Question: "What is the Macedonian Call?"
Answer: The term “Macedonian Call” refers to a God-given vision that directed the route Paul took on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:39—18:22). Paul’s plan was to visit and strengthen the churches he had planted in the Asian province of Galatia during his first journey. After that he hoped to take the gospel to unchurched regions. Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, had plans to head directly west, but they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6–8).
It isn’t known exactly what caused Paul and his team to shift their plans, but somehow the Spirit made it plain to them that they were not to go to the southwest portion of Asia Minor. They next tried heading north to Bithynia, located along the southern coast of the Black Sea, but, again, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:6–7). So, the missionaries skirted the region of Mysia and came to the seaport city of Troas.
It is evident that these early missionaries were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The route they took relied heavily on the direction of the Spirit and on prayer. Had they followed their original plans, their work would have been confined to Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). As the Spirit closed doors, the missionaries continued to seek direction for their journey.
After being redirected twice, Paul was at a standstill in Troas, on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea. There Paul received the Macedonian Call: “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (Acts 16:9). This vision was the clear direction they needed. “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10).
An interesting change of perspective occurs between Acts 16:8 and Acts 16:10. In verse 8 the narrative is written in the third person (“they”). But in verse 10, the first person (“we”) is used—the narrator includes himself in the action. It is apparent that Luke, the author of Acts, met Paul in Troas and joined the company of missionaries. Some believe that Luke was the “man of Macedonia” that Paul had previously seen in his dream and that, once Paul met him, he knew beyond a doubt that he was to accompany Luke on a western voyage.
Paul obeyed the vision. If the Macedonians needed help, then they would go to Macedonia (the northern and central parts of modern-day Greece). The Macedonian Call resulted in Paul and his companions’ sailing from Troas to Neapolis, stopping for the night on the island of Samothrace. From Neapolis, they continued on to the Roman colony of Philippi, the leading city of that district of Macedonia (Acts 16:11–12). This area is still known as the gateway to Europe. Up to that point in history, the gospel had been limited to Asia, and many historians credit Paul’s heeding the Macedonian Call with the spread of Christianity into Europe and the Western world.
Much happened in Macedonia. Lydia’s conversion (Acts 16:14–15), the deliverance of a fortune-telling slave girl (Acts 16:16–18), Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16:16–28), the conversion of the jailer and his household (Acts 16:29–34), and Paul’s preaching in the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:16–34) are some of the highlights of the second missionary journey.
Paul planted several churches in response to the Macedonian Call. Local bodies of believers were established in Philippi (Acts 16:40) and Thessalonica (Acts 17:4) in Macedonia, and in Corinth in nearby Achaia (Acts 18:1–11). These churches were important in the growth of the early church and enjoyed a long-term relationship with the apostles. Five of the New Testament Epistles were written to these three churches.
The history of the church—and of the world—forever changed because of the God-given dream known as the Macedonian Call.