Divine Guidance–Part 4
1 Samuel 23:1–29
Samuel Lesson #090
May 2, 2017
“Father, what a great couple days we’ve had with beautiful weather and a little bit of coolness, probably the last we’ll see for some time and we’re thankful for that. We’re thankful for being alive another day to serve You, another week to serve You, to grow spiritually to focus on Your Word. And we pray that we might keep focused on those as our priorities; that all the other things that we do, while important, all flow out of our relationship with You in order for everything else to count for eternity.
Father, we pray that as we study tonight, continuing our study in understanding Your will for us as believers in the Church Age, that You would help us to understand this and apply this conscientiously to our day-to-day lives. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We have gone through 10 points in the opening of our discussion on the doctrine of the will of God and divine guidance. This is a topical study flowing out of our study in 1 Samuel 23.
There David has a number of decisions to make. Each time he makes those decisions he goes to the Lord in prayer, asks for God’s guidance and direction, and talks to the priest, [he uses] various methods. People have historically gone to passages like that and I believe have misused them in teaching how people can know the will of God.
Ultimately, we know the will of God the same way that David did, and that is through special revelation. But special revelation in the Church Age has ceased. It is finalized in the Canon of Scripture.
The way we know God’s will is always the same. He reveals it to us through special verbal revelation, but since He doesn’t do it anymore, we go to the Scripture, and the Scripture gives us that which we need to know.
It’s like our lives are an open book test and all the answers are there in the Book, in the Scripture.
There is a lot of confusion because of the way this is taught. So, I just want to review the definitions.
“Will of God” describes three different aspects of divine volition in relation to His creation, so this is a break down theologically. What do we mean when we say, “I want to do God’s will”? These aspects have different meanings.
The first category is God’s sovereign will. This is a secret will. Other words are: His decreed will, or decretive will, His secret will, His permissive will.
We don’t know it ahead of time. If I’m saying I want to know God’s will, well, God’s sovereign will involves the sin, the evil that He allows to take place in creation, so that’s not what we mean when we say “I want to do God’s will tomorrow.”
One way or the other we will always do God’s sovereign will because that is what God allows us in the freedom of our volition. We only know God’s sovereign will after the fact.
The second category is God’s moral will, which is sometimes referred to as His revealed will. It refers to what God has revealed to us in His Word, what He desires for us to do. That’s expressed through all of the positive commands to do certain things in Scripture and the prohibitions.
When we talk about specifics, whether I should go to this school or that school, live in this country or that country, go into the Air Force, serve in the military at all, or go into the Army, Marines, or Navy.
Those kinds of questions are not necessarily, that’s the key word, a focus of God’s will. It might be. It might be that God wants you to go into the Marine Corps and so when you go down to sign up for the Army they’ll reject you.
Then you’ll go to the Navy and they’ll reject you, and then you’ll go to the Air Force and they’ll reject you. But when you go to the Marines they’re going to see something nobody else saw and that’s what you’re going to get.
The same thing is true in many areas of life. We think we want to go to work for some company and we go there and they reject us. We apply for this job, that job, and eventually the job that opens up is where the Lord is leading us.
That’s our opportunity to serve Him. God doesn’t put a road sign out there and say, “This is where I’m leading you.” That is overt. This is more covert and we don’t get the road signs.
God’s not revealing new things to us through feelings, through some sort of liver quiver, through some sort of emotional state of peace and calm.
He will override our bad decisions. If He does not want you to live in Houston, Texas you won’t be able to get a job in Houston, Texas. But if He does have that as a specific, then you will, and you won’t be able find anything anywhere else.
Sometimes that is frustrating for folks.
I use a diagram of two overlapping circles. The circle on the left is all of God’s sovereign will, what He will allow to happen, His secret will, it is what God permits.
It includes both sin and evil because God permits volition, individual human responsibility. The freedom to succeed, to do the right thing, is comparable or is directly related to the degree to fail.
If we’re not permitted to sin, then we’re not really permitted to succeed. God permits certain things that are sin. So, you have two areas: sin and not sin in terms of God’s permissive will.
But in terms of God’s moral will it’s all not sin. It’s doing what God commands or prohibits in the Scriptures.
We are to live inside of God’s moral revealed will to the degree that we can. When we sin we are outside that circle. When we confess sin, we are back in the circle.
Learning to live in the circle is what the New Testament describes as living in God’s will. It doesn’t necessarily relate to geography, it doesn’t relate to some of these other areas of specifics. It doesn’t necessarily relate to being married to a right person or going to a right church.
