Following are the some of the questions I am asked the most about Decision Making and the Will of God. You may click on the questions to read my answers.
Question: In the first edition of Decision Making, you did not discuss Acts 22:14-15 in which Ananias told Paul that he would know God’s will for him. Doesn’t that indicate that God had an individual will for Paul? And if God intended for Paul to know His will, shouldn’t we expect the same for all believers?
Answer: OK, this was an infrequently asked question. But this passage has been brought up by enough readers to warrant a reply, and it does refer directly to “knowing God’s will.”
Here is what the passage says:
And he [Ananias] said [to me, Paul], ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.’ This passage is one of three that describes Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19; 22:1-21; 26:9-23). What is the content of “His will” in these verses? A believing response to the gospel is the first step of obedience to the moral will of God for unbelievers like Paul. The immediate result of this Damascus road revelation was Paul’s salvation and baptism (Acts 22:16).
It is probable that “His will” also encompasses God’s revelation of Paul’s apostleship and ministry to the Gentiles declared at the same time. In later writings, Paul refers back to his apostolic appointment as being “according to the commandment of God” (1 Timothy 1:1) and “by the will of God” (2 Timothy 1:1). The statements in Acts 9:15 and 22:15 that Paul is “a chosen instrument of Mine [Christ’s]” and “a witness for Him” likely refers to Paul’s apostolic commissioning, since the apostles were the chosen and inspired eye-witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:22).
“God’s will” for Paul, then, consisted of faith in the gospel followed by direct revelation of his appointment as an apostle to the Gentiles. While the former is part of God’s moral will for all men (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9), the latter is unique to Paul. These two facets are sufficient to explain “His will” in this text without reading the theology of an individual will into the passage.
So my answer to the question is no. The fact that God’s moral will for Paul included details that were revealed to the apostle by divine revelation does not imply that God has an individual will for all believers revealed to their hearts by impressions of the Holy Spirit.
Question: In this chapter you state that the moral will of God is fully revealed in the Bible. But wouldn’t special revelation expand the content of God’s moral will beyond what is contained in the Bible?
Answer: Yes, it would. And that did happen during the biblical era. For example, when the Spirit directed the church at Antioch to send out Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:1-2), that instruction represented an addition to the Great Commission. And it became God’s moral will for them-they were obliged to obey. Later, the “Macedonian Vision” (Acts 16:10) did the same thing for Paul. His travel options were reduced by special guidance that expanded God’s moral will for him. So any divine guidance to an individual by means of supernatural revelation is God’s moral will for that person.
Is special revelation being given today? Some Bible scholars rule out that possibility. They maintain that with the closing of the canon of Scripture, God’s revelation has ceased until the second coming of Christ. While I understand the arguments for that position, I don’t see a conclusive case in the Bible itself. It seems preferable to leave open the possibility of divine revelation and subject specific claims to biblical tests-including supernatural means of communication and harmony with existing Scripture. Accordingly, in the first edition of this book, I included another category of God’s will-special guidance: “In unique cases God may supernaturally guide believers by divine voice, angel, dream, or miracle according to special revelation.”
On the other hand, while special guidance is possible, it is not promised nor do most believers have reason to expect it. When the Bible instructs us with principles for decision making (which is what this book is about), it directs us along other lines as explained in this chapter and the ones that follow. The theoretical possibility of special guidance concerns us less than the concrete, practical guidance already supplied. So when Peter writes that “[God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3, NIV, italics added),” I take that to include the moral will of God fully revealed in the Bible.
A more extended discussion of special revelation is presented in chapter 15, “Special Guidance and Decision Making.”
Question: Are you saying that God doesn’t care about decisions that aren’t specified in the Bible? For instance, does He really not care whom I might choose as a marriage partner?
Answer: I avoid saying “God doesn’t care” about a non-commanded decision because that terminology implies indifference (though 1 Corinthians 7:19 and 8:8 come very close to that wording). I affirm with Scripture that God cares about every aspect of the life of His child (Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Peter 5:7). But that concern doesn’t require Him to dictate our decisions. The positive way to express it is to say that God is equally pleased with two options that equally conform to His moral will.
