Paul was told to not preach in Asia? How does that make sense?
The Journeys of Paul
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6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. 7 When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
I don’t know about you, but the above verse always sticks out for me. Paul is going here, Paul is going there, and he pretty much just won the debate about circumcision in Jerusalem. Now, he is going forth to follow the commandment of preaching the Gospel, yet he seemingly is prohibited from doing so.
The “Great Commission”, as it is usually called, is quite plain. There is no nation on earth where we are not supposed to go to proclaim the Good News. In fact, Saul, who later became Paul, was used in a backward way to begin that process by persecuting and scattering the early Church. They preached the Gospel everywhere they went.
4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news.
So, here is Paul, trying to fulfill the Great Commission, when suddenly he is “prevented” from preaching! Then, we are told that the “Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” to preach! The KJV puts it a little more bluntly, in fact, for first he is “forbidden” and then “suffered … not”.
So, what is going on here? Was not Paul trying to obey the Great Commission and even his special calling? Was he not doing what he was commanded to do? Then, why stop him?
Have you ever found yourself in such a situation? Sometimes, through no fault of our own, we can find ourselves in situations that just don’t make sense. We want to do the right thing, but we cannot.
I remember an elderly lady that was in such poor health that she was wheelchair bound. She could not make it to services hardly ever, and even then it was mostly Passover. It’s not that she did not want to attend, but it became outright impractical after a certain level of deterioration of her health. The pain she endure alone made going to services more than she could take.
Why? We could dwell on that, I suppose. I’m not sure that there is a clear cut answer in every case, or perhaps in any case. We could do what Asaph the Psalmist did and dwell upon the seeming prosperity of the wicked vs the suffering of the righteous.
11 The wicked say, “How can God know?
Does the Most High know everything?”
12 Look at them–the wicked!
They are always at ease,
and they increase their wealth.
Ever feel that way? Ever feel like having a pity party for yourself?
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it seemed hopeless
17 until I entered God’s sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny.
18 Indeed, You put them in slippery places;
You make them fall into ruin.
~ vv 16-18
He remained mystified until he went into the sanctuary and pondered the end of the wicked. Life may not seem fair now, but in the end everyone will be judged. It is not a matter of if things will be made right but when.
One day, the wheelchair bound lady will be able to not just stand but dance her way to services. She is asleep now, waiting for that day of joy.
What of Paul? Well, he soon received a vision that sent him into Philippi in Macedonia. Paul was sent to Europe! Ironically, his first convert there was not a native but a woman from Thyatira named Lydia. In one very real sense, Paul dropped everything to run to Europe to preach to and baptize an Asian! Talk about going the long way around!
However, Paul did not stop there but went on to Thessalonica, Berea and even Athens! Later on, Paul eventually did make it to other parts of Asia Minor as well.
In the end, it wasn’t about what Paul was supposed to do but when.
We are human, and we are limited. We will always be limited by something, in fact. However, the flesh limits us in particular ways that runs counter to our heart’s desires at times.
That’s why if we look at what we are not doing, we must honestly ask if we are doing all we are able. If so, then the rest is in God’s hands. However, we must be mindful that doing all we can means asking Him for help along the way.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.