It is the Holy Spirit giving specific direction. There is no problem with that in that environment. Just as God is speaking to Jacob in Genesis and giving him specific revelation. He said, "Jonah I don't want you to go to Nineveh." Jonah said, "No. I am going to Spain. I am going to go in the opposite direction." Nevertheless God got him where he wanted. We can only know the specifics of God's moral or revealed will. All of this has impact on our understanding of revelation and God's communication and the limitations of the Bible in terms of the fact that the canon is completed and there is no more revelation today.
NKJ Romans 2:18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,
Just look at that verse a minute. The first phrase says we are to know His will. But how are we to know His will according to this verse? It is based on the instructions coming out of the law. It is not just knowing His will in relation to anything in life. It's foundation is that which has been revealed in the law. That is the Old Testament.
NKJ 1 Thessalonians 5:18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
When you come to a really hard time difficult time in life health test, death, crisis and you say, "What does God want me to do?" Well, He told you. Give thanks. Not just verbally but be thankful in your soul because you know that God is in control and He is working all things together for good. Romans 8:28 We can claim that promise. We know that we can be thankful even though we may never understand all of the things that went into that situation.
NKJ 1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
These are specific mandates that describe the boundary for God's moral will.
NKJ 2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?
Specifically don't marry an unbeliever. Should I marry this person or that person? Don't marry an unbeliever. There are hundreds and hundreds of statements in the Scripture telling us what God's will is for us. Walk by means of the Spirit. Put to death the deeds of the flesh. Don't lie. Tell the truth. All of these are part of the boundaries for what God wants us to do. As long as we are within those boundaries then whatever we do is the will of God. Think about that. As long as you are not stepping outside the boundaries of God's revealed will then you are doing the will of God. As long as you are in fellowship, walking by means of the Spirit, applying doctrine, putting doctrine first and fulfilling all of those other mandates then decision you make. Let me be almost factious about it. Whether you put your right shoe on first or your left shoe on first, it's a non moral decision and it's good. How you drive to work. The idea of the center of God's will in every decision that you make ultimately means that every minor decision – whether you get up at 6:30 or 6:40 – what does God want me to do? You have to drive it down that narrow because if you have that extra 10 minutes, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to leave 10 minutes later or 10 minutes earlier? If it is later you get caught in traffic. You have that traffic and take a shortcut and have a fatal accident. Oops. If you had left 10 minutes earlier and went the other route and miss the traffic then that accident wouldn't have occurred. Big things happen on the basis of minor decisions. So you decide to wear this instead of that and some opportunity comes up at work and you dressed casual instead of dressed up so you can't go to that luncheon because you aren't dressed to go to a fancy restaurant. You see minor decisions that we don't think about impact major events in our lives. If we are going to follow that logic out then you have to pray about every single decision. "I am going to have chicken or beef tonight? Well, what are the long term consequences going to be? Well you know my cholesterol will go up and I will have a heart attack and die 10 years earlier." I am being a little factious here but I am driving home the point that if we are going to try to find the center of God's will on every decision in life or are we going to make wisdom decisions from the framework of the doctrine in our souls?
- Therefore God's sovereign will includes His moral will, but His moral will is not always His decree. God has permissive will. He allows creatures to violate that moral will. That is included within the sovereign will. When the creature does what God has prohibited then His revealed will is outside the decreed will. This is what I was picturing with the overlapping circles in the chart earlier.
- Usually we become concerned about the will of God in the midst of some momentous decision. That is when most people ask that question – big issues in life. If it applies to big issues in life, why doesn't it apply to small issues in life? It really does. That is why the decision making comes from this reservoir of doctrine in our soul. God's will affects every decision we make to some degree because everything in life is addressed by the Word of God. It gives us a framework for addressing every issue.
- If man is to do all things to the glory of God, then even the most minute decision demands attention, (that is what I have been illustrating already) but not every decision that we make involves either a moral issue or as specific will of God in relation to geographical will or operational will. Operational will is the same for every believer. That is what we mean by the plan of God. That is what we mean by walking by the Spirit. Use I John 1:9 when you sin and get back in fellowship. Study the Word. Apply the Word. As you grow and mature your spiritual gift will become manifest. You may not know what that is but that is not always necessary. It is if you have a communication or leadership gift. Many times service gifts are manifest all kinds of ways. You can have a service gift because you have talents in many different areas - music, work, technology or other natural talents They have the gift of service and want to serve in the local church. But many decisions that we make don't involve a moral or spiritual issue. So how do we make that decision? Some people may think it is a spiritual issue whether you attend Texas A&M or the University of Texas. But for most of us we recognize that both are carnal and you need to go to some other school. Many decisions that we make in life we just have to make a wise decision and there is no necessary right or wrong in terms of a moral issue.
