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,…
All Asia had heard the gospel. Now it was brought to that Europe which has furnished to the world its civilised energy. Probably in Paul's mind the European passage was but one of many journeys. But to the eye of history, seeing before and after, it was the challenge of Christianity to civilisation, to intellect, to world-controlling energy, to come and be ruled by Christ. Before this journey, however, there went —
I. THE TIME OF WAITING. Proconsular Asia and Bithynia were before Paul and his companions; they were without the gospel; they needed it; Paul was ready to give it. And yet the gospel was not preached. It was not a time to labour, but a time to wait.
1. Yet it was a time of endeavour to labour. Paul did not choose the waiting for himself. He honestly and earnestly tried to preach the gospel. He went to the frontier of the province of Asia Minor intending to enter and preach. Prevented there, he tried Bithynia next. Preaching was the one word that summed up all Paul's life. Every Christian is called to work. His mission in life is to proclaim Jesus Christ.
2. Paul's endeavour to do his work was thwarted. He wanted to labour for Christ, and he was prevented from doing so. He went into many a place only to be driven out with stones. He planned great journeys and found himself in prison. It would be a very instructive thing to look over the Scriptural records of Paul's life and tabulate the thwarted plans recorded. No man makes every Christian endeavour he undertakes a success. As God makes the flower cast many a seed to the ground that one or two plants may spring up, so He gives it as a law of spiritual accomplishment that there shall sometimes be many failures to one success. And Paul, like a wise man, did not quarrel with law.
3. The strange part of Paul's experience at this point was that the thwarting of his purpose to preach the gospel in proconsular Asia and Bithynia was directly due to God. Some of Paul s failures were due to the interference of Satan (see 1 Thessalonians 2:18), who we may believe goes about endeavouring to hinder God's people in God's work. What are we to think of this?
(1) God was leading Paul away from the conversion of Asia Minor to the conversion of Europe. Paul, having but one human life and one man's natural power, could not do both. God set before him the larger work. To accomplish it involved the exclusion of the smaller.
(2) Asia Minor was undoubtedly approached more advantageously by the gospel from the westward, when the weight of European success added a new commendation to Paul's teaching, which it lacked when it came from the eastward. If you want to win a man to anything it is better to await the favourable moment than to rush in at first sight. It was better for Asia Minor and Bithynia not to have the gospel preached to them just yet.
(3) God's thwarting of Paul's plans would have been all right even if we could see no reason whatever in it.
4. The Holy Spirit was present with Paul, directing and equipping him, quite as well in the time of waiting as in the time of work.
II. THE CALL. Paul had found his intentions foiled; Asia Minor and Bithynia were closed to him; Europe remained. Should he seek those shores? He needed direction, and it was given. The vision of the Macedonian, perhaps authenticated as from God in some way unknown to us, showed Paul where his labour lay.
1. The vision was that of a pleading man. The gospel is for the world, and the whole world.
2. The figure in the vision voiced the need of help; it did not define just what was needed. The call that rises from the human race is a cry for help, whatever the help be. It is not always a cry for the gospel; for many times when the gospel is offered it is blindly refused. It is the function of the gospel sometimes to create desire as well as to satisfy it. When Paul landed in Macedonia he found no crowd standing with outstretched hands to welcome him. No, he "tarried certain days" before there was any sign of the gospel being wanted, and then the sign came only to Paul's search for it.
3. The Macedonian was a representative. He said not "Come over and help me," but "Come over and help us." All needed Christ, and not only the few souls who were already near to the kingdom — like Lydia, the first convert.
4. The request that was made by the pleading man of the vision was in Paul's power to grant. He could go over and help them if he wanted to. So can we help the nations who seem to stand before us in vision beseeching us to help them.
III. THE ANSWER.
1. Paul was led to make an answer by using the mind God had given him. He and his companions consulted together and "concluded that God had called them for to preach the gospel unto them." The supernatural vision seems to separate Paul's experience from ours. We are not so led in our work. But his consulting with his friends and reasoning out as well as he could the conclusion which God wanted him to make, brings his way of being led back into similarity with our own.
2. Having made up his mind that he ought to go to Macedonia, Paul "sought" to carry out that purpose. Assurance of success and the accomplishment of success are in God's hands, but we can at least try. If God is willing to bless, and we are able at least to try, if Christian work sometimes does not greatly prosper, what is the reason?
3. Paul's answer to the meaning of the vision was immediate. "Straightway we sought to go." The reaction of Paul's converted soul in the presence of spiritual need was instant. If he responded instantly to the call of need we can respond so too, if we will.
4. The call's being from God was what made Paul's reply so quick. Obedience was a primal element in Paul's religious life, and so he is seen to be truly of the company of Him who was "an obedient Son."
IV. THE RESULT.
1. It was not visible at once. Over in Troas there was the exciting vision of the pleading Macedonian. But in Macedonia there was nothing but indifference. Paul was received, as the missionary of the cross is almost always received, with perfect indifference.
2. Paul used means to bring a result about. He did not sit down with folded hands, saying to himself, "Macedon has cried to me for help; I have come a long way at great trouble in order to give help: now if the Macedonians want me let them speak out." Paul assumed that the Macedonians needed everything and acted as though they desired nothing. He waited not for them to seek him, he sought them. Work is a spiritual as well as a natural condition of success.
3. A small beginning was made. Paul was not disheartened at its smallness, but content with its being a beginning. No heathen were allured to the gospel at all. No men were reached. One woman, and she half converted already before Paul's appearance, was the harvest of Paul's effort. The beginning is not yet the end, but it surely has the end hidden in it, in however small circumference.
4. Fellowship was established. Lydia brought her household into the faith and took Paul and his friends into the sweet communion of this new Christian home. When that Christian fellowship was formed the success of Paul's Philippian mission was assured. A group of real Christian friends can leaven a city.
V. LESSONS CONCERNING MISSIONARY WORK.
1. The relation of God and man in gospelising. God calls; man's imperative and immediate duty is to obey. God sends the Holy Spirit to direct and empower in Christian work. "For it is God that worketh in you." God sends us to try all plans in the world with His gospel. He only knows where we shall succeed in planting it.
2. The laws of gospelising. Persuading for Christ is like other persuading. Paul did not preach when he made his first European convert. What a spectacle he would have made if he had proceeded to deliver a thunderous oration like that on Mars' Hill to these half-dozen women! He sat down and talked with them. The gospel begins its work in small ways. Europe's conquest for Christ is heralded in the saving of one woman. The gospel uses the God-made relations of human life for its propagation. Lydia brought her household to Christ. The family is recognised and utilised by the gospel.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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,