A Pastor’s Commentary
Studies in the Book of Acts
Lesson 21: On the Road Again Acts 13:1-4
One of the things that has come to characterize American Society in the twenty-first century is “mobility.” Statistics say that the average American will change jobs three times during his working years. And those same statistics say that the average family will move 2.5 times during their child-bearing years.
Most of us have been affected in one way or another by those kinds of statistics, haven’t we? But this is not the first generation or the first society of which those things have been true. In fact, for the first generation of Christians described in the book of Acts, it was a mandate from God. In Acts 1:8 Jesus had told the disciples that they would be witnesses for Him “in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the world.”
And as we look back over the chapters that we have studied thus far we see that they have fulfilled that mandate very well. Chapters 1 through 7 describe their activities in Jerusalem as they got established in the faith. Then in chapters 8 through 12 we see their activities and ministry in Judea and Samaria. And so, beginning here in chapter 13 and going through the rest of the book we will see how they fulfill the mandate to go “to the uttermost parts of the earth.” In all of these movements and ministry, God has had to “move them out” in various ways – they, like us, would probably have preferred to settle down and stay put.
But His work in their lives is going to continue to push them out to new areas in the chapters ahead as well. Chapter 13 falls into three parts: First, in verses 1 through 4 we have the separation to the ministry. Then in verses 5 through 41 we have the specifics of the ministry and finally, in verses 42 through 52 we have the sequel to the ministry
So, let’s begin our study by looking at the separation to the Ministry that we find in verses 1 through 4. And the first thing that is mentioned is the circumstances in which the separation was made. The first characteristic of the church at Antioch was interaction described in verse 1. Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon, who was called Niger, Lucias of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod, and Saul. Now those may not seem like very stimulating verses at first glance, but they contain a wealth of information about the circumstances there in the early church.
First is just the mention of the city of Antioch. This was the Roman capitol of Syria, and the gateway to the east. Like most large cities of that day or this, Antioch was a multicultural trade center, rich and bawdy. On the outskirts of town stood the temple of the goddess Daphne, a deplorable center of prostitution and pagan worship. Chariot racing and other sports lured gambling into the city, where the atmosphere exuded a “high rolling” lifestyle.
The Imperial Mint of Rome was also located there, so there was much government activity as well. But that was not all there was to Antioch – behind the scenes of the glaring social life and nightlife, God was kindling the fires of Christian faith and morality. Notice in verse 1 that there were “prophets” and “teachers.” The prophets were still active in those early years of the church because the letters and other writings of the apostles and other inspired teachers had not yet been gathered together as one book (the New Testament, or “canon of scripture”)
So the prophets probably provided special guidance from the Lord as needed. The gift of teaching was a little different, having to with the teaching that was already revealed in the Old Testament and perhaps clarifying what the prophets had revealed. And these prophets and teachers included at least the 5 men listed here, possibly more.
Now its easy to skip over a verse like this, thinking it is just another list of hard to pronounce names. But we would miss a significant insight if we did that, because these men provided a rich “mix” of various backgrounds from which to lead the church – look again at the last half of the verse: Barnabas, Simeon, who was called Niger, Lucias of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Barnabas was a Jew from the island of Cypress, as we have seen in previous studies. Simeon also had the name “Niger,” the verse tells us. This is a Latin term meaning “black skinned” (the source of the name of the nation of “Nigeria,” and probably the little used term “negro” for African-Americans. Lucius was from Cyrene, which was west of Egypt, on the coast of Africa. His name was Greek, so he may have been a Gentile. Manean was a member of “High society,” having grown up with Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee (not the Herod of chapter 12), and of course, Saul, with his impressive education and training as a Rabbi.
So, what we have here is a very cosmopolitan leadership team – a Cyprian Jew, a black man, a Gentile, an aristocrat and a rabbi! And with that kind of mix they would have been able to minister to the many different ethnic groups and profession that would have been in a big city like Antioch. So that was the kind of “interaction” that was going on in the church of Antioch.
