Sunday Sermon: ‘Open Doors vs. Closed Doors’


A term that is often used to describe the way God works in our lives is ‘open doors’ vs. ‘closed doors.’ The simplest explanation of what this means is that we believe that when a door is open, that’s an indication that God is allowing us to move forward and when a door is closed, that’s an indication that He isn’t. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “…a great door for effective work has opened to me…” (1 Corinthians 16:9) Jesus said to the church of Philadelphia, “…I have placed before you an open door, which no one can shut…” (Revelation 3:8) In both situations the door is wide open for them to move forward in the work of Christ. But what about when the door isn’t open? What about when it seems like the door is closed?

 Acts 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily. 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, 7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

Notice, they were “forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia…” ‘Forbidden’ is strong language. It comes from a word that is sometimes translated as ‘to punish.’ I don’t believe that the Spirit punished them for trying to take the gospel into these areas, yet apparently, He did make it very clear that this was not the will of God. It’s almost like Paul and Silas came up against a wall and behind that wall was God. Then they tried to go into another region called Bithynia and the words imply that they tried repeatedly and yet the Spirit still would not permit them.

Several questions come to my mind at this point:

  • Why would the Holy Spirit not allow them to go into these areas and preach the gospel?
  • How did the Spirit stop them?
  • How did they know that this wasn’t the Spirit’s will?
  • What did Paul and Silas do once they realized that these doors were closed?

Or to bring this down to our level:

  • Why is the door sometimes open and other times closed?
  • How do we know when a door is open or closed?
  • How should we respond? What should we do next when we sense that the door is closed?

I. When We Face a Closed Door

First let me give you some background as to where we are at in Paul’s life. This is Paul’s second missionary journey. A few years prior to this, he and Barnabas were sent out by the church at Antioch. We read in Acts 13 –

Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”

It seems that Paul and the other church leaders regularly spent time in prayer and fasting. They were regularly seeking not only God’s will for their ministry, but also God’s power. They were intently focused upon doing God’s will. During one of their prayer meetings, the Spirit spoke to them and specifically named Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for a special ministry. I am amazed that even after they sensed what the Spirit was saying, they continued to pray and fast, seeking more of God’s guidance and power. Afterwards, scripture says that they laid hands upon Paul and Barnabas (indicating a bestowal of power and blessing) and sent them out on Paul’s first missionary journey. No wonder Paul had such success in his ministry.

On their first missionary journey, they went primarily to the areas near Antioch. Then they sailed to the island of Cyprus where Barnabas was from, and then they sailed to an area known as Galatia from which we get the book of Galatians.

To help us get this in our mind, let’s imagine for a moment that the Lord would send out some missionaries from Twin Oaks. First we would probably minister to Rocky Mount, Martinsville and maybe Roanoke. If we followed the example of Paul and Barnabas, we would travel west towards where Tammy and I are from, the New River Valley, and then we would continue on farther west towards Wytheville, Abington and eventually Bristol. Let’s say on our first missionary journey we covered all the area between here and the Tennessee state line.

Now it’s a couple of years later and Paul is ready to go out on his second missionary trip and this time he intends to go even farther. Not only does he intend to revisit the churches he and Barnabas planted on his first missionary journey; he intends to go even farther. We should note that this time his partner isn’t Barnabas, but another disciple named Silas.

Acts 15:40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

Along the way, they meet a young man by the name of Timothy, who they invite to join them. And then they set their focus upon a region known as Asia Minor; or if you will – our Tennessee. But in verse 6 we see that something very unusual happened.

Acts 16:6 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… 

When they tried to go farther, the Spirit stopped them.

A. Paul and Silas Faced a Closed Door

How did the Spirit stop them? Did Paul hear a voice? Did Paul try to preach the gospel in Asia Minor but with no results? Did something supernatural happen that prohibited them from traveling into this area? We don’t know exactly how the Spirit stopped them, but as we will see in our study today, we know why He stopped them.