Furthermore, as we shall see, there are at least two ways in which He is actively involved in our decision making-even in the area of freedom. First, He promises to give us wisdom to recognize if one option is more profitable than another (see the next chapter). Second, He sovereignly directs all things (including our freely chosen decisions) so that they work together for good. God cares that we believe Him when He says that we are free, and He cares that we enjoy and use that freedom to His glory. Remember the freedom given to Adam and Eve? It was in God’s gracious and perfect guidance that He said, “of every tree of the garden you may freely eat”-not because He did not care.
Question: Are you saying that two options are really equal or that they only seem equal? Wouldn’t God know how each would turn out and know that one was really better?
Answer: In the ultimate sense, no two options are perfectly equal. If you’re shopping for a car and you narrow the choice to two vehicles, one will turn out to be the better value. And, yes, God knows which one that is. But He has not promised to divulge that information and you are not required to know it in order to make an acceptable decision. Furthermore, the choice you make cannot obstruct the outworking of God’s sovereign purposes for your life with respect to that car. Indeed, as we shall see, God is sovereignly at work in your decision to accomplish His purposes. At a practical level, then, the ultimate superiority of one of two options is not our concern. If two options are equally moral and wise on the basis of the wisdom God has given us, then He is equally pleased with either choice. He, however, is sovereign and will work out the choice that best fits His sovereign plan for us and for the universe.
Question: How can you speak of the believer’s freedom when God is sovereign over every detail of life including our decision making?
Answer: I believe in the sovereign will of God. But God’s sovereignty versus human responsibility will have to wait until chapters 12 and 13. In this chapter, we have explored passages that clearly teach freedom within revealed limits. Freedom is the Bible’s word-“From any tree of the garden you may eat freely” (Gen. 2:16). I believe that when God said it, He meant it. What better term than freedom could we use?
Question: In the first edition of Decision Making, you spoke of decisions within the area of freedom as “nonmoral” decisions. You also described the believer’s freedom as “moral” freedom. In this edition you have not used this terminology. Why?
Answer: I found that I was inadvertently confusing some people with my vocabulary. Most readers recognized what I meant when I spoke of “nonmoral decisions.” If the Bible doesn’t address a specific decision, such as which car to buy, then the purchase of one vehicle or another is, in and of itself, a nonmoral decision. God’s command (moral will) cannot be violated. In that sense, “nonmoral decision” is a useful designation.
On the other hand, as I explain in chapter 9, there is a sense in which no decision is “nonmoral.” For “the moral will of God touches every aspect and moment of life.” So while a specific decision may not be directly addressed by Scripture such that there is genuine freedom of choice, our goals, attitudes, actions, and perspective that bear upon this choice are governed by the moral will of God. So when one sets out to buy a car, she will not find any biblical injunction regulating that decision. But all of the passages that address financial stewardship and Christian business ethics (among others) will apply. The moral command to be wise is also applicable-and so important that the next chapter is devoted to it.
So for the sake of consistency, and to reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding, I chose not to use “nonmoral decisions” and “moral freedom” in this edition. Instead, I describe decisions in the area of freedom as “biblically non-commanded.”
Question: Isn’t your desire for freedom just an irresponsible world view that does not want to be restricted?
Answer: I don’t think so. It is certainly possible, even probable, that freedom is misunderstood or misused for selfish ends. The problem with grace is that it is susceptible to abuse. But it is important to remember that not only is this biblical freedom real, it is freedom within the moral will of God. His commands prohibit pride or self will. His commands require love for people and God. They require wisdom to promote the kingdom of God. Freedom is taught in the Scriptures, but always in the context of God showing us how to use that freedom for His glory-not our own selfish ends.
This being the case, the Scriptures that specifically state this freedom prompt us to turn the question around. “If God gives freedom, isn’t it a lack of faith not to believe it and enjoy that freedom?” There will be anarchists and Pharisees who will distort God’s freedom on both sides; but God-given freedom within God’s commands is the perfect balance.
Question: In a chapter that explains the believer’s freedom in non-commanded decisions, I couldn’t help but notice that you occasionally inserted the words “and responsibility” (usually in parentheses) when describing this freedom. The point would be that if we are free to choose in such instances, we’re also responsible to choose. But if we’re not trying to find the individual will of God, on what basis are we to make our choices? How is our responsibility exercised and evaluated? (Chapter 9)
Answer: This question is posed by a very perceptive reader! And I can’t think of a better segue to the next chapter.
