This subject, which has borne the weight of complex “theological” arguments for centuries, is far too broad and deep to be contained in a post of reasonable length. I do not intend to try to settle all the hypothetical questions in which self-styled “experts” delight. An honest encounter with the New Testament will almost always come up with more questions than answers, and this one is no exception.
One can delve into the various deriatives of thelo (classically ethelo)(v.),thelema (n), and boulomai (v.), boule (n), or boulema (n) – none of which make the classical distinctions in which theoreticians delight – i.e., “permissive will,” “eternal will,” “ultimate will,”, “sovereign will,” and so on down the list of doctrinal hobbyhorses.
Thelema and its related words are classically defined simply as: “to be willing, to consent, to delight in, to ordain or decree, to be naturally disposed toward a person, idea, or thing.”
Boulomai, the stronger word, is listed as “the wishes of the gods” (in Homer), “one’s choice or preference, to want to do something, desire, prefer, purpose, intend that something be done.”
Please note that none of these carry any implicationof direct causation. Both word groups legitimately contain sufficient latitude that people with “an axe to grind” can manipulate them with amazing dexterity. I choose not to join that fray, but rather to call your attention to the handful of places where the statement is plainly phrased: “This isthe will of God …” or, “The will of God is ….” Whatever direction people choose to push (or twist?) the more ambiguous statements, these few are unmistakably clear: and consequently, must inform / govern any conclusion that requires or permits interpretation. Any interpretation that directly contradicts what is plainly stated,must be recognized as being in error.
I am deliberately listing these with only minimal comment: they speak for themselves:
Mt.18:14 – Jesus speaking — “It is NOT the will of my/your Father in heaven that one of these little ones be destroyed/lost.” (note: “mikroi” may refer to actual children, or to newly recruited disciples.)
Jn.6:39 – Jesus speaking — “This is the will of the one that sent me: that I may not lose anyone of all that he has given me, but that I may raise him up in the last day.”
Jn.6:40 – still Jesus – “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one who sees the Son and is faithful to him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up in the last day.”
I Thess.4:3 — “This is the will of God” — the faithful being set-apart / “sanctified” / made holy for him – exhibiting exemplary moral and ethical behavior.
I Thess.5:18 — “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus” — that his people should give thanks continually, IN (not “for”) everything.
I Peter 2:15 — “This is God’s will: that by doing good, you should silence the ignorance” of those who make spurious accusations.
Mt.8:3 – Jesus, again — “I will – his intention to heal the leper.
Mt.9:13 – Jesus, quoting Hosea 6:6 — “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.”
I Tim.2:4 – (God), “who will have [wants] all people to be saved/rescued, and come to understanding of the truth.”
These are completely unequivocal.
Another block of references indicate that “God’s will” is something that his people are expected to DO.
Mt.7:21 – Jesus speaking: “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord!” will come into the kingdom of heaven, but he that keeps on doing the will of my Father in heaven.”
Mt. 12:50 (and parallel, Mk.3:35) – Jesus speaking — “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, this one is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Jn.4:34 – Jesus in Samaria — “My food is that I continually may do the will of the one that sent me, and that I may complete his work.”
Jn.6:38 – Jesus again — “I have come down from heaven, not to do what I want, but to dothe will of the one that sent me.”
Eph.6:6 — “as Christ’s slaves, doing God’s will with your whole self.”
Heb.10:7,9 – quoting Jesus, “I come to do your will.”
Heb.10:36 — “You all have need of endurance, in order that when/since you have done God’s will, you may obtain the promise.”
Heb.13:21 — “He will establish you all, in everything good, for doing his will.”
I Jn.2:17 — “The world is passing away, and so are its passions; but the person who keeps on doing God’s will remains forever.”
Of course, to “do God’s will,” one must know what that “will” is. And this is the key.
“God’s will” is not a subject for debates, but a pattern for the life of his people!
Actually, the whole New Testament is the “instruction manual” for that project: the demonstration – by the people he has called and assembled — of God’s mercy and gracious provision for his creation. The instruction manual is provided for a very simple purpose:
Jn.7:17 — “If anyone wants to DO his will, he will know about the teaching, whether it is from God.” Might it possibly be a corollary, that a person who does not purpose to “do his will” can not know? (There is a similar flavor in James’ advice about asking for wisdom– 1:5).
Paul described it to the Ephesian brethren (1:9-10), “God let us in on the mystery of his will – he set it all out in him (Christ) – his plan for the consummation of all time – that absolutely everything be summed up under the headship of Christ – things in heaven and things on earth!” and later reiterated, (5:17) “So don’t be unwise, but keep working to understand what the will of the Lord is!”
He prayed for the Colossians (1:9-10), “asking that you all may be filled with the certain knowledge of his will …. so that you may behave in a manner worthy of the Lord, in order to please him fully!”
He gave the Roman readers a classic description of what should be integral to metanoia (W.S.#6) in 12:2 — “Do not continue to pattern yourselves by this age, but be continuously, completely changed by the renewal of your mind, so that you all will recognize what God’s will is – what is good, and pleasing, and complete.”
If that doesn’t send us scurrying back to the textbook (the New Testament), I don’t know what will.
To be sure, incidents of specific individual guidance are occasionally mentioned, as are callings to a particular task. These must not be ignored, but tested and confirmed in the Body. We are called to enable one another’s assignments.
Please note also that the designation “God’s will” is never applied, in any New Testament text, to any form of disaster, disease, or disobedience! Such things will happen in the world we live in – and will affect the lives of the faithful as well as the unfaithful. But in no instance are they represented as caused by “the will of God!” (Please see the previous post — #11) God’s will is that we respond/ react to whatever life brings, in faithfulness.
In I Pet.4:19, for example, “according to God’s will”, grammatically, could link either to “suffering” or to “entrust themselves.” Contextually, (see vv.12-16), the latter choice seems more consistent with the rest of the passage. This is one of many reasons why one should be extremely wary of quoted “verses” removed from their original context. Isolated “verses” are so easily twisted to win an argument or “prove” a point!
I believe that it is the “will of God” that his people quit wrangling over how that “will” applies to other people, and get about the business of incarnating the answer to Paul’s prayer “asking that you all may be filled with the certain knowledge of his will ….in order to please him fully!”
Amen, Lord! THY WILL BE DONE!!!!