Somebody once said to me that if you think you have a right pastor and he’s in Houston or Pennsylvania or Los Angeles and you’re somewhere else, then you would necessarily be outside the will of God if you didn’t move there. Tthat’s a true statement but it’s all built on a fallacy, that there are these specifics in the will of God.
There’s no such thing as a right pastor. There’s no such thing as a right church, and there is no such thing as a necessary geographical will. If you’re in in Nacogdoches, Texas, then God’s will is for you to be involved in a local church, if there is one there that is reasonably acceptable.
Fortunately, today we live in a world where there is a lot of solid Bible teaching available outside of your geographical area. I taught this one time when I was in Connecticut and I got an e-mail a couple years later from a guy up in Vermont.
He said, “The best church in this town where I live doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or the deity of Christ. I’ve gone there a few times and I think my son ought to grow up in church, but I’m not really sure that that’s what you mean.”
I said, “No, that’s not what I mean. If there isn’t a church anywhere in your vicinity that teaches any measure of truth, it may be an inch deep and a mile wide, maybe God wants you to go there so you can have a ministry.”
One guy who listened to me years ago got involved in a local church where he was stationed in the military. The pastor said he’d been looking for somebody who could teach the adult Sunday school class and gave him that assignment.
He taught the adult Sunday school class, and he taught dispensations and free grace and all kinds of other things. He didn’t go there and say, “Well the pastor got these five things wrong. I don’t agree with him.”
They weren’t heresy, so he had the opportunity to serve. God wants you to be involved in those ministries, and you can supplement with whatever is available on the Internet.
If your pastor who you think teaches you the best, that’s not necessarily what the doctrine of right pastor meant, but if you think that the pastor who can teach you the best is not in your vicinity you can listen to them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get involved in a local church.
All of that by way of quick review to understand the terminology and let’s look go on to look at what the Scripture says. I’ve got about nine more points. I think we can wrap this up tonight.
As we learn doctrine, and the Holy Spirit stores the doctrine in our soul, that’s called retention. Then in decision making the Holy Spirit is involved in retrieving the information for application; that is called recall.
The point I’m making in this is that the will of God is for us to regularly, consistently, day in and day out, meditate on God’s Word. That is Psalm 1:2, “… day and night.” Tell me a time period that doesn’t fit within the category of either day or night.
Day or night we meditate on His Word. That doesn’t mean every second of the day. It’s talking about the totality, that this is the general characteristic. That as we go through our lives we continuously think about the Word of God.
So, we are to study the Word of God. And as we do in this Church Age, walking by the Spirit Who is the dynamic of the spiritual life.
The Holy Spirit not only helps us to understand the Word of God, He is the one who stores it in our souls and brings it to our minds when we need to use it.
When I first became a pastor and I was pastoring at a church down in La Marque, Texas, I remember that the first two or three weeks I would get up and teach, and all of a sudden verses that I had memorized a long time before, as a kid at camp or in church or wherever, would suddenly pop into my head. Perfect application, a perfect verse for what I was teaching.
That’s what God the Holy Spirit does. It’s not something mystical. He brings the Word to our minds when it’s time to apply it. That is the process of recall.
He stored it but if we don’t take the time to learn the Word, to memorize the Word, so that we give the Holy Spirit the tools that are necessary, then He doesn’t have anything to bring to our memory when we need to apply it.
If somebody has never memorized any promises, then they get in a situation and they can’t even say, “Trust in the Lord.”
That’s why I repeat those verses over and over again. Those may be the only verses a lot of people ever memorize because they’ve heard me say them 100, 200 times.
This is the process, and this is how God helps us understand His will, through the recall of the Scripture we have learned.
This is very much a part of the day-to-day process in the Christian life. We learn the will of God by going through the process of studying the Word, and the Holy Spirit stores it in our soul.
When I concluded last time, under point 10, I was reciting verses such as Psalm 32:8 where God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
In that verse what we see is that God is the One who is initiating and directing the process of our spiritual growth. But if we are not putting ourselves in the position of studying, reading, learning, then that’s not going to happen.
I’ve used the illustration many times that the Holy Spirit is in the process of completely overhauling our life. It’s like taking a car that was totaled 40 years ago in a wreck, and it’s been sitting in a junkyard. And now it has to be made not only completely serviceable, but better than new.
You can either give the mechanic all the latest tools, and computers, and analytics, and everything that that’s available, or you can give him just a screwdriver and a hammer.
