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We’re going to continue in this session with the theme from the last session, “The Headship of Jesus.” I think I need to recapitulate briefly some of the main points. First of all, we saw that headship is a central concept of the word of God, especially in the New Testament. And really, headship is God’s appointed way of governing. We saw that in the natural the head has certain functions. See if you can remember them. It receives input, it makes decisions, it initiates action, and it gives ongoing direction. These are reproduced also in the spiritual realm.
The pattern relationship of headship is a relationship between God the Father and Jesus His Son. And if we want to know what it means to be under headship we need to look at the example of Jesus in His relationship to the Father. And I pointed out that He never initiated anything. The initiative for all that He did always came from the Father, which is exactly in line with the pattern of headship. I think it’s a concept which most of us are not really familiar with. It’s going to take prayer and meditation and seeking God to be able to reproduce this relationship of headship as God wants it reproduced.
And then we saw that the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son should be reproduced in the relationship between Jesus and His church, because Jesus has been appointed head over all things to the church, which is His body.
Now I want to look at some examples of the outworking of this principle in the church of the New Testament. What it means to be under the headship of Jesus in the church, how that headship works out. And I’ve chosen to begin with a specific example which is the apostleship of Paul. I find in Paul’s apostleship a perfect and complete pattern of what the headship of Jesus should be. I think it’s important to focus on Paul because he was appointed an apostle after the day of Pentecost. He was not in the category with the first twelve who were appointed while Jesus was on earth. And in a certain sense, we might say we can’t expect to reproduce what happened while Jesus was on earth but there is no reason why we cannot expect to see reproduced what happened through the Holy Spirit after the day of Pentecost.
So if you turn to 1Timothy 1, Paul here makes a declaration of the basis of his apostleship. 1Timothy 1:1:
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our savior, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope.”
So Paul traces his apostleship right back to the headship of God the Father. And it came through Jesus Christ who was under the headship of the Father but head over the church.
At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus said after the resurrection, “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to me.” The source of all authority is God the Father. But He has transmitted it to Jesus Christ the Son because Jesus proved Himself totally worthy of having authority. How did He prove that? By being totally obedient to authority. See, the qualification for exercising authority is proving you can be under authority. And so, in a sense, I mentally picture authority like a big dome up there which is the throne of God. And then underneath is a big, vast, strong hook which is Jesus Christ. And all authority in any area of the universe, among the angels, men, wherever, proceeds from that hook. Everything is suspended from the hook which is Jesus Christ. But Jesus is the channel and the transmitter of God’s authority to the whole universe. And in particular, He has a special relationship with the church, which is His body. God has put all things under His feet. But we’re not just under the feet of Jesus. As part of His body we are joined to Him as head. And He directs the body as head in a different way from any other part of the universe.
Just like, let me say I might be a drill sergeant—which God forbid, let me say that—and I’m giving orders to a squad of soldiers. So I’m directing all the soldiers by my orders. But my own body I direct in a completely different way. I don’t have to give orders to my body, I just make the decision and communicate it and the members do it. So you see, we have a unique relationship with Jesus that no one else in the universe has. That’s an amazing thought, isn’t it?
Do you know one of our problems as Christians? We don’t appreciate ourselves. We have no concept how valuable we are and how important we are. It always grieves me to hear Christians belittling themselves. Admittedly, in ourselves we’re nothing. But because of our relationship with Jesus Christ we are the most important people in the universe. We are the decisive factor in all human affairs. Solely because of that relationship.
So we see then Paul’s apostleship originated with God the Father and was transmitted through Jesus Christ. Now in Galatians 1, Paul also speaks about his apostleship but he traces it the opposite direction. Galatians 1:1:
“Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through men, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.”
So, in 1Timothy he’s looking at the descending authority from God the Father through Jesus. In Galatians he’s looking up through Jesus to the Father. But the origin of his appointment as apostle was God the Father operating through Jesus Christ the Son.
That, in a certain sense, was settled in heaven. But it had to be made effective on earth. So now we have to turn to the book of Acts, the 13th chapter. Here we have a pattern of how heavenly authority is communicated and made effective in the church. I want to suggest to you that there is no reason I can think of why what took place here in Acts 13 in the church at Antioch could not be reproduced in the church anywhere on earth today. And that’s important because it involves the emergence of apostolic ministry. So we’ll read the first four verses of Acts 13.
