The Macedonian Call
Acts 16:6–10 (NAB)
6 They traveled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message in the province of Asia.
7 When they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them, 8 so they crossed through Mysia and came down to Troas.
9 During (the) night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
10 When he had seen the vision, we sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
This part of Paul’s missionary journey is interesting because it documents the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit in the mission. Paul’s master plan may have to evangelise Asia Minor or what is modern day Turkey first. It will make sense to expand and consolidate in one region before moving to another. In the NIV, Paul and his traveling companions (Silas and Timothy) were ‘kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia’ (Acts 16: 7). The impression given here is that they Holy Spirt held them back ‘physically’. And when they tried another approach and tried to enter Bithynia, ‘the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to’ (Acts 16:8). After seeing the vision, Paul conclude that it was God’s plan for them to go to Europe (Acts 16:10). It seems that the Holy Trinity was involved in directing these missionaries in the right direction!
One would have expect that Paul and his companions would have seek the help of the Holy Spirit in prayers when they are planning this secondary missionary journey. Paul did not strike me to be a man who did anything without a plan. If so why did the Holy Spirit have to intervene so directly? Did Paul deviate from the plan? The empowerment of the Spirit seems to indicate that Paul had the support of the Spirit so far.
I suspect that Paul, like the rest of us, have to walk by faith. My suspicions is that the Holy Spirit only reveal the overall plans but not the details. Like the rest of us, Paul had to take one step at a time, trusting in faith that it is the right direction. Often, when we seek the will of God, we are asking for the masterplan or blueprint. We want to know in details, like a project manager; the time frame, resources and efficacy of each action or step we take. Personally I do not believe the Holy Spirit works that way. If we know in detail the masterplan, then there is no need for faith. We will not be free agents but are people who are constrained in how they act. Furthermore, I do not think that there is such thing as a masterplan that is a specific God’s will for us to live out our lives. Yes, there is a specific will for us to love him and for our salvation. Beyond that, our future is what we make it to be. It is created by the step by step individual decisions we make daily. Who we are is the sum of our decisions. Yes, the Holy Spirit do guide us to make some decisions. So will the bible, church traditions and our friends. It is more a nudge in the right direction than a masterplan. It will be affected by our own thinking, bias and prejudices. It is not infallible and sometimes the Holy Spirit will intervene when we go too far off track.
Back to Paul. The Holy Spirit stopped him here v.6 and here v.7. Then one night Paul has a vision. The vision is of a man from Macedonia begging Paul to come over to help them. I wonder how Paul knew the man is from Macedonia. As far as I know, Macedonians looks like the rest of the Greeks. But this is a matter of a vision. Truths are revealed without explanations. One of the fanciful scholarly speculation that I like is the man in the vision was the most famous and recognizable Macedonian of all times – Alexander the Great! Paul would have been familiar with the statues of Alexander. It seems as if the Holy Spirit was exasperated in leading Paul and his companions and had to resort to literally herding them to Troas which is a coastal port to send them to Greece. I guess Greece and the rest of Europe is not on their masterplan. Their masterplan is still Asia. I wonder how often the Holy Spirit has to guide us in a similar manner in our lives? That he has literally to draw us a map and say ‘follow the map and ‘x’ marks the spot’.
Going to Greece meant the opening up of Europe to the Gospel. Paul and his companions sailed to Greece and landed at Neapolis, which is modern day Kavala. Kavala is important because it is from there that the Gospel entered Europe. Europe became the bastion of Christianity until the late nineteenth century. So ‘x’ marks the spot. It is also interesting to note that Luke was with them at Troas and after Paul received the vision, joined the missionary journey – the change in the text from from ‘they’ to ‘we’. (though some suggested that Luke was with them since Antioch). From there, they would have walked the ten miles along the Via Egnatia to Philippi.
So Paul was not a super-Christian that many of us perceive him to be. Someone described knowing God’s will as driving down a dark and foggy road. The car’s headlights only illuminate no more than the 30 metres in front of the car. So we follow the road as best as we can. Sometimes we may turn off the road by mistaking something as sign for turning. But by grace, we are always led back to the road to continue our journey. And finally to arrive where we are supposed to arrive. Thus Paul and his companions arrived at landed at Neapolis and began the conquest of Europe as Alexander the Great had before them.