Question: This all sounds like a matter of semantics to me. Isn’t wisdom just another way of talking about God’s individual will? (Chapter 11)
Answer: The traditional view does not equate the two. In fact, proponents sometimes strive to show that the individual will of God may appear foolish by the standard of wisdom. Further, wisdom does not always narrow the options down to one choice. Wisdom recognizes equal options, but the traditional view says there is always only one correct decision. The two are similar when wisdom does identify one best choice, but even in this case, the one choice was found by wisdom-not by claiming that God revealed it.
Question: If I conclude that one choice is wiser than another, am I free to choose either option? (Chapter 11)
Answer: No. The moral will of God includes the command to be wise and mature. To knowingly choose a less wise option is a sin. Strictly speaking, the wisdom principle is an example of the commands of God. I separated them into two principles for clarity. “Where God commands, we must obey” includes the command to be wise. But we emphasized wisdom further by the third principle: Where there is no command God gives wisdom
Question: A person could prolong the quest for wisdom indefinitely. How can you ever have enough wisdom? (Chapter 11)
Answer: The believer is not required to make an omniscient decision, just a wise one. She must be satisfied that she knows of no wiser option when she decides. Wisdom must also be employed in how much time is devoted to a given decision. It is foolish to devote a lot of time to trivial matters. On decisions that are momentous or that affect many people, significant time and prayer should be invested in the search for wisdom.
Question: What if I make a decision that I believe to be wise, but then feel no peace afterwards? (Chapter 11)
Answer: How you respond to that circumstance will depend on the reason for the lack of peace. If you made the decision hastily, you may need to rethink or modify it. On the other hand, the lack of peace may be an indication that you don’t really believe that the way of wisdom is biblically correct. Or you may have become intellectually convinced that the way of wisdom is valid, but you haven’t had time to retrain your conscience. In either of these events, making a decision based on wisdom (rather than the “leading of the Lord into His individual will”) would not be “from faith” (Romans 14:23), and that would produce inner conflict. Getting used to a new paradigm for decision making can take some time. If a review of one’s theology and the factors involved in the decision expose no violation of God’s moral will or of wisdom, it would seem appropriate to follow through on the decision. Christians are to take their feelings into account; but in the end, we are not to be governed by them.
Question: What if two choices seem equally wise? (Chapter 11)
Answer: This will happen a thousand times a day in the small decisions of life. If two options are equally wise, then the believer can choose either with confidence that God is pleased. He will take care of the unknown details through His sovereign working of all things together for good.
Question: Doesn’t the traditional view also commend wisdom just like the wisdom view? What’s the difference? (Chapter 11)
Answer: The traditional view is not against wisdom and believes that it may be helpful in finding God’s individual will. The wisdom view believes that in the area of freedom, wisdom is determinative-we must be wise. We must be able to defend decisions by wisdom when no moral command determines the decision. The traditional view will elevate inward impressions over wisdom. The logic is simple. If the impression comes from the Spirit, it must have precedence over any wisdom discerned by man. Proponents will even emphasize how some inward directives from God contradict human wisdom. (If inward impressions equaled revelation, that logic would hold. But they don’t; so it doesn’t.) The wisdom view argues that impressions do not have God’s authority, but the command to be wise does.
Question: You argued against the concept of a dot, but isn’t there a sovereign dot? Wouldn’t you agree that God’s sovereign will applies to individuals as well as every individual thing that happens? How can you say there is no individual will of God? (Chapter 12)
Answer: I addressed this issue in endnote 2 of chapter 3, “Does God Have Three Wills?” but it naturally surfaces here as well. And I acknowledge that the point is well taken. God’s sovereign will is, in fact, individual. I affirmed that in this chapter by explaining that the sovereign will is detailed or exhaustive. In the end, for each decision made by a human being, there is one divinely appointed alternative-sovereignly chosen.
So when I say there is no “individual will of God,” I mean there is no individual will in the sense intended by the traditional view. You see, I have also established that the sovereign will of God is hidden or secret. It cannot be discovered in advance. But that is just what the traditional view claims we can and must do. So, yes, there is an individual will encompassed by the sovereign will. But since that is not what the traditional view means by that terminology, I have refrained from saying so (until now) in order to avoid confusion. Remember, this book was written to provide “A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View.”
