The Call of God

Acts 13 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,[d] Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

The call of God comes in many different ways. In my experience we push at doors and sometimes they open, but often they close; in which case we move on, trusting that God will lead us to the right work and ministry. In October last year we moved a few miles from where we had been living to a new house and new ministry. But before that happened, we had three very clearly closed doors. Thank the Lord it worked out this way as our present location, church and work is just what God wanted for us.

Barnabas had been sent by the church in Jerusalem to help the growing Christian community in Antioch. He immediately went to Tarsus and persuaded Saul to join him in the leadership of this new growing church (Acts 11:22-26). Note: he recognised that he needed to build a team and that he could not do it all himself. Then, when Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch having taken the offering of their church to help the Jerusalem believers (Acts 12:25), they brought John Mark back with them. (I am writing this on St Mark’s Day - 25 April).

Acts 13 begins by naming some of the leaders and prophets in the Antioch church. It is clear that Barnabas was the senior pastor and leader, until they left Cyprus, and then Paul is listed first and takes over the leadership (Acts 13:13). What does this say about Barnabas’ humility and grace?

Acts 13:2 says While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting.  Some versions say, ‘ministering to the Lord’, some ‘serving the Lord’. The Greek word is λειτουργουντων. That’s the word from which we get ‘liturgy’, = the work of the people. So, they were serving, worshipping the Lord, doing his work; and then the Holy Spirit spoke to them. Luke does not tell us how that happened. It could have been a direct word from one of those with a prophetic gift, or it could have been a discussion between them all, resulting in this radical decision – to send the senior pastor and his assistant off on a missionary journey, leaving the church in Antioch deprived of their inspirational leadership.

But of course, that was God’s plan. He had other leaders there. They did not need to rely on Barnabas and Saul. God had other vital work for them; and for Mark – but that’s another story, as we know.

What I take from this passage is that God is sovereign and that he works out his plan using us as we are willing to be used. May we have the humility of Barnabas and be attentive to hear the Holy Spirit as we work, serve, minister and worship God. That is a good prayer as we prepare for the Assembly in June!

Bishop Henry Scriven
General Secretary of EFAC (Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion)

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