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happy co-workers November 22 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading: Acts 15:36-18:22

Note: In the interest of keeping with the theme of each day’s study, yesterday’s lesson was shorter and today’s lesson is longer.

Working with God

How do we recognize the leading of the Holy Spirit? Do we get a quiver in our liver? Seriously speaking, how do we know the decision we are about to make is from the Spirit and not from us? Other related questions might be: How do we work in cooperation with the Spirit? What is our work, and what is the Holy Spirit’s work? Hopefully, by Paul’s example in his second missionary journey and from other relevant Scriptures, we can learn answers to these questions.

As you may recall from yesterday’s reading, the Jerusalem Council decided that circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses and its accompanying Jewish traditions was not a requirement for Gentiles to be saved. After much debate and testimony they made this decree in Acts 15:28-29:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. (NIV)

These restrictions were given to the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in order that Jewish believers would not be offended and the Gentiles would prove their godliness.

Now that the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch had come to a reasonable compromise, Paul wanted to take Barnabus on a second missionary journey to share the resolution with the newly established churches in Asia Minor and to strengthen them. Unfortunately, however, there was a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabus about taking John Mark with them again. Mark had left soon after they had embarked on their first missionary journey. Paul did not want to take him, but Barnabus wanted to give Mark another chance. So sharp was the disagreement between the two men that Barnabus left and took John Mark with him, and Paul took Silas. Who was right, Paul or Barnabus? Romans 8:5,6 says,

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. (NIV)

Were Paul and Barnabus both seeking the mind and will of the Spirit? Did they both want to glorify God? Yes, to both questions, but they disagreed on how to do it. Can good Christians disagree and still be in the will of God? Yes. This disagreement actually worked for God’s glory because two missionary teams were formed, (Acts 15:36-40). Later, Paul admitted that John Mark was indeed profitable to the ministry (2Timothy 4:11). The first way we can tell if our decision is from the Holy Spirit or from ourselves is to answer the question: Does the decision fulfill our own desires or God’s desires? (Galatians 5:16-17)

A second way we can know that a decision is of the LORD and not of us is to look at the results. Are the results in keeping with the nature and work of the Holy Spirit? In reviewing the results of the ministries of Paul and Barnabus we must conclude that it was. (If you wish more insights on the work and nature of the Holy Spirit go to more…).

Continuing on Paul’s second missionary journey, there was something strange about the Holy Spirit’s working. The Holy Spirit forbade Paul and Silas to preach the gospel to cities in Asia Minor, Galatia, and Bythinia but called them to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). We don’t know why the Holy Spirit would permit them to preach to one group of people and not another; only God knows the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:27). Perhaps they were not yet ready to receive the message of God. We know, however, that the Holy Spirit does everything in accordance with the Father’s will. We must be willing to be flexible as God changes our plans for his greater glory.

In the city of Philippi, Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman who sold purple cloth, was saved. Shortly thereafter, Paul and Silas were dragged into the market place before magistrates (governing officials). There they were falsely accused, beaten, and put in stocks within a dungeon. Some thought something was wrong with their ministry because they were treated this way. Did resistance and persecution mean that the Holy Spirit did not lead Paul and Silas? No, God told Paul that he would suffer for Him (Acts 9:15-16). Does resistance and persecution mean we are not doing God’s will? No, Jesus promised his disciples that if they persecuted him, they would also be persecuted (John 15:17-21).

The ultimate results of Paul and Silas being beaten and jailed in the city of Philippi were that the Philippian jailer and his whole family were saved and baptized, (Acts 16:25-34). The enemies of the missionaries meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Another test that proved this was the work of God was that the Holy Spirit gave life. The next day, Paul and Silas were released from the jail. They returned to Lydia’s house and then moved on to the city of Thessalonica. There they experienced more persecution.

Up to this point we have emphasized the Holy Spirit’s work, but how do we work in cooperation with the Spirit of God - what is our part or responsibility?

First, we know it is the will of God that we be witnesses of Christ and make disciples wherever he sends us (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

As Paul traveled to different cities as a witness, (Acts 17:1-3) on Sabbath days Paul reasoned with Jews from the Scriptures, “explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead,” (Acts 17:3a, NIV). Paul used the mind God gave him. As he reasoned with Jews, he considered their culture and their knowledge of Old Testament Scriptures and showed them how Jesus fulfilled them. We work with the Holy Spirit when we use our minds to study the Bible so that we may apply it to our culture and use it in our witness to people.

Because of heavy persecution by the Jews, Paul and Silas left Thessalonica at night. They found a more receptive audience in Berea, but again the Jews brought pressure upon them and they went to Athens, Greece. The Bereans were commended for examining the Scriptures to see if what Paul and Barnabus testified about them was true. We should also be students of the Word of God.

While in Athens, Paul was disturbed in his spirit because the city was full of idols. According to Acts 17:17-34 he reasoned daily with Jews and Gentiles in the market place using the Holy Scriptures. Later, he used apologetic arguments with Epicureans and Stoic philosophers. He used natural revelation and specific revelation (the Scriptures) and even their own poetry in relating the gospel to them. We can work in cooperation with the Spirit of God by knowing our audience and guiding them into all truth, (1Peter 3:15).

After Athens, Paul went to the city of Corinth. This was a very wicked city, full of immorality and idol worship. While he was there, he used the Scriptures to illuminate truth to Jews and Gentiles, showing them that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah for which they were waiting. Though they suffered many threats and were taken before legal authorities, God encouraged them to continue. God would be their shield and defender. He is also our shield and defender. Let’s be tenacious; let's keep serving God.

After Corinth, Paul made a quick stop in Ephesus before going up to the Jerusalem church and then down to the church in Antioch Syria. He stayed there for a while and encouraged the disciples before leaving for his third missionary journey.

Lessons to live by:

  • Obey God’s Word and His leading, keeping in mind the work and nature of the Holy Spirit.
  • Prepare yourself for his working by memorizing Scripture, being a student of the Bible, and understanding how to relate to your audience.
  • Keep serving God and do not be dissuaded by troubles.

Today’s Bible memory verses: Romans 8:5-6

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. (NIV)

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