Question: If God has a sovereign will that is perfect, doesn’t it follow that God has a perfect plan for each believer? Chapter 12
Answer: Yes. But again, this is true only in the sovereign sense. This perfect plan cannot be discovered in advance and it cannot be missed. And it includes the bad things that happen to us and the bad things that we do, all of which God “works together for good.” Thus, believers can be assured of God working sovereignly for their good, but they do not have to discern this plan.
From a different perspective, and in a more general sense, God’s moral will can also be viewed as a perfect plan.
Question: God’s sovereign will seems so cold and impersonal to me. (Chapter 12)
Answer: The implied question seems to be, “If the decisions of my life are determined by some eternal plan I cannot know in advance, in what sense is God personally involved in guiding my life?”
I devote a whole chapter to this question (chapter 18, “Practicing the Presence”). One of the reasons the traditional view appeals to many is that they do not recognize God’s personal hand in His sovereign will.
For now, the short answer. Some people mistakenly equate God’s sovereign will with something akin to fate. That would be impersonal. But if you factor in a loving God dynamically “working all things together for good,” then it is very personal. That is what the Bible teaches. The traditional view may feel better to some because they imagine God whispering directions for their decisions. But it is better (and more reliable) to learn to recognize His involvement in our lives in the ways He has told us He is guiding us-through his moral and sovereign wills.
Question: 1 Corinthians 7:17 and 20 speak of God’s “calling” and “assigning.” How does this fit with the thesis of your book? (Chapter 12)
Answer: First Corinthians 7:17-24 is a “sovereignty paragraph.” The call in this passage refers to the grace that brought a person to salvation (7:22). The assignment was that person’s life situation or condition (7:20) at the time of conversion. For instance, some were slaves; some were free. That circumstance had been sovereignly determined, and the fact that they had responded to God’s call to saving faith did not require them to try to change their situation. On the other hand, their state at salvation was not a directive from God. So if the slave had an opportunity for freedom (sovereignly provided!), he or she was free to take it (7:21). Until then, each person should serve God right where he had been placed in God’s sovereign will. (First Corinthians 7 is discussed at length in chapter 19, “Singleness, Marriage, and Wisdom.”)
Question: Our pastor recently presented his ministry plans. He has resigned to accept a position in another church. His explanation to the congregation sounded spiritual, but vague: “God is leading me to another ministry.” I wonder what his real reasons were. (Chapter 14)
Answer: The brief, cryptic explanation has some advantages-to the minister. The biggest one is the implication that this was not a personal choice. “God is responsible, so direct any further questions to Him, not me.”
But if you hide under the refreshment table at a pastors’ conference, you will hear no such euphemisms. This same pastor will share with fellow-shepherds the specific reasons not spelled out in the resignation letter. Most of what the eavesdropper will hear is not bitter complaint, but ministry wisdom-wisdom that is shared freely with other shepherds, but not the sheep.
Paul did not tell everything he knew, but he did reveal the spiritual reasons for his priorities. And so the Romans were given the privilege of watching mature decision making in action. With wisdom and care, spiritual leaders could do the same today.
Question: In your principles of decision making according to the way of wisdom, you describe how the believer should respond to God’s moral guidance, wisdom guidance, and sovereign guidance. Why is there no similar principle for God’s special guidance? (Chapter 15)
Answer: There is debate among evangelical leaders whether God gives supernatural guidance today in the same ways that He occasionally did during the biblical era. I see nothing in Scripture that would prevent Him from doing so. And so, as I indicated earlier, it is inappropriate for the believer to be closed off to such guidance out of hand. But even in the biblical record, special guidance is rare. Since principles of decision making attempt to summarize the believer’s normative experience, I see no guidelines emerging from the text that ought to be applied in the routine business of decision making.
Having said that, any comprehensive theology of guidance must respond to the fact that God has provided special direction to specific people from time to time. And readers’ questions call for a more thorough analysis of the Bible’s teaching on this subject.