B. Why Did God Close These Doors?

1. Was God Against Paul and Silas?

Was there some sin in the life of Paul and Silas that caused God to stop them? The Bible says that God will ‘resist’ the proud. (see James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) Literally that means that God Himself will stand in the way of a proud person and prohibit them from moving forward. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that either Paul or Silas had any sin in their lives that caused God to put these restrictions upon their ministry. As a matter of fact, they were probably two of the most sincere and dedicated followers of Jesus Christ living during that day.

Apparently, there was another reason why God was stopping them. One of the things that I have learned down through the years is that a closed door isn’t always an indication that what I am seeking is wrong. There was nothing sinful about Paul’s desire to take the gospel into this region. He’s only trying to obey the Lord’s command to take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. As a matter of fact, later in Paul’s life, God is going to send him there and he’s going to plant churches like the church at Ephesus and Colossae. The seven churches to whom Jesus sent the seven letters found in Revelation 2-3 are all found in this region. God isn’t punishing Paul and Silas and He’s not saying that He doesn’t want the people of this region to be saved. What God is saying is that He has something else that He wants Paul and Silas to do before they take the gospel to the people of Asia Minor.

Oftentimes when God closes a door, it is not because He is upset with us or against us, it’s because He has a very specific door that He wants us to pass through and therefore He won’t allow us to go through just any door. He wants us to go through ‘the’ door.

2. God Had a Very Special Plan for How He Wanted to Use Paul and Silas

There can only be one reason why God closed these doors before Paul and Silas. God had a very specific door that He wanted them to pass through.

C. Closed Doors Can Lead Us to a Greater Door of Blessing 

God often uses closed doors to guide us to a greater door of blessing. A closed door can mean that God has something greater than we can think or imagine. The Bible says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

Sometimes God gives us insight as to where our life is headed. Sometimes God puts desires in our heart that pull us in a particular direction. A few years after we began our ministry in Ohio, I had the desire to be the senior pastor of a church. For a while I questioned whether or not it was right for me to desire this. Was my desire simply for selfish reasons. Then one day the Spirit brought to my mind something Paul said about pastors. “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1) The word ‘desire’ means to stretch out in order to grasp something. It’s a desire that almost consumes you. God puts good desires in our hearts. The Bible says that the ‘steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.’ (see Psalm 37:23) The Bible also says Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:4-5) We should not think that this means that if we pretend to be spiritual, we can trick Him into doing something special for us. What this means is that if we make God and His will for our lives our #1 priority, God will work in and through us in some amazing ways.

Many years ago, there was a man who lived in Bristol, England by the name of George Mueller. To give you some insight to what kind of man Mueller was, he was a mentor to Charles Spurgeon and the one Spurgeon would call upon to come and preach in his church.

Mueller is known for many things. He established several orphanages and it’s estimated that he ministered to over 10,000 children during his lifetime. He pastored the same church for 66 years and at age 70 he became a missionary. He finally retired at age 87.

In addition, he is known as being a man of prayer and faith. It is estimated that Mueller raised millions of dollars (in today’s currency) to support his orphanages, and never directly asked anyone for a dime. He did it all by prayer.

He is also known as someone who strived to be in the very center of God’s will. Several years ago, I read a biography about Mueller and I remember it saying that he often read the Bible while on his knees. By the way, he read through the entire Bible over 200 times. Rather than dreaming a dream and then asking God to bless it, Mueller went to God’s Word in order to seek God’s will and then he prayed for the strength to do it. One day he read that God desired to be a father to the fatherless and from that Mueller concluded that it was God’s will for someone to take care of orphaned children and on that principle, he by faith, built his orphanages.

At one time Mueller wrote out several principles for seeking God’s will. Principle #1 was – “Surrender your own will.”I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people generally is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.”

Even though we may think we know where our life is headed, we don’t always understand how or when it will happen. Sometimes God has other things in store for us that must happen before He can bring us to our desired destination. Let me try to illustrate.

