The Christians at Antioch were interested in not only sending money to help need where they saw it but also in sending men. Not only in helping existing believers but in making new ones. Thus the prophets and teachers fasted and prayed in ministering unto the Lord. Fasting is not something we are used to in this material world where we are surrounded by plenty. In fact some would find it quite impossible while others may be able to do it easily. Praying in the real sense is none too easy either. The prayers that we engage in are often on a well-filled stomach and in very comfortable surroundings. We complain if seats are too hard, perhaps we should be kneeling in any case; the room too cold; and having little need of our own we have to be told what to pray for! In order to do work of any kind someone has said that we need to be ‘a little hungry, a little cold and a little concerned’. This undoubtedly applies to waiting before the Lord and the ‘fasting’ – the denying of the legitimate – may well speak of this.
As they waited there came a message from the Holy Spirit, perhaps through one of the prophets, that Barnabas and Saul be separated from the others and given the special task of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. This was a momentous move. The active taking of the message abroad with Gentiles specifically in focus was a new thing. Both Paul and Barnabas had been interested in this work and were willing to go. The prophets and teachers assembled came from a wide variety of places and from all walks of life yet they were united in what they were doing. They prayed, they laid hands on them and sent them away. The laying on of hands was a means of identification with men in the work and not a ceremony. As the Holy Spirit sent them forth so the assembly at Antioch let them go.
There are lessons here for new ventures and for ‘full-time’ service for God. All new ventures should have the support of the elders and of the assembly. They should be the result of waiting before the Lord and the divine direction should be specific and clear. If the elders and assembly do not support the proposed new work it should be left until the time is right. Many a new work has started without the blessing of, or in opposition to, the elders. Often the result has been a divided assembly and a work that has petered out due to lack of general support – the worst of all possible situations. If the work is of God it need not be rushed. If there are those who oppose that which is of God, then it is quite possible for God to remove them if He so will.
Regarding ‘full-time’ service it is evident that neither the elders nor the assembly should ever be surprised to hear that one has a desire to serve the Lord full-time. In fact the Lord who calls the individual also takes time to inform the saints! It is a grave responsibility for elders to get this right. To stand in the way and hinder an individual whom God has called is a serious matter, surpassed only perhaps, by assemblies commending a person who has not been called.
There clearly is a need for workers to go abroad, or to have specific exercises at home, to take the gospel to those in peril. There are languages and customs to be learned, and this needs time and concentrated effort. It is the primary responsibility of the commending assembly to support the worker, with help from other assemblies and individuals. While the commended person looks to the Lord for support it is neither loving nor responsible to commend some one and leave it to others to provide support. If at times support is lacking there is surely no good reason, at least no scriptural reason, why the worker should not take up temporary employment to support his family. Some seem to have the idea today that once a person is commended to ‘full-time service’, this is a commendation for life, and an end of further secular work. Commendations can be reviewed and renewed, or withdrawn.
It is possible that the ‘full-time’ teacher may well lose touch with the problems of contemporary living, though he should not lose touch with God or the word. But this is a danger we all do well to beware of.
While there remains a need for commended workers in the UK to preach the gospel, and abroad to preach and to teach, the need for full-time teachers at home in the UK may be open to question. With modern means of travel one can spend the week-end for meetings at the other end of the country and still be home before midnight on the Sunday evening. A ‘full-lime’ teaching ministry may be in danger of approximating to a mobile ‘full-time’ pastor and is possibly unscriptural.
Elders and assemblies must judge for themselves and serious questions need to be asked before decisions are made to commend or not to commend to full-time service.
Thus the assembly at Corinth ‘let them go’ and they set off for the propagation of the gospel in places as yet untouched by the message. Their confidence in God would be strengthened by what had happened in early days at Antioch, and, unknown to them, great challenges and victories lay ahead.