In Acts 15, the Apostle Paul is found in a moment of decision. Where should he go next to preach the Gospel? Paul had to deal with two powerful influences in making this decision: 1) What will people say? and 2) What about biblical principles? These are two influences we usually consider when we have a choice to make, but we see that Paul rejected them both and made a right decision.
In those days, Paul had taken on two new companions in ministry — Silas and Timothy. This was to be their first missionary trip together. Paul proclaimed, “We are going to preach the word in Asia.” However, the Spirit contradicted him and forbade him “to preach the word in Asia”1 What would his new associates think if he told them that they weren’t going to Asia after all?
Paul paid no attention to their possible opinions of him but he obeyed what the Spirit commanded. Later he had a dream that showed him that they were to go to Macedonia.2 If he had wanted to maintain his image, he didn’t have to mention anything about a dream that only he had seen.
Wanting to look good or the fear of what others might say are a terrible basis for making a decision. The Scriptures specifically prohibit us from doing this. Public opinion should not be the reason for anything we do. Jesus rebuked those that did this saying, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from God?”3
If Paul had given in to the natural desire to look good in the eyes of his new ministry associates, he would have totally missed the will of God. Worrying about what others say enslaves us to a master that is never satisfied.
Another option that Paul had in order to look good in his brothers’ eyes was to grab ahold of a biblical principle. Jesus did teach that the believers were to “make disciples of all the nations”, didn’t He? Wasn’t Asia part of those “all nations”? Wouldn’t going to Asia be in obedience to Biblical principles? But instead, Paul allowed the Holy Spirit to interpret the command and spiritual principle by sending him specifically to Macedonia and not to Asia as he had previously announced to his teammates.
In every decision I make, I face these two temptations — to please people by doing what they expect of me, and to make my decision based exclusively on biblical principles (and I know them well) without consulting with the Sprit (leaving Him without the option of interpreting and guiding as He wills.) To base my decisions exclusively on principles and precepts is much easier and requires less effort on my part. It is easier for others to understand and accept my decisions. Things get complicated when we talk about the importance of being led by the Spirit, especially when we have to correct something that we had previously announced.
Walking in the Spirit not only frees us from the slavery of public opinion and the legalism of principle, but it also just plain works. The person who walks in the Spirit can say, without arrogance or rebellion, “We must obey God rather than men.”5 We can also declare “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.”6
I need God to give me the strength, the faith, and the courage to ignore public opinion, politics and precepts and only to listen to the still, small voice of the Spirit.
1- Acts 16:6 2- Acts 16:9 3- John 5:44 4- Matthew 28:19 5- Acts 5:29 6- Psalms 56:11