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World missions is the very heartbeat of God. The Lord Jesus came "on mission" to our world when He clothed Himself in flesh and walked among us. The early first century church was a missionary church. The great Apostle Paul was not a theologian who became a missionary. He was first and foremost a missionary who was also a theologian.
God is still sending His people to the ends of the earth on missionary assignments today. He still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes. Sadly, it has become strange in our modern day that "calling out the called" has become a foreign concept. Fewer and fewer congregations extend public invitations today and even among those who still do, there is seldom any appeal to "surrender" our lives to God’s call to service.
As I read and reread many of the great missionary passages of the Bible recently, I became captivated by a phrase found in the account of Paul's second missionary journey. The phrase says, "After he had seen the vision" (Acts 16:10). In this passage Paul sensed the call on his life to take the gospel to Europe.
He had returned from his first missionary journey and had written a letter back to the churches he had established along the way. We call this letter "Galatians" in our New Testament. Then, in Acts 15, Paul journeys to Jerusalem for the great church council. Twenty years had now passed since Pentecost. The issue was whether the Gentiles must follow various components of the Jewish ceremonial laws in order to be saved. Paul eloquently argued his case and the church settled the issue that salvation was indeed, by grace through faith in Christ alone.
After the Jerusalem Conference, Paul sensed the call to another missionary journey (Acts 15:36-39). Here we see a dispute arise between him and his missionary companion, Barnabas. The issue arose over whether young John Mark, who had left and returned home on the first journey, should accompany them on the second. Paul said no. Barnabas said yes. Who was right? In a sense they were both right. Paul's focus was on the mission. He was focused, single minded. He reasoned that if his young colleague had left before, he would do so again. After all, it was Jesus who had said that "no one putting his hand to the plow and looking back was fit for the kingdom." On the other hand, Barnabas' focus was on the man. Sure John Mark had failed. But, who hasn’t? Barnabas was living up to his name (Son of Encouragement). The church of the Lord Jesus needs both of these men. Thus, they split up. Paul took Silas. Barnabas took John Mark. And they both followed God's call to missions (Acts 15:40-16:5).
Then, an amazing thing happens. As Paul went on his way, he was "forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia they came down to Troas" (Acts 16:6-8). Paul met one closed door after another. But he kept on the move.
He kept moving forward. There was no rebuke because he tried to go to these other places. And then it happened... "A vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying 'Come over to Macedonia and help us' " (Acts 16:9). And then the phrase—"After he had seen the vision"—he went straight to his place of calling.
The question on this World Missions Day is, "Have you seen the vision, the calling of God?" Have we seen the vision of our world? We are part of a global community that now numbers well in excess of six billion people, every one of whom is formed and fashioned by God. We who live in America make up a little more than 4% of this number. When you break this equation down into observable and identifiable components, it is alarming. Look at your particular congregation next Sunday. If there are 200 people sitting in the pews, then look at eight of them. Yes, just eight. That is an object lesson of how many people are in our world outside our own borders. If your crowd numbers 1,000, then look at forty of them. Those approximately four pews represent the proportion of Americans to the world population. While you are looking at these congregations observe that of the crowd of 200, 48 of them would represent how many people are living in China alone and 36 of them would represent the people of India. It is also alarming to think that half of the world’s wealth exists in those eight people in relationship to the crowd of 200. Those eight people representing the United States have a life expectancy of over 75 years while the rest of the world's life expectancy is barely 40 years of age. And their garbage disposals digest more food daily than eighty percent of the world’s men, women and children.
What must God think about those eight of us who figuratively sit in that congregation of two hundred? We are so blessed. Some of us think we are making a great sacrifice to invest one hour of our week in worship. The great commission is for the entire world. One of the fallacies of the modern "seeker friendly" church movement today is that so much of it is centered in self-interest and self-fulfillment. How can it be that 95% of those God is calling into ministry today are expecting to spend their time with those eight blessed people instead of the rest of the world?
Have you caught the vision? It was not until "after he had seen the vision" (Acts 16:10) that Paul headed out to what was then "the ends of the earth." Before every great spiritual accomplishment, God gives a vision for the task ahead. When He called Abraham He gave him a vision that his seed would be as "the stars" of the sky. When He called Joseph He gave him a vision of the crops bowing before him. Have you caught the vision God has for you and the job He has for you to do that no one else can do quite like you can?
It is also important to observe that after Paul had received the vision, "immediately" (Acts 16:10) he set out on his missionary journey. Some never know a missionary heart because they have no vision of the missionary heart of God. The vision for missionary service is still being given by the Father. We will catch the vision and "call out the called" when we realize the Macedonian call to missions is as much for us today as it was to those in the early church.
