“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 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.” Acts 16:6-8
This version of scripture records the region to which Paul and his companions have traveled into two separate parts, Phrygia and Galatia. Scholars debate the exact meaning. In the earliest reading, “the definite article for the region precedes and brackets both Phrygia and Galatia” which “strongly suggest[s] that Luke means one region rather than two. Many scholars thus adopt the unified phrase “Phrygian-Galatia” here, which also diminishes geographic difficulties.” This view supports that “the Galatia referred to here is South, rather than North, Galatia.” (Keener)
Paul and Barnabas had previously visited the region of Phrygian-Galatia in their first missionary journey. Paul, Silas, and Timothy have returned to the area to follow up with the believers and encourage them. Paul and his companions, however, find themselves delayed on their journey as they seek for guidance and direction from God. Clearly, their desire, according to these verses, was to move into areas that were unevangelized. They wanted to reach as many people as they could but God had other plans. Seeking God’s guidance and waiting on His answer will sometimes feel frustrating, embarrassing, and difficult. Control over one’s own will is hard to relinquish but dependence on God brings a peace of spirit, at least in my own experience. How they discerned the will of God and His direction via the Spirit is ambiguous in the passage. We don’t know whether guidance was given as a dream, a vision, by a person, or even as intuition. Whichever method these men received their answer from God, that direction was definitely in contrast to the pagan practices of divination around them like dice oracles and omens based on the stars. Paul and his companions understood that to wait on God’s direction assured His blessing. Those of Paul’s day would not have seen these delays as negative but would have appreciated their pursuit to follow God’s will.
Mysia was named after the Mysi, a group of people who migrated from Europe. This region consisted of herdsmen and shepherds but additionally was known for the production of good wines. Bithynia was one of the praetorial provinces arranged by Caesar. This area had a known Jewish community and, due to its geographical location, had commercial prosperity. Troas, on the other hand, was a strategic location for sea voyages. After its founding in the fourth century B.C.E., the city bore the name “Alexandria.” Archaeological data suggest that Alexandria Troas was a significant city. Especially important in the Roman network of communications, this city was also an important center of commerce, trade, and travel.
“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 16:9,10
Paul, finally, receives the divine guidance that he had been seeking and the company makes preparations with haste to depart. Who is the Macedonian man? Speculation abounds. Some scholars have proposed that the man was Luke or Alexander of Macedon. Others have suggested that the man represents the angel of the church in Macedonia. Most likely, however, is that the man is simply a Macedonian identified by accent, clothing, and request to come to Macedonia.
Questions to Consider
- How do I discern the will of God?
- Do I wait for God’s guidance and direction when seeking an answer or do I blaze forth in my own understanding?
- Do I find waiting on God’s direction to be frustrating, embarrassing, or difficult when an answer doesn’t come quickly? Why or why not?
- How do I handle others who see my seeking of God’s direction as silly or inconvenient?
- How do I think Paul and his companions discerned their answer?
- Who do I think was the man of Macedonia?
- Am I strategic in bringing the gospel message to unevangelized areas?