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers; [five are mentioned] Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger...”
Do you know what Niger means? Black. So he was dark skinned.
“...Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch...”
In other words, he was really part of the ruling household.
Five men who were recognized as prophets and teachers. Are we prepared to accept there can be prophets and teachers in the church today? All right.
“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted...”
I checked with the NIV just before I began to speak and the NIV doesn’t say minister, it says worship the Lord. Which is a legitimate interpretation. How do we minister to the Lord? We worship Him. That’s one way of ministering to the Lord.
“So as they ministered to the Lord [or worshiped] and fasted...”
Fasting is another of those things which is being restored to the church—a little bit against some people’s inclination. I was saved in the army in l941, the British army. And because I was in the army and I was almost immediately sent overseas and spent the next three years in the deserts of North Africa, and never saw a church—I hardly ever saw a chaplain—I was dependent on God, the Bible and the Holy Spirit. I mean, I didn’t have any other source. I have to say I’m rather grateful in a way because during that time I read the Bible through several times. Later when I started going to church I discovered there were a lot of things in the Bible they didn’t tell you about in the church. But I’d already read the Bible. I just mention this in a way that I can’t really explain, God made it clear to me that I was to fast one day every week. I chose Wednesday. And basically, all through my military service which went on for another four and a half years, I fasted every Wednesday.
When we were in Egypt in the desert—you can’t when you’re living in a lorry with eleven other soldiers—I was, incidentally, in charge of a squad of stretcher bearers. Eight blaspheming, ungodly British soldiers. None of them wanted to be stretcher bearers. We lived on a three ton lorry which was driven by two drivers so there were ten of us plus me, and I was supposed to be in charge of everything. We came to be known in the unit as Prince’s Pioneers. But we didn’t give ourselves the name, it just got dubbed on us. So we had a little flag, I’m always sorry that I lost the flag. But wherever we bivouacked we put out our flag, Prince’s Pioneers.
Anyhow, when you’re living that close with men—and you can’t escape people in the desert. I mean there was no way I could fast secretly. So every Wednesday all the other soldiers knew I wouldn’t be eating. Well, some of you know that all Moslems have one month in the year called Ramadan when they don’t really fast, they don’t eat in the daytime but they make up for it at night. I don’t really call that fasting. Anyhow, all the soldiers in my unit called Wednesday Ramadan from then onwards.
I’d have to say looking back I think that was a key to the spiritual progress that I made. And basically, there have been very, very few periods in my life where I have not fasted one day a week. Today Ruth and I regularly observe the same day, Wednesday. Sometimes it used to be Thursday but it’s Wednesday now. I don’t know whether you know that John Wesley refused to ordain to the Methodist ministry any man who would not promise to fast until at least 4 P.M. every Wednesday and every Friday. And he wrote in his journal, “I am persuaded that anyone who has light on fasting and does not practice it will backslide as surely as anyone who has light on prayer and does not practice it.”
When I started to teach fasting about l949 in London, people looked at me as though I’d come from another planet. I mean, it was just absolutely unheard of that Christians should fast. Today we’ve made some progress. I think there’s a lot more progress to make. I pointed out to people that Jesus in the sermon on the mount did not say if you fast, He said when you fast. He assumed His disciples would fast but He gave them certain regulations.
What I’m saying is, if you study the book of Acts, there are two crucial events in the development of the church. One is here in Acts 13, it’s the sending out of the first apostles that are recorded after the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 14:23 you have the appointment of local elders in a new church. And both those two crucial decisions were accompanied by fasting and prayer of the leadership. I suggest to you the indication is that Christians, or a church, that really wants to know the mind of God needs to be prepared to fast to hear from God.
Here they were, ministering to the Lord or worshiping and fasting. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to them. You notice the initiative came from God. But it came from the triune God. God the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. You see? And what was the declaration? The apostleship of Paul and also Barnabas. Verse 2:
“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”
Notice the initiative is totally with God. It wasn’t a good idea, it wasn’t something that Saul and Barnabas were eager to do, they didn’t apply to the church to be recognized. The initiative was completely with God. Because the church had opened itself up to receive from God. If we don’t open ourselves up, how can we receive? Verse 3:
“Then having fasted and prayed...”
Notice they didn’t fast once only. They fasted once to hear from God and they fasted the second time to commit those people to God.
