‘If God’s will’
What is indeed God's will for me? We often find ourselves frustrated not knowing God's will and plans for us as we live each day. There are times when we face uncertainty about the job we should pursue, the school we should attend, and the decisions we need to make in various situations. Furthermore, there are moments when we ponder over God's will for our lives. Certainly, God must have a plan and will for those who believe, but how can we discern God's will? This is both our concern and the topic of our prayers. In the midst of such pondering, we often pray to know whether what we are planning or deciding to undertake aligns with God's will. How can we discern God's will? To answer this question, we need to consider some examples of what we can mistakenly perceive as ways to discern God's will (Internet):
- Casting Lots:
Some people may resort to casting lots when faced with difficulties in choosing between two or more options. They might pray to God, use the casting lots method, and consider the outcome as God's will before implementing it. While instances of decisions being made through casting lots are recorded in the Old Testament (e.g., dividing the land of Canaan, identifying Achan's sin, appointing Saul as king), these occurred during a time when the Bible was not yet complete. Now that the Bible is complete, and the Holy Spirit indwells believers, such specific methods are not necessary. Relying on casting lots may end up depending more on chance than on God, and it can even test God rather than glorify Him.
- Another commonly used method is the so-called "Virgil's Book."
Romans used a book called 'Virgil' when making decisions about their career or any other matter. The practice originated from Romans randomly opening the book and taking the first thing that caught their eye as the basis for their decision. Christians also seem to use variations of this method, using the Bible instead of 'Virgil.' However, this method is highly risky because it ignores the overall meaning of God's Word and selects only a portion of the Bible, subjecting decisions to its dominance. Despite its dangers, many Christians continue to use this method today. They read a certain Bible verse and use the impression suddenly received from the Scripture to justify their decisions. Conversely, if a Bible verse contains unfavorable content, they become filled with fear and anxiety. Our hearts tend to lean in one direction. Depending on the state of our hearts, the Scripture may have great significance for us at times and not at other times. Some people seek to discern God's will through dreams or visions. While this is not entirely wrong, attributing significant meaning to dreams and relying on them for guidance in our actions and future is superstitious and perilous.
So, how can we know God's will? First, we should diligently read and meditate on the Bible, comparing the principles, doctrines, promises, and teachings of the Scripture with the governing principles of our lives. We need to examine whether our decisions align with God's will. Those who consistently read and meditate on the Bible will find it less challenging to discover God's will compared to those who do not. The following methods may also help in discerning God's will.
- Focus on God.
Question yourself about the purpose of undertaking this task and inquire whether it aligns with God's work.
- Obey what God has already commanded.
Before embarking on something new, obey what God has already commanded. In fact, much of God's will is already revealed to us, but often, we choose not to obey and seek different paths.
It is essential to pray to God. Through His Word, through others, and through our own hearts, we should pray to allow God to work.
- Study the Bible.
God speaks to us through the Bible. To know God's will, we must consistently read the Bible. While reading, it's important to seek principles rather than searching for specific words or sentences to rationalize oneself.
- Accept counsel.
Those who are well-versed in the Bible and have mature faith should accept counsel.
- Set priorities.
Consider the priorities of all tasks. Past experiences can be helpful in making these considerations. Of course, the ultimate criterion should be the Bible.
Pastor John MacArthur encourages checking five principles in his book ‘The Will of God’ and suggests immediate implementation if they are satisfying. The five principles are as follows: God's will involves receiving salvation, being filled with the Holy Spirit, becoming sanctified, being obedient, and experiencing suffering. If all these basic principles are being fulfilled, the last principle is that you can do whatever you desire because the one asserting our heart's desires is God Himself, provided these principles are being implemented in our lives.
In today's passage, Acts 18:21, we see Apostle Paul bidding farewell to the brothers and sisters in Ephesus, stating, "If it is God's will, I will return to you." As we have already reflected, Paul, amidst persecution and hardships in Corinth, received a vision from the Lord, who said, "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent" (v. 9). He obeyed this divine command and taught God's word boldly for one year and six months while residing in Corinth (v. 11). Having faced challenges in the region, Paul now encounters difficulties again. When the new proconsul Gallio takes office, the opposing crowd seizes the opportunity to bring Paul to trial. They accuse Paul of persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law, and Gallio, considering it a dispute within the Jewish community, refuses to be involved, saying, "You are asking about a matter of their law. Deal with it yourselves" (v. 15). Gallio drives them away from the judgment seat, and Paul continues his ministry without hindrance. The clear will of God here is that, for the sake of the gospel, Paul is protected from harm, allowing him to continue preaching to the many people in Corinth. God's intention is evident: to extend salvation to His people through the proclamation of the gospel. Consequently, Paul remains in Corinth for a significant period, fulfilling God's purpose. As he bids farewell to the Corinthian brothers and sisters, he, along with Aquila and Priscilla, travels to Ephesus. Notably, Paul had intended to minister in Ephesus during his second missionary journey, but the Holy Spirit prevented him (16:6). However, as we see in today's passage, Paul now visits Ephesus during the conclusion of his second missionary journey. In Ephesus, he engages in discussions with the Jews at the synagogue and receives a positive response from some (18:19-20). Though urged to stay longer, Paul insists on leaving, saying, "If it is God's will, I will return to you" (v. 21). Eventually, he sets sail, lands in Caesarea, greets the Jerusalem church, and then returns to Antioch. In summary, Paul, led by the Holy Spirit and committed to God's will, proclaims the gospel even in the face of opposition. The passages illustrate how God's will unfolds in protecting His messengers, providing opportunities for gospel proclamation, and guiding Paul through various regions on his missionary journeys. The question we can raise here is, 'Was it indeed God's will for Apostle Paul to return to Ephesus?' After bidding farewell to the brothers and sisters in the Ephesian church, saying, "If it is God's will, I will return to you," and leaving Ephesus, was it God's will for Paul to return to Ephesus? The answer is "Yes." God permitted Paul to come back to Ephesus, making it the focal point of his third missionary journey (18:23-21:16). The question arises: ‘Why did God allow Paul to return to Ephesus as the central city for his third missionary journey?’ God's will and plan seem to have chosen Ephesus strategically. Ephesus was the capital of Roman Asia, a hub for administration and transportation, and a religious center for the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis (known in Roman as "Diana"). It attracted an annual influx of pilgrims and generated substantial tourism revenue for merchants (19:25-27). By bringing Paul back to Ephesus, God aimed to use this city as the epicenter to evangelize the entire region of Roman Asia. An interesting point is that the name of the city, Ephesus, means "patience" or "endurance." God had endured much to establish His gospel in Ephesus, and despite persecution and trials, the Ephesian church persevered in faith, earning praise from the Lord (Rev. 2:2). In conclusion, the return of Paul to Ephesus was not a coincidence but a result of thorough preparation and God's guiding hand. The Lord allowed Paul to revisit Ephesus, enabling him to pioneer the Ephesian church, nurture its believers with God's Word, and faithfully proclaim the gospel amidst enduring persecution in the region. The unfolding of Paul's third missionary journey centered around Ephesus was not accidental but a pre-planned and guided outcome (Yoo).
Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed the will of God. Jesus, through His sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection, offers salvation and righteousness to all people. Paul, like Christ, lived and died for the sake of the gospel. We, too, are called to live by faith, enduring difficulties and proclaiming the gospel just like Paul and the believers in the Ephesian church.
With a heart that desires to abandon personal desires and live according to the will of the Lord,
(Wishing to live with the heart of our Father God, who loves and saves souls)