Understanding What the Will of the Lord Is
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
This morning’s text addresses one single question; a question that you no doubt have asked or will ask. It is a question that is often on the forefront of every Christian’s mind. What is God’s will? Or, how may we know what God’s will is?
All of us want to be doing God’s will. We even have language in our circles that speaks to how prevalent this question is. Sometimes we will say something like, “I want to make sure that I am in God’s will.” or “I don’t want to be found outside God’s will.”
Discerning God’s will is one of the main things we aim to do as Christians. And a lot of questions may come up on how exactly we go about doing that.
Some of you young people might be asking that question right now. You are nearing the end of your high school careers and you want to know what God’s will for you is in the next stage of life. What college should you attend? Should you go to college? What career path should you choose? Who should I marry? Should I marry?
Those may be some life shaping questions you are asking. Others of us may have questions that are just as significant. Should I retire? Should I keep working? Should I seek a career change? What kind of change should that be? Should we have another child? Should we look into fostering or adopting a child rather than seeking to go the natural route?
Those are some big questions, but there other day to day decisions that we make that are just as important. And we can wonder what God’s will for us is in those more minor details. Some people are so obsessed with God’s will that they ask questions like, What shirt should I wear today? Does God want me to brush my teeth today? What should I have for breakfast? Should I have breakfast?
That may seem funny to some people, but there have been many good Christian people who have asked such things. That’s because they are very much concerned with being obedient to God. They want to do his will.
I mean, this is one of the things that Jesus himself calls us to pray. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. And woe to the man who is not doing the will of God!
The passage before us is very clear too. Paul says that we are to understand what the will of the Lord is. And that is what we want to focus on. We want to know what the will of God is. The question is how do we do that? How do we discern what God’s will is?
Now, I’d like to begin by having us thing about how God’s will is not know.
I. How is the will of God NOT known?
In the evangelical world today you will no doubt meet many people who have come up with all kinds of ways to know God’s will. And a lot of them are faulty. I would say that most (if not all) of them are incorrect ways of finding out what God’s will is. And I want to begin by just highlighting a couple of the more popular ones that are out there.
For instance, one popular way of trying to discern God’s will is by asking for a sign. God, if you want me to take this job, give me a sign. If you just make it clear and show me what your will is, I will be obedient.
Just the other day I saw an article in the Daily Mail that a woman from Chicago asked God to show her whether or not she should continue this relationship with her boyfriend. They had been together for a month and she asked God to make her allergic to him if he was not the right guy. Low and behold, after she picked him up she began itching and rubbing her eyes. Her face began to swell up too. She took some allergy medicine, but that wasn’t enough. She ended up going to the hospital and getting an IV. She said that was an obvious sign from God and she dumped the guy.
Now, we recognize that there were times in Scripture where God gave signs. Gideon asked for a sign. He laid out the fleece. And you know the amazing thing about that story? God gave him the signs he asked for. But that’s just it. That wasn’t normal. God was giving a special accommodation for Gideon in that instance. And the point of the text is that God doesn’t usually do that kind of thing. And really, God had already revealed his will to Gideon. Gideon’s request was really not a good thing because God has already spoken clearly to him.
And, you should always be careful drawing direct applications from the book of Judges too. The whole point of the book is that people were doing what was right in their own eyes. Most of what you draw as application is what you should not be doing.
More importantly, the asking and giving of signs in the Bible is not typically a good thing. The ones who were the most renown for asking for a sign were the Pharisees and Sadducees. They asked Jesus for a sign as to whether he was the Christ, but you know that wasn’t a good thing.
Furthermore, just because you get a sign, doesn’t mean God is sending the sign. You’ll remember that Elijah received various signs. There was a mighty wind that broke the rocks. There was an earthquake. There was a great fire too, but the Bible says that the Lord was not in them. There were dramatic signs, but they didn’t communicate the Lord’s will.
And really, should God’s will be such that you need to have him do something extraordinary every time you have a decision to make? Of course not. The very point of this passage is that God’s will can be known. We are commanded to understand what the will of the Lord is and Paul doesn’t expect us to have to look for a sign from heaven to understand what it is.
Another way people often discern what God’s will is is by a “still, small voice.” Speaking of Elijah, we know that Elijah may not have had God speaking in the great fire or wind, but God came to him and spoke to him in a still, small voice.
And some people will say this. Some people will say that God spoke to them or that they felt him speaking to them in their heart of hearts. It wasn’t audible, but it was an inward voice that prodded them.
Now, you have to remember that there is only one passage in Scripture that talks about a still, small voice. That should tell you that this is not the normal way God reveals his will.
And you should also understand that it is easy to manufacture. When something is internal like that it is, by its very nature, a subjective experience that no one else can validate. This is what I often say to the Mormons. They talk about having a burning in the bosom as a confirmation of God’s call to become a Mormon. I will often be out on the curb and say, “I have a burning in my bosom. It’s really burning. I feel it! Its this conviction that you’re wrong.”