“Then having fasted and prayed, laid hands on them, and they sent them away.”
When they were sent away they became sent away ones. What’s one word for that? Apostles, that’s right. That’s what the word apostle means, it means somebody sent off.
Now, I love the next verse, I don’t want to stop at verse 3.
“So they, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
What I’m pointing out is that in that verse the word which says being sent by the Holy Spirit is a word that means the Holy Spirit accompanied them. It’s not the same word that’s used in verse 3. The people sent them off but the Holy Spirit went with them. You understand? That’s important.
So, what happened as a result? What was the outworking of that? Turn to the next chapter of Acts, chapter 14, and you read two verses, verse 4 and verse 14. Speaking about what happened in one of the cities:
“But the multitude of the city was divided; part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles.”
And then verse 14:
“But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard this...”
You notice what they are now? They’re apostles. Before they were prophets and teachers. How did they become apostles? By being sent out. Sent out by who? By the Holy Spirit through the church. You see, everything in the church should be initiated by God the Father through the Son, by the Spirit. But it’s only effective when the church responds. And although it was in the eternal counsel of God that Paul should be an apostle, he’s never called an apostle until the church has recognized and endorsed his calling. It’s very important for all of us. It’s easy to get impatient with the church and become critical of the church, but God does not bypass the church. Because, it’s the body of Christ. And so with all its weaknesses and its failings we’ve got to trust God to work through the church. So that’s the full pattern of how Paul was established as an apostle. It was initiated by God the Father, came through Jesus Christ who was head of the church, was communicated to the church by the Holy Spirit, was received by the church and acted upon. And then that was the appointment of apostles.
Now, the question I want to ask you is could the same happen today? In other words, could we have legitimate apostles operating in the church today? To me the obvious answer is yes. If we can believe or if God can be good enough to grace us with prophets and teachers, and the prophets and teachers will wait upon God, open themselves up to Him, maybe fast, then out of that situation there is a completely legitimate New Testament pattern for the ministry of apostles to emerge. I believe there are apostles in the church today. But I think on the whole the church is not in a condition where it can really lay hold of God’s purpose and provision.
What I want to point out in this connection, in every appointment in the church I believe should follow the same pattern. I don’t believe there should be any appointments made in the church that don’t come by way of the head. Just like I don’t think anything in my body should start doing something that’s not initiated by my head. I mean, if that happens I’m either paralyzed or I’ve got some serious problem. I might have cerebral palsy which, you know, for those who have it we are deeply sympathetic. But I don’t believe it’s God’s will that the body of Christ should have cerebral palsy. In other words, all the members should operate under the direction and control of the head.
I want to give you just two examples of God’s choice. I think one of the truths that’s really seriously neglected in the contemporary church is the truth of God’s sovereignty. I think in the Charismatic movement people have largely focused on what they can get from God, what God can do for them. And sometimes it’s almost degenerated to the place where God is treated like an automatic vending machine. And if you get the right coin and put it in the right slot you’ll get the right kind of soft drink. I just want to tell you God is not an automatic vending machine. And that is a very incorrect picture of God. What do I mean by God’s sovereignty? This is how I define it. To say that God is sovereign means He does what He wants, when He wants, the way He wants, and asks no one’s permission. I suggest to you that if you ever begin to infringe on God’s sovereignty, you’ll run into trouble because there’s one thing that God jealously guards is His sovereignty, his right to do what He wants, when He wants, the way He wants, without getting permission from anybody.
And I think particularly in the matter of ministries appointed in the church, God reserves His sovereignty. For instance, look for a moment in John 15:16. Jesus is talking to His apostles. He’s not talking to the multitudes. This was a time alone with his own chosen apostles. And He says:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.”
Jesus makes it extremely clear that no one becomes an apostle by applying for the job or by being voted in in the church. He says you didn’t choose me, I chose you. I made the appointment.
Just by way of comment, what’s the operative word when we’re talking about an apostle? It’s a very short word of two letters. Go, that’s right. I chose you and appointed you that you should go. That’s right. A stationary apostle is really a contradiction in terms.
That you should go and bring forth fruit that will remain, and that your prayers will be answered. I believe all that depends on who takes the initiative. Bringing forth fruit that remains and having our prayers answered I believe can only be based on the fact that Jesus made the choice. I suggest to you that where we have choices that are not made by Jesus, in most cases we will not get fruit that remains. And in many cases our prayers will not be answered. He is not committed to do it.
