And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5.23)
In this passage from Thessalonians, Paul outlines the three consonant parts that make up the creation of man. Notice he starts with the spirit, man's innermost being, and then works his way to the outer man. He does it this way because he considers the inner man primary.
Once we understand that our spirit is the real man, it’s imperative that we remain “spirit conscious,” that is, aware what our spirits might be seeing and hearing in the realm of the spirit. We see how Paul was keen to recognize the Spirit’s leadings during his missionary journeys.
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing Mysia, they went down to Troas. (Acts 16:6–8)
Over the course of his ministry, Paul and his teams traveled to all kinds of towns, villages, and regions, preaching the gospel to whomever would listen. Toward the end of his ministry he told the Christians in Rome that his ministry had been so extensive that he had “no further place” to preach in the east. But as we see here, there were some places the Lord directed him not to go.
This passage in Acts shows that they went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, not because he or Timothy (Timothy was traveling with him at this time) thought they were good places to go. They, in fact, had thought to go into Asia. But they didn't go there because of the leading of the Spirit. We don't know exactly why the Spirit forbade them from going, but we do understand from the scriptures that Paul was conscious of his spiritual nature and God's communication to him through that nature.
We see virtually the same thing regarding Bithynia, only this time the scriptures say that Paul and Timothy had actively sought to go into that region. Paul might have had good reason to go into Bithynia, but, like we saw with Samuel, the Lord had better information. Once they turned from Bithynia, they made their way to Troas, and Paul had a vision during the night.
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When we had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. (Acts 16:9–12)
Luke reports Lydia’s salvation in Philippi. She was the first convert in Europe. She took Paul and his team in. It was in Philippi that Paul cast the devil out of a young girl, and he and Silas were thrown in prison. These events led to the jailer’s and his family’s conversion and a vibrant church in Philippi. Paul later wrote that the Philippians were the only Christians that provided him financial support during his early missionary journeys.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:5)
You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. (Philippians 4:16, 17)
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— (2 Corinthians 8:1–2)
We don’t know exactly what would have happened with Paul (or the spread of the gospel for that matter) if he and Timothy had bulled ahead into Bithynia. But we do know his vision in Troas set him on the course of some of the most fruitful work in his entire ministry, and allowed him to continue his journeys with the financial support of the Philippians’ free-will offerings. This shows us just how important it is that we stay conscious of our spirits and sensitive to the Lord’s leadings in our lives and in our ministries.