The Word of God is rarely as complex as we make it, but there remain times where it is also not exactly as simple as we might like. Acts 16 (link) is one of those passages that makes it not quite as simple.
Well, being a Baptist, we see spreading the Gospel by telling people about Jesus as a foundational activity. We believe that there is one Name under heaven whereby people are saved, and that is the Name above all names. That through Jesus living in perfection, dying on the cross, and rising from the grave to live forevermore, the debt of sin has been paid. That He has taken the death that Adam bought and passed on to his progeny and redeemed it, giving life in its place to all who believe.
That’s a big deal. These days, the central organizing principle of many Baptist organizations is to spread this good news that we call the Gospel everywhere. We see it commanded and commended in Scripture as an important activity of our lives as believers.
Then we encounter this chapter in Acts. The first part looks good. It’s the continuing travelogue of Paul and Silas in mission work and the addition of Timothy to the team. That’s great. We like this part.
In the middle of the chapter is a weird moment. Luke records that the group was prohibited from speaking the word in Asia (Acts 16:6). Now, read “Mostly Modern-day Turkey” for Asia, most likely, and then start wrestling with this question: God prohibited the apostle-led missions team from preaching Jesus in a region for a time.
That seems odd.
Yet there are times when this is appropriate. We lack the ability to know all of the circumstances around us. This is part of the human experience: incomplete knowledge. We live with this but we often do not like it. We often fight backwards against it and act like we do know.
God alone does, though. This is part of the comfort of being a believer in Christ and a theist in general: we can live with incomplete knowledge because we learn to trust God with the missing details.
We can try and guess. Perhaps God knew they would be ineffective in Asia. Maybe they would have been so effective that they never would have gone to Macedonia. Possibly they would have been arrested, imprisoned, and killed before they could go elsewhere to share the truth.
We just do not know.
We do know this: in the final contemplation, Luke knew that God had been responsible for the hindrance. There are times, folks, when keeping our thoughts to ourselves may be the better decision. That is not to say that we hide the truth: we do not attempt to use falsehoods to advance the truth.
Yet there are times when we must hold our tongues and speak less. That our demonstration of worship is to live in obedience. There are times that the direct, confrontational exclamation of Biblical truth does more harm to the revelation of the Kingdom of God than it does help.
How do we know? We have to know the full counsel of God by knowing the Word and by being near, filled with the Spirit and walking with Him. We must go to the text to know God, not to know tweetable statements that we can bludgeon those not of us.
When we learn to listen not only to speak but to not speak at times, then we are ready for the next thing God does with us. Then we come into our Macedonia, we meet our Lydias and our Philippians. We take our beatings and cast out our demons—and find better than we could imagine in the work of God.
After all, it is after this that Paul plants the church in Philippi. The one church that he writes only of his thanks and the glory of God, and not to correct or rebuke.
Today’s Nerd Note: Take a look at the incident of the demon-possessed girl and her deliverance. Then you get a riot: when you do the work of God, the opponents of that work will be drawn in. Some will be drawn to be your biggest allies. Some your biggest foes.
Do what you do. Let the rest sort itself out. Even if you find yourself in prison.
Additionally, look at the end of the chapter: if you are in possession of certain rights in your country, do not lightly surrender them. Take whatever abrogation of those rights you must for obedience to God and His glory, but stand for what you can stand for.