This is part two of a series of blogs by John Alley, on the topic of the humanity of apostles. These blogs are taken from chapter 10 of the Apostolic Revelation. Part one of this blog series is available here.
Do Apostles Ever Speak Their Own Thoughts, Rather Than Purely the Mind of the Lord?
Paul gives advice in areas where angels might fear to tread — that of whether to marry or not. These are examples of those passages where Paul speaks his own mind, and yet clearly specifies that he is not speaking for God, but out of his own trustworthy heart. “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife” (1 Corinthians 7:25-28).
“In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is - and I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:40). Note in these two passages the use of “I think” and “in my judgment”.
Do Apostles Pursue Dead Ends?
Do they ever set out on a course of action they think is according to their call, pursuing what they believe is the right vision, only to find it isn’t? Do they mistakenly pursue a course, but need to be redirected?
The answer is yes to both of these questions, and the biblical illustrations show the simple humanity of even the greatest apostles.
“When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:7-10).
We see that the apostles pursued their goals pretty much as we do today — prayerfully and sincerely, but with a little trial and error, and making conclusions based on the presenting evidence and the inner witness of the Spirit, as much as on more obvious direct revelation. God is pleased to guide us step-by-step, and often uses very ordinary looking processes to do so.
Quite often Paul would have strong desires to pursue a course of action which he felt was right, but which the Lord never enabled. “But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you - certainly I, Paul, did, again and again - but Satan stopped us” (1 Thessalonians 2:17-19).
I often wonder in what sense it could be that Satan could stop the great apostle from doing what he believed was the will of God. In the end it could only be that the Lord had other plans for Paul, that Paul had many goals as an apostle that he could never follow-through on, whilst at the same time he fulfilled God’s purposes in many other ways without knowing it. Surely this reveals how human is the apostle, and yet how sovereign is God working through the apostle.
Can Other People Take an Apostle ‘Off Course’?
Is it possible for others to adversely affect an apostle’s time and ministry, or cause events to turn out contrary to the apostle’s knowledge of the will of God? Yes again!
At least one of the shipwrecks Paul endured, it seems, was not intended by the will of God. “Paul warned them, ‘Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship” (Acts 27:9-12).
Nevertheless, a sovereign God has His hand upon His apostles, as He does with all who walk in the covenant of Christ. Despite many small things that might seem to work contrary to God’s purpose, even at odds with His revealed will, grace continually intervenes to bring about God’s ultimate purpose. This is particularly true with the servant of God who continually submits his life and circumstances to God in prayer. The record of God’s dealing with His called, chosen and faithful servants (Revelation 17:14) shows that He always knows the way ahead, no matter what the circumstances.
The shipwreck story continues, “After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island” “ (Acts 27:21-26).
God’s hand held the apostle safely, to bring him to his ultimate purpose (“You must stand trial before Caesar”). The grace of God was such, however, that extended to Paul was an additional gift — the deliverance of all those with him (“God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you”). It is usual that, when God’s grace and power is on an anointed servant, such as an apostle, the grace and power of that anointing carries the favour of God, causing blessing and miraculous outcomes for people and circumstances nearby. Notice that the text said that “God has graciously given you”. Both the grace and the gift was because of the apostle, not because of the lives or the circumstances of any other person on the ship. That is an example of the favour of God that comes with the anointing.