A lot of Christians expect the Holy Spirit to overhaul their life by giving Him a screwdriver and a hammer.
They don’t study the Word. They don’t learn the Word. They don’t internalize the Word. They don’t have anything, and they expect somehow that God’s going to do these miracles in their lives.
God can do the miracles, but that isn’t how He has defined the process in Scripture. The more we study the Word, the more tools we are giving the Holy Spirit to use.
He doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It’s not a mystical thing where He’s just going to override 20 years of bad decisions and refusal to read the Word and to learn the Word and internalize the Word, and say, “Okay, now that you’re in a bind I’m just going to wiggle my nose or snap my fingers or whatever, and the doctrine that you never took the time to learn is just going to pop into your head.”
That’s not how it works. The will of God is for us to be diligent in our in our study.
12. Specific doctrine for specific teaching. That is what the word “doctrine” means, what the Bible teaches about different circumstances and situations.
And we learn the Word and we are fond of the word “categorical”, which is what this is, a categorical study, because a categorical study summarizes the breadth of what the Scripture says on a particular topic and then targets it.
That is what is going on here: along with specific teaching for specific situations doctrine also produces sort of an overflow effect of developing wisdom in our lives.
We have studied wisdom many times. We’ve studied it in the Psalms; we’ve studied it in Proverbs. The biblical idea of wisdom is not intellectual activity, which is how the Greeks described wisdom.
It was the wisdom of the philosophers, the ability to think through things, the ability to use rhetoric a certain way, the use of logic.
That’s not what the Bible refers to by wisdom. Wisdom is an Old Testament Hebrew concept of skill. The word chokmah that is used for the skill for living in Proverbs and the Psalms is the word that was used to describe the skillful abilities of Bezaleel and Aholiab.
They were the craftsmen who oversaw the various guilds or groups working on making the articles of gold, silver, wood—the craftsmanship in all that was involved in the making of the tabernacle. That was a skill to create something of beauty from raw materials.
What we see in the biblical concept is that wisdom in the Christian life is the ability to put into practice the raw materials that we learn in Bible class, the raw materials we learn in our Bible reading and Bible study, and to create something by means of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual life. It’s a work of art that will bring glory to God.
Wisdom becomes a framework that enables us to face issues in life and take that wisdom and apply it to those situations. We are making wise decisions as opposed to foolish decisions. That produces a spiritual work of art.
The idea, therefore, isn’t “God, what do I do in this situation?” but, “based on the doctrine that I know what would be the wise thing to do; what is it that produces glory for You?”
When we are walking by the Spirit we are filling the commands of Scripture related to staying in fellowship. The issue is: as long as the decision we are making brings glory to God it’s the will of God.
But within that hierarchy there are decisions related to that which is good, that which is minimal, and that which is excellent. So, the choice for the growing, maturing believer is often a decision between, not what keeps me in my comfort zone as long as I’m still walking by the Spirit, but what is it that really brings glory to God? What is it that is the pursuit of excellence?
There is a quote that I ran across recently from Vince Lombardi. A great quote that says, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
Isn’t that a great quote? We know we can’t achieve perfection in the spiritual life. I’ve thought about making that a motto and sticking it on the Dean Bible Ministries website. We know we can’t achieve perfection in the Christian life, but if we shoot for perfection maybe we will hit excellence.
We need to have a high standard for our spiritual life. That’s not legalism. Often what I’ve heard when I was growing up, sometimes as a rationalization, was that fanatical, intense, obedient study of God’s Word is legalistic.
It was lowball: I don’t really want to have to fight with my sin nature that much, so I’ll just pre-bound. I will confess my sin ahead of time and then that’s okay, and I don’t have to struggle too much.
Wisdom is the pursuit of excellence in the Christian life. We need to make decisions based on that. How are we going to spend our time?
Ephesians 5:17 tells us that we are to redeem the time. That means we only have a certain amount of time and we need to decide how we’re going to use it.
What’s the best use of our time in terms of what we are going to study for eternity? The final exam that’s given at the Judgment Seat of Christ is not going to focus on how you spent your leisure time in terms of relaxation, unless you didn’t use it for your spiritual life when you could. That’s going to be the focal point.
Everybody has to make their own decisions based upon where they are in life. We can’t let somebody else judge us. That’s a problem with judging others. You don’t know what’s going on in their life.
The issue in decision-making is always going to relate, not always to the ultimate decision, but also the process of the decision and the Lord is looking at those things.