Question: God gave special guidance through prophets in both the Old and New Testaments. So when men and women claim to issue prophetic pronouncements today, what are we to make of that? (Chapter 15)
Answer: One novel suggestion involves a redefinition of the word prophet. This view maintains that in the New Testament, only an apostle received the same level of supernatural revelation as an Old Testament prophet. God’s communication to and through other prophets was (and is) less precise and hence fallible. So a modern-day “prophet” cannot declare, “Thus saith the Lord.” Instead, he or she should say, “I sense that God may be revealing something to me. Listen and see if you perceive that this is God’s revelation to you.” (Interestingly, Agabus is cited as an example of a “fallible” prophet whose predictions fell short of being perfectly accurate.)
But the argument for this position is unconvincing. One purpose of predictive prophecy is to inform people about something that is going to happen before it happens. But it is hard to see how this is accomplished by a fallible prophecy. How could you know ahead of time if such a message “sensed” by a prophet is from God? You can’t. If it comes true, it will be said that it was from God. If it proves false, it will be chalked up to human error. I call that “nonauthoritative prophecy.” But who isn’t a prophet in that watered down sense? Everyone has received an impression that might be true or might be false, but we don’t know ahead of time. But it is unacceptable to say your impression was from God when you are proved right and excusable as human error when you are wrong. A prophecy that isn’t certain before it happens is singularly unhelpful. It is, by definition, not a prophecy at all.
On the other hand, many who make prophetic pronouncements maintain that their message has the status of revelation from God. A Christian man in Portland, Oregon, said God had given him a divine message. He predicted a terrible earthquake in Portland on a particular date. He claimed God had directed believers to leave the city to spare their lives and then return to help the injured. Those who knew this believer said he was godly and sincere. On the eve of the predicted catastrophe, this resident of Portland went to bed and slept like a baby. The next morning Portland still had too much rain for my tastes, but everything else was intact.
Why did I not take this sincere man’s prediction seriously? Neither he nor his “prophecy” were heretical. But the pronouncement lacked the requisite confirming sign. His prediction did not contradict the Bible, but he never gave evidence of supernatural connections. Moses did not say, “I saw a burning bush and that should be good enough for you.” God gave him signs so that there was no question (Exodus 4:1-9).
Let me boldly state the obvious: If you are not sure whether you heard directly from God, you didn’t. If you had, it would not only be crystal clear to you, but God would also supernaturally supply you with ways to confirm that message to others. Once a prophet has been confirmed they need not do a miracle each time, but he will never be considered a prophet until they give miraculous confirmation. Moses had three signs, but did not give a sign every time he came down from the mountain. Both tests are necessary. If the miraculous sign is absent, you will always be uncertain. The test of harmony with Scripture is necessary, but it is not enough. The Scriptural test will keep you from heresy, but it will not keep you from stupidity.
A man I know from the Signs and Wonders movement pressed me on this. He argued that if you felt an impression might be from God, you had better obey it so that you would not risk missing God’s word to you. Do you see the problem? You don’t know for sure if impression “A” is from God, but it might be. You can’t ignore it because if it is from God, you will be guilty of not acting on God’s word to you. The answer to this dilemma is simple. God makes sure this situation cannot occur. God’s supernatural voice is not uncertain. It is not a guessing game. If you think some impressions are God’s revelation and some are not, you will be left guessing forever. The supernatural element of true revelation plus the test of true doctrine will always make it miraculously clear.
Question: So how do you respond in a private conversation when a friend says, “God told me to do thus and such,” or “I felt led by the Spirit to do thus and such”? (Chapter 15)
Answer: Such statements can put me in an awkward situation. It’s not my job to be continually “correcting” everyone else’s theology. So if the thing my friend feels led to do appears harmless or is really wisdom in disguise, I usually don’t say anything about their leading. If, on the other hand, the perceived guidance appears foolish, I might raise questions to provoke reconsideration of the plan and a better understanding of how God guides.
I do think we need to use our terminology carefully. The traditional view has inadvertently invented a new category of revelation and authority. Special guidance, if it occurs, is supernatural revelation and has authority over the believer. The moral will of God is likewise supernatural revelation and we must obey it. The moral will of God includes the command to be wise. But inner impressions are not supernatural revelation, nor are they authoritative. They may be insightful and valuable, but they do not rise to the level of divine authority.
