04 Aug Walking in the will of God
13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
How many of you realize that life used to be much easier when you were younger? I remember back in the days shopping used to be much easier. When I was a teenager, I hardly went shopping. My mom bought me pretty much everything I wore till I was 18. True story. But then one day, she and dad came to visit me in Dallas and she bought me a FCUK white tee with a writing on it. I didn’t think much about it and I wore it the next day to morning chapel. I was in the middle of worship, lifting my hands to the Lord, when one of the student leaders called me out of the chapel to speak with me. He asked, “Is that a new t-shirt?” “Yes, my parents just came from overseas yesterday and they gave it to me. What’s wrong?” “Do you know what it says?” I read the writing on my tee, “I love intercourse.” He asked, “Do you know what intercourse is?” I looked at him innocently and said, “Intersection?” Needless to say, I was told to go back to my room and changed my t-shirt. I was worshipping the Lord with a writing “I love sex” on my t-shirt. I am very sure my mom had no clue what she gave me. But ever since that day, I started buying clothes on my own. But shopping got harder with time. There was a time that I only needed to go to one store for my clothes supply – ZARA. However, today I have to consider many choices. Zara, Uniqlo, Suit Supply, MJ Bale, SABA, General Pants, Rhodes and Beckett, Massimo Dutti and Country Road. Today, we live in a world with countless possibilities. What used to take a minute to decide can take few hours now. We have the tendency to want to know every possible possibilities and make the best decision out of it.
As Christians, all of us believe that God has a wonderful plan for our lives and we do not want to miss God’s best plan for our lives. That is why one of the most common questions I received as a pastor is, “How can I find God’s will for my life?” This is a valid question but unfortunately we often employ unbiblical methods to find the answer. We randomly open our Bible and hope the first passage we come across will give us the answer or we seek a prophecy to tell us what we must do next. But again and again, we found ourselves dissatisfied with the result. Here is what I want to say. Maybe we approached the question wrongly. What if God’s will was never intended to be found? What if God is not hiding his will from us? What if God actually wants us to know his will and he told us already about it? Here is something that we must get. You do not need to find God’s will for your life because God’s will is not lost. It is written in the Bible for us. Deuteronomy 29:29 – The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. Moses is saying to us that yes there are many things hidden from us about our future. We do not know it right now. But it does us no good trying to find the hidden will of God. Our responsibility is to obey and trust the revealed will of God in the Bible and as we walk in obedience to his revealed will, God will direct the details of our lives and accomplish his future will for our lives.
And if you are Christians, Jesus has made his will extremely clear for us. You do not have to ask again what God’s will for your life is. We recite his will almost every single week. Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Or to put it simply, we are called to grow as disciples of Christ who makes disciples of Christ. This is the will of God for every Christian. This is why the question “What is God’s will for my life?” is irrelevant. In fact, the question itself shows that we do not understand the heart of God. We are too focused on self. “My life, my time, my work etc.” The right question is not “What is God’s will for my life” but “What is God’s will for the world and how can I aligned myself to God’s will?” My greatest need and your greatest need is not to find God’s will but to walk in God’s revealed will. And Jesus is extremely clear. Jesus wants to use every single Christian to make disciples of Christ and spread his glory to all nations. That is why we as a church, created this slogan. “ONE person ONE disciple ONE year.” If you want to know what RSI is all about, it’s here. We are a church who are committed in growing deep with the gospel and reaching wide with the gospel. Or, another way of saying it is that we are a church who are serious about becoming disciples of Christ who make disciples of Christ. The way we do it is by encouraging everyone in RSI to make one disciple of Christ every year. And as we walk in obedience to God’s revealed will for us, he will direct our every step and lead us to the fulfilment of his hidden will for our lives.
This is what we find in the passage that we just read. Let me give you a bit of context of the passage. Earlier in Acts 16, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man telling him to come to Macedonia and preach the gospel. So Paul obeyed and sailed to Philippi. And in the New Testament, there is a book in it called Philippians. This is actually Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. Paul loved the Philippians church. It was the first church that Paul planted in Europe and it was very dear to him. And God uses the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi to bless millions of people today. But it all began with Paul simply obeying the command of Jesus to make disciples and the vision he received to go to Macedonia. Paul never set out to write most of the New Testament. He was just walking in obedience to the revealed will of God and God took care of the rest. And I believe it works the same way for you and me. God wants to accomplish his will in our lives more than we do. And he does it by leading us through obedience to his words. And it means that a lot of times, God will mess up your plan in your obedience to his words. God’s will is not safe but it is always good. And if you are willing to lay down your life in obedience to his commands, God will use you and direct your steps to accomplish his will in ways that are far greater than you could have imagined. How many of you want that? Go and make disciples of Christ. “But Yos, I do not know how to make disciples of Christ.” That’s what we are going to talk about for the rest of the night. It’s not as hard as you think.
