There is a very distinct characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s work when we are sent out by Him (Acts 13:4). “They proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews” (13:5). When we are confident that the Holy Spirit is doing the sending, we can be assured He will have us speak the gospel were it has never been heard and where the need is the greatest. It may seem to be an unlikely place with dangers and obstacles. But God’s Word is not bound by any human limitations.
You can be certain that there is inherent power in the Word of God and does not need human devises to make it acceptable. If we seek to mix it with palatable ingredients, we will reduce its power to a human level which does not “accomplish that which I (God) purpose” (Is. 55:11). Let us be very careful that we proclaim the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit – unmixed!
Do we really know when the Holy Spirit is speaking to us? “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said; “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:2). There are three essential elements in this phrase that I want us to note:
1. These believers clearly knew when the Holy Spirit was speaking. There is no mention of any emotional hype that forced them to hear the Spirit. Their minds were clearly on worship and fasting, but they were not so preoccupied with what they were doing that they were not also consciously listening for God to speak.
2. The proof of (1) is in Antioch’s immediate obedience! “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (13:3). There was no mission board meeting to approve their sending. There was no requirement that these two missionaries go out and get support before heading to the field. There was perfect unity in mind and heart with the Holy Spirit’s voice and instructions.
3. The Holy Spirit set these men apart “for the work to which I (Holy Spirit) have called them” (13:2). I come back to this verse because I believe it is the most misunderstood part of this instruction. Because the work of missions is the message of God, sent by God, and empowered by God to reach the nations for the glory of God, it cannot be controlled by man or by man’s organizations. We must believe that the Holy Spirit is God and what He does is perfect.
These are essential for “effective missions”! So I ask you the question; are you and is your church spiritually prepared for God to move in this way? If not, why not? Would there be a willingness to obey immediately without any prerequisites? Do you really trust what God will do through persons sent out by the Holy Spirit? Think carefully before you answer that question. How you answer will tell a lot about your trust in God’s work.
A Spirit-filled walk with Christ makes us ready for the moment when He speaks to us. There is no indication that “worshiping the Lord and fasting” was anything unusual for the church at Antioch. Even before the Holy Spirit came in Acts 2, prayer was a natural habit for believers in Christ. These habits were the effective tools that gave the Holy Spirit freedom to speak directly to this church with clear instructions for the next missions outreach.
There are dangers that cause our mission efforts to be ineffective:
1. We do not expect the Holy Spirit to speak clearly to us.
2. We subconsciously think every time we pray, the outcome is going to be the same as last time.
3. We really don’t want change in our churches and therefore we quench the Holy Spirit.
4. We want to retain good people in our churches rather than expecting God to send them out.
We need to expect God to do something different that will make our missions more effective and beyond what is familiar to us. God's command is GO! Where? He will direct after we become willing to be sent.
We often hurry over verses (I have) and fail to take time to understand their importance. As Luke names the “prophets and teachers” at Antioch, he includes one called “Manaen a life-long friend (foster brother) of Herod the tetrarch, and (friend) of Saul” (Acts 13:1). How different was the life of Herod who lived in debauchery and hatred for Christ and His people, and this foster brother Manaen who became a devoted follower of Jesus and leader in the church. When Luke says that he was a friend of Saul, it makes me wonder what influence Saul had on him. Before Saul’s conversion, he mingled among the rulers of the Jews and no doubt had affiliations with the Roman court. Did Saul know Manaen before his conversion and went back to him to explain what God had done on the Damascus road?
What influence have we had on individuals who may have gone a very different direction were it not that God placed them in our path? This relative of Herod became an effective leader in Antioch who listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit (see verse2) so that Barnabas and Saul could be set apart for His work. God makes the “people connections”. It is our responsibility to be ready for them so our mission work is effective.
The interlude between Acts 9:31 and 11:24 is a mighty work of the Spirit in changing the Jewish mind of Peter and the church in Jerusalem from a solely Jewish church to one that accepts Gentiles. This required divine intervention, first with Peter and then with the church in Jerusalem, so they could recognize that God was doing something beyond them. To verify this work of the Spirit, Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to examine what was taking place. “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad” (11:23).
This point becomes a challenge to our stale thinking. I fear we become so immersed in our own church activities and programs that we fail to see how God is working beyond our community, country and culture. How often do we stop and celebrate the new believers among the Aka people of Myanmar or the Muslims who have come to faith in Christ, accepting family and cultural persecution in many places around the world?
In this interlude, God is preparing Saul in Tarsus for the next stage of effective missions. Barnabas realizes that these new believers in Antioch need some good teaching to establish them in their faith. Who better to help him with this task than Saul? Barnabas goes up to Tarsus and looks for his friend and disciple and brings Saul back to Antioch. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (11:26). The uncertainty about this young convert Saul has melted and given way to effective teaching so that these new converts become a clear reflection of Christ!
How does our discipling, strengthening and encouraging of new believers compare to this? Is it so effective that the world sees the reflection of Christ in them? This multiplies our mission effort by the power of God working in persons!
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