The Macedonian Call to Missions is Personal
"A vision appeared to Paul..." (Acts 16:9)
Note this particular call was personal. It was given "to Paul." God deals with us on a personal level. His vision for the better use of our gifts is personal. He still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes. The only thing that keeps a lot of missionaries in the field in certain situations is the personal call of God to a particular place. God has a way of giving a vision for the task ahead and one man or one woman conceives it with Him, gestates it a while and later births it into reality.
The Macedonian call to world missions is personal. But it is of interest to note how it came to Paul. It did not come while he was hiding somewhere in a cave waiting for it. It did not come when he was sitting around like a monk somewhere waiting "to hear from God." It came to him when he was active. It came when he was on the move. It came when he was moving forward. It came when he was "risking his life for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:26) and when he was making ready to go back and visit those he had seen on his first missionary journey to "see how they are doing" (Acts 16:36). And thus we find him going through Phrygia, Galatia, to the door of Asia, and then to Mysia, to Bithynia and finally to Troas (Acts 16:6-8). He was on the move.
Have you caught the vision? Most usually it comes to people who are doing something, who are on the move themselves, who are active. This Macedonian call to missions is, first of all, personal. It was "to Paul." Perhaps it is to you.
The Macedonian Call to Missions is Pressing
"A man from Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' " (Acts 16:9)
Paul saw the vision of a man who "pleaded" with him for help. The word translates a Greek word, παρακαλεω, which means to encourage strongly, or to beseech with strong force. This present active participle indicates that the tense is continuous. That is, this man in Paul's vision kept standing before him, he kept pleading with him, he kept saying, "Come over and help us...come over and help us...come over and help us." This call is not simply personal, it is pressing.
The Macedonian call is an urgent one. Our world is waiting. Millions in their own quiet ways are "pleading" today for God's people to "come over and help us." And they are not just on the other side of the world; some of them are right down the street. Over there in that transitional neighborhood is a single mother trying to work and raise her kids at the same time. She has been deserted. They are selling crack cocaine on her corner. One of the few role models her son has is the guy with the fancy car, the big gold chains around his neck and the chrome revolver in his pocket. She is pleading, "Come over and help me." The call to missions is pressing.
Somewhere out there today is a small child barely a dozen years of age. She comes home from school to take care of little brothers and sisters, to fix dinner, to wash and clean. Her mom is working two jobs. She has never known her dad. Can you hear her pleading, "Come over and help me?"
There is also a teenager out there somewhere today trying to cope with a mother who brings a different man home every weekend. Can you hear her pleading for help? Have you caught the Macedonian vision?
What about that young boy sitting at the lunch table by himself at school. No one seems to care and no one pays attention to him at school…or at home. He has never felt a mother's arms around him much less tuck him into bed at night. He has never heard his dad tell him he is proud to be his dad. In his own way he is pleading, "Come over and help me."
And what about that jail building we pass by on our way to work? In one of those cells is a man marking off "X's" on a calendar. He is sick and tired and about to give up hope. Can you hear him say, "Please, come over and help me"?
In that high-rise office sitting behind that big mahogany desk is a man with everything materially the world has to offer, except peace in his own heart. All his money and influence cannot keep his son away from dope or buy him happiness. His life is coming apart at the seams. In his own way he pleads, "Come over and help me."
And these stories could be multiplied many times over by the young mother who lies dying of Aids in Africa, the father scrounging for food in the gutter to feed his starving family in some Indian metropolis. Or, a myriad of other similar circumstances and situations. People all over the world are pleading, "Come over and help us."
Have you caught the vision? Have you heard the Macedonian call to missions? You will when you begin to realize it is personal and pressing.
The Macedonian Call to Missions is Precise
"...a man from Macedonia..." (Acts 16:9)
There is not only a "who" and a "when" in the call of God to missions but there is also a "where." Paul's call was precise. It was to "Macedonia." Each of us should ask ourselves where Macedonia (the will of God) is for us.
Have you heard the Macedonian call? Do you know the voice of God when He speaks to your heart by His Spirit and through His word? When I was a boy living on the East Side of Fort Worth I was usually playing ball on the old vacant lot up the street about dinnertime each evening. I can still hear my Mom’s voice echoing out through that kitchen door shouting, "It is time to eat!" I knew my mother’s voice. She didn't have to say, "This is your mother. Come to 3237 Crenshaw to the kitchen table." I knew she was speaking precisely to me and not to Steve or Jerry or any of the other kids on our block. How did I know her voice? I heard it every day. I recognized it. I listened to it. I obeyed it. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice…and I know them…and they follow me" (John 10:3-4).