Tonight, we are going to specifically look at the three persons who are transformed by the gospel through Paul’s ministry in Philippi. These three people are extremely different from one another and yet their life are transformed by the same gospel.
The first person Paul and Silas meet is Lydia. Paul arrived in Philippi and he wants to go to the Jewish synagogue as it is his custom. However, there is no synagogue in Philippi. It tells us that there are not many Jews in Philippi as you need at least 10 Jewish man in order to form a synagogue. Instead of a synagogue, Paul finds a woman bible study group. So Paul invited himself to this gathering where he meets Lydia. Who is Lydia? Lydia is a rich independent successful business woman in fashion industry. She is a seller of purple goods, which are only used by the wealthy. She is probably the equivalent of CEO of Hermes today. And not only she is rich, she is also a very religious person. Luke describes her as a worshipper of God, which is a technical term that describe the non-Jew who believes in Jewish faith and lives like a Jew. Lydia is most likely from Asia minor. So, Paul comes to this women Jewish bible study, preach the gospel to them, and God opens Lydia’s heart to pay attention to what Paul is saying. Lydia believes the gospel, baptised and becomes the first member of the church in Philippi.
Now, let’s talk about Lydia. In our context today, Lydia is the equivalent of those who are religious, moral, rich, and respected. In our context, he or she probably lived under the bridge. Harbour Bridge, not homeless. They are those people who have it all together. And here is what’s amazing. They are church-goers. This type of people goes to church every Sunday but never experience the true gospel. Do you know that you can go to church every Sunday and never experience the gospel? Why? Because this type of people are very religious. They don’t think they need the gospel because they think they already have it. But the gospel is very different from religion. They see Christian life as list of things they must do in order to receive God’s blessing. Their religion is outside in. They see God as useful. But Gospel is very different. Gospel is inside out. You obey God because God has blessed you in Christ. Gospel people see God as beautiful, not useful.
And how does the religious people become disciple of Christ? Through gospel’s message. This is what Paul does. Paul comes to their woman Bible study and preaches the gospel. This is what probably happened. They are discussing about the Old Testament. And since it’s a women Bible study, they are probably discussing the book of Ruth, Esther or Proverbs 31. If you’ve been to one, you know what I’m talking about. Let’s say they are talking about Esther. How beautiful Esther is. How awesome she is. How wise she is. And how she put her life on the line to identify with her people and God uses her to save the entire Jewish race from extinction. And the lesson is, “Be like Esther. Have courage like Esther. Put your life on the line for a good cause.” Then Paul shows up and says, “Let me tell you what the story of Esther is all about. Esther is not about us but it is about another Esther that came for us and his name is Jesus. Like Esther, Jesus putted his life on the line to identify with his people, but unlike Esther, Jesus had to die to save his people. Jesus is the true and better Esther. And if you put your faith in Jesus, if you know what Jesus has done for you, if you know that Jesus loved you that much, then you can put your life on the line for his cause. Until you can see the greater Esther, you will never be like Esther.” And voila, the coin drops. God opens Lydia’s heart to see the beauty of the gospel. Note, it is the Lord who opens her heart. I love it. It puts the pressure off of us. Our responsibility is not to save people. Our responsibility is to share the gospel with them and let the Lord do the saving.
So how can we reach out to Lydia? We have to share the message of the gospel. If they are church-goers, they might be open to visit different church that preaches the gospel. So you can simply ask them to come to RSI. Another way we can reach out to them is by inviting them to MC. In MC, we teach the gospel weekly and it might be the exposure they need for God to open their hearts. Or you can simply meet them for coffee and read and discuss the Bible together. What is important is for you to expose them to the truth of the gospel and pray that God will open their hearts to the gospel. Just out of curiosity, how many of you say that this is your story? You were church goers but you never really understood the Gospel till God used another person to share the gospel with you. How many Lydia we have? Most of you I presume.
