Set Apart and Sent Off

In a few short verses, Luke records one of the most significant actions ever taken by a church in the history of the world. This passage records the begin of the church’s missionary work, as Saul and Barnabas are set apart and sent out to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. For all of her previous history, Israel has trumpeted the message “Come and see!” But now the church at Antioch hears the voice of the Spirit saying “Go and tell!” God’s people are no longer to wait for people to find God; they are to take the good news to them.

The Church at worship receives a message from the Spirit, telling her to appoint two of her five leaders to an unspecified work, and she responds in obedience, surrounded by fasting and prayer. Two points should be made here: first, Saul and Barnabas are singled out and set apart to do a unique work. This is a lesson that the church sometimes forgets in her zeal for evangelism – not everyone is set apart for the work of evangelism. But just as important, some people are. The New Testament never envisions a church where everyone has this same calling, but it also never envisions a church where no one takes up this calling, either.

Second, the action that the church is called to take is surrounded by prayer and fasting. If God doesn’t seem to be doing much calling, or if the church isn’t doing much sending, this is the first place to look: is she praying and fasting? Fasting and prayer were seen as essential by the church at Antioch, which is a big part of why they are the most fruitful church in the book of Acts.

The church then gathered around these men, laid hands of commissioning and blessing on them, and sent them off. This is the necessary authorization that these men will need to begin an unprecedented work of spreading the gospel. We should notice first that this passage challenges our volunteer mentality, and replaces it with the idea of calling, where God speaks to and through the church to set people apart for ministry. This scares us, because it takes control out of our hands, and places it in God’s hands, instead. This is probably why there was so much fasting and praying going on: being set apart by God causes us to trust in Him, rather than in our own ideas of giftedness and availability. Next, as has been commonly pointed out, Antioch sends off their two best men in Barnabas and Saul. This reminds us that nobody but Jesus is indispensable in the life of a local church. Missions is not a secret way to get rid of problem deacons or cantankerous elders! It involves giving the most precious gifts of the church away to bless others.

All of this needs to be seen as the church at Antioch imitating Jesus. Why was it that Israel never did this sort of ministry before? Well, God never left heaven and came to them before, but in Jesus, He showed them a new way to reach out in love. And who was it that left heaven? Was it Clarence, the angel second class with no wings? No, it was the only-begotten Son of God! Heaven sent the very best she had to offer on a mission to the world. Following the guidance of the Spirit, the Church at Antioch patterned their life as a church after the life of Jesus, a pattern we should be eager to follow as well. The message of the appointment of the first missionaries is this: Fast and pray. Send your best. Go and tell.

Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 by CJ Bowen