“…they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” Acts 18:6
There is so much direction given by the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts that it’s possible to get the impression that every action the apostles took was dictated to them. But, in fact, the reality is much the opposite. While it’s true that the Holy Spirit was continually present prompting, motivating, and guiding; the disciples were given complete freedom in determining their own plans and deciding their own course of action. You see, God doesn’t want us to be passive and thoughtless in our relationship with him. Only genuine engagement, by us, in our friendship and our work for God will fulfill God’s plans for us.
Yet this must be balanced with the reality of our ignorance and the fact of our sinfulness. If we’re going to be protected from the dangers presented by these liabilities then we must also be willing to accept God’s directions when they’re given.
That’s why there are a few times in the book of Acts that you see a record of the Holy Spirit saying, “no.” The disciples understood the work Christ had given them and they were using their best effort, creativity, and judgement to see that work move forward. But like any good teacher or parent, God new that this freedom and independence couldn’t be total. It had to be combined with constructive interference to raise the work to the high standard God needed and to protect the work and the workers from dangers they were unable to foresee.
We don’t like being told, “no.” We’re selfish, independent, and stubborn. We have a high opinion of our own capabilities and resent being made to feel that we’re not all that we like to think we are. But working with God requires that we be willing to submit everything to him. He’s demonstrated that he doesn’t want to make robots out of us. We can trust him. The question we must ask ourselves is, are we willing to trust to him and submit when he needs to say, “no”?