1. Getting from A to Z 

Suppose you’re at point A in your life and you sense that God has something special in store for you. Naturally we might think that if we’re at point A and God wants to bless us, point B is the blessing. Yet what we do not realize is that there are a lot of little, yet very important steps between where we are at and where God wants us to be. For instance, we might be at point A and the blessing we believe is in store for us is at point C. If so, what does that mean? It means that we have to first experience point B before the Lord can bring us to point C. Think about what has to happen if the point of blessing is point G or L or T. I should also say that sometimes these little sub-points may seem like a closed door at the time. We have our sights on that point of blessing and therefore anything that gets in our way seems like an obstacle. Yet if God ordains these closed doors, they are not obstacles, but rather the means by which God guides us and prepares us to receive His blessing.

2. Open and Closed Doors for Joseph

Here’s another illustration. Many of you are familiar with the story of Joseph. The Bible says that when Joseph was no more than a young teenager, he had a special dream that revealed that one day he would be a ruler and even his family would bow down before him. But what Joseph didn’t realize at the time was that a lot of life had to be lived before that dream could true. Joseph’s dream was point Z and therefore a lot of the alphabet had to be experienced before Joseph could receive the blessing. For instance:

Joseph had to be sold into slavery by his own brothers

Joseph had to be carried off to Egypt where he would become a slave

Joseph had to be falsely accused and thrown into prison

Joseph had to learn certain administrative skills concerning how to manage people

Joseph had to learn the importance of patience and forgiveness

Joseph had to interpret the dreams of others

And both Egypt and the land of his family would have to experience a famine

I don’t know about you, but to me all of that seems like a closed door. Being sold into slavery by your own brothers seems like a closed door. Being betrayed and forgotten seems like a closed door. Waiting all those years seems like a closed door. Yet those closed doors were actually open doors that God was taking Joseph through in order to prepare him for ‘the’ door. Later in life, when Joseph had matured, he made this statement to his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” (see Genesis 50:20) Many have said that was that the Old Testament version of Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” All doors are an open door for those who desire nothing more than to do God’s perfect will.

D. What Should We Do Whenever We Are Facing a Closed Door? 

What should we do if today we are facing some closed doors? Consider how Paul and Silas reacted.

Acts 16:6 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, 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.

1. Submission to God’s Will  

The first thing we need to recognize is that Paul and Silas didn’t try to force their way through the closed doors. Nor did they get mad, quit, and go home. Instead they humbly submitted to God’s will. They believed that a closed door only meant that an open door was just around the corner.

2. Developed a Deeper Relationship With God

The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what Paul and Silas did while they were waiting for God to open the door. However, if we take in consideration other portions of scripture that teach us about Paul and ministry, I think that we can gain some insight.

Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”

How did Paul normally approach seeking God’s will? He prayed and fasted. Paul wrote, “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) He also wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (see Philippians 4:6-7) I am sure that Paul and his missionary companions were in a spirit of sincere prayer as they waited upon God to reveal the open door.

3. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit

Acts 16:8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.

At first that seems like a very insignificant verse, yet it is very important. What was Troas? Troas was a seaport along the Aegean Sea. Let’s go back to our illustration of taking the gospel into Tennessee. Paul and Silas tried to go to Knoxville, but the Spirit stopped them. Then they tried to go to Nashville, and again the Spirit stopped them. So, what did they do? They went to Memphis, which is way over on the other side of the state. What’s at Memphis? The Mississippi River is at Memphis and on the other side is a whole new land.

Troas was a seaport on what is called the Aegean Sea. On the side where Paul and Silas were standing was Asia Minor, the place of the closed doors. On the other side is the land of Greece and something brand new. We should also note that on the other side is Europe. What Paul and Silas did not realize is that God was for the time being closing the doors in Asia Minor so that they might take the gospel into Europe. The Bible says that God is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (see Ephesians 3:20) The Bible also says that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (see 1 Corinthians 2:9)

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