The Word of Truth
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)
Was Paul expressing frustration with his brethren, or recognizing God’s call to a change of focus in his ministry? Does the Lord sometimes call us to stop working with people, because they aren’t responding well?
We have to be in tune with God. The only way to do that is by having our hearts purified and His Spirit dwelling inside, and then walking by that Spirit. When James and John observed how the Samaritans didn’t receive Jesus’ ministry, they tried to apply what they could see in the Bible to the situation:
“And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:51-56)
The disciples’ knowledge of scripture was not able to help them be in tune with God because they had a different spirit at work in them in that situation. But after they were purified in their hearts, and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they were able to perceive the difference between their thoughts and the Lord’s and yield to God’s way, as in the example of Peter being instructed to go to the Gentile Cornelius’ house.
“Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour… he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven…. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them…. And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?” (Acts 10:9-29)
Peter still had his own thoughts, but the Spirit of God was able to guide him out of the maze of his own thoughts and inclinations because he was able to recognize God’s voice and yield freely to Him: “therefore came I unto you without gainsaying,” or as the Phillips translation puts it, “without raising any objection.”
Let us now return to the situation with Paul and Barnabas that originally prompted the question. They had been sent out by the Spirit on this trip (Acts 13:1-4), and had already been working among non-Jewish believers for some time (Acts 11:19-26). They actually did not stop ministering to the Jews (continuing to go to synagogues in the next cities they went to), but were being “refocused” by the Lord and were being used by God to pronounce judgment against those who were rejecting the Lord. If you follow their trip in Acts 14, you find that “measuring the opposition” was not their guide as to whether to continue ministering to some people or in some place: “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord.” (Acts 14:2-3) Sometimes the Lord informed them of persecution and led them to flee to another place (Acts 14:5-6); and other times He permitted them to stay until they were severely abused for the Lord’s sake (Acts 14:19-20). They later returned to the same places where they had been persecuted (Acts 14:21).
With our Lord Himself, we see a pattern of being led independent of apparent wisdom and prudence (notice that it is not against, but independent of wisdom and prudence). A profitable ministry develops in Capernaum, and just as it seems to be at a critical point of growth (“all men seek for thee” (Mark 1:37)) He discerns from spending time in communion with the Father that it is time to move on (Mark 1:38).
Everywhere in the New Testament where we see the Lord and His saints being led in tune with God, we see that they still exercise wisdom and prudence as the Spirit permits, but wisdom and prudence is not their guide—the Spirit of God is their guide.
The natural mind will either use zeal and fanaticism or wisdom and sober-mindedness as the final word on how we work in the Lord’s vineyard. But the only way to remain in tune with God is to seek the Lord until we obtain a purified heart and infilling of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5,8; 15:8-9) and then remain submitted wholly to the Lord by abiding in Him (Romans 12:1-2; John 15:4; Hebrews 4:10-11).