In the book of Acts, we find the Apostle Paul coming up against a wall in his ministry. The story, recorded in ACT 16:6-10, includes elements familiar to all who minister God’s Word. In addition, it involves what is probably the most significant decision ever made in the history of Christian missions.
Prior to the vision and the call to Macedonia, Paul’s ministry seemed dead in the water. Twice prohibited by the Spirit from reaching out with the Gospel, Paul came to Troas—a dead end against the sea. Here was the Apostle to the Gentiles, with the most crucial message in the world, and he could not find an open door of ministry to receptive souls. This situation may be all too familiar to pastors and teachers of the Word of God today. No doubt Paul felt some frustration, some of the perplexity of which he writes in 2CO 4:8, “perplexed, but not in despair.”
His negative success was, however, being engineered by God in preparation for his greatest ministry opportunity ever. In a night vision, he sees what he recognizes as a man of Macedonia, and hears the cry, “Come over ... and help us.” Anyone who has labored in unproductive or apathetic fields can imagine the thrill of receiving a call from a place where people are hungering and thirsting for the instruction of God’s Word.
In response to this vision, Paul and his team conclude that God is calling, and the decision is made to enter Macedonia. Since it is here that Luke apparently joins the team, it has been suggested that perhaps he was, in fact, the man of Macedonia. At any rate, with the crossing of the Aegean Sea and the conversion of Lydia, the Gospel comes to Europe.
Paul’s ministry flourished in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. As always, where great doors to the teaching of the Word of God are opened, there are many adversaries (1CO 16:9), and here Paul’s greatest persecutions began.
All of us today in the Western world are the beneficiaries of Paul’s strategic missionary decision. From Macedonia, God’s Word spread through Europe and eventually on to America. Our rich spiritual heritage is the on-going fruit of that momentous decision made by Paul so long ago. But are we today willing to perpetuate that impact elsewhere?
What If You Had Been There?
Imagine for a moment you were part of Paul’s missionary team. Can you conceive of making any other decision? Who, having labored long and weary for months or years, could turn a deaf ear to those crying out for even the crumbs that fall from the table of those richly blessed with the Bread of Life?
My proposition is that this cry is still very much a reality. I am speaking on behalf of literally hundreds of pastors, whose congregations number in the tens of thousands. As difficult as it is for some to believe, there are places where multitudes flock to hear the Gospel. There are places where churches are growing and spreading at an amazing rate. Pastors are reproducing themselves in young men who go out without support and build new churches in untouched areas purely by winning the lost to Christ. These things are happening in places where some churches possess only one Bible and where pastors have no benefit of any formal training. In this climate, false doctrine prevails simply because it is unopposed by any form of systematic Bible teaching.
Today, at least five of every six believers are in a third-world country. In places mostly forgotten by the church in the Western world, 85 to 90 per cent of growth in the Church is taking place (estimates vary). This is occurring in the face of constant persecution—where pastors are often killed for preaching the Word of God.
In the Royal Family of God today, less than one-sixth of the family has all the wealth (not only monetarily, but also in teaching resources). Meanwhile, the other five-sixths are doing the majority of evangelism and edification of the saints. It is easy for us to condemn some of the garbled Gospel presentations given. We can find fault in the many strange teachings that prevail. But we are accountable—to the degree that we have the answers and do not heed their cry for help.
A statement by a Baptist pastor who was the featured speaker at a prominent theological seminary came to my attention. He declared that he had become aware in his ministry that “something was missing.” He organized a large number of leaders in his church to gather once a week to study the book of Acts, seeking the answer in the early church. After four months, they concluded that the missionary zeal of the early church was missing. Since that time, their mission program has increased by 700 percent.
We should all entertain the possibility that God may want us to expand our ministry dramatically by extending a helping hand to those crying out for it. It may prove one of the most important decisions of our ministry.