After Paul was satisfied that his work in the Galatian churches was complete for the time being, he decided to go into the province of Asia. This is the province where we find the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3. However, Paul and company were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel there (Acts 16:6). Why? We don’t know. Certainly it was the will of God that the cities within the province hear the Gospel, for Paul brought the Gospel to them later, on his third missionary journey, and even introduced Ephesus to the Gospel as he returned from his 2nd missionary journey on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 18:19-21). They were also prevented from traveling north into Bithynia to preach. Later Peter would write his first epistle to Christians in this province (1Peter 1:1), so the Spirit was not denying these people should have the Gospel preached to them, but he closed the door to them at this particular time.
How was Paul forbidden? We do not know, but it was convincing. It may have taken the form of a message through the gifts of speaking and interpreting tongues, or perhaps through prophecy; or it may have taken the form of answered prayer where two or three of Paul’s party received strong impressions that they should not do as planned, and when they met and compared notes after prayer, they saw the Spirit spoke to each of them in the same manner. In any event their guidance from God came by way of “closed doors” which no one could open (Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7).
Sometimes, matters such as this come as a comfort to us in our days, does it not? It seems that Paul had planned to go into Asia, and why not? There were many synagogues there, and it was Paul’s manner to preach to the Jew first and then to the gentile. The synagogues were ripe fields for the Gospel in the 1st century. The Jews looked for a Messiah and there were also God-fearing gentiles among them who worshiped the God of Israel each Sabbath. Why wouldn’t God want Paul to preach to them? Well, it isn’t that it wasn’t God’s will, but he had more urgent plans for Paul at that particular time, so even the best of plans may not represent the desires of God. Paul, though thinking and making the most logical plans to glorify God, found his own will to serve God was not God’s will for him at this particular time. He closed the door! And, this is a comfort to folks like me, knowing that Paul could also be wrong when planning his approach to preaching the Gospel.
I want to do God’s will, and I make specific plans to glorify him, but often meet with unfruitful effort. Why? I don’t know, but I know my heart is right toward my Lord and Savior. I think Paul’s heart to preach in Asia and then to Bithynia was also right with God. It merely seems that God’s timing was not according to what Paul had in mind—and also what I think from time to time. I consider scattering the seed of the Gospel here and then there, looking for the glory of God to flourish. At times I am encouraged with an open door, but then there are the other times—times of trial in the faith and closed doors that won’t budge no matter how hard I try or pray they would open. There are moments when I begin to wonder where God is in all of what I am doing. Yet, I find that it is during times like these, the soul-searching seasons of wondering where God is, that I am drawn into a more intimate fellowship with my Lord and Savior. So, even here, when barrenness seems to permeate all I do, I find the comfort of God and a “vision” of hope (Acts 16:9) through his encouragement to continue for blessing will follow, and therein I find myself urged on.
My the God of all comfort encourage his people everywhere to continue in his word and the work of spreading the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and what this means to mankind to all who are willing to listen.