So it is inappropriate to apply the vocabulary of revelation (whether scriptural guidance or special guidance) to inner impressions. The use of phrases such as “from the Holy Spirit,” “God told me,” “God showed/revealed to me,” “impression from the Spirit,” and “I must obey God” is (unintentionally) misleading. This is not just a matter of imprecision. It causes confusion in the minds of believers and creates the expectation that all Christians should be receiving these messages.
So when someone says, “God told me in my heart,” if it seems appropriate, I will ask him precisely what he means. “Did you receive supernatural revelation? Do you mean that you are applying God’s moral will to your situation?” If he means neither of these, he is assuming a third category that is self-contradictory. “Authoritative non-revelation” is an oxymoron.
Impressions can be very useful-a point I develop at length in the following chapter (“Making a Good Thing Better”). They often reflect godly and wise ideas and motivations. But their valuable character can be tapped only when they are recognized as not being revelation and not having authority. Once this is understood, we are free to test impressions by legitimate authority and ask, “Is the impression moral and is it wise?” These questions show there is an authority over impressions that can help us discern which ones are most valuable for best serving God.
Question: Is it ever appropriate to “cast lots” to make a decision? (Chapter 15)
Answer: It may surprise some readers that my answer to this question is a qualified yes. Again, we need to look at the biblical material. But first a brief definition. The Bible speaks of casting lots when a impartial random means is used to decide something. Our culture would flip a coin, toss dice or draw straws. They would indicate a yes or no answer.
The biblical examples of casting lots fall into two categories. The first is the use of lots to make an impartial choice when more than one candidate was qualified. Lots were cast to select those who would supply wood (Nehemiah 10:34), to identify those who would populate Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:1), to divide up the land (Joshua 14:2), and to determine who would offer the incense when there were more than enough priests (Luke 1:9). Even when the lot method was used for fairness, God was sovereignly in control of the outcome (Proverbs 16:33). But this was never taken to mean that God was indicating that only one choice was right. Lots were used because multiple options were equally valid (Proverbs 18:18) and an impartial choice needed to be made.
The second category is the use of lots to obtain supernatural guidance. The lot tossed by the pagan sailors fell upon Jonah identifying him as the guilty one (Jonah 1:7). The lot exposed Achan as the one who violated the ban on Jericho, and the stolen booty was found in his tent (Josh. 7:14-26). The lot fell on Jonathan, and through him Saul’s foolish oath was cancelled (1 Samuel 14:41-42). The lot selected Saul to be king (1 Samuel 10:20-21)-a choice confirmed by God’s direct word to find him hiding in the baggage (10:22-24).
In the New Testament, the apostles cast lots to ascertain the Lord’s choice between two candidates deemed qualified to replace Judas the defector (Acts 1:24-26). For a variety of reasons, I believe that God approved this action and that Matthias served as a legitimate apostle alongside the other eleven. But I also agree with those scholars who claim this was the last valid use of lots to obtain special guidance from God.
The inappropriateness of this practice is well illustrated by author George Eliot’s hapless weaver, Silas Marner. When his church drew lots to determine the thief of the congregation’s funds, his guilt was wrongly substantiated, with disastrous consequences: he was excommunicated from the group and he renounced his faith.
One summer while teaching at Singapore Bible College, I found myself kneeling in a busy street with a young boy and his missionary father. We were about to enter the pagan temple of Kuan Yin, and the father wanted to emphasize that we were about to enter enemy territory. This so-called goddess claims to give divine answers to worshipers’ questions. Inside we saw people bow down and secretly ask Kuan Yin a question. After prayer they took a canister filled with foot-long thin sticks. They rocked the canister and lowered its opening until one stick worked its way out. Then a block of wood with a yes and no side was flipped. If it landed on yes they had the right stick. No miracle, no voice, nothing but a stick with a number on it. The stick was taken to a booth and exchanged for a numbered message, and supposedly Kuan Yin had answered their question. The indecisive inquirer now knew exactly what to do!
Biblical lots were never like this. They had miraculous confirmation. Without such corroboration one is deciding by chance. There is no reason to try to read divine messages into providential happenings.
To return to the question, then, the first category of using lots remains valid. If you are looking for an impartial way to choose between two equal options or to avoid dispute, flipping a coin still seems appropriate wisdom (Proverbs 18:18). But there is no evidence that we can use lots today to discern supernatural guidance. There are no examples or instruction advocating this practice after Pentecost, nor are lots confirmed by supernatural evidence as they were in the Old Testament episodes.