See, there’s a lot of fruit being brought forth in the contemporary church which does not remain. Is that right? I have a deep respect for Billy Graham. I’m in no sense criticizing him but his own estimate of the number of converts that remain is about 5%. There’s something wrong with the church. The church is not operating in divine order. It’s not under the headship of Jesus.
Again in Acts 15, verse 7, there’s this tremendous dispute about whether Gentiles can be admitted to the church without coming under the law of Moses. It’s really an interesting fact that just recently in the last decade or so the Assemblies of God in the United States had exactly the opposite problem. The problem was could they admit Messianic Assemblies into the Assemblies of God? And when they were discussing this one of the leaders stood up and said, “Well, 19 centuries ago they let us in, how can we refuse to let them in?” So history has come full circle.
But anyhow, right at the beginning of this discussion—and brothers and sisters, let me tell you from personal observation, when Jews have a discussion, it’s very active. I mean, they don’t moderate their voices. Have you ever seen a broadcast or a television showing of the Knesset in Israel? I mean, it is packed with action. They raise their voices. I’m not saying the apostles did exactly that but, believe me, this was no quiet debate. Somebody said if you have two Jews in a city you need three synagogues, one for each of them to attend and the third one in which neither of them would be seen dead.
So, you read Acts 15 in the light of that and it becomes very vivid. Anyhow, it says in verse 7:
“When there had been much dispute...”
That is an understatement. All right?
“...Peter rose up and said to them, ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.’”
So again it’s God’s choice. The church didn’t appoint Peter, God chose Peter. And he was very reluctant as you know. He didn’t want to go to Gentiles and preach to them. But God overruled. I’m really convinced that if we would focus on God’s choice and submit ourselves to God’s choice and not act until we know God’s choice, things would be totally different among us. Which of us can choose better than God? None of us. Mind you, God’s choices are improbable. I mean, he usually chooses the person we wouldn’t choose. You go right through the Bible.
And I’ll tell you another thing about God’s choices. When God chooses, the person chosen usually is convinced they can’t do the job. When I come across somebody who says, “God chose me, God called me and I know I can do it,” I just question whether God ever called them.
Building on this picture from Acts 13 I want to draw out certain principles. What I want to emphasize is the importance of what I call open ended worship. In other words, being in the presence of God, worshiping Him and not setting a time limit. This is not a prayer meeting. You know, the prayer meeting begins at 7:30 and ends at 9:30. And after that everybody goes home regardless of where God is or what He’s done. But this is waiting in the presence of God in an attitude of worship, focusing on God, turning away from distractions like food, and getting into His presence and staying there until you hear from Him. I was in a church once where they had a clock on the wall opposite the pulpit—which is, of course, a good place to have it. But this clock said it is time to seek the Lord. And the passage that that’s quoted from said it’s time to seek the Lord until He comes and reigns righteousness upon us. The limit is not set by the clock, it’s set by God’s sovereign actions.
I’d like to turn to Psalm 95 which I believe probably would appeal to our worship leaders here. To me this is a pattern psalm. How to hear from God, how to get into God’s presence and hear from Him. I’d like to read the first seven verses.
“O come let us sing to the Lord: let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.”
How many of you take that seriously? Shouting? I mean, I have a good voice. If I shout, you can hear it. I mean, I’ve heard Christians shout Jesus. That’s not how you shout. How do you shout. JESUS! That’s a shout. Can we do that? Are you prepared to do that? Are you ready? JESUS! That’s tremendous, that’s right. Okay. Let us shout joyfully to the Lord. We read that passage, most of us, scores of times and never thought about shouting. And some people would say if we shout, you know, they’re crazy. Well, I’d rather be crazy that way than sane some people’s way.
“O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”
As I understand it, that’s access into God’s presence. Because the Bible says we enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise. I don’t believe you can get into God’s presence without thanksgiving and praise. You can stand pitifully a long way off and call for help like the ten lepers but you don’t have access to God until you start thanking and praising Him.
It’s very interesting, the ten lepers in Luke’s gospel. They call for help, Jesus responded, they went off and did what He told them, they were all healed. Only one came back to give God thanks. And he’s the only one who was saved. It doesn’t come out in the English translation. All ten were healed, only one was saved. Only one had direct access to Jesus. How? By giving thanks, that’s right.
