The Acts of the Apostles is a delightful collection of Spirit-selected incidents giving us some record of the early days of church history, and to consider this book as a development of church life and practice is calculated to yield the utmost spiritual profit. There is, however, another method of study open to us. The separate jewels of truth herein contained may be lifted out of their rare casket and individually scrutinized; for each wonderful cameo will bear the closest examination. Such a cameo is Acts. 13. 1-4a.
Herein we have, described in a few weighty words, the truth concerning the Spirit’s call to service which was to issue in a mighty work for God. This incident has not been recorded merely as a matter of history, supplying the initial steps in the life-service of a great apostle, but buried therein are principles applicable to the call of God’s servants for all time.
(1) From v. 1 we may gather information regarding the Character of the men whom God calls.
(a) They were men who recognized their place and part “in the church that was in Antioch.” They were not individuals who used the assembly as a convenience and boasted of being ‘free-lances’ for God. They realized that they belonged to a local church and in its midst they lived and laboured, so that the Spirit of God, when needing men, found His instruments to hand in the assembly. Here is a much-needed lesson for all in a day when assembly truth is in danger of being lightly esteemed.
(b) They were men of gift, whose gift (viz., “prophets and teachers”) was already being recognized by the saints. Spiritual gifts are not manufactured by men but are dispensed to the church by a risen, victorious Lord (Eph. 4. 7-11), divided to individuals by the Holy Spirit “according as He pleases” (1 Cor. 12. 4-11, Darby). Christian work of any kind should not be entered upon merely because it is gratifying to personal desires. This has too often been the case, and that, sadly to the detriment of the testimony. How essential it is for young Christians first to seek exercise before the Lord as to the particular talent or talents He has given to them, so that the character of coming work for God may be indicated. And how equally essential for elders to watch carefully for the evidence of such gifts and to encourage their use.
(c) Furthermore, the gift should be patiently developed and locally exercised. Inferentially, these five brethren were diligently giving themselves over to learning more fully the Divine truth (teachers) and to discerning more fully the Divine mind (prophets). Young men and women who, instead of using their time in other things, give the utmost attention to divine matters are the most likely to: be commissioned by the Master. The spiritually industrious are to be watched and encouraged, and, whilst every effort should be made to spur on other young men in the things of God, we must avoid thrusting them into ministry of any sort just for the sake of ‘giving them a turn.’
(d) Then, note, these men were working in the assembly at Antioch in the beautiful harmony of a team-spirit. There was Barnabas, a Levite of Cyprus (4. 36), a man at one time of some financial count, already having recognition (9. 27) as a leader among the saints (11. 22-24). Then there was Simeon, whose other name (Niger) may indicate that he was a black man, maybe late of Africa. Lucius was there, a man hailing from Cyrenaica. Here, too, was Manaen, foster-brother to Herod, one having contact with the court and of no common society; and finally Saul, the Jew yet free-born Roman, one who had ranked high in the religious circles of Jewry. What a rare diversity— yet what delightful harmony, each having learned the secret of unity with his brethren. God has little use for those who are always being a law unto themselves, but rather seeks for those who, though so strangely different, are diligently working together in a common yoke.
(e) Finally, in the case of Saul, the value of humility seems to be advanced for our notice. The two men chosen by the Spirit, stand, one at the top of the list and one as a humble tailpiece. Saul, the proud, autocratic bigot, is now satisfied to be the ‘last man in’! Follow down the ensuing record and note the order “Barnabas and Saul” (vv. 2, 7)—he is still bringing up the rear; But it is as if God says the man who is willing to take the last place shall be His first. Consequently, from v. 43 onwards, with but one or two exceptions, it becomes “Paul and Barnabas,” Paul eventually taking the lead and Barnabas disappearing from the record. Truly, in the service of God “he who exalteth himself shall be abased,” so let us be diligent to occupy without mockmodesty, the last place, for “the last shall be first” for God. The qualities, therefore, which are to be looked for and encouraged are: fidelity to the house of God, a divinely bestowed and exercised gift, harmony with others in local work and witness, and personal humility in the service of the Lord.
(2) A consideration of v. 2 would teach us concerning the Conduct of the men whom God calls. The call of God came “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted.”. They were busy for God in their own assembly, doing with their might what their hands found to do. There are young men who anticipate doing great things for God in far-off fields who sometimes fail to notice, or to be interested in, spiritual work which lies at their very doors—in their own streets and in their own halls. In this instance God called to wider service the men who were already bearing great burdens in their local assembly. Those who with purpose of heart are already giving themselves to service in their immediate vicinity, executing every labour, however menial, as a ministry ‘unto the Lord’ and doing it at personal sacrifice (‘fasting’), are the men the assemblies need and the men God needs, they being the most likely to be called to further work and greater responsibilities. Let young Christians manifest diligence and interest in the work and witness of their own assembly if they would earn Divine and human recognition.
(3) A further glance at v. 2 together with v. 4a, would indicate something with regard to the spiritual Constitution of the men whom God calls. It is obvious that the men themselves and the assembly to which they belonged had ears tuned to catch the breathings of the Holy Spirit, and hearts obedient to His commands when known. They lived in close contact with the Spirit of God, and worked in union with Him. When the Spirit called, His voice was immediately recognized by all and His desire unquestioned. The men and women God needs today, and will most surely use, are not such as are good organizers, or those full of new ideas or who are always wanting to go about the work of the Lord with rules and regulations of man’s making, but men who have cultivated Spirit-sensitiveness and always and only ‘move at the breathing of His will.’ In v. 2 the Spirit’s desire is unhesitatingly received, and in v. 4 it is immediately responded to. Here are the men to observe, men whose lives are under the control of the Spirit of God.
(4) Then, turning to v. 3, let us observe the Consideration of the assembly for such men. These men who laboured amongst the saints, two of whom the Lord was shortly to thrust out, were undoubtedly those who had won the confidence of the church. This is instanced by the way in which the church immediately fell to ‘fasting and prayer’ on their behalf and showed such ready and heartfelt identification with them by their act of laying on of hands. Men who are likely to be most effective for God, in the assembly or further afield, are those who by their own devotion to the things of God, Christlikeness of walk and spirituality of conduct, have won a warm place in the hearts of their fellow-saints. Such are the men to be encouraged into front-line service for God.
(5) One final word. What must be the attitude of the saints to such men whom the Lord has, in a greater or less degree, separated to wider service, whatever, its character—men whose presence was valued and whose absence creates severe loss? We read in v. 4 that, following fasting, prayer and laying on of hands, “they let them go” (Darby). That infers calm resignation to the Divine leading, and a full agreement regarding their going. It was no doubt with many expressions of encouragement and wishes for God-speed they watched them go—their hearts were with them, their prayers for them and their interest in them. Sometimes, when a young man is called to wider service, there is a tendency to regard him as being unfaithful to home responsibilities. Let those who do this, beware lest they be found fighting against God.
(6) In conclusion: Is there a young man displaying a gift from God and taking every opportunity to develop it? Do we see him, with a heart for the assembly in which God has placed him, exercising his gift with diligence and humility of mind? Is he manifesting readiness of heart to work harmoniously with his brethren, not seeking to aspire to heights at their expense? And is he seen to have a deep spiritual sensitiveness, obeying implicity the directions of the Spirit of God? Then, encourage him and be ready to observe the ways of God with him. May every young Christian (man or woman) seek so to conform to these essential principles, demonstrated in Holy Scripture, that God at all times may have His will fulfilled in them.
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