But in verse 2 we find an interruption in all of that. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Notice first that the Holy Spirit spoke “as they ministered” to the Lord and fasted.” This is another of the places in scripture which tell us that God usually speaks to us about ministry while we are ministering. And that is because we are most sensitive to the Holy Spirit at those times. We don’t know exactly how the Holy Spirit led the congregation to set apart these two men, but we do know that the plan was specific and selective. The call wasn’t for everyone, just for Barnabas and Saul. And they were not to choose their own mission field – God had a specific work for them to do.
And there is a sense in which this specific and selective call of God is encouraging to us, because it reminds us of how personal His plan is for each of us. Thus on the one hand we don’t need to feel guilty when He guides our friends in some other direction. Or on the other hand that we become judgmental if he calls us to ministry and doesn’t call our friends. Now all of that is underscored when we realize who the central figure in the separation is
Look at verses 3 and 4 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. (4) So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cypress. The central figure in this call to the mission field was not from the pastor, nor the missions committee, but the Holy Spirit – note verse 4 – “being sent out by the Holy Spirit. . . . ” Actually, this emphasis is demonstrated in verse 2 also.
One of the problems with too many ministries is that men make the decisions, not the Holy Spirit. And even though it may be a difficult task to determine what the Lord is leading, we must always be careful that our calling is from Him. One of the keys to determining this kind of thing is in verse 3 “having fasted and prayed . . . . they sent them away.” Fasting is one of the most neglected disciplines in the Christian life. Most people seem to think that it is an Old Testament concept, but it is mentioned often in the New Testament (as in these verses) But it may be that it was as a result of fasting and prayer that they understood the call of God for Barnabas and Saul. And the very least we can say is that it is that kind of heart attitude in which the Holy Spirit can best communicate with us.
Notice, too, the participation of the congregation in sending them out – the elders of the church laid hands on them, as they sent them out. This is another practice that we find in many places in the record of the early church. And it is a sign of “identification” with the person or the project that is being inaugurated. It probably grew out of the Old Testament practice of laying hands on an animal before the it was given as a sacrifice. This was a sign of the maturity of this relatively new church. They didn’t cling to their friends, but released them to go to other ministries. In my years of ministry as a pastor I have repeatedly seen an individual or a couple called into the Lord’s service and have wondered how the congregation would be able to “do without them,” but time after time they returned with wonderful reports of how their ministry, usually in other parts of the world, had, in a sense, extended the ministry of those of us whom they had left behind.
And in almost every case God “took up the slack by providing other gifted people to take their place. And this is a principle that still continues to this day. One reason today’s church doesn’t seem to realize this is the emphasis (or should I say “over emphasis) that is so often placed on “church growth.” There is nothing wrong with church growth if the growth is provided by the Holy Spirit. But most church growth programs are really just “recruiting” programs. And when a church is built around people or programs who have been “recruited.” there is a void when they leave (until somebody can be recruited to take their place.) But when the Lord has produced the growth and somebody leaves there can be a quiet confidence that He will provide somebody to take their place.
And so this section of the chapter concludes with Barnabas and Saul actually launching out into their new ministry in verse 4. So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. It is one thing to be called by the Lord to do some ministry (and to know that you have not been called by men.) But even more important than the call is to follow through with it and actually go to the place of service. Many lives have been thwarted when people refused to follow through for one reason or another. Following the Lord’s leading whether in one project or a lifetime of ministry is an exciting adventure.
If you are willing to be available for such a call there are three principles in this passage that will help you: First, don’t ever get so settled” in a place or a ministry that you completely rule out a call to another place (or to a new ministry in the same place.) It is possible to get so deeply rooted in our surroundings – our house; our friends; our memories; or even our ministry – to move out when he calls. But while on the one hand God does sometimes keep people in one place for a long time, or even for a lifetime, He also sometimes moves people after a lengthy, happy, stay in one place.
Second, pay attention as you pursue what you are already doing for the Lord. It is in the midst of following Him that He often leads most clearly.
Third, remember that God’s call is always selective. Be careful not to judge others who stay behind, or feel hurt when God sends someone else.
Fourth, when God does call you, be sure to prayerfully follow through to complete obedience to the call. -end- The purpose of these lessons is to help you to understand that Romans 3:23 says that all of us, including you, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, our purpose is to help you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and perhaps bring others to Him also.
If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at LivingBibleStudies.org