So this is the way of approach to God. I was teaching on this some years back and there was a very godly brother in the Lord, a senior man. I said I don’t believe we have any right tog et into God’s presence without thanksgiving and praise. That’s the appointed way. And this dear brother came up to me afterwards and he’s at least my age. He’s been a Christian at least 50 years. He said, “You know, that’s the first time I’ve ever realized that I had to give thanks and praise to come into God’s presence.” He’s a wonderful brother in the Lord.
Now, the next two verses, verses 3 and 4, explain why we give thanks and praise.
“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hands are the deep places of the earth: the heights of the hills are his also. The sea is his, for he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.”
I’ve commented sometimes we thank God for His goodness, we praise God for His greatness but we worship Him for His holiness. Another psalm says great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. Praise is our response to God’s greatness.
So now by thanksgiving and praise, loud jubilant singing, we’ve come into the presence of God. Now the mood changes completely. Look at the next verse.
“O come let us worship...”
That’s not thanksgiving. That’s not praise. That’s something different. Every word in the Bible that’s translated worship describes an attitude of the body. Bending the head, bending the upper part of the body, bowing down as it says here, kneeling, prostrating yourself before God. Worship is primarily an attitude and not an utterance. Praise is an utterance, worship is an attitude. Praise leads us into the place of worship.
Ruth was commenting to me some time ago so many song leaders today don’t know the difference between praise and worship. We’ll get to that beautiful place where we’re just in the presence of God, we’ve made it through with worship and the song leader will start some lively little chorus and start us all dancing. That’s not appropriate at that point. At that point we need to be intimate with God.
Now, reading verse 6 and 7:
“Come let us worship and bow down: let us kneed before the Lord our maker. For he is our God...”
How do we acknowledge Him as God? What is it that acknowledges Him as God? What is it that’s uniquely due to God? One word. Worship, that’s right. When we worship Him we are declaring He is our God. And let me warn you whatever you worship becomes your God. If you worship money, it becomes your god. If you worship your stomach, it becomes your god. Paul talks about people who’ve made their belly their god by worshiping it.
Going on in verse 7:
“For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”
Now it’s a strange thing in the end of that verse you get the end of a sentence and the beginning of what you’d call a new paragraph. Have you noticed that? That’s no accident. What does it say next?
“Today if you will hear his voice.”
When do you hear God’s voice? When you have been worshiping Him. I have learned when it comes to prophecy or tongues and interpretation, I never accept it automatically. I always put out my spiritual antennae and say is this really from God, is this really anointed, is this a now word? But generally speaking, if it comes in a period of worship you can be pretty sure it is from God. That’s our safeguard. I thank God I have a wife who’s a worshiper. She can also sing a little. I can’t sing to save my life so I have to rely on other people. I don’t know whether you people who sing realize, you know, some of us have to rely on you to do it. So don’t fail us. Ruth and I basically spend time in God’s presence every morning and every evening. We’re not legalistic about that. Many, many times we hear from God, we get words of encouragement, words of direction, words of warning. But 90% of the time they come when we’re in an attitude of worship. And generally we don’t get them if we give God half an hour. It’s the open ended time that God moves in. It doesn’t mean it will take Him more than a half an hour, it means God doesn’t let us set the time limit. He’s sovereign. If you’re prepared to spend all day in the presence of God, you may hear from Him very quickly. But if you say, “God, I can give you 35 minutes,” it’s questionable whether God will speak on those terms.
Here is the pattern, you see, of Acts 13. They were worshiping the Lord, fasting, they’d turned their mind away from a lot of perfectly normal, necessary material things. They apparently hadn’t set a time limit. They didn’t have any program, they didn’t know what would happen next and God moved in. And actually, Acts 13 is one of the most decisive chapters in the New Testament because it is, in a sense, the birth of missionary work. And it was birthed out of ministering to the Lord and fasting. But it’s a pattern. But the essence of it is making Jesus head, letting Him take the initiative.
I’d like to continue for a little while with the second missionary journey of Paul. We get some other examples here of the headship of Jesus exercised through the Holy Spirit. In Acts 16, Paul set out with Silas and they conscripted Timothy pretty early on. And let me just point out to you, because this is interesting, keep your finger in Acts 16 and turn to 1Thessalonians 1:1 for a moment. This is from the three persons, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. Silvanus is another form of the name Silas. So these three persons that we’re going to be reading about—Paul, Silas and Timothy—wrote this letter collectively to the church in Thessalonica. And then it says in chapter 2, verse 6:
“Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.”
