Yoke-Fellows in Gospel Service

In the New Testament the frequent association of two labourers in Gospel service gives evidence that such partnership was intended to have a considerable place in God’s plans for the carrying out of the work. This method was adopted by the Lord when He sent the twelve disciples forth to preach, and again subsequently when He sent seventy others ‘into every city and place, whither he himself would come’, Luke 10. 1. Immediately after Pentecost the two apostles, Peter and John, are found associated in preaching in Jerusalem, in the healing of the lame man, and in consequent imprisonment and testimony before the Sanhedrin, Acts 3. 1-11; 4. 13-20. The history of Mission work among the Gentiles as narrated in the Acts and the Epistles abounds in instruction regarding the subject before us. Here we shall consider three partnerships in which the apostle Paul was associated.

Paul and Barnabas

Barnabas had come to the help of Paul just after his conversion, to relieve the difficult situation arising from the fear of him entertained by the disciples in Jerusalem; by his explanation of the circumstances, he had opened the hearts of all to receive him, Acts 9. 27. The friendship thus formed was cemented later. When, on returning to Antioch, Barnabas saw the rapid increase in the church there, he took a journey to Tarsus to seek out Paul and after finding him brought him to Antioch, with the result that the two of them were united in service there for a whole year. Thus the Lord prepared for their association in the pioneering work that He had in store for them.

We must not fail to observe the conditions of their appointment. The Holy Spirit made the choice and gave the call, Acts 13. 2. These were, and ever remain, His prerogatives. No change either in the character of the times or in the conditions and circumstances of nations affords ground for the supposition that the Holy Spirit has relinquished these prerogatives or has relegated them to others as successors to the apostles. To disregard His claims and to set up human machinery for the ordination of men for Gospel ministry, is to deny one of the first principles of the work of God in the testimony committed to the Church. The fact that in apostolic times supernatural guidance was miraculously provided, and that this mode of direction ceased with the completion of the Word of God and the passing away of the apostles, is no reason for thinking that the Spirit of God no longer by His direct operation in the heart makes the choice and gives the call but commits the selection and ordination to human authority. Lack of recognition of His power to act in these matters apart from human instrumentality is dishonouring to God. Again, His choice involves His preparation of workers for the service which lies before them. Such preparation is evidenced in the work and testimony in which the prospective labourers engage before they actually go forth. This preliminary period of service provides an evidence of their fitness when the fact of their call is made known to the church. It then becomes the responsibility of the church to recognize the call and to engage in loving, practical co-operation in their new service.

Barnabas and Paul were occupied as prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch for some time before the Spirit of God commanded their separation to Himself for the work whereunto He had called them. Hands being laid upon them was no act of ordination; they had received divine ordination long before this. What was done expressed identification with them in the service upon which they were about to enter. The Authorised Version reads that they ‘sent them away’, verse 3. The point of the original is perhaps missed in this translation; a closer rendering would be, ‘they let them go’, suggesting that while there was complete acquiescence in the will of the Spirit of God, there was also regret at parting from those who had been their spiritual helpers. The statement which follows to the effect that they were sent forth by the Holy Spirit, enforces further the fact of His operation in the matter and the word rendered ‘sent forth’ is quite different from that used just previously in verse 3. The church parted with them, the Holy Spirit sent them. At the same time it seems to be clearly implied, indeed the circumstances make it obvious, that the church assisted them practically. We must not forget also the further description of the part the saints took in their going forth, in the statement that they were ‘committed to the grace of God for the work’, Acts 14. 26, R.V. Under these conditions, therefore, these two brethren set out on their first momentous journey to the dark regions beyond.

Paul and Silas

That Paul and Barnabas were prevented from a continuance of their labours together in the matter of a second journey, by their division of heart concerning John Mark, is recorded not for our criticism of either, but that we may receive admonition concerning our service with others, lest work in which we are jointly engaged should be marred by the energy of the flesh. The Adversary, after being unsuccessful in his efforts in various ways, often accomplishes his ends by bringing in contention and severance of heart from heart and life from life in the very cases of those who have been yoked together by the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. But though this should humble us and exercise us deeply, the Devil is never victorious in the end. God overrules all for the carrying out of His plans. He has another yokefellow ready and Silas becomes the associate of Paul. Here also both are ‘commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord’, Acts 15. 40 R.V. It is said that ‘Paul chose Silas’; he chose a man whose life and service had been proved. He had been one of the chief men among the brethren at Jerusalem, and a prophet, vv. 22. 32.

Paul and Timothy

Subsequently we learn of Paul’s choice of Timothy as another companion in service. He had been taught and trained in the Scriptures from his earliest days, had gained the esteem and commendation of brethren in his district, Acts 16. 2, and the gift which had been divinely imparted to him had been formally recognized by the elders, 1 Tim. 4. 14. The apostle therefore was not associating with himself one who was a novice, though Timothy was still a young man. Here, then, was an instructive example of the association of youth with maturity, and the references in the Acts and the Epistles to this joint service show how harmoniously it was rendered. The younger did not act in a spirit of independence of the elder. Paul could speak of Timothy after a year or two of companionship in Gospel labours, as ‘my beloved and faithful child in the Lord’, 1 Cor. 4. 17 R.V., and after twelve years of such service he could say, ‘Ye know the proof of him, that, as a child serveth a father, so he served with me in furtherance of the gospel’, Phil. 2. 22 R.V. It is no wonder that, serving the Lord in such a spirit of humility and harmony with his senior fellow-worker, he truly cared at the same time for the state of the saints, v. 20. But while the younger wrought in happy subjection to the elder, the latter did not lord it over the younger. We read on one occasion of Paul beseeching Timothy to remain at Ephesus instead of accompanying him into Macedonia, whereas he might have used his apostolic authority to charge him to remain, 1 Tim. 1. 3. (The A.V. ‘besought’ is perhaps right here; the word is so rendered in the R.V. of 1 Cor. 16. 12, in the similar case of Apollos, as well as frequently elsewhere.) As a result of this unity of heart the apostle, when he is writing to the church at Thessalonica, is able to associate his younger fellow-workers with him in regard to all he has to say of their coming among them, their work on their behalf, and their conduct while in their midst. How striking is the testimony of the Epistles to the Thessalonians as to the oneness of both motive and action on the part of his fellow-workers who had brought them the Gospel! See especially 1 Thess. 1. 5, 6; 2. 1-12; 3. 1-10; 2 Thess. 3. 7-9. This association of his fellow-workers with himself was not a matter of style of writing or of mere courtesy; it was the outcome of the grace of God, devotion to Christ and subjection to the Spirit, working in each heart and binding these fellow-servants together in mutual love and appreciation.

Noble work has been done by many a lonely pioneer labouring without human companionship. But when two are brought together in service there are the joys of friendship and intercourse, of counsel and support, and all that is involved in community of purpose and work in serving the same Lord. In the words of Solomon: ‘Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow’, Eccl. 4. 9, 10. There are, however, dangers in this connection, consequent upon difference of temperament and of judgment. Can two walk together except they be agreed? In order that agreement may be maintained, any evidence of difference of disposition or divergence of opinion calls for united waiting on the Lord, for mutual patience and forbearance, and for the exercise of that love which ‘suffereth long, and is kind; … envieth not; … vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; … beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things’, 1 Cor. 13. 4-7. When these graces are in us and abound, we shall have joy in one another, joy in service and its results, joy in present trial, and above all joy in Him whom we unitedly call Master and Lord.


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