The second person we see in this story is a slave girl who is demon-possessed and a fortune teller. She would go into trance, becomes very erratic and demon would speak through her. However, she is not only enslaved by demonic power, but she is also enslaved by human masters. Her masters make a lot of profit through her fortune telling. So this girl is in double bondage, demon and human. So the second person in the story is a complete opposite of Lydia. If Lydia is powerful, rich and religious, this girl is powerless, poor and demon possessed. Yet God saves her as well. God is able to save anyone.
This slave girl follows Paul and Silas around and keep shouting that they are the servants of most high God, proclaiming the way of salvation. It’s interesting. Even the evil spirit acknowledges Paul’s ministry. At first, Paul and Silas try to ignore her. Maybe they thought of her as free marketing. #preachersnsneakers. But after a while, Paul is greatly annoyed. I love it. It shows us that Paul is not a perfect man. He is a flawed man just like you and me. He can run out of patience as well. We do not exactly why he is annoyed but we can guess. Maybe Paul is annoyed at the fact that people begin to think that the God of Paul and Silas is the same as the god of this slave girl who possessed her. And because of it, people are deceived. I am guessing that is why Paul is greatly annoyed and Paul casts the demon out of her in Jesus’ name. And at that very same time, the demon goes out from this slave girl. The girl is set free by the gospel’s power. However, this created a problem for the slave girl’s masters. Now that the demon is cast out, the girl lost her ability of fortune-telling. Which mean, her masters lose their source of income. They get upset and attack Paul and Silas. Their true reason for getting angry is money but they mask out their intention using social reason. They accused Paul and Silas of being Jews that disturbs the custom of the city while the city does not even have enough Jews to form a synagogue. The crowds beat Paul and Silas and throw them into a prison.
Let’s talk about the slave girl. Who is this girl in our context? For many of you who grew up in Australia, it’s hard for you to get your mind on the idea of demon-possessed and exorcism. But it’s safe to say that this girl is someone who lived a horrible life. She is completely weak, abused, living in sin, maybe addicted to drugs and alcohol. Or maybe she is a prostitute. Or maybe she is a victim of social injustice. So if Lydia is the picture of religious people, the slave girl is a picture of irreligious people. Their life is dominated by sin and pain. They are enslaved by their idols. This type of people live their lives being enslaved by their desire for power, control, approval and comfort.
How does the oppressed become the disciple of Christ? Through gospel’s power. In Paul’s case, Paul casts out the demon from her. Paul sets her free from being oppressed by the demon and human master, and introduces her to Jesus as her new master. Yes, it is never mention that the slave girl becomes a Christian but the fact that Luke puts this story in the middle of the two conversion seems to suggest that she experienced the gospel’s power and becomes a Christian. This type not only need to be set free from their idol and sin but also to be shown that Jesus is the only true master that will satisfy them. Jesus is the only master who died for them. Jesus gives them something that no idol and human can give them and Jesus has set them free from the power of sin.
So how can we reach out to the slave girl? We have to get involved in their mess. This type of people will rarely step into a church of their own will. We have to be the one who take the gospel to them. We have to get involved in their personal life and speak the gospel to their life. We have to be able to tell them that their decision is abort their baby is sin. That their homosexual lifestyle is sin. That their addiction to work, money, alcohol, drug are sin. And it is not enough for us to just tell them about the gospel, we also need to help them experienced the power of the gospel. Just think about it. Once the slave girl is set free from the demon, she is also abandoned by her human masters. She needs a community that welcomes her, cares for her and walks with her step by step. They need to experience the gospel’s power through us getting involved in their mess. This is how they can be set free from their sinful lifestyle. How many of you can say that this is your story? God has set you free from sinful lifestyle through the message and the power of the gospel? Awesome.
