Saturday, February 8, 2014

The leading of the Holy Spirit

Acts 1:1-2 "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen."

Whenever one travels through the book of Acts, reference is made to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit roughly 40 times.  Out of those instances, one of the main ministries we find ascribed to the Holy Spirit is the ministry He has in leading the church and Christians. In today's post we want to consider what the Book of Acts has to teach us about the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Harbor lights and the Holy Spirit
Years ago I heard a wonderful preacher relate how harbor lights enable us to picture the various ways and methods the Holy Spirit uses in leading the Christian.  In the picture above you see a modern day example of this notion of "harbor lights". The idea is a fairly simple one: To guide a ship safely into a harbor or up alongside a pier, a series of lights will line the length of the dock or pier.  If the approaching captain sees more than one "harbor light", they know they are heading straight into the pier. However if they are aligned in the same direction as the pier or harbor, they will look at the row of lights head-on and see what appears to be one light, rather than a set of lights.  In dark or foggy nights, such a system along with a light house can be useful in guiding small and large sailing vessels to their intended destination.  In the Book of Acts we can discern the following "harbor lights" used by the Holy Spirit in leading and guiding individual Christians and the church as a whole.

1. Passages of scripture.
The whole book of Acts is one of the 65 other books of scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit to instruct and equip the church.  If we were to liken the scripture to the lighthouse in the above illustration, we could say the scripture is the chief way in which the Holy Spirit speaks and guides His people.  Jesus said the Spirit would bring back to remembrance to the Apostles all the things He had taught them. (John 16:12-13) Certainly Luke's composition of the Book of Acts under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost is proof positive of this truth.  In Acts 15:28 we see the Jerusalem Council laying down instructions that were tantamount to scripture, being that they made it into the Book of Acts itself and constituted what was to be universally used in all the Gentile churches.  Without the scriptures, no one could hear what the Spirit is saying at all to the churches.  It is the believer's lamp unto their feet and light unto their path. (Psalm 119:105)

2. Promptings. Acts 8:29
In Acts 8:29 we see the Holy Spirit's work of prompting: "Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.”  This harbor light is the Spirit's activity within the Christian.  As the Christian takes in the scriptures and heeds them, they begin to cultivate the ability to discern and understand those promptings of the Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit certainly can guide us when and where to go.  For example consider Acts 8:29 "Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” There will be of course those promptings whereby the Spirit hinders or says "wait".  Consider please Acts 16:7 "and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them." Why would the Spirit hinder the Apostle from making headway into a region that needed to hear the Gospel? As Luke writes on, we see the Spirit first had Paul to go into the regions of Macedonia in Acts 16 and 17.  In Acts 18:19 the Spirit evidently opens the door for Paul and his companions to enter into the regions of Asia Minor, as seen by their presence in Ephesus.  Such promptings are designed by the Holy Spirit to strategically place His people at various points and places so as to effect His Sovereign purposes in and through them. 

Such promptings by the Holy Spirit enables the Christian to think more clearly on a matter.  For example, in the wake of Paul's following the Spirit's leading, he realizes that the goal of His missionary strategy is to press into the western most boundaries of the Roman empire where the Gospel had not yet been preached. (Acts 19:21) Certainly the apostles would always check such promptings within the context of the study, preaching or hearing of God's word, as evidenced by the nearly twenty messages we find strung throughout the book of Acts.  So with passages of scripture, the Spirit leads with inner promptings, but notice also how He leads through...

3. People
Acts 20:22-23 states: "
And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me." Clearly the Spirit was warning Paul of what laid ahead. How is it that the Holy Spirit was "testifying to Paul" in every city? Consider Acts 21:4 "After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem."

Why would the Spirit seem to be on the one hand leading Paul eventually to Jerusalem (as He does so in Acts 21-23) and yet be speaking through people to seemingly dissuade Paul from entering into Jerusalem? The Spirit's purposes are to test Paul and to verify through people the calling of Paul.  Clearly the Spirit's ultimate purpose was to get Paul to Jerusalem so that he would eventually end up testifying about Jesus in Rome. (Acts 23:11) The Spirit always affirms His will through passages of scriptures and confirms His will through promptings, people and one more area....

4. Personal situations.
As you come to the end of the Book of Acts, Paul is clearly recognizing by now that he is where he needs to be.  Under house arrest in Rome, Paul takes the cue from his situation that the Spirit has brought him to Rome to preach the Gospel unhindered. (Acts 28:31) Oftentimes the Spirit will lead you and I through something that is far from comfortable and oftentimes painful. However the Spirit's dealings with us is with the view of us as having completed the task.  The whole process by which the Spirit was taking Paul was from the vantage point of Acts 28.  Every trial, imprisonment, beating, hardship, storm, all of it, was engineered by the Sovereign Lord to guide Paul strategically through and to lead Him to the place He had known from the beginning Paul would be.

As always, the Spirit's promptings, people and particular situations, when lined up perfectly with passages of scriptures, provide an effective way for the Christian and the church to follow.

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