Finding God's Guidance
Text: Acts 16:1-8
by Robert J. Young
How can one know God's will, way? How discern?
On most days, seems world is waiting with bated breath for emergence of Spirit-led, Spirit-drunken, Spirit-empowered, Spirit-filled, Spirit-indwelt people. Is this what Paul was referring to in Rom. 8--all creation waits expectantly for the revelation of the sons of God. Where is a disciplined, free, gathered, loving, supportive, martyr people with a message, a song, and a testimony? Where is a people who know what it is to life the life and power and fulness of the kingdom of God? We want to be that people. How is it possible?
The Textual Study (a summary)
Paul speaks of how he and his traveling companions concluded (gathered) that God was calling them to take the gospel into Macedonia. The Greek word provides wonderful insights.
Richard Foster writes of "The Immanuel of the Spirit," God with us. This is not God with me. Consider several implications.
- First, consider guidance for the community. If the church is to be the church, at times, individual guidance must give way to the guidance of the community. We are being led together, not apart. We must see guidance collectively, not only individually. Where is the corporate prayer for such guidance? Let us add it. God has always led his people in this way--unless they could not hear, and then the prophet comes forth with the special blessing.
God led Israel as a people--all saw and followed the cloud and fire. Not gathered individuals who happened to be going in the same direction, but a people together with a sense collectively of their allegiance to the theocratic rule of God. His presence was immediate, and they were fearful.
That leading was through Moses, and through the great ministry of the prophets who heard God's word and brought it to the people, but today we have so emphasized the priesthood of the believer that we have forgotten the priesthood of believers. Let me flesh out that distinction. Luther, in focusing on "priesthood of believers" was teaching that the church functions as a priest for the individual believer. We have not made distinction, to our detriment.
- Second, consider the purpose of the community of believers. God has prepared a people, in Christ a new day dawns with the morning star, the people are gathered under the immediate rule of the Spirit. Is the distinction between the OT and NT? In the OT, the distant God, in the NT, the immediate God, the Spirit among us, dwelling in us. Matt. 18:20 is not justification for worship at the lake, but the fact that God's message is most clearly heard when we are together. It is no accident that preaching occurs in assembly. The church is the place where the gospel is preached.
- Third, consider the gathering and unity of the community. All who embrace the authority of Jesus become a gathered people, the church. One can see it clearly in the NT, this sense of corporate guidance, Act 13:1-3, Paul and Barnabas are called forth by the church to tramp the length and breadth of the Roman empire with the euaggellion, good news, gospel. People together, extending fellowship, listening, waiting, hearing, praying, fasting, worshiping. Missionary recruitment might work better with the church body corporately.
Then in Acts 15, the early church faced and resolved a most explosive issue, listening together. They assembled, not to jockey for position or play one side against the other, but to hear the mind of the Spirit. This was no small task, intense debate ensued, and individual guidance was insufficient. Individuals together reached the decision of God. Acts 15:28.
This is more than a victory over an issue, it is a victory in method. People decided together to live under the direct rulership of the Spirit whom Jesus has sent as his representative. This is not to deny Christ, but to reject human totalitarianism and anarchy, and so far as the church goes, even to reject democracy, and to live on the basis of God guidance, Spirit rule.
Paul writes in Eph. 4:1ff of this unity by the spirit. 1 Cor. 12 teaches that no one person will possess every gift, so that the body can be the body. Interdependence is essential in a genuine body, even the most mature needing the help of others, an empowered community, even the most insignificant having something to contribute. The whole counsel of God cannot be heard in isolation.
By the time John writes the Revelation, the great believing community had cooled in its passion, and by the time of Constantine, was willing again to accept a human king, and in one sense perhaps, the church, big picture, Catholic, western, eastern, Protestant, even Restoration, has ever since struggled with the exaltation of the individual above the body, the church.
The church as God desires the church is just such as gathering as God desires. A community of God's people who are aware of God's guiding hand, God's preparatory work, and God's unifying power. Ekklesia.
*Suggested and developed in part from notes from Richard Foster. Some of the unique phrasing is his.
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Last updated February 10, 2001.