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Do you ever get discouraged in your efforts at reaching out to others with the gospel message? Do you wonder why your ministry plans just don’t seem to work out the way that you envisioned? Does it seem like you are witnessing to hearts of stone that have no response to God’s gracious offer of new life? It is easy to get discouraged in Christian ministry if we forget our dependence upon the sovereign initiative of God. We are severely limited in what we can accomplish and God has ordained it to be that way. We can plan our course, but ultimately God is the one who closes certain doors and opens other doors of opportunity. We can try to persuade people of the truth of God’s plan of salvation, but ultimately God must open hearts before people are able to respond in repentance and faith.

The Apostle Paul and his missionary team, despite their superior giftedness, faced the same limitations we do today. But they saw those limitations as a protection against discouragement. They expected success in their evangelistic efforts because they understood that:



God is still at work today in these two very crucial areas.


A. (:6-7) Two Closed Doors = Asia and Bithynia

1. (:6) Asia: Closed Door

“And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;”

Looked like a tremendous opportunity from a natural perspective; but not the direction that the Lord was leading Paul and his missionary team of Silas and Timothy

– Galatic Phrygia = region of Iconium and Pisidian Antioch

Strange paradox: commanded to speak the word and yet forbidden by the Holy Spirit in certain contexts

Look at how active the Holy Spirit is in directing the movements of the missionary team

James 4:15 “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’”

Prov. 19:21 “Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the Lord will stand.”

Prov. 16:9 “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”

Lam. 3:37 “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it?”

Paul learned this lesson: Acts 18:21 “I will return to you again if God wills”

Important to make plans … but with the humility that God is in charge and will direct; we can’t be stubborn and insistent on our agenda and itinerary

Rom. 1:10 “always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” There have been previous attempts and failures – God changes our plans all the time

Does not mean that the Word of God did not spread into Asia – just that God was not directing Paul’s missionary team in that direction at this time.

2. (:7) Bithynia: Closed Door

“and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them;”

an area on the north of Asia Minor, on the southern shore of the Black Sea.

Nothing wrong with effort directed towards initiating ministry on our part; we need to try to do what is strategic and what seems best to us in making the best use of our spiritual gifts; the Lord knows how to close and open doors

Stott: How the Holy Spirit did his preventive work on these two occasions we can only guess. It may have been through giving the missionaries a strong, united inward impression, or through some outward circumstance like illness, Jewish opposition or a legal ban, or through the utterance of a Christian prophet, perhaps Silas himself (15:32). At all events, having come from the east, and having found the south-westerly and northerly roads obstructed, the only direction left open to them was north-west.

Jeff Hughes: How? How did the Holy Spirit restrain Paul from going into Asia? Most Bible scholars believe Paul was struck at this time with a brutal infirmity, a sickness, with a fever so severe that his eyesight would be permanently damaged.

Look at the proportion of negative guidance to positive guidance

Note how here the reference is the to Spirit of Jesus

Kent: Inasmuch as the Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 16:7), he is variously referred to as the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), or the Spirit of Jesus.

Application: How do we respond to closed doors from the Lord?

Guzik: At the time, Paul probably had no idea of the greatness of God’s purpose. God wanted to give him a continent for Jesus, to give him a personal doctor, and to give all of us the man whom God would use to write more of the New Testament than anyone else did. God knows what He is doing when he says, “No.”

B. (:8-10) One Open Door = Macedonia

1. Sense of Divine Mission — Keep Moving Forward – don’t be discouraged by closed doors – just means God is leading you to keep moving – not to quit

“and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.”

Ended up, due to Paul’s persistence, at the end of their journey – up against the seacoast … nowhere else to go – in desperate need of God’s direction

2. Sense of Human Need — Expect Divine Direction

“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’”

Boice: Maybe one reason why the Protestant churches in this country in particular are not prospering is that they are going to those who are prospering when they ought to go to those who have known needs.

Are the heathen nations calling out to your heart: Send the Light?

3. Sense of Ministry Urgency – Follow the Call of God

“And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Kent: the first of the so-called “we” sections of the book, and it is commonly assumed that the author Luke became a participant in the events at this time.

Cole: We can also surmise that Paul left Luke behind to pastor the fledgling church at Philippi, because the narrative shifts back to “they” in 17:1 and remains that way until Paul sails from Philippi with Luke in 20:5, 6, about seven years later.

