“And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6-7).
We praise God, as the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to “teach (us) all things and bring to (our) remembrance all that (Jesus) has said to (us)” (John 16:26). The Holy Spirit gathers us to receive God’s Law and Gospel. In the Law we are reminded what is forbidden and not allowed, in order that we have life to the full now. In the Gospel we are motivated to adhere to God’s Law and receive life forevermore. As Baptized believers, we have everlasting life now but not yet in its full glory. Forbid us, do not allow us, O Lord, to pursue evil, corrupt, and/or filthy paths in this fallen-in-sin world!
So, were Paul and his companions, on this Second Missionary Journey, pursuing some sort of evil, corrupt, and/or filthy path? No! As we check the immediate context, we see they desired to “speak the Word” (God’s Word) in Asia and Bithynia (inland north of the Mediterranean Sea, present day northwest Turkey). As we check the preceding context, we read that “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5). Paul and his companions were having success. Now Asia and Bithynia were before them and were a logical place to go. Surely, it seemed, this is where they were to go.
Nope! They were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” and “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” They had been doing God’s work; they were having success; they were full of zeal; but now they were forbidden and not allowed. That would be challenging. Anytime we are forbidden and not allowed, our old man will rise-up to say, “What?” even when we are on a bent path. Yet when we know we are doing the Lord’s work, and we are forbidden and not allowed, we can be confused and frustrated. Help us to draw near to You, dear Lord, at all times, especially when we are forbidden and not allowed. Increase our faith O Lord to trust that You will bring good out of our changed paths
How were they forbidden/not allowed? This was first century Christianity with visions (Acts 16:9), exorcisms (Acts 16:18), and earthquakes that freed prisoners (Acts 16:25-26). So maybe some direction came through some sort of direct or inner revelation that Luke did not record. Or they may have been forbidden/not allowed due to circumstances of hostility, illness, or the like. You and I can have direct revelation as we hear or read a commandment that we are tempted to transgress. We will have further support of an inner revelation as we memorize the commandments with the “What does this mean?” interpretation. We also have a variety of circumstances that lead us to analyze the situation: “count the cost” and “deliberate” (Luke 14:28-32) what to do.
Because they were “forbidden/not allowed,” Paul and his companions were able to be with Lydia, and her household (Acts 16:13-15), and the Philippian jailer, and his family (Acts 16:25-34). Those dear souls received from God through this. The area of Asia and Bithynia did receive the Word at another time. O Lord, keep us steadfast in our duties as You guide, lead, and provide, as well as forbid and not allow us.
The Lord be with you, Pastor Sam Wiseman