God’s Thoughts and Ways – Part II (Paul)

In this article we examine scriptures that give us insight into how God desires to relate to us in our lives:

...but Paul chose Silas and set out, commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers and sisters...They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia. (NET Acts 15:40. Acts 16:6) 

This verse has Paul being told by God the Holy Spirit (1) NOT to go into the Providence of Asia (modern-day Turkey).

And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." ....This went on for two years, so that all who lived in the province of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord. (NET Acts 19:4,10)

However, not long after that, we discover Paul evangelizing Asia! So did the Holy Spirit tell him to go to Asia or not?  Yes!  The Holy Spirit was saying not now in Acts 16:6; however, later the time came for Paul to enter Asia. Realize God speaks to us in ways that can only be understood if we seek His face (i.e. His presence).  Furthermore, everything He thinks, says or does is designed with one purpose in mind – building relationships.

He said, "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. "My servant Moses is not like this; he is faithful in all my house.  With him I will speak face to face, openly, and not in riddles; and he will see the form of the LORD. .... (NET Numbers 12:6-8)  

The Lord speaks to and through prophets in dark sayings (i.e., riddles)…  

Then the disciples came to him and said, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He replied, "You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand. And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: 'You will listen carefully yet will never understand, you will look closely yet will never comprehend. For the heart of this people has become dull; they are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' "But your eyes are blessed because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (NET Matthew 13:10-17)

Why? Because God intentionally hides things so that only those that are seeking (see-King) a relationship with Him will understand the truth.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and it is the glory of a king to search out a matter. (NET Proverbs 25:2)

Further understanding of this truth can be seen by examining Moses who spoke to God face to face without riddles.

He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. (NKJ Psalms 103:7)

Moses knew not only God’s acts (e.g., signs and wonders) but His ways!  God’s ways are His thoughts, motives, attitudes, understanding, and wisdom, etc.

Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your way, that I may know you, that I may continue to find favor in your sight. And see that this nation is your people." (NET Exodus 33:13)

Moses discovered the secret of knowing God’s ways and not just His acts – desiring with all your heart and soul to know God.  This must be all and not just 99.9% of your heart and soul (1). 

When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, (NET Jeremiah 29:13)
"Blessed are the pure in heart (1), for they will see God. (NET Matthew 5:8)

The apostle Paul discovered the same secret…

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, (NET Philippians 3:10) 

You say, I am doing that but still do not know His ways.  Realize, you cannot start earnestly seeking God until you stop seeking everything else! (1)

But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ's faithfulness– a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ's faithfulness. (NET Philippians 3:7-9)

This all things include hobbies, work, church, family, etc.  All things must go so that He is your only source of pleasure.  You mean I can have no hobbies?  Well, God will give you hobbies that serve and honor Him.  I used to be on the computer just playing games for my pleasure.  I gave that up and God gave me back the computer for this ministry! 

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it. (NET Matthew 10:37-39)

We see an invitation process for God’s fullness repeated throughout the Bible:

1. God shows us how good life can be with Him in fullness in our lives – (i.e., He gives us a free sample of what could be).

2. We desire this “life of God” and ask God to come into our lives in His fullness.

3. God shows us what must go for Him to move in.

4. We repent (1).  This means to ask forgiveness and then ask God to work with you in getting rid of everything that offends Him (realize what we think is not offensive is often very offensive to God).

5. God then manifests His fullness (1) in our lives.

Let us examine the following passages with this understanding:

Now after all these things had taken place, Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. He said, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." (NET Acts 19:21)
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God's grace. (NET Acts 20:22-24)

Paul knew by the Holy Spirit that he must go to Jerusalem and then to Rome.  He did not know all the details about how it would happen but walked by faith and not sight (NET 2 Corinthians 5:7).  It is acceptable to not know where you are going as long as you can trust the one you are following. Jesus is trustworthy! Amen.

After we located the disciples, we stayed there seven days. They repeatedly told Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. (NET Acts 21:4)

Now comes God’s test (1). Paul knew he was supposed to go to Jerusalem and then Rome but the believers are saying by the same Holy Spirit NOT to go!  Unfortunately, someone that just knows His acts and not His ways would be tempted to be confused.  However, the correct response in this type of situation is to more deeply and intimately seek the Lord and trust in Him. 

Paul passes the test because He knows that God is not the author of confusion but rather peace and He is not divided against Himself (1 Corinthians 14:33; Matthew 12:25).  Being aware of His ways, Paul understands that God did not mean never go but rather not to go to Jerusalem NOW (remember the do not go to Asia – go to Asia that Paul already experienced – compare Acts 16:6; 19:10).  The believers are tested to see if they will trust God and will surrender their will for Paul to remain with them to God’s will of Him leaving and never returning.  Later in the passage, the church passes the test when they submit to God’s will. 

Because he could not be persuaded, we said no more except, "The Lord's will be done." (NET Acts 21:14) 

That is the correct spiritual posture when things seem confusing.  The pastor may have a direction from God and the deacons have a seemingly different direction from God.  We should discuss the misunderstandings but if still not in agreement (assuming no sin is involved) we submit to the pastor trusting God to keep us from falling and trusting God to correct the pastor, the deacons, or both as He sees fit. Does God pass judgment for us to be tested with potential divisions like this in His church?  Resoundingly, yes!

Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For in the first place, when you come together as a church I hear there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident. (NET 1 Corinthians 11:17-19) 

Realize that God always performs multi-individual and multifaceted testing. For example, a husband may receive a message from God that the wife does not receive:  

– In the first phase of the test, will the husband honor his wife above God by yielding to her requests over God’s like Adam did for Eve? (1)  (Suggestion: Tell God that He joined you to your wife never to separate.  That you are going to do His will, even at the displeasure of your wife, because you are trusting Him to keep you together.  Realize, how could God separate you when He is all about Family?) 

– The second phase of the test, will the husband love (agape) and seek reconciliation with his wife or use this for an excuse to find another wife.  The latter would be contrary to God’s one woman for one man for one life rule (Matthew 19:6. Proverbs 5:18. Malachi 2:14 ).  (Recommendation: Let her know that you love her through words and actions and remind her that God has provided for her through you up until now and will continue to do so – realizing women need emotional security (1)).

– The third phase of the test, will the wife, after expressing her concerns, submit to her husband (1) as the church submits to Christ (2). Realize, wives are not required to submit if it involves sin (see Acts 5:1-10 where a wife followed her husband in sin and the consequence).  (Suggestion: Wife tell God that you believe your husband to be wrong in this issue.  Nevertheless, you will reverence and submit to the one that God has chosen as your covering trusting God to correct him, you or both!  See 1 Peter 3:1-6 to understand how Sarah acted towards Abraham and then Genesis 21:12 to see how God responded to Sarah as a result).

– You handle things like that and you will find yourself at ground zero of a Holy Spirit season of refreshing! (Acts 3:19,20)

A song of ascents, by David.  Look! How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live together!  It is like fine oil poured on the head which flows down the beard– Aaron's beard, and then flows down his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, which flows down upon the hills of Zion. Indeed that is where the LORD has decreed a blessing will be available – eternal life. (NET Psalm 133:1-3) 

Now back to the story of Paul:

While we remained there for a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  He came to us, took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, "The Holy Spirit says this: 'This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will tie up the man whose belt this is, and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" (NET Acts 21:10,11)

Then a prophet – who has creditability in the church because he accurately prophesied a drought (Acts 11:28) – comes upon the scene and acts out what will happen to Paul when he arrives at Jerusalem.  His own belt will be used to render him defenseless (bound hand and foot) and then he will be handed over to the Gentiles (i.e., the Romans in this case).

Again, someone that does not know God’s ways would be tempted to be confused.  Without knowing God’s ways you could think that God is telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  However, Paul receives correctly what he is to do upon arrival in Jerusalem. 

Here is what I believe God was saying to Paul:

– Paul the Christian Jews at Jerusalem are going to tell you something that contains truth (Paul’s belt represents truth – Ephesians 6:14)  but is a trap of Satan (hands and feet bound) because it is mixed with error (see Galatians 2 and Galatians 3 for Paul’s Holy Spirit answer to legalism.  Realize, Jesus plus works in your ability equals legalism).

So do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow;  take them and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law. (NET Acts 21:23,24)

– Paul, I am going to use this trap to serve me and accomplish my will for you (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20). 

– Paul, I want you to trust me and step into the trap. This was similar to the fiery furnace Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were required to enter for choosing to only worship the one true God (Daniel 1:6,7. Daniel 3:16-18).

Paul steps into the trap…. and gets a free ride to Rome!

Now after all these things had taken place, Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. He said, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." (NET Acts 19:21)
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." (Acts 23:11)
There we found some brothers and were invited to stay with them seven days. And in this way we came to Rome. The brothers from there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. When he saw them, Paul thanked God and took courage.  When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. (Acts 28:14-16)

Think of how the church leaders must have felt that suggested Paul perform a legalist ritual that resulted in Paul’s imprisonment – brokenness will have its perfect work (1).  This is another example of God’s multi-individual and multifaceted testing.  Here the church leaders were humbled so they could learn to get out of legalism (1).

Our ways are not God’s ways… (Isaiah 55:8,9) but they will be…  (1 John 3:2. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

God’s Thoughts and Ways Series:

(Security, Wholeness, Success)

Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.” (Matthew 13:52 NET)

(1) Select the link to open another article with additional information in a new tab.

(2) Me? Obey Him?,  Elizabeth Rice Hanford, ISBN 0-87398-522-4

Hal has taught the Bible for over three decades. Through an interdenominational ministry dedicated to helping the local church build men for Jesus, Hal trained men, the leaders of men’s ministries, and provided pulpit supply. Before that, he was a Men’s Ministry Leader and an Adult Bible Fellowship teacher of a seventy-five-member class at a denominational megachurch. Presently, Hal desires to honor Jesus Christ through this Internet teaching ministry, thereby glorifying the Heavenly Father in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He believes, second to cultivating his relationship with God, that raising his family unto the Lord is the most significant task for him while on Earth. Furthermore, Hal believes that being a successful leader in the church or workplace is no substitute for failing to be a successful leader at home. 

One Comment

  • Ps Ravelo Richard

    I was very inspired on

    I was very inspired on reading your 3 articles. You are really a man of God!