The third person we encounter in this story is a Roman jailer. And he is also very different from Lydia and the slave girl. He is your ordinary ‘mind-your-own-business’ kind of person. He is not religious like Lydia, nor demon-oppressed like the slave girl. He is most likely a retired Roman soldier because all civil service jobs were given to them. Paul and Silas are thrown into a prison and this man is the jailer. He shackles Paul and Silas at the inner part of the prison and he guards the prison while watching Netflix. Then something weird happens. Let’s leave the jailer for a bit and let’s go to Paul and Silas. What would you do if you are Paul and Silas? I mean, they were attacked by the crowds. They were beaten with rods. And now they are thrown into the inner prison. And to top it all, they experienced all these pains and sufferings not because they are walking outside of God’s will but because they obeyed God’s will. They are walking in God’s will and they are persecuted because of it. But Paul does not say, “God! Why? I am obeying you. I am trusting you. And this is what I get in return? This is not right. What kind of life is this?” But do you know what he say? Paul probably says to Silas, “Silas, look at us! This is great. We are in chain. We are in prison. Now we have captive audience. The other prisoners and the jailer can’t go anywhere. They are stuck with us. How about we sing ‘how great is our God?’” And Paul and Silas start singing ‘how great is our God.’ The jailer is confused. What sort of people sing to their God when they are in chain? “What a bunch of weirdos.”
Then something else happens. At midnight, while Paul and Silas are singing, God says, “It’s about time I set them free from their chains.” And what did God do? God does not assemble oceans 11 to take them out of prison or send John Wick on a solo mission. Instead, God sends an earthquake. And this earthquake miraculously set Paul, Silas and all prisoners free from their chain and opens the prison doors. The jailer wakes up from his nap and is shocked to see the open prison door. He thought that all the prisoners have escaped. And the punishment for letting prisoners escape is death. So rather than facing the humiliation of execution, he decided to take his own life. When suddenly he hears a voice cries out, “Stop, don’t do it. We are all here.” The jailer drops his knife, runs to the inner prison and see all the prisoners there. Now, I have absolutely no idea how Paul and Silas managed to convince other prisoners to remain in the prison. But they did. And when the jailer see this, he drops to his knee before Paul and Silas and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Pay attention to Paul’s answer. He does not say, you need to do A, B, C in order for you to be saved. Paul simply say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.” And just like that, salvation comes to this man and his household and they become members of the church in Philippi.
Let’s talk about the jailer. Who is this jailer in our context? The jailor is a picture of secular people. They are very practical people. They are not rational nor are they emotional. They are your everyday suburban people who are not seeking God at all. They are content with their life and their 9-5 job. They are not good but also not bad. They might have a bad past but right now they are just chilling in life. They are probably your neighbours, classmates or co-workers.
How does the secular becomes the disciple of Christ? Through gospel lifestyle. The jailer could not care less about the gospel. “Mind your own business.” However, there is something about Paul and Silas that attracts his attention. First of all, Paul and Silas are singing to God in their suffering. What? Secular people have no context for rejoicing in suffering. For them pain and suffering are something to be avoided. And if you are in pain and suffering, you supposed to get angry and complaint about it, not singing. But not so with Paul and Silas. Paul and Silas understand that they are walking in the sovereign will of God and God is in complete control of every details. They understand that suffering is part of God’s good purpose to showcase his glory. That’s why they sing. Friends, we must understand that pain and suffering are our best chance to showcase the glory of God. Secular people know how to rejoice in prosperity but they are clueless on how to rejoice in adversity. That is why when we face suffering, our prayer should not be, “God, save me from this pain” but “God, use me in this pain.” And let me tell you, you might not realize it but people are watching. When pain and tragedy hits and you praise God, they are watching. It might does nothing for them at the time, but wait till earthquake hits them. God specifically send earthquake not only to set Paul and Silas free, but God created that circumstances for the jailer to come to the end of himself and he is ready to hear the gospel. When God sends earthquake their way and they lost all hope in life, you call out to them and they run to you. So when the earthquake hits, Paul and Silas are there for the jailer and they show him the way of salvation. Believe in the Lord Jesus. That’s it. No lecture in theology, no discipleship class, no bible study, simply believe in Jesus and you will be saved.
So how do we reach out to the secular? By living a life worthy of the gospel. What they need is not rational arguments or demonstration of power. What they need is to see and witness your gospel lifestyle. They need to see how you are different from other people. They need to see how you deal with pain and tragedy. They need to see how you use your money, how you work, how you study, how you love your family etc. If you are living a life that does not make any sense to them, they are watching. And a time will come where God will send earthquake their way. They will feel like their world is collapsing and they don’t know what to do. They loss all hope in life. And at that time you call out to them and tell them, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” How many of you can say that this your story? You are an ordinary people who are saved through an individual who lived out a gospel lifestyle and God-send earthquake? Awesome.
Let me make quick note before we watch the video. In the case of Lydia and the Jailer, we can see that all of their household are saved and baptised. It does not mean that once a member of a family is saved, the whole family is automatically saved. However, it does mean that when one member of a family is saved, God will use him or her to bring salvation to the rest of the household. So if your family is not saved, know that you are God’s plan for saving your family.