- Since we can only know the specifics of God's revealed or moral ill before the fact, (You know doctrine. You know what the Word of God says – the thou shalt's and the thou shalt not's) questions about the will of God relate only to revealed information. You can't ask, "God what do you want me to do tomorrow? If I have a choice between this job or that job, tell me what the answer is." No. You look at your life, your talents and abilities and what you want to do. If it is an issue related to geography and you have a family you need to decide, "Am I going to be able to get maximum Bible teaching for me and my family so I can grow spiritually in Houston or San Francisco? I can make more money in San Francisco. I have greater job advancement in San Francisco. There are many things that I would love to do in that particular job in San Francisco. There is no doctrine in San Francisco. Am I willing to compromise spiritual growth and involvement in a good local church for advancement in a temporal job or career?" Now it depends on what you are involved in. If you are in the military a lot of times you may not have the option. But if you are not in the military, you do. I can't tell you how many times I have seen families make this decision, where they really have a great job opportunity to go to "X" location but there is no solid church and there no doctrine being taught there. They end up tubing it in their spiritual lives. They think, "I can do tapes. I can listen to the internet." That is great and fine and wonderful, but very few people in the final analysis especially if you have been under face to face teaching for years, very few people have the ability and the discipline to stick with it in a non face to face situation. Non face to face learning is great in have-to situations. The ideal situation is if you can get away from where you are and go where you can learn the Word and you are going to grow spiritually. When you die God is not going to look at a resume and say, "Well isn't it great how well you did in your career. You punched this clock and you made this step and you did that seminar and this seminar. You fulfilled that responsibility here and that responsibility there." He is going to look at one resume, your spiritual resume related to the doctrine in your soul in spiritual growth. So the most important issue is not in terms of where I am going to go in terms of advancement in my career. But is this decision going to put me in a place where I can advance spiritually and serve the Lord the best? That's the most important question to ask in any of these other areas. That is why we have promises like Proverbs 3:5-6. God directs. We can't at all factor in all of the data. We look at the situation and we say, "That looks like the right decision. I weigh all the facts. I list out all of the pros and cons. I talked to my pastor. I talked to spiritually mature believers that know me and whom I trust. I have done all of the investigation. Finally I just have to put it in the Lord's hands."
NKJ Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
NKJ Proverbs 3:6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
I taught this last week when I was in Preston. One of the men there who is a retired Navy chief came up and said, "You know that is exactly what happened in my life. I was convinced I had the gift of pastor teacher. I got accepted to a Bible college. I got out of the Navy. I went to the Bible college. Everything I tried to do with in a week, God closed every door and my only option was to go back to the Navy." He ended up making that his career. God made it clear and made those paths straight for him. We might make a bad decision but if we are trusting the Lord in the midst of it, it is not going to end up in a collapse. He is going to direct covertly through the circumstances and situations. We are not going to get there tonight but we see that with Jonah. Jonah made a decision to go elsewhere than God directed him. He ended up exactly where He wanted him. If God does want you in a place you can't run away from it. God will make it clear. Your goal is to study, learn the Word and apply to Word. Even if you make a decision that God doesn't want you to make, guess what? You are not going to bring it to fruition. God will make your paths straight. He will bring about that which He desires in your life. So we don't have to get involved in a whole lot of inner anxiety and concern about what to do.
- So the question that I have been addressing – is there just one will of God for every decision or is it the idea of wisdom coming from doctrine for living so that as long as we stay within the boundaries of God's moral revealed will whatever we do (This will be hard for some of you.) – whether you decide to go to UT and live in Austin where you can grow spiritually or you can go to Texas A&M where there are a couple of good churches, you can learn the Word of God and grow spiritually and you can satisfy your spiritual priorities in either location, either one can be okay. I know that this is tough for some of you, especially some of you Aggies.
Next time we will come back and look at some specific biblical examples of decision making – those that involve direction, specific revelation and those that don't. We will see some telling examples of how a couple of times when the apostles made tough decisions and there is no guidance by the Holy Spirit. There is no direct revelation. It is interesting how they articulate their decision making. It kind of goes against what is popularly thought of as how God directs and guides. We see the same kind of thing going on in the background with Jacob. Whether Jacob is trusting God or not, God has a sovereign will and God moves Jacob through the pattern of his life. Even when Jacob is disobedient and even when he is obedient, God is still working things out, blessing him to bring about His ultimate purpose. We can't frustrate the will of God. We can either be in cooperation where we can experience the reality of the blessing because we are obedient or we miss out on that privilege and that blessing.