What were they? Apostles. Who were apostles? Paul, Silas and Timothy. Why were they apostles? Because they’d been sent out at the initiative of the Holy Spirit to perform a special job.
Going back to Acts 16, we move on in the story to verse 6. You’ll notice in this chapter it switches between they and we because the writer was Luke and at times he was with them and then it’s we; at other times he was not with them, it’s they. They were in what we call Asia Minor and it says in verse 6:
“When they had gone through Phrygia, and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.”
Isn’t that an astonishing statement? The same Holy Spirit that inspired the scripture through whom Jesus gave instruction to the apostles, “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” said don’t go to Asia. How many of us would have listened to that? Sometimes people tell me God doesn’t answer my prayers. I say you need to bear in mind no is an answer as well as yes. Sometimes He says no but you don’t take it for an answer.
Going on in verse 7:
“After they had come to Mysia they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.”
If you could picture this in the mind, they’re going in a northwesterly direction through Asia Minor. They try to turn left into the province of Asia and they’re forbidden. So they try to go right into Bithynia and they’re forbidden. So they really had no option, they had to go on northwest. Going northwest they got to Troas. Don’t you think they must have been puzzled?
Now let’s read what happened in Troas. Verse 9:
“A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man from Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Then they began to understand, you see?
“And after he had seen the vision, we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Paul was a real leader. Do you know how we notice that? He had the vision. But it doesn’t say he concluded, it says we concluded. He imparted it to his team, you understand. That’s leadership. Not I make all the decisions and tell you what to do. I hear from God and we together decide what God wants to do.
We won’t go any further but in the light of l9 subsequent centuries, that was one of the most decisive movements in the early church because they’d been in Asia Minor which today is basically Turkey. And which for 13 centuries has been totally Moslem with hardly a vestige of Christianity anywhere. But God squeezed them out of Asia Minor into which continent? Europe, that’s right. This is the first time the gospel had come to Europe. And it was brought there by the apostle of the Gentiles. If you think back over history, which continent preserved the Christian faith all through the Dark Ages? Europe. From which continent did the first missionaries then go out? Europe, that’s right. In other words, Europe had a totally special place in the future plans of God. Paul and Silas didn’t know that. But the Holy Spirit did. Had they relied only on their own wisdom and planning they would have done the wrong thing. As it was, God got the gospel into Europe in a crucial moment and established the Christian faith there.
Another thing that impresses me is when they got to Philippi, Satan got really angry. Paul, you know, prayed for the slave girl with the spirit of divination and she was delivered. Her masters lost the money that came in through he fortune telling. The whole city was thrown into an uproar. Paul and Silas were seized, beaten and thrown into the chief security prison. That was totally illogical. I mean, it was absolutely without any real basis in reason. What was the cause of it? Satan was very angry because his territory was being invaded. You see that?
Paul said—a lot of people interpret this in different ways—Paul said in 2 Corinthians that God sent an angel of Satan to buffet him. And he prayed three times and God said no, I’m not taking it away. Now, there are a lot of different theories and how can I prove that I’m right, I’m not even interested. But I believe myself this angel stirred up trouble for Paul in almost every city he went to. It didn’t happen to all the other apostles. There’s a hardly a city that Paul went to where there wasn’t a riot. I think there was a satanic angel behind that. But what I’m pointing out is Satan was really angry that his territory was being invaded.
And then we notice also that God intervened in a tremendous way. He sent an earthquake, shook the prison, opened the doors, set the prisoners free. See, this was really high level strategy. Both God and Satan were intensely interested in what happened in Philippi.
And then one more thing to notice. Paul was forbidden to go to Asia. Later in his career in Acts 19 he went to Ephesus which is the main city of Asia. And had perhaps the greatest results of all his ministry in any city. Isn’t that something to ponder? Had he gone there early I think it would have spoiled everything. The ground wasn’t ready.
God spoke to Ruth and me a little while ago and He said, “I will lead you to the places where the soil has been prepared.” He said in effect, “You may go to some rather surprising places.” Well, we’ve seen that to be true. We were in Britain last year. We went to some places I wouldn’t have chosen but we saw some rather amazing results. Had we chosen the big crowds and the famous places we would never have been there.
