In the last few posts, I’ve been reflecting on what I’m learning from the book of Acts about how God guides those engaged in ministry. My interest in this subject is theological but not theoretical; I need God’s guidance as I serve Christ and want to have a biblical expectation on how He provides direction.
So far I’ve written about two ways God is seen to guide His people in the book of Acts: providential provision and direct intervention. Today I want to consider a third way–spiritual wisdom.
Spiritual wisdom was one of the basic requirements for those selected as leaders in the early church. When the Jerusalem church needed people to oversee the ministry to widows, the apostles said, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:7). One of the seven men selected—Stephen—was an outstanding preacher; even those who opposed him “could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke”(6:10).
The combination of being full of the Spirit and full of wisdom enabled leaders like Stephen to move through life with spiritual wisdom. When faced with a variety of ministry decisions (Where should we go next? Who should we add to our team? How should we respond to antagonistic city officials?), they sought to make choices that were spiritually wise.
I’d put the vast majority of decisions made by individuals in the book of Acts into the “spiritual wisdom” category. For example, in Acts 16 we read that Paul and Silas went to the cities of Derbe and Lystra. There is no mention in the passage that they were “told” by the Spirit to go to these towns. Evidently, they used their best wisdom to set their itinerary. After arriving in Lystra, Paul met Timothy and “wanted to take him along on the journey” (16:3). Again, there is no textual indication that the Spirit told him to do so.
There are numerous other examples of this kind of decision-making in chapter 16. Paul and his team chose to make Philippi a stop on their travels through Macedonia (16:12). On the Sabbath, they walked to a river on the outskirts of town because they “expected to find a place of prayer” (16:13). When Lydia invited the team to stay at her home, they agreed to do so (“she persuaded us”—16:15). After being released from the Philippian jail, they opted to stay put until city officials came with an apology (16:37). Once out of jail, they decided to revisit the believers at Lydia’s house before leaving town (16:40).
In all these decisions (and scores of others in the book of Acts), Christian ministers made decisions without any mention of being guided by providential provisions or direct intervention.
So are we to understand these decisions as made without God’s help or guidance? Were all these decisions purely human choices, no different than those made by people with no faith in Christ? I don’t think so. In fact, I would argue these decisions were routinely made with what we are calling spiritual wisdom. The Holy Spirit worked with and through the wisdom believers possessed to direct them, even when there is no mention of the Spirit’s overt guidance.
At this point you may be thinking, “Well, I certainly need more of this spiritual wisdom. How do I get it?”
The short answer is that spiritual wisdom comes from God. This is why Paul regularly asked God to give it to the Christians he loved. Notice the repeated emphasis on wisdom, insight and understanding in Paul’s prayers.
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17)
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9).
“We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).
You still may be wondering how God actually imparts spiritual wisdom to believers. My answer is that the main way is through His Word. Spiritual wisdom comes through God’s revelation not simply through human calculation. And knowing God’s revelation requires knowing His Word. By close and constant attention to Scripture we learn to know God’s character and ways. Our minds are gradually transformed so we can better discern His will (Romans 12:1-2). God’s truth becomes foundational for our outlook on life and we learn to see reality from His point of view. This allows us to grow spiritually wise and enables us to make better decisions.
I’d encourage you to think about the implications of all this for your life and ministry. In the next (and final) post in this series, I’ll present some ministry implications of these theological observations.