Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Determining God’s Will – 2 Tim 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus. (NKJV)
Will of God
Have you ever read Acts 1:15-26 where the Apostles gather together and decide to elect another Apostle to take Judas’ place? When you read, ask yourself some questions. Were the Apostles at that time filled with the Holy Spirit? Did the Holy Spirit in them after Jesus breathed on them (John 20:22) function in their lives in the same way as He did after Pentecost? In other words, were they led by the Holy Spirit to appoint another Apostle or was this their own ideas. If you haven’t read it in a while, stop now and read it.
As you read and see the verses Peter picked from various locations, do you ever wonder why scholars today tell us not to randomly pick verses out of context and use them to determine God’s will? Did Peter do exactly what we are told not to do? Did the Holy Spirit guide Peter to these verses or was this His human understanding? Certainly, the Scripture must be fulfilled, but was it through the actions of these men or was it fulfilled later when Jesus picked Paul on the way to Damascus?
When we want to know the will of God, do we do the same thing that these men did by deciding the criteria and then narrowing down the candidates before asking God to choose? They ended up with two men and surmised that God had chosen one of them. They finally ask God to pick one of their choices by casting lots. They didn’t give God a third choice, none of the above.
Matthias may have been God’s choice to replace Judas, I really can’t be the judge, but there is plenty of room to believe he wasn’t. Many argue that since it was recorded in Acts that it must be. However, we also find the mistakes, sins, and failures of other recorded in Scripture without explanation. A good example is when Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to fulfill a vow (Judg 11:29-39). The Bible doesn’t record anything other than the facts, there is no judgment of whether it was right or wrong. God can teach us in positive ways as well as by showing mistakes.
We can make our choices based on our own understanding and ask God to choose between the options or wait for God to show His choices and accept His selection.
When Paul says that he was an apostle of Jesus by the will of God, he had a lot of experience and demonstrations of God’s work in him. He had the confirmation of Jesus’ words to Ananias that said he was a chosen instrument to carry the name of Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). He had miracles where people were healed when they had touched something that Paul had touched (Acts 19:12). Certainly Paul was proven to be an Apostle.
Many times, we have to wait for the outcome of our decisions to understand whether or not we have followed God’s will for life decisions. (These don’t include the decisions that are not clearly described in Scripture.)
We also need to be careful about using worldly methods to try to determine God’s will. These are very much like personality tests that use biblical terms but are really looking at our natural abilities, not our spiritual abilities or gifts. I would venture to say that many people have taken a spiritual gifts quiz and therefore think they know their spiritual gifts. I can’t find any place in the Bible where we are told to take a quiz to determine our gifts or God’s will.
What’s wrong with quizzes to determine our gifts or God’s will? I looked up some of the quizzes for determining God’s gifts. They are all based on answering questions about our desires, interests, or abilities relating to ministry. In that they are related to ministry, they are good. In asking about out desires, interest, or abilities is the potential for disaster.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. (Ps 37:4-5 NLT)
Psalm 37:4 is often quoted as one of the reasons to use our desires as a way to determine our gifts. This is a great verse as long as we are delighting in the Lord. The problem is that we often don’t have our total delight in the Lord and our desires are corrupted by our sinful nature. In fact, our desires are quite deceitful (Eph 4:22). Seldom is verse five quoted along with verse four. Instead the emphasis is on my desires and my interests that are not necessarily committed to the Lord. Then there is the problem of taking the verses out of context. Psalm 37 it primarily about how to keep from falling apart worrying about all the evil in the world. While there is instruction for doing good in the Psalm, it is very general.
Then Moses said to the Lord, "Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." And the Lord said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? "Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say." (Ex 4:10-12 NASB)
Should we focus on our natural abilities to determine our gifts? If so, then Moses should have never been chosen to lead God’s people out of Egypt. When we think that our natural abilities are so important in determining our gifts or what God wants us to do, we miss the obvious fact in Scripture that God can and will change our abilities as well as our desires. Moses couldn’t speak well and even though Aaron was provided to speak, Exodus records Moses’ words not Aaron’s. God changed this man so that he could fulfill the ministry appointed to him. He changed both his desires and abilities.
Moses isn’t the only example; Jeremiah was empowered by God (Jer 1:6-7). Even Saul, who departed from walking with the Lord, was a changed man after he was anointed to be king of Israel (1 Sam 10:9-12).
