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If God Wills

  • Sermon Video:

This morning we are going to look at Acts 18:18-22. We are wrapping up Paul’s second missionary journey.

  • ‌It began in Antioch, when Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Paul took Silas and they headed North (Acts 15:40-41)‌
  • He traveled through Syria and Cilicia (15:41)
  • Derbe and Lystra (16:1) where they picked up Timothy
  • Phrygia and Galatia (16:6)
  • ~ NOT Asia (16:6), NOT Bithynia (16:7)
  • Troas (16:8) where they were directed to Macedonia
  • Samothrace, Neapolis and Philippi (16:11-12) where Paul & Silas were beaten and imprisoned
  • Amphipolis, Appollonia, and Thessalonica (17:1)
  • Berea (17:10) [ask: what were they known for?]
  • ‌Athens (17:15) where he gave the sermon on Mars Hill
  • Corinth (18:1) where Paul stayed for 1.5 years and picked up Priscilla & Aquila

When we pick up in 18:18, Paul is on his return trip back to Antioch:

Acts 18:18–22 (CSB)
After staying for some time, Paul said farewell to the brothers and sisters and sailed away to Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He shaved his head at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 When they reached Ephesus he left them there, but he himself entered the synagogue and debated with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he declined, 21 but he said farewell and added, “I’ll come back to you again, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 On landing at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, then went down to Antioch.

‌Paul is wrapping up his second missionary journey.

He and his traveling companions left for Syria. We do not know everyone who was with him. We assume Silas and Timothy are still with him. Most likely Luke is as well? But we have the addition of Priscilla and Aquila - the tent makers!

He went to Cenchrea - where he got a haircut. That might seem like a random post by Luke - like something you would read on a FB feed 😂. Actually it is likely because Paul took a vow. We are not told what type of vow or for what reason, but many assume it was the Nazarite vow which is mentioned in Numbers 6.‌

NAZARITE is a transliteration. That is the way we spell the Hebrew word that is used in Numbers. It means “consecration”. The Nazarite vow was a vow of consecration to God.

‌What is significant is not the vow itself, but Paul’s submission to God and to the Law and Prophets. He was a Jesus follower, but he was also a devout Jew who followed the Torah.

After a fresh cut, Paul and his companions head to Ephesus. This is the first time he has been in this city, but not the last.


‌It is the beginning of the church in Ephesus. You are probably familiar with his letter to the Ephesians, which he will later write to this group.

Following his custom, Paul headed to the synagogue to “reason with the Jews”. The last place he was in was NOT very receptive; the Jews even took him to court to get rid of him. In Ephesus we do not read of any opposition. Actually, this group sounds a bit more like the Bereans! They wanted to hear more and wanted Paul to stay with them longer!

‌Paul does NOT stay.

‌However, it is very likely that Priscilla and Aquila did! Notice the language of verse 19: ⭐

Acts 18:19 (CSB)
When they reached Ephesus he left them there, but he himself entered the synagogue and debated with the Jews.

‌The last “them” mentioned was in the previous verse: Aquila and Priscilla. “When they reached Ephesus, Paul left Aquila and Priscilla there” is one way to read these verses.

Whether they stayed at this point, or returned later, we find out they had a house in Ephesus and had a church meeting in that house: ⭐

1 Corinthians 16:19 (CSB)
The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla send you greetings warmly in the Lord, along with the church that meets in their home.

‌Paul is believed to have written the letter to the Corinthians while in Ephesus during his next (or 3rd) missionary journey.

‌Another clue that we have that Aquila and Priscilla remained in Ephesus is found in Acts 18:24-26 (which David plans to cover next Sunday), Priscilla and Aquila are in Ephesus when Apollos shows up in town.‌

The work in Ephesus and of Priscilla and Aquila are the highlights of this section of verses.


‌Priscilla and Aquila were displaced from Rome, but took their trade with them to Corinth. Paul met them in Corinth and they worked together as tentmakers. I am convinced that they also spent time studying the scriptures and especially how Jesus fulfilled the role of Messiah. They traveled with Paul to Ephesus where they stayed and invested in the local church there. They were a significant part of the establishment of the church in Ephesus.

‌They obviously were willing to be mobile and they obviously had a good knowledge of the scriptures and of Jesus.