It’s that stored doctrine that gives us the discernment to recognize when some decisions might involve a specific or distinct geographic or operational will from God.
Some situations are that way. We have to learn that discernment. I’ve had situations in my life where I knew that God closed all the doors and there was a specific geographical will, but there are other times when there’s not, and that’s okay.
Some people think all that’s awfully loose. No, if God has a specific point where He wants you every single day then you need to be asking yourself, “Where does God want me geographically? Does God want me to drive from West Houston downtown via I-10 or should I go down Westheimer?”
If God has a specific geographical will for your life, then there’s a difference between taking Route 1, Route 2, or Route 3.
We don’t carry it to that extent, but that’s the logical implication. Doctrine helps us make a wise decision and glorify God in that process.
13. When we talk about the geographical will of God It relates to operating in a specific location: Jonah in Nineveh and Paul in Rome are examples.
There are other situations that we have in Scripture in which individuals needed to be in specific places, but that didn’t always mean that.
I constantly go back to the second missionary journey of Paul, when they wanted to go back to Asia. We aren’t talking about China and the Far East; we’re talking about the Roman province of Asia, which was the southwestern area of what is now modern Turkey.
Ephesus was at the heart of that. After they went and revisited the churches they had been to in south-central Turkey on the first missionary journey, they want to go to Asia and have a ministry there.
The text just says the Holy Spirit prevented them, it doesn’t tell us how. It could have been through circumstances. It could have been through special revelation of some sort. We don’t know and it’s not important for us to know.
But the Holy Spirit said, “No, you’re not going there.” Then they thought, “Well, we’ll go to the north northeast and we’ll go to Bithynia.” The Holy Spirit said, “No, you aren’t going that way.”
So, they just went up between those two regions, and they didn’t know from day to day where they were eventually being directed until they got to Troas.
Then there was a dream, special revelation, as to the fact that they were to cross over and go into Europe and take the gospel. Eventually on that journey the first place they went to was Philippi.
There are clearly times like that, but not always. Not always. And so it’s okay. It’s a missionary ... Somebody asked this question last week, “Well, as a missionary does God call you to China? Or does God call you to Ukraine, or call you to a specific country?”
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the issue is the decision to serve the Lord in some ministry capacity and as long as you’re doing that God’s going to direct your paths to some place or another.
There clearly have been in church history, I think, people who the Lord has really put on their mind—I avoid the term “put on their heart”, it’s so vague and spiritual sounding—put into their mind a particular place, and they really feel focused on that.
A person like Hudson Taylor, from the time he was a young man, was focused obsessively about China. I think that’s the Lord working, but for other people, it wasn’t that way.
What the Lord was doing with Hudson Taylor wasn’t a pattern that should be true for everybody else. Unfortunately, that’s what happens. We think, “See, what a wonderful ministry he had. God called him to China. Where is God calling you?”
Well, maybe not. I know of people who were convinced that God was calling them to a ministry in South America. Gordon Whitelock, who founded camp Peniel here in Texas, graduated from Moody Bible Institute in the early 30s.
He married his wife Alice and they both were convinced that God wanted them to be missionaries in South America, but they needed to raise support. In the meantime, they had an opportunity to come down to Houston to a place called Pierce Junction, which is now generally known as Alameda.
It was a place where you had oil companies and pipelines that came together, and it was just an oil patch down south of Houston. So, he came down to pastor the church for a year or two, and took advantage of the opportunities that God brought to him.
He started one of the first five Young Life groups in Texas. As he did that, he was going into afterschool Bible clubs with high school kids and in that process he led my mother to the Lord along with t I don’t know how many others.
From that he developed the idea of taking these kids camping. That developed eventually into the Camp Peniel ministry and he never ever made it to South America. But guess what? He did what God wanted him to do.
Anybody who knew what he did with Camp Peniel would say that’s what God called him to do. We see that in hindsight that was God’s sovereign will. But at the beginning that wasn’t what he thought was true. There are thousands of stories like that.
So, God doesn’t call. This brings up another topic. A favorite question that is asked in ordination services or in the examination is to ask a young man, “How do you know God has called you to the ministry?”
Gary Friesen in the book that I mentioned last week, Decision-Making in the Will of God, has a whole chapter on this. I can’t remember now whether it was he, or someone else said, “Well, I’m not sure I understand the question. Would you please explain to me what it means to be called to the ministry? Where that’s defined in Scripture and how I know it.”
All the men on the ordination Council looked back and forth at each other waiting for somebody else to come up with something and nobody ever did because it’s not in the Bible.
