From Galatia To Mysia To Troas: Part 1 of 3

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

January 22, 2015

Acts of the Apostles

Scripture (Acts 16:6-10; KJV)

6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,
7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.
8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.
9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.
10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.


Nothing is said of any plans Paul might have had for what they would do once they had seen how the Galatians were getting on (though we might guess that he had set his sights on Ephesus, the capital of the province of Asia). Instead, the emphasis is entirely on the divine guidance that took them to Macedonia. The story is told with a minimum of detail, which only heightens the impression that they were carried along, as it were, by the irresistible wind of the Spirit, much as Paul and Barnabas had been on the earlier journey (13:1-3).


6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

Having completed their visit of the churches established on Paul’s first mission, the three now headed north, probably from Antioch in Pisidia. A glance at a map of the area will show the general westward direction taken by the missionary team. Everywhere he went Paul saw need. He saw lost people and ripened harvest fields. He would have stopped everywhere, but that would mean that Europe would never have been evangelized in his lifetime. Somewhere along the way, they determined to go to “Asia.” Just what is intended by “Asia” is uncertain. The term was used in various ways. It could refer to the Roman province of Asia, which included Lycia, portions of Phrygia, and Mysia, as well as ancient Asia. It could be used in a much narrower sense as the cities along the Aegean Coast, with Philadelphia as the eastern limit. It probably is in this narrower sense that Paul determined to go to Asia, perhaps to the major city of Ephesus, where he eventually did spend the greater part of his third mission. At this point, he was forbidden by the Holy Ghost to travel into Asia, which caused him great inner turmoil. The method of the Spirit’s revelation is not given. However, it’s not necessary for us to imagine that Paul heard the voice of the Holy Spirit forbidding him going into Asia. That was not the method of the Divine government or guidance. The fact was that the apostle acquired some affliction, some illness, which made it impossible for him to travel through Asia, and which turned him aside, conceivably for rest and quiet. The important point is that he was stopped. God had other plans for him at the time.

There is a mixture of strategic goal planning and inner leading about Paul’s movement. Asia was to be evangelized—but not on this journey. He was to come back later to evangelize Ephesus and plant the church there that would reach the whole region, but this was not the Holy Spirit’s time. So burdened, but bound, he led his team westward, ever westward, listening all the while to the still small voice of God.

7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

The route of the missionaries from this point is anything but clear. They obviously traveled northward because they eventually came to Mysia. The questionable point is how far eastward they traveled. To what does “the region of Phrygia and Galatia” refer? The most natural reading would give a consecutive travel narrative, starting from Antioch, moving into northern Phrygia, and then evidently swinging eastward into portions of northern Galatia before arriving in the northeast corner of Mysia where it bordered Bithynia. Again, a glance at the map shows Bithynia to have been to the north of Asia Minor. Its coastal waters touched the Black Sea. It embraced one bank of the famous sea narrows that we call the Dardanelles. A good guess is that it was somewhere around Dorylaeum, where they were stopped in their travel plans a second time. Their intention was to go into Bithynia, probably to witness in the populous cities along the Marmara Sea like Nicomedia, Nicea, and Byzantium. Paul would have evangelized this province but, from the Spirit’s point of view, it was not the time. There was a more strategic way to go. So, troubled in spirit, uncertain of the Lord’s leading except in the negative—not Galatia, not Bithynia, not now—Paul kept moving, sure that sooner or later the Holy Spirit would make everything clear. All those who would walk with the Lord had experienced such trouble periods: the Spirit indicates a change, all kinds of options seem to beckon, and the temptation is to force open a door. Wisdom says “wait.”

So Paul, leading westward, leaning northward, continued on this way, unsure of what the Holy Spirit had in mind but for a seasoned saint to make a move without Him is unthinkable. Again they were prevented, this time by “the Spirit of Jesus1,” possibly a special vision of the risen Jesus but more likely an alternative expression of the Holy Spirit.2 The third expression of the divine leading is indicated in terms of God’s calling (v. 10). The geographical scheme is certainly not the dominant theme in this section: the divine leading is, Father (v. 10), Son (v. 7), and Spirit (v. 6) together led Paul to the decisive new breakthrough—the mission to Macedonia where he would witness on European soil. The Holy Spirit was leading Paul westward. So you see, it was not Horace Greeley of The New York Sun who first said, “Go west, young man, go west.” Instead, it was the Spirit of God speaking to the Apostle Paul!

The change from“the Holy Ghost” (v. 6) to the Spirit has no significance other than to remind us that the Spirit is as closely associated with the Son as with the Father (John 14:16, 26; 16:7) and maybe variously called “the Spirit of God” (Matthew 10:20), “the Spirit of Christ,” or “the Spirit of Jesus” (Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19; 1 Peter 1:11). The truth revealed here is that these men, in fellowship with Christ, simply could not go to Bythemia. They were driven on. There are many that will understand this story from their own experience. Paul wanted to preach in Bythemia3, but somehow he could not. He could not do it because he was sick, he was ill, he had some infirmity of the flesh; and he could not go on. It was necessary for him to take another direction, and he went into Galatia, and preached there. These men could say, “The Spirit of Jesus drove me against my own inclination.” But there is yet another revelation revealed here; the fact that the Spirit guides, not always by flaming visions, not by words articulated in human ears, but by circumstances, by commonplace things, by difficult things, by dark things, by disappointing things. The Spirit guides and molds and fashions all the pathway.

The important thing, however, is that the man whom the Spirit will guide is the man who is in the attitude in which it is possible for the Spirit to guide him. So we look once again at this man Paul, and we find an attitude of life revealed. It is that of loyalty to the Lord, faith in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and constant watchfulness. There is where we too often fail. It is when a man is in fellowship with the Lord that he sees that the disappointment and the difficulty are also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the watcher for the Lord who sees the Lord. If we are watching for Him we shall find Him guiding us in the day of difficulty and the day of disappointment, and a day of darkness; when it seems as though there is no hope. What we need, then, is confidence in the guidance of the Spirit in the hours when no voice is heard and no vision is seen.

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