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The Believer and the Bible (7): Roadmap to Discern God’s Will

G Hutchinson, Belfast

"There is nothing higher for man than to find and do the will of God"

Lewis Sperry Chafer

The Scriptures reveal the will of God and are the primary resource for believers to understand their daily responsibilities. The following points seek to provide "five words" of understanding (cp 1 Cor 14.19) on this important subject.


What do we mean by the will of God? From Acts 16, consider some of the different aspects:

God’s predetermined will: Prior to the ascension, the Lord revealed His will for the spread of the gospel (Acts 1.8). The enemy challenged the message, but the pattern was unchangeable. The blueprint can be traced in the following passages: Acts 5.28 (Jerusalem); 8.1 (Judea); 8.5 (Samaria); and 16.9-10 (uttermost part of the earth, with Philippi as the start of the spread into Europe). The sovereign will of God is unchangeable (Eph 1.11).

God’s prescribed will: The mandate for gospel preaching in Philippi (and elsewhere) goes back to the Scriptures and, in particular, Matthew 28.19-20. However, the believer is called to do much more than preach the Word. Standards for Christian living, running an assembly, and other issues are also outlined in the Bible — the authoritative and unchanging source for believers to discern the will of God (Eph 5.17; 1 Thess 4.3; 5.18; 1 Pet 2.13-15). The Christian must read the Scriptures in order to know and do the will of God (Col 1.9).

God’s permissive will: In the accomplishment of His sovereign will the Lord often permits the believer to engage in certain actions. One example is found in Acts 16.7 where the missionaries tried to enter a certain area (Bithynia) but were prevented by the Holy Spirit. Remember that it is the steps (and stops) of a good man that are ordered by the Lord (Ps 37.23).


How can we discern the will of God? Acts 16 provides some important principles, with a phrase in v.10 being of particular significance: "assuredly gathering" – literally meaning to knit or piece as one, indicating that the points below should be taken in conjunction with each other.

Talk to the people of God: As part of the 2nd missionary journey (Acts 15.36 — 18.22) Paul decided that Timothy, instead of Mark, should be his companion. Why? Acts 16.1-3 indicates the favourable report that Christians from Derbe and Lystra gave of Timothy – Paul had evidently obtained their views (see also Acts 15.40 with regard to Silas). We too should seek counsel from other believers as we endeavour to discern the will of God (Prov 19.20; 24.6).

Test the mind of God: As indicated previously, the team of missionaries attempted to enter Bithynia with the gospel but were prevented by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16.7). Neither Paul nor his companions were criticised for trying the door! God often reveals His will by means of the closed door.

Trace the Spirit of God: Notice the fervency by which the servants in Acts 16 were dependent on the Holy Spirit (Acts 16.6-7) – they were evidently led by the Spirit (Gal 5.18).

Trust the Son of God: Emphasis on the divine will is given at both the start and end of the 2nd missionary journey (see Acts 16.1-10 and Acts 18.21). Being Spirit-filled, the believers were pointing toward the subject of the Gospel – the Lord Jesus (cp Jn 16.13-14).

Thrive on the Word of God: Read through the account of the 2nd missionary journey and note the priority given to the Scriptures (eg Acts 16.32; 17.2,11,13; 18.11). In particular, observe the systematic approach of the Apostle to his Bible preaching and teaching – the same ought to apply to our daily reading schedule. "We do not find out the will of God from the Bible by opening the book and abiding by the sentiment of the first verse we may chance to read…we are to study and know the Scriptures that every word of His testimony may instruct us" (L S Chafer).


Although God, in His sovereignty, can use the events of life to guide His children, we must not place over-reliance on circumstances. For example, the New Testament believer is called to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5.7). This means precisely what it says! Our life on earth should be marked by trust — not in ourselves but in God and His Word (Ps 119.105). Furthermore, it is evident that circumstances are often misleading. David may have thought God’s will was such that he should slay Saul (1 Sam 24.1-7). Jonah may have interpreted the ship to Tarshish (and the means to pay) as proof that he was allowed to pursue a particular path (Jonah 1.1-3). However, on both occasions the apparent circumstances were contrary to the mind and will of God.


In Acts 16 the teaching on the Scriptures and the will of God can be summarised as follows:

Discerning God’s will: It was, of course, important for Paul and his companions to "know" where they were to serve. But remember that the guidance only occupies 10 verses (Acts 16.1-10) of a lengthy chapter!

Doing God’s will: The larger section of the chapter is devoted to describing how the servants discharged God’s will — preaching and teaching to the converts in Philippi. Are we active in doing what we know to be the will of God?

Delighting in God’s will: The servants also delighted in God’s will, even when it proved costly (Acts 16.22-25). The implications of this truth are immense – we can only fulfil our joy by doing God’s will rather than our own.


It is unsurprising to note that the Scriptures are clear in teaching that God’s work (Deut 32.4), way (Ps 18.30) and will (Rom 12.2) are all "perfect". This should be of immense comfort to the child of God when it comes to knowing and doing the will of God.

To be continued.


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