Let me close by suggesting to you certain simple basic conditions that we need to meet if we’re going to be able to hear from Jesus as the head of the church. I could give you scriptures but I won’t. I mean, I’ll give you the references, you can check them.
First of all, you need to recognize your need to hear from Him. We need to recognize our need.
Secondly, Paul says in Romans 12:1–2, present your body a living sacrifice and you will be renewed in your mind to find the will of God. So as a general principle, if we want to find God’s will we have to make ourselves totally unreservedly available to God. Our body has to become an offering on His altar.
Thirdly, in Matthew 6:10 we have the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, which is a pattern. And Jesus says pray this way, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” what’s the first hallowed, what’s that mean? Worship. We worship. We worship you. Hallowed be thy name.
The next thing is we align ourselves with God’s purpose. Not to get our plan fulfilled but to get God’s plan fulfilled. What is God’s plan? Thy kingdom come. See, we really don’t have a right to expect God to answer our prayers till we have aligned ourselves by a decision of our will with God’s purpose, which is the coming of His kingdom on earth.
And then thy will be done. That means, God, not what I want but what you want. Those are basic conditions.
And then in Romans 8:14 it says:
“As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are God’s mature sons.”
So we have to make friends with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not theology, He’s a person. The Holy Spirit is as much a person as God the Father and God the Son. If you want to be led by the Holy Spirit you have to be friendly with the Holy Spirit. You have to be sensitive to Him. He’s not a dictator. He’s a dove. He’s easily frightened. You can scare Him away.
And then one more safeguard. Check against scripture. Whatever you believe to be the revelation or the leading of God, check it against your Bible. Because, all scripture is given by inspiration of God. If it’s the Holy Spirit who wrote scripture, His leading will never disagree with scripture. You see that?
Let me give those quickly again.
Recognize your need.
Present your body.
Align with God’s purpose, which is the coming of His kingdom.
Submit your will to His will.
Make friends with the Holy Spirit.
And, check everything with scripture.
Now, what are some common hindrances—and this is just a few. First of all, I would say our human arrogance. I think that’s the greatest problem. There was a period in my ministry where I believed I was directed out of the will of God. I came into a situation filled with problems. When I look back and I ask myself how did that happen, I think the root cause was arrogance in me. Basically, I think all deception in the body of Christ has one lever to get in and that’s pride. If we’re not proud we’ll never be deceived. And so, I think the great hindrance to hearing from God is our arrogance.
The Bible calls it the pride of life. A desire to be independent of God. See, when Jesus was tempted to throw himself from a pinnacle of the temple, He refused. He could have done it but He would never do something to demonstrate His power independently of the Father.
Then there are other common barriers, I’ll just mention them, you can ponder them. The barrier of habit or tradition. Really, tradition is collective habit. Now not all habits are bad, not all traditions are bad but basically when we simply follow tradition we’ll miss God. I think tradition was the greatest single barrier that kept the Jewish people in Jesus’ day from receiving His teaching.
Another common barrier is fear. And there are certain kinds of fear. Fear of man. What will people say? I think a regrettable number of Christians are more influenced by the opinions of people than they are by the opinion of God.
Secondly, fear of the unfamiliar. Well, we’ve never done it this way before. You mean, we don’t have a program? We don’t have a bulletin? How do we know what to do? Just let it happen and see what happens.
And then fear of being dependent. I think that is perhaps the strongest. We really don’t like to have to depend on God.
I want to point something out to you in this connection. The essence of sin is not the desire to do evil, it’s the desire to be independent of God. See, the original motivation in the garden of Eden was all right, be like God. Know the difference between good and evil. That’s good, that’s not bad. What was wrong was they wanted it independently of God. And wherever there is that desire in us to be independent of God, we are not really free from the domination of sin.
So let me just recapitulate. And as I do it, maybe you need to do a little interior checking. What are the common hindrances?
Arrogance, pride of life.
Second, habit, tradition. I really believe most things that we do in church are not done because God said we should do them, they’re done because that’s what we always have been doing. I have checked on this. It takes about five years to start a religious tradition. I’ve been with groups that started in the power of the Spirit, in five years they were bound by tradition. It didn’t take long.
And then the fear of man, the fear of the unfamiliar and the fear of being dependent on God.
We have to overcome these things. But I would say it’s worth taking a risk.