When you study the word “calling” in the Bible we are called to salvation. We are not called to ministry. We are not called to the mission field other than every believer is called to the mission field at the instant of salvation, whether that mission field is your next-door neighbor or somebody on the other side of the world.
Everybody is, in that sense, called to ministry because we are given a spiritual gift and we are to serve the Lord in using that gift. The Lord gives us those opportunities, but there’s no such thing as a call to them to the pastorate.
God gives you the spiritual gift of pastor, teacher, and you can say well, I believe that God gifted me as pastor-teacher. I’ve taught Bible studies. This is how I answered the question: I’ve taught at Christian camps. People seem to respond to it. I enjoy it. I think this is the best way I can serve the Lord. That’s the way to answer the question.
There’s no liver quiver. There’s no navel gazing. There’s no feeling that somehow your ears are struck with some sort of spiritual lightning or experience. You just recognize that as you grow and mature that God has enabled you in these areas.
That leads to the 14th point, that the operational will of God includes both your spiritual gift and your natural talents and abilities. God the Holy Spirit gives everyone at least one spiritual gift at the instant of salvation.
There is a lot of debate as to whether it’s one or more. I think it’s a blend in most people, one or two spiritual gifts. The measure of the gift is greater for some than it is for others and as that works itself out in combination in your life with your natural talents and abilities that came from birth, came from your genetics, came from your environment, as you apply that, it’s going to look differently for you than anybody else.
That’s true for every pastor. Too many young men think they have to emulate somebody else and be somebody else because that somebody else really impacted their life.
But God has a desire to have numerous people with the gift of pastor-teacher to minister to many different people and different personalities in different geographical locations. And so, the operational will for everybody is to grow and mature so that they can be more effective in serving the Lord with reference to their spiritual gifts.
Now, does that mean you have to be able to say, “Well, I know what my spiritual gift is”? Absolutely not. There are many people who have led lives of tremendous spiritual service and have no idea what their spiritual gift is.
Of course, one of the spiritual gifts is the gift of administration. That’s a pretty broad category, or the gift of leadership, or the gift of serving. That’s a huge category.
You take somebody that has a spiritual gift of serving and God naturally endowed them with a musical talent. One of the ways that they can serve, exercising their spiritual gift, is through using their natural talent to play a musical instrument, or to sing, or something of that nature. And that’s part of God’s will for our life, because God’s will is for us to grow and mature and develop in these areas.
Somebody may have a natural ability working with numbers and they learn to be a bookkeeper. They learn to be an accountant and they have the spiritual gift of service, so they can take their spiritual gift of service and use that to help the church in the area of bookkeeping and accounting, things like that.
That’s how the natural gifts and abilities work with our spiritual gifts. Some people, they as they grow and mature, their mentality is, “I’m just looking for an opportunity to help” so that they probably have the gift of helps, but they never really identify it as such. As they mature they just see opportunities and they take advantage of them.
That’s how it is. You don’t need to take some sort of a skills test to identify your spiritual gift. That was very popular back in the 70s. I remember there were a number of Christian magazines, and they would publish these little tests, 15–30 questions. You take them and then you can score yourself and you’ll decide what your spiritual gift is.
They were no different from the kinds of skill assessments you get if you went to some job counselor, career counselor, trying to figure out what in the world you wanted to do. You would take a battery of exams and it would tell you what you probably thought you were going to do as you as you grew up.
You don’t have to know your spiritual gift to use your spiritual gift, but you do have to grow and mature in the spiritual life to use your spiritual gift.
15. Often, decisions in life are not related as much to the final decisions as testing the process of deciding. How are you going to apply doctrine? That’s the test; it’s the methodology. How are you going to solve the problem in this particular test?
I’ve talked about that the in past, so we can just go on to the next one.
16. Let’s turn to Numbers in the Old Testament, Numbers 22. We have an example of these categories of God’s will in the life of Balaam.
Balaam is an apostate prophet. It’s clear he does have a gift of prophecy. In Numbers what we see is the story of Israel coming around on the east side of the Jordan going through Moab before they go into the Promised Land.
The king of Moab wants to stop them, wants to prevent them, and he is doing everything he can. He calls on this false prophet to curse them. But without getting into a lot of the specific details what happens is that God is working to protect Israel from Balaam, the false prophet.
In Numbers 22:12 God speaks to Balaam and says, after he is requested by Balak the king of Moab to curse the Jews, then God speaks to Balaam, “and you shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people for they are blessed.”