First, the gospel is for everyone. Christianity does not belong to a specific groups of people, ethnicity or social class. Looks at the three cases in Acts 16. They are all very different. Lydia is Asian and rich. Slave girl is Greek and poor. Jailer is Roman and middle class. Just think about it. Every other religions are tailored to specific groups of people or place. But not Christianity. Christianity started as a Jewish movement 2000 years ago. Then it became the Greek and Romans. Then it became the European. And then American. And now Christianity thrives most in Asia, Africa and South America. The message of the gospel is for everyone. It does not matter who they are, they need the gospel. Every human has the same problem, sin. And they all need the same answer, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sin has created a barrier between us and God that we cannot break on our own. Jesus came and destroy the power of sin over us so that we can have personal relationship with God.
Second, the gospel destroys barrier. You might not know this but there is an ancient Jewish prayer that a Jewish man would pray every morning. “I thank God that I am not a woman, slave or Gentiles.” But did you see what happen? Luke intentionally chose these three characters to show the spread of the gospel to all nations. And they are women, slave and Gentile. So we have a super-rich Asian business woman, a slave Greek girl and a Roman Jailer in the same church in Philippi. It’s like having Kate Middleton, Lady Gaga and John Wick holding hand and singing how great is our God in the same church. Can you imagine? We may not see eye to eye in everything but as Christians, the unity that we have with one another is greater than unity that we have with anyone else in the world. In Christ, we are closer to one another than we would be to an identical twin who does not know Christ. It means that right now I have a lot more in common with a widow in Africa who is also a believer than I do with people of the same race, same school, same age who is not a Christian. Are you with me?
Third, the gospel is multifaceted. It means that there is no one way to approach non-believers. Lydia needs explanation of the gospel. Slave girl needs to experience the power of the gospel. Jailer needs to witness the life of the gospel. The gospel is beautiful for Lydia, powerful for the slave girl, practical for the jailer. All three come Christ in different ways but through the same gospel. The message is the same but the way to get them to hear the message is different. And that message is “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” That’s it. But to believe in Jesus does not only mean to come to intellectual agreement with Jesus but to put all your hope and trust in Jesus. It’s like sitting in a chair. It doesn’t matter how much you know about the chair and what you feel about the chair. What matter is whether you sit down or not. And to believe in Jesus is to put all your weight on that chair and sit on it.
Fourth, the gospel is our lives. To go and make disciples of all nations is the will of God for our lives. It is not optional. It is the revealed will of God for our lives. And as we do it, God is leading us step by step and fulfilling all his purposes for us. It does not mean that you pack your bag and go to Africa. It could mean that. But the everyday meaning of it is that wherever you go, you are there to make disciples. It means that we are called to proclaim the gospel wherever we are. When you go to class, you not only go to there to study but also to proclaim the gospel. When you go to work, you not only go there to make money but also to proclaim the gospel. When you go on holiday, you not only go there to have fun but also to proclaim the gospel. Wherever you go, you make disciples. Therefore, making disciples is not another program that you need to add on top of your daily routine, but it is something that you do as you live out your daily routine. Making disciples is not a program; it is a lifestyle. We make disciples by proclaiming and living out the gospel wherever we are.
So here is what I want you to do tonight. I want all of you to think of one person that you will make a disciple of Christ. Just one. Write their name down and give them the bookmark you received earlier. Start seeking opportunity to share the gospel with them. And remember, it is the Lord who opens heart. Our role is to be faithful and to obey him. God is the one who will do the saving through us. This is God’s will. So may we walk in the will of God for our lives.
- Read Deuteronomy 29:29. What does this verse teaches us about walking in the will of God?
- Give some practical daily life applications on how we can reach out to “Lydia”
- Give some practical daily life applications on how we can reach out to “Slave girl”
- Give some practical daily life applications on how we can reach out to “Jailer”
- What makes Christianity different from every other religion?
- “Making disciples is not a program; it is a lifestyle.” Elaborate in your own words, what does it mean for you to live a lifestyle of disciple-making.
- ONE Person ONE Disciple ONE Year. Whose your one? Take some time to pray for one another’s ONE. Pray that the LORD will give you courage to make disciples and pray that the LORD will open up their hearts to the gospel.