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 ESV)
Though the loss of Barnabas and John Mark may have seemed light, but it really affected Apostle Paul. He lost a friend and a helper also and God knew that he needed one urgently. So, the Lord did him some kindness- he sent him Silas to be a replacement for Barnabas; and in the coming days, the Lord also sent him another young man called Timothy to replace John Mark in his life. Timothy’s mother was a Jewess though his father was a Greek, and Timothy must have been raised by the Jewish faith of his mother and grandmother as Paul remarked that he had known the Holy Scriptures from his childhood. He was possibly either a native of Lystra and Derbe (two neighboring cities) or he lived there with his parents.
It was about 5 years ago when Paul and Barnabas came to the city of Lystra and Derbe where they preached the gospel. It was in that city that Paul was stoned and left for death; yet it was in that first city that the young man who was to be his greatest helper in the ministry was residing. Having heard the word of God from Paul’s mouth, Timothy believed and became a disciple (possibly alongside his mother). He was well spoken of by the brethren all over Lystra, Iconium and Derbe; so Paul possibly felt led to take him up as a ‘helper’ in the faith.
It is remarkable to note that Paul (who opposed circumcision for the uncircumcised as something necessary for salvation) went ahead and circumcised Timothy. This is not because he lost his convictions, nor that he now considered circumcision as needed for salvation. Not at all. Day by day, Paul was learning the principle of ‘being all things to all men’, and he did not want Timothy (as his closest helper) to have any challenge relating to unbelieving Jews or over-zealous believing Jews because of his uncircumcision; hence he simply did it to give no Jew any ground for rejecting ministry from Timothy. This shows us a principle that we must adopt in Christian ministry: that whatever we may believe about dressing, eating and drinking, etc., we must learn to adopt the path of least resistance and be all things to all men so that we will not have any resistance to winning anyone for Christ. This does not mean shifting the grounds of your core beliefs about Christ and about life, but is applicable only in matters that are not ‘necessary for salvation’ but are simply issues of personal taste or conviction.
The ministry of Paul grew as he went on preaching and ministering to the Church as well as to the larger world. Compelled by the vision God had given him, he went on from one place to another preaching the Gospel, making disciples and raising church elders in different cities. This he continued to do until something remarkable happened, something that we may gloss over, but was central to many things that Paul became and that we know about him today.
The ways of the Lord are mysterious and sometimes we tend to misunderstand Him whenever He is leading us in life’s journeys; but if we follow by faith, we will later see the wisdom of His instructions, His propulsions and His restrains. Two times Paul meant to enter two different cities and preach, but God said NO. That was very strange. Jesus had said “go into the entire world” and Paul was ready to go into the entire world, but here we see the Spirit of God forbidding him from entering the Asian regions. Please note that ‘Asia’ here is not the whole continent now called Asia, but a region in Roman colony under which we had cities like Galatia and Phrygia which was called Asia (or Asia Minor) which is now modern day Turkey. He turned again and sought to enter into the regions of Bithynia, “but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Wow! How could God have stopped the Apostle and his team from preaching the Gospel to a whole country? Were they not people who Jesus died for? Were they not deserving of hearing the Gospel? These are questions that plague our hearts as we read this, and we may never see the wisdom of God until we understand what happened later.
Permit me to stop here and say this. Have you ever sought to enter into a place and the Lord told you ‘NO’? Have you ever felt that you were obeying all scriptural principles and practices when you were getting yourself into a particular activity, yet you felt the Spirit of Jesus forbid you? It is even possible that you have entered into a relationship with the intention of marriage, and you felt that everything was in order (your partner was a Christian, a brother/sister who was in pursuit of God, and it looked as if you and he/she has the same visions and see things in the same way), yet the Lord said NO. Then you must pay close attention to what happened to Paul and his companions here. This will help you to relax and trust the wisdom of God.
Now let us read vs. 8-10 of Acts 16: “And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. (Acts 16:8-10 KJV)
As a consequence of the restrictions of the Spirit of the Lord, Paul turned and went to the region of Troas. We do not know what happened in Troas, but we notice that in vs. 10, the tense of the writing shifted from “they” in vs. 8 to “we” and “us” in vs. 10. Do you notice that? What does that mean? It was at Troas that Luke joined the apostolic team of Paul. We do not know whether he joined as a new convert, or as one who was led by the Spirit to join Paul in his labours; but I doubt if Paul would have ever met Luke if he had gone on to Asia or to Bithynia. He obeyed the leadings of the Spirit and the Lord sent into his team a man who helped him all the rest of his life (till death).
So, if you ever have been blessed by the Gospel of Luke and the account of Acts of the Apostles, you must forever be grateful to God that Paul listened to the restraining voice of God’s Spirit forbidding him from moving into Asia and Bithynia. Of course those regions were later filled with the Gospel, both by Paul and by others (see 1 Peter 1 vs. 1); but we do not know what would have become of Dr. Luke (and the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles) if Paul never went to Troas and never met Luke who joined him in the ministry there.
AND SO? Has the Lord ever said “NO” to you over a matter? Maybe a brother/sister you though you will marry, or a job you thought you would get, or a travel you wanted to embark in, and he said ‘No’; we know it can be painful, but please rejoice because God is planning for you greater things than you can ever imagine. The person you will later marry, the work you will later do, and the travelling you will later make would be far greater than what would had happened if you had gone on with your initial plans. Be always glad for all that God is planning for you (Romans 12 vs. 12 (TLB)). Rejoice in all situations. When the Lord tells you ‘NO’, consider; His plan for you in the long run is far greater than what you can ever see or imagine at present.