You see, again, God isn’t vague about what his will is. He’s not going to reveal it to just one person and not have it be verifiable to others. When he does so, as in the case of Elijah, it is because he is a Prophet of God who is in a special circumstance in redemptive history.
And the crazy part of that whole narrative is that nobody understands what it is all about.
One other popular way that people try to discern God’s will is through inner peace. I feel a peace about it. God has given me a peace about this decision.
The problem with this is that there is absolutely no scriptural backing for this kind of thing. Nowhere in the Bible do you have anyone coming to understand God’s will because they got a supernatural, inner peace about it.
And unfortunately, this has been used to defend practices that are directly opposed to the commands of God. God’s word says that you should not divorce, but there are people who say, “I believe it is God’s will. After all, I’ve come to have a peace about it.”
For that matter, a bad piece of pizza may be all that is needed to discern God’s will. You can get heartburn and not have that inner peace.
To be sure, the Bible does speak of us having a sense of peace. But that peace is usually the result of making the right decisions and following the will of God, not discerning it. It comes after you have done what is right; it isn’t what helps you determine what is right.
These are a few ways that God’s will has been sought. There are probably a thousand more. Sometimes people make discerning God’s will into this elaborate, mysterious, and mystical process. But I hope you can see these are all faulty. They are not valid means of discerning God’s will.
And really, if we are attempting to discern God’s will by these methods we are doing exactly what the first part of this verse says. We are being foolish.
God’s will is not to be discerned as something that is written in the heavens or by some subjective experience within us. As Paul says here, we are to understand what the will of God is. That is to say, God’s will is knowable. It is not elusive. God does not hide his will in obscurity. When he says that we must understand what his will is, he is insinuating that his will is clear and easily discernible.
So how do we know it? If we are to understand the will of the Lord, how do we come to know it? One thing that can be helpful is understanding what we mean when we talk about God’s will.
We’ve looked at what are some faulty ways of discerning God’s will. The second question that we want to ask is, “What exactly do we mean when we talk about God’s will?”
II. What do we mean when we talk about God’s will?
God’s will can be thought of in different ways. Scripture talks about God’s will in at least two ways. One way to talk about God’s will is in terms of his decree.
Theologians will speak of God’s will of decree. And by that they mean God’s eternal plan which he has established before the foundation of the world. We read about this in Ephesians 1. Back in chapter 1 Paul says that the Lord, “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” God’s will is the same as his purpose. It is what he predestined. So we can say that God is working out his will in history.
Likewise we read in Daniel how Nebuchadnezzar came to acknowledge the supremacy of God. After he was humbled Nebuchadnezzar confessed that “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
There are a lot more passages we could look at, but these two are enough to show us that God’s will can be thought of in terms of his decree. God is making certain things happen in this world and we can say that whatever happens was “God’s will.”
As a matter of fact, this is what James talks about when he says we make plans and must say, “God willing.” We recognize that our plans may have to change because God’s decree may have ordained that something different might happen. God’s will may cause us to have to change those plans.
So we are always recognizing that God’s will is being carried out in the day to day affairs of life. And there is a sense in which we can say that we are never outside of God’s will. That’s because everything that happens has been ordained by God and therefore it is his will.
But God’s will of decree is not the only way we can talk about his will. And that certainly is not what Eph. 5:17 is talking about. That’s because we cannot know God’s will of decree until it has already happened. We don’t know what is going to happen 5 minutes from now. So it is impossible for us to know his will in that sense.
This is where Deuteronomy 29:29 comes in handy. Speaking of God’s will Moses says, “the secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
When he talks about the secret things which belong to God, he’s talking about God’s will of decree. He’s pointing out the fact that there are some things about God’s will that we cannot know. They are a secret.
But Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that there are other things which have been revealed. God not only has a secret will, he has also made certain parts of his will known. This is what we call God’s prescriptive will; or his moral will.
When we talk about God’s moral will or his prescriptive will, we are talking about the Bible. He has provided us with a book in which he prescribes all that he wants us to do. It is a full and sufficient revelation of everything we need to know in order to do his will.
So we can say that God’s will for our lives is that we honor our father and mother. God’s will for our lives is that we put him first and have no other gods besides him. God’s will for our lives is that we would have chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage.
This is the core of what we mean when we talk about understanding God’s will for our lives. Here in Ephesians 5 Paul is calling you to know your Bibles. You are to understand what it says, and make your decisions based on the truth that he has revealed here.
So when it comes to your occupation and whether or not you are to take this job offer. You have the principles you need in order to make that decision. Maybe you are thinking that you have the skill set to be a bank robber. You’ve stolen some things in the past and now you’ve got the chance to go big time and make a career out of it.
Because of God’s revealed will, you know that’s not the kind of occupation that you should be pursuing. You know you are not to steal. You are to be productive and labor in a way that helps your neighbor rather than harms him.
So you understand that God’s will for your life is that you be obedient to his commands. Believe and do what he has said in Scripture. When you are faithful to the text, then you may be said to be doing God’s will.
But that brings us to one last question. There’s still some honing that we need to do here. Because there are a lot of decisions in life that don’t have explicit answers in the Bible.