This is God’s revealed will. He’s telling Balaam what he can and cannot do. As we go through the story Balaam keeps trying to push the boundary, just like a disobedient kid. The parents say you can’t go outside, so they open the front door and they put their foot right up on the threshold of the door and then they start inching it out the door to see if they’re going to get some reaction from the parents. We’ve all either done that or seen that or both.
So that’s sort of what Balaam is doing here. He really wants the money and the reward. He wants to figure out a way where he’s not going to curse them but he’s still going to get the reward.
So, after God tells him he can’t do it then he goes ahead anyway. But God allows him to go.
Numbers 22:20, “And God came to Balaam at night and said to him [again we have direct revelation], ‘If the men come to call you …”
This isn’t a feeling, it’s not an emotion, it’s not liver quiver or navel gazing, it’s specific propositional truth communicated in words.
“… if the men come to call you, rise and go with them.”
God’s going to permit him to go. “… but only the word which I speak to you that you shall do.”
Okay, you can go. I’m going to let you go. That’s not what the original command was. What’s the revealed will of God? You shall not go. What’s the permissive will of God? You can go but you can’t talk. You can’t curse them.
Then you have the overriding will of God that we see in the next chapter. For example, in Numbers 23:5 we see God’s overriding will.
Balaam is going to say something and God just overrides it.
Numbers 23:5, “The LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said ‘Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.’ ”
Then in Numbers 23:15 Balaam is speaking to Balak, “And he said to Balak, ‘Stand here by your burnt offering while I meet the LORD over there.’ ”
As we see this, we see God overriding, overruling Balaam’s constant attempts to try to curse Israel so he can get the big payday.
So, the principle here is that even when we make the wrong decision related to God’s geographical will or operational will, His overriding will kicks in and resolves the problem.
We can’t make a bad decision in terms of these neutral areas. If God does want us somewhere God’s going to get us there.
Let’s go back to the New Testament, Acts 15. This passage goes back to what I talked about last time when talking about Cornelius, the Gentile, and Peter taking the gospel to Cornelius.
After that, in Acts 11, he comes back and gives a report in Jerusalem. But then this whole issue with “What we do with these goy, with these unclean Gentiles?” They don’t observe Shabbat; they’re eating bacon at breakfast. They think they can clean the shrimp by just cutting the tail off and circumcising them. They’ve just got all these different problems.”
So, they have a council. Acts 15:6, “Now the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter.”
That is, “What are we going to do with the Gentiles?”
This has become divisive because there are those who are saved, but their background is legalism and the sect of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5. And they think that they have to be circumcised.
“We have to bring these Gentiles in under the Law.”
They have a council, the first church council recorded in the Scripture, and they come together, and it’s described in Acts 15:6–22.
They go this through this process of describing in Acts 15 what has been going on. Peter stands up and talks about how God revealed to him that He had declared the Gentiles clean and he was supposed to take the gospel to the Gentiles and what he did.
Acts 15:9, “And He made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”
After he finishes, Barnabas and Paul talk about how God worked with them among the Gentiles. After they gave their testimony in Acts 15:13, James draws some conclusions that are very important.
I want you just look at the language after he relates what has happened and he goes back to the Old Testament where he quotes from Amos 9:11–12, that there will be a time when, “The tabernacle of David [that is a reference to Israel] is fallen down …” and collapsed under divine discipline.
Acts 15:17, which is a quote from Amos 9:12, “So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD.”
There is a purpose in that divine discipline on Israel: so, the rest of mankind, even all the Gentiles, will seek the Lord.
What he is saying there is that God’s intent always was to include Gentiles in salvation. After he makes an Old Testament application, he says in Acts 15:19, “Therefore, I judge …”
He is making an evaluation statement. God is not telling them how to specifically handle this situation. There’s been revelation in the past, revelation to Peter, revelation to Paul and Barnabas, revelation in the Old Testament.
Now they have to apply that past revelation to this problem without direct revelation from God as to how to handle this problem. So, he looks at the data of Scripture.
Acts 15:19, he says, “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
He’s making an application point. Furthermore, as we go down to Acts 15:22, Luke writes, “Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.”
It pleased them. They’re making a decision from wisdom and they say, “How should we inform or communicate to the church?”
They don’t get out the urim and thumim and ask God what to do. They make an applicational decision based on the doctrine and based on wisdom.
So, they’re going to send some chosen men to Antioch to accompany Paul and Barnabas as they go back to bring an answer to this question.