This precise calling for Paul to come to Macedonia was one of the turning points of human history. Macedonia was Europe. Had Paul turned eastward to Asia instead of westward to Europe, it would have resulted in a profound difference in world history. The European continent became the center of Christianity. Thus Paul headed west, on to Macedonia, to Philippi, to Thessalonica, then to Corinth and Athens and eventually Rome would lay ahead for him.
Have you caught the vision? It is personal, pressing and precise.
The Macedonian Call to Missions is Practical
"...help us..." (Acts 16:9)
We are not called to sit, but to go. There is not only a "who," a "when" and a "where" in the Macedonian call but there is also a "what." The vision is a practical one. Our missionaries and the multitudes of people they are serving around the world today need help.
This man of Macedonia in Paul's vision was calling for "help."
I have personally seen this call for help in the very faces of men, women and children around the world. I have seen it in the face of a little child in the slums of Nairobi. I have seen it in the face of a Palestinian teenager in the refugee camps of Bethlehem. I have seen it in the tattooed face of a woman who once was a sorcerer but who now sings praises to God under a tin roof in a bush church in East Africa. I have seen it in the toothless smile of an old Masai warrior in the Kenyan bush. I have seen it in the blank stares of the masses in China. I have seen it in the empty look of a little orphan girl in Romania.
"Come over and help us" is the cry of our world. We have a huge world. I once heard my missionary friend, Tom Elliff, ask, "If you saw a large long telephone pole with ten men carrying it on one end and one man lifting the other end, where would you go to help carry the pole?" The American church should be asking herself why it is that 95% of those called to ministry in her churches stay here to preach the gospel while the whole world is calling, "Come over and help us."
I have a growing sense that one of the lost passions of the modern pastor is the failure to "call out the called." This is seldom ever mentioned. Thus, young men and women and older ones alike are not being challenged to ask what Paul asked on the Damascus Road, "Lord, what would you have me to do?" The Macedonian call to missions is a very practical one.
The Macedonian Call to Missions is Providential
"...we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us..." (Acts 16:10)
What a conclusion... "Concluding that the Lord had called us." There is something very interesting here. Paul was a spiritually led man with a sensitive heart who followed the Spirit's leading. When he was refrained from preaching in Asia (Acts 16:6-8) he did not wring his hands and say, "Well, I tried. It was just not what I thought it would be like." He kept on the move. He kept putting his hand on the next doorknob and when it would not open he went on to the next one. Some today seem to think they should simply sit and wait on their call. Some even quit the journey when they get to their own "Bithynia" and the door is shut. What is the moral here? When you sense the opportunity to show concern for others, move out, and go forward and the Lord will be with you.
God’s call did not come to Paul when he was holed up in a cave somewhere. He was no monk. He was no hermit. He was on the move. God was leading him. Incidentally, note that there was no divine rebuke when he tried to go to Asia or Mysia or Bithynia or Troas. God’s timing was just not right. Later, he would make his way through those doors, including to Ephesus. But it was not in God's timing as yet.
There is a key word in understanding this providential call here in verse ten. It reveals that he went on to Macedonia "concluding that the Lord had called us." This word "concluding" translates the Greek word, συμβιβαζω . It means "to come together" just as a sweater being knitted does not look like much until it is folded over and finally knitted together and it "comes together." It is the picture of a jigsaw puzzle that doesn't look like much and then a piece fits here and another there and it begins to "come together." In other words, in Paul's mind, it all came together. The vision, this missionary call, was a confirmation of God's moving in his own life.
Here in this verse we see the truth of Isaiah when he said, "Whether you turn to the left or the right you will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it' " (Isaiah 30:21). You will hear a voice. Where? Behind you. The only way this can be done is if you are on the move, doing what is right. This has happened in my own experience when I have headed in a direction and sensed that "still small voice" in my heart saying, "This is right." Often it comes in the way of a sense of peace, a release of conflict. And, it is accompanied by confirmation from His word.
Some today seem to want to be struck by lightning, so to speak, before they hear His call. No. Move out. Do something. Go somewhere. If it is not His will for you at that time, the door will close as it did for Paul at various places along his own journey. If it is His will, it will all "come together" and you too can "conclude that God has called you." Everyone I know who has been called and used by God heard the call, caught the vision, while they were on the move for and with the Lord and not while they were sitting and waiting for God to tell them what to do. My own call to ministry occurred the summer before my senior year in college when I was "on the go" in Mexico on a mission trip.
Have you caught the vision? It is personal. It is pressing. It is precise. It is practical. And, it is also providential.
The Macedonian Call to Missions is Pointed
"...the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them." (Acts 16:10)
This is our primary purpose for Christian missions..."to preach the gospel to them." This is a pointed call. We are not primarily to build hospitals or schools, to erect orphanages, to teach agricultural principles or any of a thousand other very worthwhile aspects of mission work. All of these should be done with the primary purpose of "preaching the gospel."
A few years later this same Apostle Paul would write to the Romans and refer to himself as one who was "separated unto the gospel" (Romans 1:1). The divine call of God upon our lives is one that truly separates us unto the gospel. It is pointed. Every other ambition or desire is to be relegated down the priority list of life and the extension of the gospel to the ends of the earth must remain our pointed priority.
No organization in the church has a right to exist unless its primary purpose is to extend the gospel message. The gospel is defined for us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 in saying that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and He was buried, and He arose again on the third day according to the scriptures."
The phrase, "preach the gospel" (Acts 16:10) translates one word in Greek, ευαγγελιζω. It means to share the good news, this gospel story, and to do so in a way that it calls for a decision. We are not simply to find the prodigal son out in the pigpen, then organize a team to build a roof over his head while others find him some adequate clothes and still others take him a hot meal on wheels each day. Our task is to get that boy to "come to himself" (Luke 15:17) and to get him back to the Father's house. Once there, if we recall, it is his father who begins to meet his every need when he returns with a repentant and contrite heart.
This is the church's vision; this is our calling, to "preach the gospel to them." The Macedonian call to missions is a pointed and specific call.
The Macedonian Call to Missions is Prompt
"...immediately we sought to go to Macedonia..." (Acts 16:10)
The Lord has given many a believer a vision that died because they did not act promptly in obedience to it. Not Paul… "Immediately" he set out. Even though some sense the call is personal, pressing and even precise, they – for whatever reason – delay the call and it never comes to fruition.
Note Paul's immediate response to the missionary call. There was no delay. "Immediately..." There was no doubt.
"Immediately..." There was no defiance. "Immediately..."
There is a very subtle yet very interesting thing taking place here in verse ten. Note the change of pronouns from "they" to "we." Back in verse 8 we read, "so passing by Mysia they came down to Troas." Then in verse ten we read, "After he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia." What happened? No doubt that Luke, the writer of Acts, had joined up with Paul at Troas and now begins giving a first-person report. Then, we read later in Acts 17:1 that the pronouns change back to "they" again. This, no doubt, indicates that Luke stayed in Philippi to establish and minister to the new church that was founded in that city.
Some of you may be hearing the Macedonian call to missions today. All that is left to do is to act promptly upon it. God will have his own way of seeing that others join you in the journey as happens here in Paul's own experience.
The Macedonian Call to Missions is Productive
"...we ran a straight course...to Philippi" (Acts 16:11-12)
Philippi. Talk about a productive response to the call of God.
There is nothing like being in the middle of the will of God for our lives by responding with prompt obedience to His call.
This journey across the Aegean from Troas to Philippi is a fitting conclusion to this chapter of Paul’s story. Here Luke uses a Greek nautical term, ευθυδρομεω, which we translate "ran a straight course." What does it mean? Those who have sailed know that when the wind is in your face you have to zigzag across the lake to make any forward progress. But, when the wind is at your back, you can run a course to the other side that is straight as an arrow. You can just set the sail and go full speed ahead on a straight line.
Here in verse 11 we are seeing that the wind was at their back. And in more ways than one! When we catch the vision, get in the will of God and go forward, the wind of the Spirit is at our back guiding us and pushing us forward. Is it any wonder that those in life who continually try to sail against the wind of the Spirit never run "a straight course"?
Paul went to Macedonia, to Philippi. His first converts were a business woman named Lydia and an unnamed jailer. They became the pillars of the newly founded church there and this church financially supported the great Apostle the rest of his life and ministry. And, some twelve years later, he would write them a letter from his prison cell in Rome speaking to them of a life of continual rejoicing. We call this letter Philippians in our New Testament. And, it all began when he "caught the vision and concluded it was the will of God." And it so obviously was. When we trust and obey, we too find that the Macedonian call to missions is a most productive call.
So, this brings us to a final question. Have you caught the vision? There is nothing like being in the middle of the will of God. Move out, do something, and "whether you go to the left or the right" you too "will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it'" (Isaiah 30:21). And, then you can join Paul in "concluding that this is the will of God" for you.
Yes, the old hymn still rings true today:
We have heard the Macedonian call today
"Send the light! Send the light!"
And a golden offering at the cross we lay
Send the light! Send the light!
Let us not grow weary in the work of love
"Send the light! Send the light!"
Let us gather jewels for a crown above
Send the light! Send the light!
Send the light, the blessed Gospel light
Let it shine from shore to shore!
Send the light, the blessed Gospel light
Let it shine forevermore!