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God Knows What HE’s Doing When HE Says “NO!”

I’ve been studying Acts 16 all week and I’m still there! What follows is taken mostly from a commentary on Blue Letter Bible with a few of my own thoughts added. I put them here because they have encouraged me greatly and I want to hold on to them. In this text Paul was forbidden by the Holy Ghost to do what he was called to do and he was forbidden more than once. Sometimes you feel like you have done something wrong when God shuts doors, when His plan isn’t real clear or you are in that “waiting” time. In reading this I see that God shut doors for the Apostle Paul…not because Paul’s desires were wrong but He closed the doors for His greater purposes. I am encouraged as I wait for my own Macedonian Call.


God knows what He’s doing when He says “NO!”

Acts 16:6-8 The Holy Spirit forbids Paul to go towards the province of Asia Minor. (WHAT?)

Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia. After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. 

a. They were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia: After strengthening the churches in the region, Paul sought to go next to the south-west, towards the important city of Ephesus. Yet, Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go there.

  • We note with interest that the Holy Spirit actually forbade Paul to do something we normally think of as good – preaching Gods Word to those who need it. Yet the Spirit of God directed this work, and Paul wasn’t the right person in the right place at the right time to begin bringing the gospel to the Roman Province of Asia Minor. There was certainly nothing wrong with Paul’s desire to preach the word in Asia; but it wasnt Gods timing, so this was forbidden by the Holy Spirit.
  • It is difficult to say exactly how the Holy Spirit said no; it may have been through a word of prophecy, or by an inward speaking of the Holy Spirit, or by circumstances. One way or another, Paul and his company got the message. Ephesus would come later, not now.
  • Asia does not refer to the Far East as we know it today. It refers to the Roman Province of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.

b. They tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them: After the attempt to go to Asia, Paul sought to go north into Bithynia, but was again prevented by the Holy Spirit. So, they came down to Troas.

  • Paul didn’t set out to go to Troas. It was at least the third choice for him. But it was the Holy Spirits plan to lead him there. Paul, beautifully responsive to the Holy Spirit, was willing to lay down his will and his plans for the direction that the Holy Spirit brings.
  • Paul was guided by hindrance. The Holy Spirit often guides as much by the closing of doors as He does by the opening of doors.
  • David Livingstone wanted to go to China, but God sent him to Africa. William Carey wanted to go to Polynesia, but God sent him to India. Adoniram Judson went to India, but God guided him to Burma. God guides us along the way, to just the right place. (I wanted to go to Africa but God has sent me to Romania and Haiti)

Acts 16:9-10 God directs Paul to the region of Macedonia.

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. 

a. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: In Troas, God made Pauls direction clear. In a vision, Paul was invited to the region of Macedonia, westward across the Agean Sea.

  • This moved Paul and his missionary team from the continent of Asia to the continent of Europe; this was the first missionary endeavor to Europe.
  • The wisdom and greatness of Gods plan was beginning to unfold. In Pauls mind, he wanted to reach a few cities in his region. But God wanted to give Paul a continent to win for Jesus Christ.

b. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, Come over to Macedonia and help us. The Macedonian man wanted help. So Paul went to bring Macedonia the gospel – the best possible help.

  • The greatest help we can bring anyone is the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. It is good for us to bring other help along with the gospel, but without the gospel, little real help is given.

c. Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go: Paul did not hesitate to answer the call of the Macedonian man. Pauls missionary team did not hesitate to follow him on the basis of this call. This was a strong, godly man, leading a strong, godly team.

  • God still calls people to the mission field, and He may call through unusual ways. Its still possible for a type of Macedonian Man to give an unusual call to serve God in a distant place. When that happens, its important to respond the way Paul and his team did.

d. Immediately we sought to go: The shift from they (they came down to TroasActs 16:8) to wein this verse probably means that Luke joined the band of missionaries in Troas. Perhaps he even came as Pauls personal doctor.

  • Now we see another reason why they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. We see another reason why the Spirit did not permit them to go into Bithynia. God wanted Paul and his team to go to Troas and pick up a doctor named Luke. Because God said no to Paul these two times, we have a gospel and a Book of Acts written by Doctor Luke.
  • At the time, Paul probably had no idea of the greatness of Gods purpose. God wanted to give him a continent for Jesus, to give him a personal doctor, and to give all of us the man whom God would use to write more of the New Testament than anyone else did. God knows what He is doing when he says, No.