Bezalel, Oholiab, and others were given skills and abilities by the Lord to make the tabernacle and articles for worship in the tabernacle. God gave them the skills and He also stirred in their hearts to do the work. The confirmation that this was from God came when Moses called them (Ex 36:1-2). While it is possible that our natural abilities and desires are what God uses, there should be confirmation by being called either by a leader or directly from God.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor 12:9 RSV)
When we focus on our natural abilities, we usually take pride in our accomplishments. When God changes us and gives us the ability to accomplish His will through our weaknesses, He gets the glory and we get the blessing of knowing that is God working in us. I remember being given the task of organizing a church potluck as part of an evangelism weekend. This was so far out of my league that it would have been impossible if God hadn’t come through. I scoped out the fellowship hall and arranged tables for 250 people, at least one third more than had been to other potlucks. I blindly asked people to bring food based on the first letter of their last name. I’m not even sure where we found all the volunteers to help. It was an astounding success and it wasn’t because of me.
I would venture to say that there are more examples of God using people’s weakness than there are where He chose people because of their strengths, desires, or interests. A good contrast is between Gideon and Saul. Gideon was hiding in fear when he was chosen. God even reduced his vast army down to 300 men to make sure the glory went to God instead of Gideon or the people. Saul was chosen because he was the epitome of the perfect leader that the people expected. He was the big macho dude who was bigger and better looking than anyone else. Even though God changed him at the beginning of his reign, look where he ended up.
Perhaps we should be looking at our weaknesses to help determine our spiritual gifts or calling. What were Paul’s interests and desires when God knocked him off his horse? His desire was to persecute the church. His interests were to protect a corrupted religious system. God completely changed those desires and interests when He called Paul.
Promise of Life
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)
God’s will is connected to His Word. The first thing we need to understand about determining His will for our lives is that it is according to the promise of eternal life in Jesus. The promise comes to those who hear and believe. Once we have become new creatures in Jesus (2 Cor 5:17), we are promised a life in Christ that is entirely different from what we previously had when we lived in sin. We know that obedience follows or proves belief so the first part of determining God’s will is to obey what is plain in the Bible. We stop sinning and start doing good. We start praying for others and rejoicing in the Lord.
Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:15 NIV)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 KJV)
However, the daily choices don’t always change. We still have to go to work or school. We have to decide what to eat, where to live, etc. Our relationships with others should certainly improve but we often want to know what God’s plans are for us on a larger scale. We may not fully understand what He wants us to do with our lives but we start by committing our plans to Him. If we are prompted by God or circumstances, if we’ve examined our motives to get rid of selfish desires, then we can set out with confidence that it is God’s will for our lives.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 NASU)
Jesus wasn’t talking about an abundance of things but the quality of our lives. The Living New Testament translates this as a rich and satisfying life. This is what Paul had after becoming a Christian in spite of all the suffering he endured. If we are daily (even moment by moment) walking with the Lord and, we will be satisfied in our life. If we are not satisfied, then we have to examine why. Is it because we have desires that are not being met because they are not what God wants? The Bible calls them lusts. Does He want us to be unsatisfied not because we are doing something wrong or have wrong motives, but He has something else in store for us? Paul’s desire to preach the Gospel was so strong that he knew it would be terrible for him if he didn’t (1 Cor 9:16).
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim 3:12 NKJV)
Don’t assume that having a rich and satisfying life means that everything goes the way we want and that we are happy all the time. Just as Paul faced obstacles in his ministry, we need to be ready to overcome problems in our lives. When we say, “If the Lord wills we will …” (James 4:15 ) then we need to be able to discern what He wants when we are prevented from doing what we thought was His will. It isn’t easy.
And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don't know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. (Acts 20:22-23 NLT)
 How did Paul know that the Spirit had constrained him to go to Jerusalem? Can we know God’s will in the same way? Later, Paul was warned by Agabus that he would be bound and turned over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:10). Luke and Paul’s traveling companions urged him not to go to Jerusalem but Paul said their counsel was breaking his heart for he was ready to be jailed or die for Jesus. They responded, “The Lord’s will be done” (Acts 21:10-14).
We can look at what happened to Paul and say that he was obeying the Spirit by going to Jerusalem. The result was witnessing to governors, kings, and eventually, Caesar. He spent time in dungeons and wrote several epistles from there. What would have happened if Paul had listened to Agabus and decided that the Spirit was warning him to stay away from Jerusalem rather than compelling him to go? What would the end of the book of Acts looked like? How would Paul’s letters to the churches been different? If we trust God completely then we know that the important things would have been accomplished exactly the way He wanted either way.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Prov 3:5-6 RSV)
I think that there are times when we simply have to trust God. If we are walking with Him and acknowledging Him in all our ways, then we trust that our decisions are what He wants. Let this bring peace to your decisions.

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