‌God may choose to call some of you to leave your home town and go some other place for the sake of the gospel and building up God’s kingdom. Your trade may be the tool that he uses to help you get there and afford to remain. Are you open to being used by God like this?

‌Your occupation or location may change, but your vocation as an ambassador for Jesus never does.

‌In verse 22 he completed his second missionary trip:

‌Acts 18:22 (CSB)
On landing at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, then went down to Antioch.

‌Paul went to Caesarea, then UP TO Jerusalem, and then back DOWN TO Antioch where he started from several years earlier.

What a long journey! I am sure Paul was glad to be back with his church family and friends!


Paul’s second missionary journey lasted approximately 3 years, from 49 – 51 AD. During this journey, he traveled approximately 2,700+ miles—1,290 by sea and 1,410 by land.

BACK to the church in Ephesus… There is a small phrase in this passage that I want us to zoom in on. It is the last words that Luke quoted Paul saying on this trip, and i think they are very significant.They are in verse 21: ⭐

Acts 18:21 (CSB)
but he said farewell and added, “I’ll come back to you again, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.

‌IF GOD WILLS - God Willing

⭐θεός θέλω [Theos thelo]

How many of you have heard that phrase before? have you used it before?

‌I find it fascinating that if you look up the phrase “God willing”, you will find it in all major dictionaries. However, they do not define it by trusting in God. The word God does not appear in their definitions at all!

God willing [idiom] —used to say what one hopes and expects to do or happen if no problems occur ~ Merriam-Webster

⭐God willing [phrase] - If you say God willing, you are saying that something will happen if all goes well. ~ Collins Dictionary

‌As a hashtag on social media, #godwilling is basically true to those definitions according to its use. But, is that what Paul meant?

Is there a difference between, “If God wills” and “if all goes well” or “if I’m lucky”? ABSOLUTELY!

It is one of those phrases that should be part of the vocabulary of every Christian. Not because it is a magic incantation to get what you want, or for good luck, but because of the theology that is behind it. Let’s look at that theology, because this simple phrase is a powerhouse.

As a student of the Law and Prophets, Paul would have been taught verses like these that were recorded by Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived: ⭐

Proverbs 19:21 (NLT)
You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

‌And this one: ⭐

Proverbs 16:9 (CSB)
A person’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.

‌These verses are reminders that God is the one that is ultimately in control and He has a greater purpose and plan for his creation. While we can make many plans, ultimately God is the one in control.‌

The prophet Jeremiah also held this conviction: ⭐

Jeremiah 10:23 (CSB)
I know, Lord, that a person’s way of life is not his own; no one who walks determines his own steps.

‌When we use the phrase, “Lord willing”, or “if God wills”, we: ⭐

Acknowledge that God is in Control.

We often refer to this truth as the sovereignty of God.

⭐You basically have one of two viewpoints:

a) God is in control

b) I am in control

Most of us acknowledge “a” but live as if “b” is our reality.

Do you get frustrated when you plans don’t go as planned? do you feel helpless or hopeless when you are not in control? If so, you might be living in “b”

‌Let’s be clear. None of those verses we read said it was wrong to take charge of things, or plan, or be prepared. The challenge in them is acknowledging God as the ultimate authority.

But there is more to it than just acknowledging God’s sovereignty. James, the brother of Jesus, penned these words: ⭐

‌James 4:13–16 (CSB)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. 15 Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

‌Notice the 4 areas James highlights:

  1. Travel plans
  2. Time planning
  3. Occupation
  4. Profitability

‌WE ALL do these things! We make travel plans, and even buy plane tickets months in advance. We plan our weekly activities, vacations, holidays. We plan our work, education, vocational goals. We budget, invest and set financial goals.

Is there anything inherently wrong with these? NO.

‌The fact that we desire to plan and prepare is a good thing! We are told to “consider the ant” and other creature that plan and prepare. ⭐

Proverbs 6:6–11 (NLT)
Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, ‌they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. ‌But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? 10 A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.

‌It seems like we are even being commanded to prepare and work hard for the future, right? So what is the problem that James is addressing?

‌The issue is who is in CONTROL. ⭐

‌James 4:15–16 (CSB)
15 Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

‌James is not condemning all assertions about the future or saying that the statement “if the Lord wills” is a magic phrase that guarantees our trust in God’s hidden providence. Rather, he is speaking to matters of the heart. In all that we do or plan, we must remember that the future is unknown to us and that ultimately only God can be trusted to work things out. This trust must be evident in our lives whether or not we always expressly verbalize it.

But it is not just the acknowledgement of God being in control, it is the humility to:

‌⭐Depend on God for all things.

‌What a blessing we have to be able to depend upon God! For all things; every day.

‌The longer I live the easier it is for me to see that I am not in control and that it is only by the grace of God that I am alive and have the things I have and can do the things I do.

‌This dependence is what God has wanted from his creation form the beginning. It was what he wanted from Adam and Eve in the garden. God wanted Abraham to trust him when he left his home to go to the land god would show him. Failure to depend on God brought about pain and death.

‌Let’s look back at one very significant example of God testing people to teach them to depend upon Him.

‌When the Israelites were in the wilderness, how much manna could they collect each day? What was the lesson? Depend on me daily and recognize that what you eat comes from God. ⭐

Deuteronomy 8:16–18 (CSB)
He fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your ancestors had not known, in order to humble and test you, so that in the end he might cause you to prosper. 17 You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ 18 but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth...

‌Did you notice the “test”? The test was whether they would acknowledge the sovereignty of God and their dependence upon him, or be arrogant and boast of their own accomplishments as if God had nothing to do with their success.

‌When Jesus walked on the earth, he tried to teach this to the disciples. One way he did this was by teaching them HOW to pray: ⭐

‌Matthew 6:9–13 (CSB)
“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

‌Notice: the desire for God’s will to be done first and foremost

‌the dependence upon God for our daily needs

“If God wills” is the verbal affirmation and invocation of “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

We do not make plans, and then say a magic phrase to force God to bless those plans. We submit to God and ask that he aligns our plans with his heart, and we make plans trusting that if those plans change He has a reason and we want to follow.

Let’s revisit what James said: ⭐

‌James 4:15 (CSB)
Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

‌If the Lord wills, we will live and...

If God wills… we will.

If God wills, we will keep on breathing, and if God wills we will accomplish our plans. That is a fun and profound statement. It means that we must also accept the inverse: if God does not will .... we will not.

My life, your life, the breath that we have comes from God. When we make the statement, “If God wills” or “Lord willing”, we are verbally declaring a truth about life and God. We are announcing our theological viewpoint that all of life comes from God and belongs to God - including us and our plans.

‌The phrase, “God willing” is a declaration of theology. But, like all theology, we must exercise caution lest it be abused:


It is possible to use the phrase “If God wills” as a way to appear godly, which is a form of pride. Using this phrase without the right heart and mind towards God is just as arrogant than what James wrote about.

This phrase is not meant to be a cop-out, or an excuse to NOT do something. Saying you will do something if God wills, and then not doing it so that you can avoid taking responsibility for the matter. It is not a back door to escape a commitment.

This phrase is not meant to be a magic incantation to invoke the blessing of God on our plans.

We make plans, but we surrender to God’s plans. We acknowledge HE is in control and that his ways are best, and we demonstrate it by humbly submitting to his direction and plans.

‌NOTE: Just a side note: submitting to God’s way does not mean it will be easy, nor that it will be the path of least resistance or pain. Paul is the one quoting the phrase, and he was beaten, stoned, imprisoned and run out of town.

Application for Us

As a Church:

We make plans. We have business meetings and budgets and make decisions on the future:

to install AC,

‌to build a playground,

to expand the building.

Though we may give both money and labor to these plans, they will only be accomplished if God provides and directs. While it is good to plan, it is more important that we follow God’s lead than that we plan great things for God.

As Jesus followers:

We can, and should make plans for the future. But at the very core of those plans needs to be a theology that acknowledges the sovereignty and goodness of God. And in the implementation of those plans there needs to be a dependency upon God and humble submission to His will in all things. While this may seem simplistic, it is not always simple to live out.

I want to encourage you to make this phrase, or some form of it, a part of your conversation. God is good and can be trusted. When talking about future plans, boldly declare your theology by acknowledging God is in control and ultimately submitting to His plans. If God wills… we will.

‌Let’s close with a few simple verses to remind us of these things: ⭐

Proverbs 3:5–6 (CSB)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight.

‌God bless you. I look forward to seeing you all next week...God willing! 😊