They wrote a letter, and God doesn’t reveal to them that they should write a letter. They’re making an application of wisdom to the circumstances.
And in that, they make the statement in Acts 15:24–25, they say, “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls.”
That’s the problem they’re trying to address. How do we solve this problem?
“… and saying that you must be circumcised and keep the Law. It seemed good to us …”
You ought to underline that phrase that begins in Acts 15:25 and you see it again in Acts 15:28, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit …”
It seemed good to us first of all, and it seemed good to the Holy Spirit second of all. They are not claiming special revelation in how they should handle the problem.
“We looked at previous special revelation. We look at the circumstances and then we had to make a decision related to application.”
“It seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul …”
That takes you right back to that language of Acts 15:22, “then it pleased the apostles and elders …” It’s a point of application.
Acts 15:28, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.”
It wasn’t that the Holy Spirit gave them direct revelation; it’s that the Holy Spirit was working in their recall and application of the doctrine that had already been revealed to them.
My point is they have a decision to make. They have a conflict in the church and the way they handle it is to go to special revelation to derive principles from that past special revelation to apply to the current circumstance.
They are not saying, “God tell us what to do” and expecting God to give them new revelation for this specific set of circumstances. That’s decision-making and wisdom.
We see it also in Paul’s statements. After the first missionary journey they come back and report. After a while Paul says to Barnabas “It’s God’s will for us to go on another journey.”
Is that what he said? No.
He says, Acts 15:36, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”
It’s almost like a common sense approach to doing the will of God. “We took the gospel to them and we taught them some of the word, but now we need to go back. We don’t need God to tell us we need to go back.”
Paul is returning on his way to Jerusalem at the end of the third missionary journey. He decided to sail past Ephesus. Notice, he doesn’t say, “God told me to sail past Ephesus.” He doesn’t say, “I sought the Lord in fasting and prayer, and He told me I didn’t need to go to Ephesus.”
He made a decision that he’s trying to get to Jerusalem before Passover. And in order to make the timetable, he didn’t have time to go to Ephesus. The wise decision is to bypass Ephesus.
18. In every incident of a specific will of God it’s only known through special revelation. God does have specific things for us, but the way we learn them is to go through Scripture. God has recorded it there for us.
One more point. In some Old Testament cases God directly put thoughts in the mind of a leader. God put certain thoughts or ideas into the heart, that is the mind, of Nehemiah.
You read Nehemiah and constantly Nehemiah says, “God put this in my in my heart. God put this in my mind.”
I think God does that today. That’s not special revelation. That’s the Holy Spirit bringing things to our mind. Now it’s covert, so I’m real hesitant.
I don’t have special revelation (like Nehemiah did) to say, “Oh, God brought this thought into my mind and not that thought into my mind.” You hear a lot of Christians who use this language today but Nehemiah, as a writer of Scripture, had special revelation from God to know which thoughts came from God and which thoughts did not.
I don’t have that. If you talk to some unbeliever they’ll be doing some project or something, and all of a sudden some thought pops into their head. That doesn’t mean that God put it there.
How do I know today that God put some thoughts in my mind and not others? I don’t, unless what is coming into my head is doctrine through the Holy Spirit, reminding me of what the Word of God says so that I can apply it.
So, the conclusion is: what God wants us to know regarding His will, He has always revealed directly to those responsible.
In the past if God wanted something specific done, there was direct revelation. Today God’s will is completely, sufficiently, and finally revealed in His Word. That’s where we go, we don’t go to the priest and take a look at the urim and thumim and go to a prophet.
God is no longer directly revealing His will to us independently. We are responsible for knowing His will from Scripture and then applying it.
It’s a mature approach. We are not a little kid going to mommy and daddy asking them what we do every time some situation arises.
We have grown up and left home as it were. We have the rearing and the training that our parents have given us. Now when we go out into the world we have to take what they taught us and we have to apply it on our own. We can’t go running home to mommy and daddy every time there’s a decision that has to be made.
That’s an analogy that is roughly scriptural, because in Galatians Paul talks about the Old Testament was like a child under a tutor, but now we have grown up and part of that maturity is the Word of God.
I want to wrap up with a couple of passages I think are very important for making wise decisions. First of all, I want to look at broad passages here very quickly; you can go back and read them later.
Let’s look at Ephesians 5. These are all passages related to God’s will for our lives. Ephesians 5 is, I think, the central chapter in Ephesians 4, 5, and 6.
Ephesians 4:1 starts off, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called …”
What’s God’s will for your life? “to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called …” That is salvation.
