Thoughts on the Will of God (2)
Howard A. Barnes, Bromborough, Merseyside
The will of God in our Service
We should all serve God: David did, in fact in doing so he 'served his own generation by the will of God', Acts 13. 36. There is ample scriptural evidence that each one of us has at least one God-given spiritual gift, viz. Rom. 12. 5; 1 Cor. 12. 7; Eph. 4. 7; and I Pet. 4. 10. All we need is the desire to know it and the strength to use it. In fact the prayer of the writer to the Hebrews was that 'that the God of peace . . . make you perfect (fully equip you) in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight', Heb. 13. 20, 21. Any spiritual ability to desire to do His will or to perform it comes from Him alone, 'for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure', Phil. 2. 13.
Paul knew his spiritual gift: in fact in his special service for God, he often insisted that his position as an apostle was 'by the will of God', 1 Cor. 1. 12; 2 Cor. 1. 1; Eph. 1. 1; Col. 1. 1; 2 Tim 1. 1. This was a very important matter, especially when it came to his authority, which was not derived from the other apostles nor for that matter from anybody else, e.g. local assemblies: in fact some believers didn't want him as an apostle anyway.
We often think that the will of God only has reference to our spiritual service - what is my gift and when and where should I use it? However, everything we do, whether in spiritual or in secular service, should be seen as doing the will of God. For instance when Paul instructs slaves about their seemingly menial jobs, he tells them to perform their duties, 'not with eye service, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart', Eph. 6. 6. The most important thing in any kind of service is the attitude we show. We do well to emulate the Macedonians, who when asked by Paul to contribute to the fund for the poor saints at Jerusalem, they went much further. Taking the opportunity they 'first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God', 2 Cor. 8. 5. Giving themselves over to God's will, they then gave with such liberality that Paul was embarrassed with their generosity, knowing their extreme poverty, vv. 1-4.
Knowing the will of God for oneself in day-to-day activities is never easy, but knowing it for someone else is even more difficult. For instance, Paul, thinking no doubt that it was the right thing to do, had 'greatly desired' Apollos that he should go to Corinth with the party that Paul was sending. However 'his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time', 1 Cor. 16. 12. Paul had in fact been in exactly the same position himself in Caesarea, when by a prophecy that came through Agabus, he learned that he would be arrested at Jerusalem. The local brethren begged him not to go, but 'when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done', Acts 21. 14. Spiritual men have to respect each others judgement as to personal matters in service.
Prayer and the will of God
Prayer is often more a matter of God changing our minds than of us trying to change His mind. Thus, seeking to align our will with His will should be our priority. In fact, knowing that what we pray for is, as far as we know, His will is one way of being sure that He hears our prayers, 'And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us', 1 John 5. 14. Hence the person who wants to pray effectively should get to know God's will from His word.
We have already seen that when Paul had it in mind, for the best of reasons, to go to Rome, it was a matter of'if and 'by the will of God', Rom. 1. 10, and these things were included in his prayer about the matter. However, in praying for others, he could often be far surer that there was no problem as to the subject of his prayers being according to the will of God. Take for instance his prayer for the young church at Thessalonica, 'we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure [will, choice] of his goodness', 2 Thess. 1. 11.
Prayer should always be accompanied by thanksgiving, see Phil. 4. 6 and Col. 4. 2, indeed, we are told explicitly that this should be true in all our circumstances, 'in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you', 1 Thess. 5. 18.
Knowledge and the will of God
Two principles operate here, first, 'Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself, Eph. 1. 9, and then, 'if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine', John 7. 17. In principle God has made known unto us the (revealed) mystery of His will, but when it comes to the personal knowledge of the will of God in our lives, our attitude is important, as we have seen above in our comments on Romans 12. 2. In Paul's case Ananias had told him that, 'the God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will', Acts 22. 14, but he still had to seek the will of God in everyday matters. Thereafter he was equally as keen that others should know the will of God in their lives, and prayed accordingly, 'we . . . do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding', Col. 1. 9. Following some very practical instructions, Eph. 5. 14-16, Paul tells the Ephesians not to be 'unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is', Eph. 5. 17, and if they reminded themselves of what he had just said, they would have no difficulty in knowing what the will of the Lord was. We can turn this around and say that nothing that is the will of God would be contrary to scripture - what a challenge this is to much of what we hear today that goes under the title of the will of God!
The Son of God and the will of God
When it comes to doing God's will, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the example par excellence. Even when He was entering this world at incarnation, the Lord Jesus (contrary to what some people say) knew what was happening and immediately sought to obey His Father's will, 'Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me . . . Then said I, Lo, I come ... to do thy will, O God', Heb. 10. 5-9. The result of the Lord Jesus' obedience in this aspect of the will of God led to our salvation for 'by the which will [of God] we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all', Heb. 10. 10. The body that was prepared for Him He gave as an offering once for all and obtained eternal salvation for us.
In His life the Lord Jesus said that His very sustenance was to do God's will, 'My meat is to do the will of him that sent me', John 4. 34, and this He always sought, 'I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me', John 5. 30, not pleasing himself, Rom. 15. 3. We as believers are associated with the Father's will for the Lord Jesus, 'For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day', John 6. 38-40. That is the reason why He eventually prayed the prayer in the shadow of Calvary, 'O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done', Matt. 26. 42. Doing the Father's will was of the utmost importance therefore for Him from His birth to His death.
There is abundant scriptural evidence that we are here to do the will of God, and that we can know it, are equipped for it, and should therefore pursue it in our lives.