I knew a couple who could not agree on whether to have another child. They were both firm in their differing views of what God wanted. They decided to cast a lot (actually flip a coin) and take the result as God’s answer for what He wanted them to do. “Heads, we add to the quiver. Tails, we have had our last child.” They flipped. It was tails-no baby.
Uncertain of the validity of this leading from God, they asked me what I thought. (They were not substituting me for the Almighty, but I had written a book on the subject.) Did their coin flip convey God’s answer for them? I ruined their tranquility. My answer was a definite maybe. I think it is valid to settle a difference by flipping a coin and sticking with the result. I also think God is sovereign over coin tosses (Proverbs 16:33) and will work things together for good. On the other hand, if they thought God had made His divine moral desire known through the backside of a coin, I disagreed. God was not saying another child was “against His will” by the way the coin landed. Nor does a coin have any inherent wisdom by the way it lands. Such methods should be used only to help settle differences in an impartial manner where truth and wisdom show that the choices are equal.
Question: Isn’t it true that some recent writers have elevated the role of personal desires in decision making based on Psalm 37:4? (Chapter 17)
Answer: Yes. Psalm 37:4 reads: “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” The line of thought is that as the believer grows in his delight of the LORD, God will transform that person’s desires so that they conform to His. Bruce Waltke writes: “When God is in control of your life, He is also in control of your desires. The things you long for in your heart will be put there by the Holy Spirit.” John MacArthur says that if you are Spirit-filled, “Do whatever you want! . . . God does not say He will fulfill all the desires that are there. He says He will put the desires there! If you are living a godly life, He will give you the right desires, His desires.”
For the traditionalist, the equation of personal desires with God’s desires becomes a means for determining His individual will. The writer reflecting the Wisdom view is agreeing with Augustine: “Love God and do what you please.”
But this appears to be another exercise in inferring conclusions that go beyond the statement of the text. The passage does not say anything about God giving desires to anyone. In the context, the believer is disturbed because the wicked are prospering and the righteous are being victimized (Psalm 37:1,7). So he pleads his case to God in prayer. In response, God assures him that the godly will receive the land as an inheritance (37:11). Their prayers will be answered and the wicked will fail. In this setting, the promise of verse 4 points to the expectation of answered prayer. Allen Ross summarizes the meaning: “Rather one should trust in the LORD who can answer prayers of the heart (vv. 3-4)”. Delitszsch shows a parallel example where delight in the Lord is connected with God hearing prayer (Job 20:26-27). He says that delight in God means desiring the right things which God will not “refuse.” The desires in question, then, are those of the believer who appeals to God in prayer – not desires transplanted by God.
In heaven our desires will be perfect. But until then we will need to judge our desires by the Word of God. But when our desires are in harmony with all of God’s moral will, they can be followed with confidence. This is not a novel way of finding God’s individual will, but simply loving God and thus being able to do what we please. This is the Way of Wisdom.
Question: The wisdom view maintains that pastors are not required to have a mystical call to be qualified. How does this square with Acts 20:28, which says that the elders of the Ephesian church were “appointed” (NLT) by the Holy Spirit? (Chapter 21)
Answer: In this passage Paul says that the Holy Spirit made these men overseers (or pastors or elders). The verse says, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28).
While it is clear that the Holy Spirit in some way placed these men in their position of elder, the methodology is not spelled out. The word “made” is a common word that can mean “appoint,” “put,” or “place” in a position. Various means were employed in the New Testament: Matthias was appointed by prayer and casting lots (Acts 1:23-26); the first deacons were chosen by the Jerusalem church and presented to the apostles (Acts 6:2-6); Paul and Barnabas were called from the Antioch church by special revelation from the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-2); and finally elders were appointed by Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:23), and Titus (Titus 1:5).
These verses illustrate at least three ways that pastors were properly appointed. Advocating only one of these ways could lead to an insistence on apostolic succession, divine revelation, or local church ordination-to the exclusion of the others. In the case of the Ephesian elders, we don’t know how they were appointed. But because they met Spirit-inspired requirements that were recognized by the church, Paul concluded they had been appointed by the Holy Spirit. God can do this directly through prophecy or through the appointment of the founder of a church or by an established church using God’s biblical guidelines.
