Saturday, September 23, 2023

When God Closes a Door (Acts 18:1)

More than anything -- even my morning cup of coffee -- I love reading my Bible at the break of dawn. I never fail to see something in the text I've never seen before. Never! Here's what I saw this morning. 

While reading Acts 18 (the account of Paul's trip to Corinth), I was struck by Luke's use of an unusual verb. 

It's chōrizō. Most English translations say that Paul "left" Athens and then went on to the city of Corinth. However, Greek has a perfectly good word for "leave." Luke does not use it here. Instead, he uses a term that often has the meaning "separate." Not only that, the verb Luke employs here is in the passive -- not the active -- voice. What could this mean?

Word study time! I looked up the occurrences of chōrizō in the New Testament and found a very interesting parallel in the book of Philemon. 

In verse 15, Paul refers to the time when the slave Onesimus had left his master Philemon's home and had run away. But notice: Paul doesn't say that he "ran away from" or "left" Philemon. No, he says that Onesimus "was separated from you" (NIV) or "was parted from you" (ESV). (Please note the passive voice.) I think the idea is that the flight of Onesimus from his master was, however unconsciously, overruled by the hand of God. I might render the verse as, "For perhaps because of this he was separated from you (providentially) for a time so that you might have him back forever." I like how MacLaren puts it:

He "was parted" -- not that he was not responsible for his flight, but that, through his act, which in the eyes of all concerned was wrong, Paul discerns as dimly visible a great Divine purpose.

Isn't that great? In short, Paul is stressing the fact that the escape of Onesimus happened providentially. Oh how I wish I could see the events in my life through the same eyes!

Anyways, back to Acts 18:1. In my opinion, Paul didn't just "leave" Athens. Apparently events had forced Paul to alter his intended plan. Thus he was, in a sense, compelled to leave the seat of Greek culture for the seat of Greek commerce. Paul didn't know it at the time, though God did, that much greater fruit was awaiting him in Corinth than in Athens. The idea is that Paul was providentially separated from Athens. Interestingly to me, the NIV and ESV get this right in Philemon 15 but seem to to miss the very same point in Acts 18:1. 

Sorry to bore you with all these details about Greek verbs and Greek voices and translation issues. But to be honest, I have a love affair with the Scriptures. As early as the age of 16 in Hawaii, I was drawn to the truths of God's word and captivated by its wisdom. My current dedication to the Scriptures can be traced in large part to my teachers in seminary who modelled for me careful attention to detail. And talk about the personal enrichment that comes from such study! Not long ago God seemed to close a door on a 10-year ministry I had to a nation that is now closed to me after over a dozen trips there. At first it was very difficult for me to "leave" this ministry that I believe God had called me to. But then I gradually realized that I had not "left" anything at all. God had been providentially separating me from that work for reasons known only to him. I venture to insist that we missionaries of the gospel (yes, I am a missionary, and so are you) have only one proper activity, and it is to be sensitive to the ministration of the Holy Spirit in our midst. We must not admit for one moment that our plans are indispensable to the work of Christ. Since the Day of Pentecost, followers of Jesus no longer insist on their own way; they obey a spiritual impulse. This is due to the fact that they did not begin their work under the direction of their own intellect but under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This explains why Luke, in the book of Acts, is always keen to show how the apostles went forth as men moved by the Spirit to communicate the Spirit to others. This guidance of the Holy Spirit is the key to all apostolic or missionary work. It alone explains how Paul could make his plans so flexibly, as I too must make my plans flexibly. At Pentecost, the apostles had received more than intellectual illumination. They had received the Spirit of Christ. 

Obviously, the appropriate attitude is to embrace this fact: We are not the masters of our own fate. We depend on the living Christ for guidance in all we do. Never complain about a closed door. You weren't responsible for it opening in the first place. Remember: God has prepared ahead of time the good works he has for you. Don't miss them!