No time to waste; looking for pathway of obedience – not resisting or trying to avoid it

What is the best possible help we can provide to a lost world?? Not the social gospel, but the spiritual gospel

Application: How do we respond to open doors from the Lord?

Boice: We need to understand that “closed doors,” though they are a type of negative guidance, are nevertheless true guidance. If we can learn anything from the apostle Paul here, we learn that negative guidance merely keeps us from where we are not called in order that in God’s time we might come to where God is calling us and will provide blessing.



– Hearts are closed to the gospel, incapable of responding on their own

– Minds are blinded to the gospel; human reason cannot rescue anyone

– Will is enslaved to sin; in bondage; self help programs doomed to failure

– People are spiritually dead, separated from God, enemies of God

A. (:11-12) Strategic Base of Operations in Philippi

“Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.”

Stott: They must have enjoyed a favourable wind to complete their 150-mile journey in only two days, since it took them five days on their return (20:6).

Kent: Philippi was the first European city in which Paul preached. It was located on the Egnatian Way, the Roman highway which connected the Aegean Sea with the Adriatic. The city had the status of a colony which meant that it had been organized by the state and was actually a military outpost. . . The people were given the rights of Roman citizens. The distinctive prerogatives of a colony were autonomous government, immunity from tribute and taxation (at least in some cases), and treatment as if they actually lived in Italy.

– A leading city – prote – “first, chief” – honorary title bestowed on some cities

– Not the capital of the province of Macedonia; that was Thessalonica

– Not the capital city of its district; that was Amphipolis

Stott: Luke is expressing pride in what was probably his own city.

Boice: A new alignment of the missionaries [Paul and Silas], a new worker in the person of Timothy, and a new vision [Macedonian Call] issued in the founding of a new church, the church at Philippi.

B. (:13) Targeted First Adopter Group – Jewish Women in Prayer Service

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.”

Kent: The absence of men at the prayer place may explain why there was no synagogue in the city, for ten Jewish men were required for its establishment.

C. (:14-15a) Specific Prepared Hearts — Salvation and Baptism of Lydia and Her Household

“And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized,”

MacArthur: There were two kinds of dyes they used. The first kind was for the rich people. You know, most of the purple stuff was for, you know, royalty and all that. And they use to extract this purple dye drop by drop from a little thing called a murex which was a shell-fish. And they would catch these shell-fish and they would extract drop by drop this precious purple dye and really super rich people would have purple dye from the murex shell-fish for their garments. And like everything, once the elite get it all of us peons want to get in on the thing, so the next thing you know they had to come up with a second class dye and they got it from an extraction from a madder root and they used that for the commoners dye. Well, she was in this business.

Aside: Lord has always favored the color purple – Go Ravens! Color of royalty

Not everybody is listening when we are speaking the gospel

“the Lord opened her heart to respond” = key to the passage

2 Cor. 4:4-6 “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shown in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

2 Thess 2:13-14 “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

D. (:15b) Reality of Conversion Demonstrated by Insistent Spiritual Service — Hospitality Shown by Lydia

“she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.”

Theme of Hospitality —

Interesting: you don’t have those in need of hospitality begging for help; you have those with a heart for spiritual service begging for the opportunity to provide that blessing.

Rom. 12:9-13 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

1 Pet. 4:7-9 “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”

Heb. 13:1-2 “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”


Look at all the things that went wrong for the Apostle Paul at the beginning of this second missionary journey. He just couldn’t seem to get on the right track … the Holy Spirit kept putting up road blocks and closing doors.

Illustration: A young man was learning to be a paratrooper. Before his first jump, he was given these instructions: Jump when you are told. Count to ten and pull the rip cord. In the unlikely event your parachute doesn’t open, pull the emergency rip cord. When you get down, a truck will be there to take you back to the airport.

The young man memorized these instructions and climbed aboard the plane. The plane climbed to ten thousand feet and the paratroopers began to jump. When the young man was told to jump, he jumped. He then counted to ten and pulled the rip cord. Nothing happened. His chute failed to open. So he pulled the emergency rip cord. Still, nothing happened. No parachute.

“Oh great,” said the young man. “And I guess the truck won’t be there when I get down either!”

Look at how the Lord blessed as Paul didn’t get discouraged but trusted in God’s sovereignty to open the right doors at the right time and open hearts to respond to the message of salvation.