Then we skip on down to a series of commands starting in Ephesians 4:25 that all relate to putting away sin, that sin should not characterize the believer.
Is Paul saying we can be perfect? No. Is he saying that this is a legalistic way to achieve spirituality? Well, no. But if we’re sinning, we’re not walking by the Spirit.
We have to remove that sinful lifestyle and there are a number of prohibitions that are given in Ephesians 4:25–31.
Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” That ought to be the motto of every political party. I don’t care what you are, that ought to be the motto of every political party today.
Ephesians 4:31, “And be kind to one another ...” There’s the positive command.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another …”
The Greek there is CHARIZOMAI.
“being gracious to one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.”
Ephesians 5:1 flows out of Ephesians 4:32. It’s unfortunate the chapter break occurs there.
And he continues this metaphor of walking, Ephesians 5:2, “And walk in love.” That’s what God wants us to do, walk in love.
Then there are two or three verses about the negatives,
Ephesians 5:3–4, ”Setting aside fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints. Neither filthiness, not foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving thanks.”
Being grateful and gracious towards others.
And when we get down to Ephesians 5:8 he says, “For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
So, we are to walk as children of light and then we are to walk in wisdom.
Ephesians 5:15, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.”
What does a wise person do? Ephesians 5:16: a wise person redeems the time.
Ephesians 5:17, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
How do we do that? Ephesians 5:18, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled by means of the Spirit.”
You’re filled with what? You’re filled with the Word of God. And then we go on with a lot of specific application.
That’s a great passage to think about in terms of the will of God. Are we walking in love? Are we walking as children in light? Are we walking as wise? Are we walking by the Spirit?
Galatians 5:16, “I say then: Walk by means of the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Galatians 5, which I talked about a lot last time. That’s another key passage
Another key passage is John 15. These are broad passages that every believer should think through because they relate to your spiritual life and the commands of Scripture.
In John 15, Jesus commanded His disciples that we are to abide in Him. And abiding in Him is another way of talking about fellowship.
In John 15:4 He says, “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
So, the precondition to bearing fruit in John 15:4 is abiding in Him. The precondition for bearing fruit in Galatians is what? Walking by the Spirit.
In Ephesians 5:8–9 the precondition for bearing fruit is to walk as children of light. So, abiding in Christ, walking as a child of light, walking as wise, being filled by means of the Spirit, walking by the Spirit, are all roughly identical because they all are the necessary condition for producing fruit.
John 15:7, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it will be done for you.”
The big condition is abiding in Him and His Word abiding in you, and then you’re not going to desire something that is inconsistent or contradictory to the Word of God.
Those are just some of the key passages that we have in Scripture defining the will of God. Other places to look would be 1 Thessalonians 5:16–22, a bullet list of commands:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always”—not some of the time, not just when you’re in church, always, a mental attitude. It’s not every second of every day, but that’s your general mental attitude.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17–18, “Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Again, gratitude is emphasized.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
These are key passages.
- Philippians 4:4–9, “Rejoice in the Lord always …”
Again, we see this emphasis on rejoice as in 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
- “Let your gentleness [that’s grace orientation and humility] be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing.” (Philippians 4:5–6)
God’s will for you is not to be a worrywart, not to wake up having a panic attack every night and manufacture things to worry about.
- “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God ...”
That’s the result of prayer. It’s not the result of finding God’s special will for your life.
- “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Then Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue or anything praiseworthy, meditate, [or think] on these things.”
That is the focal point for the will of God: are you doing those things? If you’re doing those things then you are walking by the Spirit, you are in the will of God. But when we sin we are out of the will of God. And it doesn’t matter [where you are].
For example, what eventually happened to Jonah was he got out of the will of God, even in Nineveh. He got out of the will of God because after he got there, and everybody responded to the gospel and God graciously withheld the judgment on Nineveh for another 200 years, Jonah had a pity party and went out and decided that “I’m mad, I’m going to sit out here and eat dirt. God is being too kind to the Ninevites.”
He immediately went into bitterness and mental attitude sins, so God had to teach him another lesson.
How do we know God’s will? Very simple, study, learn the Word of God, and do what it says.
If we are walking by the Spirit, walking in the Word, walking in the light, then God is going to direct our paths.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study and understand Your will, Your purpose for our lives, how to think about decision-making, and Your will. And we pray that as we study Your Word, and as we apply it, that we will have the spiritual courage and strength to trust You and to rely upon You to guide and direct our lives, our paths. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen”