A Commentary by John Stott
Acts. 16:6-17:15. Mission in Macedonia (continued).
One night in Troas Paul had a dream or vision in which he saw *a man of Macedonia standing and begging him* in some posture of appeal, perhaps beckoning, and heard him saying, ‘*Come over to Macedonia [across the Aegean Sea} and help us*’(9). William Barclay made the improbable suggestion that the man in the dream was Alexander the Great, partly because ‘the district was permeated with memories of Alexander’ and partly because Alexander’s aim had been to ‘marry the east to the west’ and so make one world, while Paul’s vision was to make ‘one world for Christ’. Sir William Ramsay argued that the Macedonian was Luke, whom Paul had just met in Troas, possibly consulting him as a doctor. It is likely that Luke had some personal connection with Philippi, and certain that he was in Troas at the time, since in the next verse (10) he begins the first of the ‘we-sections’ by which, quietly but deliberately, he draws attention to his presence at the time. The identification of the Macedonian with Luke is entirely conjectural, however, and Ramsay admitted that some would regard it as ‘moonstruck fancy’
What we do know is that the following morning Paul told his companions the vision, that together they discussed its meaning and implications, and that they concluded that God had called them to preach the gospel to the Macedonians. So they *got ready at once to leave for Macedonia*.(10). A.T.Pierson in his *The Acts of the Holy Spirit* drew attention to what he called ‘the double guidance of the apostle and his companions’, namely, ‘on the one hand *prohibition and restraint*, on the other *permission and constraint*. They are forbidden in one direction , invited in another; one way the Spirit says “go not”; the other he calls “come”.’ Pierson went on to give some later examples from the history of missions of this same ‘double guidance’: Livingstone tried to go to China, but God sent him to Africa instead. Before him, Carey planned to go to Polynesia in the South Seas, but God guided him to India. Judson went to India first, but was driven on to Burma. We too in our day, Pierson concludes, ‘need to trust him for guidance and rejoice equally in his restraints and constraints’.
Some important principles of divine guidance are, in fact, exemplified in the experience of Paul and his companions. God led them by a combination of factors, over a period of time, ending when they pondered their meaning together. First came the double prohibition, somehow barring their way into both Asia and Bithynia, and leading them to Troas, whose harbour faced west to Macedonia. This was followed by the night vision calling to Paul for help. These circumstances were the basis for their discussion, as they asked themselves and each other what these things indicated. They then put two and two together, the negative (the block to Asia and Bithynia) and the positive (the appeal to Macedonia), and concluded that through these various experiences God was calling them to go over to Macedonia to ‘help’, that is, to preach the gospel there. From this we may learn that usually God’s guidance is not negative only but also positive (some doors close, others open); not circumstantial only, but also rational (thinking about our situation); not personal only, but also corporate (a sharing of the data with others, so that we can mull over them together and reach a common mind). Indeed the verb *symbibazo* in verse 10, translated ‘assuredly gathering’ (AV), ‘concluding’ (RSV, NIV, NEB) and ‘convinced’ (JBP, JB), means literally to ‘bring together’, to ‘put together in one’s mind’ (GT), and so to infer something from a variety of data.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts: Becoming a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.