A clear example of God putting a person in a position without a prophetic or mystical call is governing authorities. God says that such authorities are established and appointed by Him (Romans 13:1). The ruler is called the “minister” and “servant” of God (Romans 13:4, 6). All rulers fit this description of being put into office by God.
If God considers secular government officials as having been appointed by Him to be His “ministers,” then it is certainly appropriate to regard a pastor as Spirit-appointed because: 1) The Spirit qualified him by his spiritual gifting (1 Corinthians 12:11; see 12:28 where the same verb “appointed” is used); 2) He produced the required maturity and fruits of the Spirit in the man (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9); and 3) He worked through His church recognizing divinely specified qualifications to appoint him. F.F. Bruce supports this sense of Spirit-appointment in Acts 20:28.
Probably the reference to the Holy Spirit here does not mean that their appointment to this sacred ministry had been commanded by prophetic utterance in the church, but rather that they were so appointed and recognized because they were manifestly men on whom the Holy Spirit had bestowed the requisite qualifications for the work…. Cf. 1 Cor. 12:4ff.
Every man, then, who has the necessary gifting of the Holy Spirit, possesses the required character the Holy Spirit produces, and is recognized by the Holy Spirit’s Church and placed in the position of pastor is a Holy Spirit-appointed pastor.
Question: This chapter focuses on the decision each believer must make about his or her involvement in missions. But who should send missionaries? It seems as if mission agencies have taken over this function from local churches. Is there any way to restore the role of the local church as the sending agency? (Chapter 22)
Answer: The New Testament establishes an important precedent: missionaries should be sent by and accountable to local churches. Yet with the complexities of the modern world, mission agencies provide a valuable function in the deployment of missionaries world wide. Over the years, however, systems have developed that have eroded the strong connection that should exist between missionary and sending church.
In many “faith” missions (those not tied to a denomination), each missionary candidate must go to dozens of churches and individuals for support. At the same time, local churches have tended to proliferate the number of missionaries they support. The end result is that in most cases it is impossible for a local church to be the authority over the missionaries it supports. The mission agencies have no choice but to assume authority over their missionaries. How could they ask twenty churches and fifty individuals to gather and make decisions about a specific missionary? So by necessity, the mission agency becomes the sending and governing authority.
Individual givers often contribute more than local churches to the support of a missionary. Raising financial support from church boards is usually slow and cumbersome compared to contacting individual donors. One missionary told me he could get more support from one week of contacting church members directly than one year of asking the church board. Thus, the local church no longer holds the purse strings.
One sad consequence is that missionaries often spend their home assignment time traveling the country. And when local churches support twenty or more missionaries, they don’t have time to allow every missionary to give a detailed report to the church.
One remedy to this situation would require a change of strategy on the part of local churches. Instead of having a budget of $200,000 for fifty missionaries, a church could fund four missionaries full-time. When on home assignment, each missionary would have a position on the pastoral staff of the church. The church could approach a mission agency and say, “We would like to loan one of our staff members to you every three years out of four. We’ll cover the bill, but we expect to have final say in all significant decisions affecting this missionary.” The church would encourage its members to get to know the four missionaries and sacrifice for them, visit them, and send work teams to help them. And the missionary-in-residence at the church would continually promote the ministry of cross-cultural missions.
Question: The funding of the missionary enterprise is always challenging. How might wisdom be applied to raising financial support for missions? (Chapter 22)
Answer: One untapped method of support is endowments. At Multnomah Bible College we have set up two missions endowments. One is for scholarships for future missionaries and one is to help support short-term mission trips. The concept is simple. Raise money for a protected endowment where the principal is not touched, but earnings are used annually.
The Norm and Muriel Cook Missionary Endowment has raised $135,000. Each year the earnings help faculty, staff, and students finance cross-cultural outreach. A 5 percent annual yield produces over $6,700 yearly in support money.
After the death of Multnomah student Holly Miller in Indonesia, students set up the Holly Miller Missions Endowment. In less than a year they raised $50,000 which has grown to over $60,000. The endowment earns funds every year for scholarships for students with the missionary heart and spirit that Holly had.