Again, you may know you are not supposed to rob banks, but what should you do? Should you become an engineer or a carpenter? The Bible doesn’t give you the answer to that one, does it? Should you marry Julie or Molly? How do I know if I’m doing God’s will by marrying Julie?
So let’s take a minute and talk about how we determine God’s will specifically. How do we understand what God’s will for us is for those kinds of questions.
III. How do I find God’s will specifically?
This is a question that was really intense for a lot of people when I was in college. A lot of people thought that there was one, God ordained person that they were to marry. If they didn’t find the one God had for them, they would be outside God’s will. And, as a result, they would have a terrible marriage. Or, if they didn’t choose the right career path-- the one that God had planned for them-- they’d be doomed to have a miserable life.
So how do you know if you are supposed to marry Julie or Molly? What is God’s perfect plan for you?
I really would like to answer this question the way my college professor did. My professor was talking about this sort of thing and he said, “God really doesn’t care who you marry.” He let that hang there for a second for the shock value. And you can bet in the small Christian college that we attended, it was a shocker. Most of us couldn’t believe what we were hearing.
He went on to say that, so long as the person we were going to marry was a mature Christian, it doesn’t matter which you choose. If you are blessed to have two options like that, it doesn’t matter which you pick.
Or take the job opportunities. Let’s say you have job offers from one company that pays $20 / hour and another that pays $25 / hour. Scripture says you have the freedom there, all things being equal, to take the job that pays a little more.
But let’s say that the $25 / hour job wants you to work on Sundays. What do you do then? Well, you know what the will of God on that one is. You take the lesser pay because you want to honor the 4th commandment.
The point that I am making is that this is the way you use the principles of Scripture. There can be a lot of freedom in your choices. As in the case of Julie and Molly, you don’t have to worry about which is THE one. You have freedom to choose because you know each fits the Biblical qualifications. God’s Word becomes a light to your path because it gives you a sense of direction in terms of what is morally right. Any decision beyond that becomes one of personal preference.
I once met someone who said that they ask God for direction for everything. They will not get out of bed until God tells them. They will wait for God to tell them what they should have for breakfast because they want to always be doing the will of God. God has to tell them what shirt to wear.
That’s absurd. That’s not thinking biblically about your decisions. God doesn’t care when you get up, just so long as you do it in enough time to get yourself ready and get to work. And God doesn’t care what shirt you wear, just as long as it is within the guidelines of modesty.
So, when it comes to your decisions, you begin to make your choices by thinking about Scriptural principles. Secondly, you should make decisions based on own personal preferences.
Now, this could sound heretical to some people. You are choosing on the basis of self! How evil!
We recognize that being selfish is wrong. The Bible tells us not to do that. Sometimes we need to put aside our self-interest in order to serve others. But there is nothing wrong with choosing things based on your own preferences. God has made you to have certain likes and dislikes. What kind of ice cream should you have, vanilla or chocolate? Should you wear the yellow shirt or the plaid one? You should wear the yellow one because you look silly in plaid.
Well, that’s fine with little decisions like that, Matt. But what about big decisions, like who to marry. You have a choice between Julie and Molly, both of whom are solid Christian girls. Which is it going to be? Well, maybe you think that Julie is a little more attractive than Molly. God gives you the freedom at that point to choose according to your personal preference.
Now, there’s a third thing you can do. You can get some help. One of the ways you can come to know what God’s will is is by getting the advise of some people who are older and wiser.
Getting counsel from can be a very effective way to make decisions. You are wondering if you should be a doctor or a preacher. You have two perfectly good options. There is nothing Biblically wrong with either occupation. So you might ask some godly men in the church. And they may say, “I thought you didn’t like blood.” That’s probably not a good option. And he might also say, “I’ve been to some of your Bible studies that you’ve led. You might not be good at being a preacher.” I do know you are pretty good with computers. Or maybe they will say, “You did a really good job of helping me put on that addition to my home last summer. Maybe you should look into doing some carpentry or construction work.
Scripture tells us that the counsel of many is wisdom. And we should not be shy about seeking the advise of others. That’s the way God’s ordained the church to run. That’s why the Bible talks about having a plurality of elders. It’s so that one guy isn’t running the show with his ignorance. The combined wisdom will typically be useful for discerning God’s will for the church.
That’s why we are going to look at this building this afternoon and then possibly have a vote as a congregation. Some may think it is a good idea. Some may have some reservations. We’ll get together, talk about it, and then take a vote in order to help determine what the Lord’s will is.
The important thing for us to understand is that God’s will is not something that is super hard to ascertain. God is not hiding his will or making it so that we are left in the dark. He has given us His a clear revelation of what he desires.
We do need to do the hard work of learning what Scripture says and try to acquire a working knowledge of the principles he gives. But the beautiful thing is that he says, “If you search for it as silver and seek it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”
As is clear from our passage, we are to understand what the will of the Lord is. And we can be assured that His will is, in fact, easy to discern. That’s because he has revealed it to us in his word.