This week, I was privileged to speak God’s Word at the annual Ebenezer Camp. The theme of the camp was “Knowing the Will of God” based on Ephesians 5:17 – “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” This verse reminds us that a Christian ought not be ignorant of the will of God if he is to walk worthy of the high calling of a saint (c.f. Ephesians 4:1). He should delight to do the will of God, just like Jesus whose meat is to do the will of the Father who sent Him, and to finish it (John 4:34).

However, the study of God’s will can sometimes be complex for Christians. In order to assist believers to understand this subject, the Rev. Timothy Tow classified the different aspects of God’s will into seven heads: I. Preceptive; II. Directive; III. Cooperative; IV. Desiderative; V. Punitive/Chastitive; VI. Permissive and VII. Decretive.

The following is a brief summary of the sevenfold will of God:

Preceptive Will

The term “preceptive” comes from the word precept and refers to the precepts, teachings and moral instruction that is found in God’s Word. The Bible is the foundation of learning God’s will, and our final authority of faith and practice. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

All believers ought to submit themselves to the perceptive will of God. Are we a humble student of the Bible? Or do we approach God’s Word with a proud and critical spirit? Let us take the Psalmist for our example, who declared whole-heartedly, “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.” (Psalm 119:16)
As for young men and women, the Scripture pointedly instructs them concerning the perceptive will of God. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.” (Psalm 119:9-16) Young people, take heed!

Directive Will

This refers to how God will lead and direct each believer personally to do His will. This can be seen in the life of Abraham where God directed him each step of the way. When Abraham left his home country though he knew not the identity of the land to which he ought to go (Genesis 12:1-5). However, as Abraham followed the guiding hand of God, God progressively revealed the boundaries of the land promised unto Abraham and his seed (see Genesis 12:6-9; Genesis 13:14-18; Genesis 15:18-20). Abraham was to walk by faith, trusting in the directive will of God.

The same concept of progressive revelation can be seen with respect to the heir of Abraham. Firstly, it was revealed that Abraham’s heir was not to be obtained via adoption of his chief steward, but from his own bowels (Genesis 15:3-4). Later when Abraham was 86 years old, the LORD revealed to him that the heir was not to be obtained via the handmaid of Sarah acting as a surrogate (Genesis 16). Lastly, at the age of 99, Abraham was assured God that the heir will be through his wife Sarah (Genesis 17-18). The LORD leads and directs according to His own perfect timing.

Abraham’s life was thus a reflection of Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

In the past, God progressively reveals His will to His people through diverse means such as dreams, visions, voices or theophanies. However, now that the canon of Scripture is complete, God leads primarily through the more sure Word of prophecy. We thus reject the claims of Charismatics today of hearing voices and receiving visions from God.

Cooperative Will

As we obey God’s perceptive will and walk in His directive will, God will surely bless and lead us to good success. The classic example of this is found in Genesis 24. Abraham heeded God’s perceptive and directive will that Isaac is never to marry someone from the surrounding nations. As Abraham’s servant headed to Ur of the Chaldees to find a wife for Isaac, he asked for a sign from God to help him in his task. “And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.” (Genesis 24:14) Lo and behold, everything happened exactly as how the servant requested. Filled with great joy in finding a wife for his master’s son, the servant of Abraham prayed, “And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.” (Genesis 24:27)

A further example of the cooperative will is found in Acts 16. Paul and Silas wanted to preach the gospel in Asia, but by the directive will of God, the Holy Spirit forbade them to do so. Then, as they went down to Troas, a vision appeared unto Paul at night. He saw a man of Macedonia standing and plead-ing to Paul, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” (Acts 16:9) Assured of the Lord’s direction, Paul endeavoured immediately to go into Macedonia. From Troas, the Lord gave “a straight course” all the way to Philippi (Acts 16:11-12). At Philippi, Paul and Silas met with Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened to be saved by the preaching of the gospel.

However, God’s cooperative will does not necessitate an absence of challenges and difficulties. Paul and Silas soon found themselves cast into jail for having cast a spirit of divination out of a girl who was used by her masters to bring them gain. While Paul and Silas were imprisoned, God sent a great earthquake at midnight which caused the very foundations of the prison to be shaken. The prison doors were opened, and the shackles of the prisoners were loosed, yet none of the prisoners escaped. The jailor of the compound wanted to commit suicide, but Paul assured him that every prisoner was still in the vicinity. The jailor then desired of Paul to know the way of salvation. Once again, Paul was given the opportunity to preach the gospel. Through this event, the jailor’s household was gloriously delivered from the chains of sin.

The blessed end of Paul’s labour is seen in Philippians 1:1. Ten years down the road from Paul’s first entry to Macedonia, there was now a thriving church with an established government of bishops (elders) and deacons. This is result of God’s cooperative will in the life of Paul!

The youth at the camp were aptly reminded of the lessons learnt on the cooperative will of God via a screened video on the life of William Carey. William Carey was obedient to God’s call to be a missionary in India. However, he faced many obstacles, difficulties and persecutions while ministering in the foreign land. Nevertheless, he persevered, and God granted him much fruit at the tail end of his ministry. Similarly, if we faithfully follow God’s leading in life, He will prosper our way for His name’s sake despite the various trials and tribulations we may face.

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew