June 9, 2008
There are no perfect churches in the world. As long as churches have people in them… there will always be problems, because we are all a bunch of sinners.
Christians of all people should recognize this. After all, we believe that all people are sinners. That is why we need a Savior. Jesus Christ died for our sins. He suffered the punishment we deserve for our sins so that we might be forgiven.
But the fact that we are forgiven doesn’t mean that we are sinless. Our sinfulness doesn’t end the moment we are saved. No! Unfortunately, it continues on during this lifetime.
Because we remain sinners in this world, there will always be problems in the church.
One of the problems we see most often in the church is that we often can’t seem to get along. One thing Christians know how to do is disagree. That is particularly true among my own tradition (“bickering Baptists.”)
Sometimes these disagreements are silly, like arguing over the color of the carpeting. Sometimes these disagreements are necessary, because they are tied to important Christian doctrines.
But I have found that most disagreements in the church are not tied to either one of these two extremes. Usually it is a disagreement over practice in ministry.
1) When should we apply church discipline? When should we confront an sinning Christian brother and when should we overlook their mistakes? There are differences of opinion regarding the answer to this question.
2) Or we may agree on the biblical qualifications for those in church leadership and yet disagree on whether or not a particular individual meets those qualifications.
3) Or we may agree that as a church we are called to make disciples and yet disagree on how best to accomplish that ministry.
What happens when the disagreement becomes so great that we can no longer minister together? Then what?
We see an example of this in Acts 15:36-41…
Acts 15:36-41 (ESV) – 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Paul wants to go back to the churches that he and Barnabas had recently planted in Asia Minor (Acts 13-14) and make sure they are okay. This makes perfect sense, because there had been considerable opposition to the Christian faith in virtually every place they had ministered. Although we don’t know for sure whether or not the persecution continued after they left, it is safe to assume that at least some of it continued. After all, these new Christians were passionate about their Savior and we are told that they were zealous in sharing the gospel with others (Acts 13:49.) Since it was the proclamation of the gospel which had set off the persecution in the first place, it is safe to assume that it would continue as long as these Christians were preaching the gospel.
But this is probably not the only concern which Paul had in mind. Paul and Barnabas had already dealt with Jewish Christians in Antioch who insisted that Gentiles had to obey the Mosaic Law in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-2.) And Paul’s letter to the Galatians makes it clear that the same teachings had begun to infect some of these churches which they had planted in Asia Minor. I think it is very likely that he wanted to pass along the decision from the Jerusalem council that Gentiles could be saved without converting to Judaism before this heresy spread among these new believers (Acts 15:23-29.)
Not to mention the fact that these Christians… just like us today… though their sin was forgiven… their sinful natures still remained. Everyone of us is prone to stumble and wander away from the truth into sin. That is why we need godly shepherds to keep us on the right track and guide us in the direction which God would have us to go. Over and over again, Paul speaks of the Christians in the churches he planted as if they are his children (I Thess 2:7-8, 11-12, Gal 4:19.) He cared about them and wanted to make sure they “grew up” to be healthy Christians… joined together in healthy churches.
Notice that Paul is the one to bring this up to Barnabas, but Barnabas is in full agreement with him. They both want to go and visit these newly formed churches. They both want to see these churches be strengthened and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
But this is where they agreement ends. Though they both agree on what is to be done… they disagree on how it is to be done.
Barnabas wanted to take along with them John Mark. The Greek is pretty strong here (βούλομαι - imperfect tense.) He was insistent about it. He was continually pressing the issue. He wanted to take John Mark with them on this trip to strengthen the churches in Asia Minor and he wasn’t about to take no for an answer.
Who is John Mark?
We have seen him before in our study through the book of Acts and I told you we would come back to him later.
Let me refresh our memories on who this young man is…
1) Tradition… not Scripture… but tradition tells us that the Last Supper took place in the home of John Mark’s parents. We don’t know this for sure, but there is good reason to think that it is at least possible that Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples in this man’s home.
2) Part of the reason some people think this is because of an odd passage found in the gospel of Mark in chapter 14…
Mark 14:51-52 (ESV) – 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
Most scholars agree that this is probably a young John Mark, fleeing the scene of the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. How could this young man have been present at the betrayal of Jesus? It is at least possible that he followed Jesus and the disciples from his home to the Garden.
3) Whether or not the Last Supper was held in Mark’s home or not is a matter of debate, but we know for sure that his home was a regular meeting place for the early church. Back in Acts 12:12, when Peter was miraculously freed from prison by an angel, he went immediately to the home of John Mark’s mother and that is where he found Christians gathered and praying for his release.
4) We also know that he was Barnabas’ cousin (Col 4:10.)
5) And if you remember, he went with Paul and Barnabas when they began their 1st missionary journey back in Acts 13, but he didn’t complete the journey with them. He traveled with them as they preached the gospel throughout the island of Cyprus. He was there when the magician Bar-Jesus was struck down by God for opposing the gospel. He went with Paul and Barnabas to Pamphylia in Asia Minor, but then he left and went home to Jerusalem.
Barnabas wanted to take this young man with them on this 2nd missionary journey and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Why? We don’t know for sure. Maybe it was because John Mark was his cousin. I think it more likely because this fits the character of Barnabas. His name means “son of encouragement” and this very aptly describes his character. He was constantly pouring himself into the lives of others and attempting to build them up. He was always encouraging others and I think it is safe to assume that he wanted another chance to encourage this young man in ministry.
But Paul would have none of this. He didn’t want to take John Mark with them. Literally he didn’t think it was worthy or wise (ἀξιόω) to even consider taking John Mark with them. And the Greek implies that he was just as set against taking John Mark as Barnabas was set on taking him. He and Barnabas were continually disagreeing about this.
Why was Paul opposed to taking John Mark with them?
Because he had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and didn’t go with them to the work. Some translations render it that John Mark “deserted” them… and it seems safe to say that is how Paul saw things. Eugene Peterson in the Message paraphrase of the Bible renders this, “But Paul wouldn’t have him; he wasn’t about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia.” Although this is not a literal translation of the Greek, it does capture the sense of what is going on here.
Paul deemed him unfit to go with them because of his past failures…
How many of us have ever made a mistake? If we are honest, then we must admit that we make mistakes all the time.
Do you want people to continually hold your mistakes against you?
Don’t we all want the opportunity to live down our mistakes?
Don’t we all want a second chance when we make a mistake?
It seems that Paul is unwilling to give John Mark a second chance here. His mistake from the past is still haunting him.
Now Scripture is clear that there are some sins which seem to disqualify a person for ministry (I Cor 9:24-27), but does going home in the middle of a mission trip disqualify someone from ever engaging in ministry again?
Peter denied Jesus three times (Lk 22:54-62) yet he was not disqualified for ministry.
Did Mark’s failure disqualify him from future ministry? Apparently Paul thought so… at least at this juncture in his life.
We don’t know why John Mark turned tail and went home during the 1st missionary trip, but here we see him back in Antioch after time has passed and apparently wanting a second chance to go and minister the gospel to those in need.
But Paul won’t let him live down his earlier mistake. At least, this is probably the way in which Barnabas saw things.
On the other hand, they are about to walk into some very difficult ministry situations. And remember…John Mark left them the first time before things really got bad. He left long before they were run out of Pisidia Antioch. He left them before Paul was nearly stoned to death in Lystra.
Paul and Barnabas may have been ignorant about what they were walking into the first time, but not so this time. They knew what they would encounter. They knew they would face hardship and persecution.
Do you take someone with a track record of cowardice with you into hostile territory?
Don’t you only take those who you can be reasonably sure will watch your back and see it through to the end?
Which one is right here? Paul… or Barnabas? The text doesn’t tell us. But either way, they both keep pressing their opinion and neither one will bend.
As a result, there arose a “sharp disagreement” (παροξυσμός) between them. The term παροξυσμός is derived from a verb which means “to sharpen” (παροξύνω) and it tells us that this dispute resulted in anger, irritation and exasperation (Bock, Baker, 519.) Things got really heated between them. So heated in fact that they separated from one another. We have another strong Greek term here… ἀποχωρίζω … and it is only used one other time in Scripture. In Revelation 6:14 it is used to describe the sky splitting apart when the 6th seal is broken. In the same way that one day the heaven will be torn asunder… this partnership was completely severed.
I find this to be incredibly sad. These men had a long history together. Remember… Barnabas had mentored Paul…
1) After his conversion, when no one else would have anything to do with Paul because he had previously persecuted Christians, it was Barnabas who took a chance and put his arm around Paul and vouched for him with the apostles (Acts 9:27.)
2) Years later, it was Barnabas who went and found Paul in Tarsus and brought to Antioch to minister alongside him in this newly formed Gentile church (Acts 11:25-26.)
3) It was Barnabas who had started out in the lead when he and Paul had set out on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:2.)
Shouldn’t Paul have listened to the voice of his mentor?
On the other hand, Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ.
1) He had seen the risen Lord Jesus (Acts 9:1-6.)
2) He had been handpicked by the King of kings and Lord of lords to be His apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16.)
3) He was a man who was without peer when it came to knowing the Bible.
Shouldn’t Barnabas have listened to him?
Shouldn’t Barnabas have yielded to the opinion of the Apostle Paul?
We don’t know. Maybe one was right and the other wrong. Maybe they were both wrong. Or maybe they were both right. Either way… they separate…
Barnabas took John Mark and sailed away to Cyprus while Paul took Silas and traveled overland to Asia Minor.
Some have suggested that the fact that we are told the brothers commended Paul and Silas to the grace of the Lord implies that the church thought Paul was right and Barnabas was wrong. Most scholars don’t think this is the case at all (i.e. F.F. Bruce, Richard Longenecker, Darrell Bock, J.A. Alexander, etc.) Luke is simply recounting the ministry of Paul, therefore he mentions his commission and passes over Barnabas.
This is clearly seen by the fact that Barnabas disappears here from the book of Acts. Not that he ceased to be involved in ministry. Paul mentions him fondly about 5 years after this event in I Corinthians (I Cor 9:6) and it is clear that he is still involved in ministry. Luke’s purpose is simply to recount the history of Paul’s ministry efforts.
It is incredibly sad that these two great men of God part ways here. Yet still notice what happened…Paul and Silas travel through Syria and Cilicia and the churches are strengthened. These early Christians grow stronger in their faith through the ministry of Paul and Silas.
Isn’t this what Paul and Barnabas both wanted to see accomplished? Although they differed in regards to how to accomplish this ministry… God still accomplished His work among His people, despite their disagreement.
What happened as a result of Barnabas and John Mark traveling to Cyprus? As I said, we don’t know anything about this ministry, but we do know what happened to John Mark.
1) About 10 years later, we find John Mark with Paul in Rome and the apostle is about to send Mark to Colossae to minister to them (Col 4:10.)
2) And at the end of the his life, as the Apostle Paul waited in a Roman prison to be executed, he wrote to Timothy and asked him to bring John Mark to see him because he “is very useful to me for ministry” (II Tim 4:11.)
3) Not to mention the fact that this young man… whom Paul didn’t want to accompany them on their 2nd missionary journey… would be used by God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write the Gospel of Mark.
We don’t know much about what happened in Cyprus under Barnabas’ ministry, but I think we can draw some conclusions about what God was doing though Barnabas at this time in his life. He was mentoring another young man, just as he had the apostle Paul years before, so that John Mark could be used mightily in the service of God.
Was Paul right to separate from Barnabas and John Mark and take Silas to Asia Minor? It seems so…
Was Barnabas right to give this young man, John Mark, a second chance and continue to mentor him in ministry? It seems so…
In the providence of God, these two men were separated in order to accomplish different purposes for the kingdom of God. And in the end, God caused all things… even the painful things… even the sinful things… to work together for their good and His glory.
Most often the disagreements we have in the church are sinful. Often we fight over things that are ridiculous, like the color of the carpeting.
Sometimes disagreement is necessary. For example, we must be willing to fight to the very end to hold onto the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But sometimes the disagreement is a little more vague. For example, when we disagree about how to functionally apply certain passages of Scripture in the life of the church.
This is always unfortunate, especially when it causes a gospel partnership to be severed. But we can be assured that God will cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, despite our mistakes and sinfulness (Rom 8:28.)
June 6, 2008
For those of you who are interested in matters of ecclesiology (i.e. the Doctrine of the Church) and a biblical understanding of corporate life, I cannot recommend highly enough the work of Mark Dever and friends over at 9 Marks ministries. He recently posted an interesting piece regarding whether or not videos should be used in church. Here is his conclusion:
“In conclusion, I am not suggesting using video on Sun AM is necessarily sinful; but I am suggesting that it must normally (or always?) be imprudent. We are trying to build a word-centered counter-culture in a vision-addicted age. Will it really help the people to concentrate on the words of Scripture, or my words of explanation and exhortation by getting them to engage with a video just a few moments before? Immediate impact doesn’t always lead to lasting awe. In fact, it can work against it.”
You can read the whole thing here http://blog.9marks.org/2008/06/when-seeing-doe.html
May 27, 2008
Jason Robertson has a great post over at the Fide-O blog on preaching as the foundation of Christian unity. You can find it here http://fide-o.blogspot.com/2008/05/importance-of-preaching.html
May 24, 2008
There is a fascinating brief post over at the Stand to Reason blog on the results of chasing after “relevance” in our modern worship services. You can find it here http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2008/05/the-irrelevance.html
May 5, 2008
Follow the link below to hear about one of the ways in which pastors today waste their pulpit (it is approxmiately 4 1/2 minutes long)…
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (ESV) – 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
April 30, 2008
Many of you may have already read this brief sermon which most attribute to Charles Spurgeon (the authorship is sometimes debated) but in case you haven’t…
Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.
From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.
My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That is clear enough. So it would have been if He had added, “and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him.
Then again, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers .., for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.
Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the church to the world? Ye are the salt” (Matt. 5:13), not the sugar candy—something the world will spit out not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22) He was in awful earnestness.
Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his mission, he would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear him say, “Run after these people Peter and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick Peter, we must get the people somehow.” Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.
In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of this gospel of amusement! Their message is, “Come out, keep out, keep clean out!” Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.
After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the church had a prayer meeting but they did not pray, “Lord grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are.” If they ceased not from preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). That is the only difference! Lord, clear the church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods.Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the church met them halfway, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment has been God’s link in the chain of the conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today’s ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.
April 29, 2008
In our Sunday morning message at Maranatha Baptist Church on April 27, 2008 (see previous post); we briefly examined the New Testament model of church leadership. In particular we noted the plurality of elders/pastors in every church and their appointment by the Holy Spirit, which is recognized by the other elders/pastors in the church, who publically set them apart for a specific ministry role.
To explore this theme further, it might be helpful to read the following:
1) “Christian Elders in the New Testament” by Dr. John Piper. You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByTopic/40/2650_Christian_Elders_in_the_New_Testament/
2) “Answering the Key Questions About Elders” by Dr. John MacArthur. You can it here http://www.gty.org/Resources/positions/2164
3) “Should a Church Have Elders” by Dr. Mark Dever. You can find it here http://www.9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID1643290,00.html
4) “Electing Elders” by Burk Parsons. You can find it here http://www.9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID2301894,00.html
For more a more in-depth discussion of how a plurality of elders/pastors fits in specifically with a Baptist understanding of church government, read “Baptists and Elders” by Dr. Mark Dever. It can be found here http://www.9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID1744980,00.html
April 28, 2008
In an online post dated January 21, 2008, Dr. John MacArthur listed 7 good reasons why preachers must preach the Word of God:
1) Preaching the Word of God lets God speak rather than man, because it declares God’s own Word.
2) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because it brings the preacher into direct contact with the mind of the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture.
3) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because it forces the preacher to proclaim all of God’s revelation, including those truths that even many believers find hard to learn or accept.
4) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because it promotes biblical literacy in a congregation, not only through what is learned from the sermon itself but also through the increased desire to study
5) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because it carries ultimate authority.
6) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because only that kind of preaching can transform both the preacher and the congregation.
7) It is His own Word, and only His own Word, that the Lord calls and commissions His preachers to proclaim.
Read the whole post here http://www.sfpulpit.com/2008/01/21/why-preach-the-word/
The following is a summary of the sermon preached at Maranatha Baptist Church on Sunday morning, April 27, 2008, entitled “The Leadership of the Holy Spirit in the Church.)
After the resurrection, Jesus Christ gave the following commission to His Church:
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV) – 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It is an awesome privilege which is given to us as Christians that we might be part of God’s world-wide plan of salvation. But we should also recognize that this is not an option. This is an imperative… a command from Him who has all authority in heaven and earth. We are to take part in His plan to bring the message of the gospel to men and women of all nations.
Does that mean that we all have to quit our jobs and pack up the family and move to the 10/40 window? Of course not… but we are all to take part in this commission. Some are called to go as missionaries… and some are called to send others out as missionaries.
How do we know who is called to go and who is called to send?
Notice that Jesus said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The choice of who goes and who stays belongs to Jesus… and He is with us always.
How is Jesus with His people today? Through the abiding presence of His Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8.)
How does Jesus exercise His authority over His people? By His Spirit through His Word.
We see that clearly in Acts 12:25-13:3…
Acts 12:25-13:3 (ESV) - 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. 1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court 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.
Here we see the beginning of the intentional effort of the church to fulfill Christ’s commission to “make disciples of all nations” and, in the process, we get a unique glimpse into the leadership of the church in Antioch here.
We are told that the church in Antioch had “prophets and teachers.” Although there is debate among Christians as to the continuing ministry of prophets today, there seems to be little question that prophets in the apostolic era represented God to the people. God communicated with them by direct revelation and they communicated God’s truth to God’s people.
Teachers functioned in much the same way, except it seems that they communicated God’s truth to God’s people from the received text of Scripture and apostolic tradition (“apostles doctrine” – Acts 2:42. In many ways, they were Bible teachers.
These men seem to be functioning as the leadership in Antioch and there are several things we should notice:
1) Their leadership in the church seems to be exercised through the communication of God’s truth (i.e. “prophets and teachers.”)
2) There was great diversity among these men (ethnically, culturally and socially.)
3) There was a plurality of elders (pastors/overseers) in the church in Antioch. This was not a “one man show.” (Note: This is clearly the New Testament model. See Acts 11:30, 14:23, 20:17, Titus 1:5, I Tim 5:17 and James 5:14… all of which speak of plural elders (pastor/shepherds) in each church.)
Notice what these men are doing… they are “worshipping the Lord and fasting.”
The word translated “worshipping” is the Greek word λειτουργέω (pronounced leitourgeo). We get our English word “liturgy” from this word. It literally means “to render special formal service” (BDAG, λειτουργέω.) It is used in both the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) and the New Testament (Luke 1:23) to describe priestly service in the temple.
Since these men are not engaged in priestly service in the temple, what are they doing? Although we cannot know for sure, since they are designated by Scripture as “prophets and teachers”, it is probably safe to assume that their religious service here involved the ministry of the Word, either public teaching or private study of the Word.
We are also told that they were “fasting.” In Scripture, fasting is primarily a means of demonstrating dependence upon God. It is choosing to lay aside the pursuit of our physical needs so that we can whole-heartedly seek God. It is almost always, if not always, accompanied by times of focused, passionate prayer.
It is important to note that they engaged in this activity TOGETHER.
Notice that what we see here is the manner in which church leaders are to conduct business in the church. Despite their differences, they come together and seek the Lord in His Word and prayer and out of these times of focused prayer and time in the Word, God reveals His will for those they shepherd in the church.
That is the opposite of the way many churches are led. Typically, church leaders gather to do the business of the church and time spent in the Word and prayer are an afterthought.
But that runs contradictory to what we see here… and elsewhere in the book of Acts. Compare this to Acts 6:1-4…
Acts 6:1-4 (ESV) - 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Although the business of the church is important (in this case, caring for the needs of the Hellenistic widows) and godly men are needed to meet these needs, the apostles (functioning as elders/pastors in the church in Jerusalem) are committed to time spent in prayer and the Word. The Greek is emphatic that they will be devoted to this TOGETHER.
This is exactly what we see taking place in the church at Antioch. The men called by God to shepherd the church in Antioch were not simply a board of directors for the church. They didn’t just gather together to do the business of the church. They were men who sought God together… and as they did this, God led them by His Holy Spirit.
It was during one of these times in the Word and prayer and fasting together that the Holy Spirit spoke to them in some unidentified way and directed them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He had called them.
The authority to decide who goes out to the ends of the earth with the gospel and who stays and sends them out belongs with Jesus Christ, not with us. He decides, according to His will, and He makes His will clear in His time by His Spirit through His Word and prayer.
It is important for us to note that Barnabas and Saul did not set themselves apart to this task. They are appointed by the Holy Spirit and they are publically set apart to this ministry by the leaders of the church who recognize this call by the Holy Spirit.
This is the consistent, New Testament model for the appointment of men to any position of ministry. Those called to shepherd God’s people… or in this case, go off to the ends of the earth… are appointed to the task by the Holy Spirit, who uniquely gifts them to fulfill this ministry, and the church recognizes these gifts and the leaders set apart these men for this ministry (See Acts 14:23, I Tim 4:14, 5:22.)
Barnabas and Saul are set apart for this ministry by the laying on of hands. This symbol is probably derived from the Old Testament sacrificial system. When a sacrifice was offered, the worshipper would lay their hands on the animal, symbolizing their identification with that sacrifice. This animal was dying in their place.
In a similar way by laying hands on Barnabas and Saul, the leaders of the church in Antioch are saying, “We are with you. You are going out in our place. You are our representatives in this ministry to which the Holy Spirit has called you.” The church in Antioch was participating in Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations through Barnabas and Saul, who were going out in their place to spread the gospel message.
The same is true in our churches today. When we send out men and women to the mission field, we are recognizing the appointment of the Holy Spirit to this ministry and they go out as our representatives in God’s plan to bring salvation to men and women of every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
Jesus said, “…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV))
How do we know the will of God for our lives in this mission?
1) We don’t get to decide for ourselves. All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the Head of the Church and we are His Body (Eph 1:22-23.) He calls the shots and we follow. He appoints who He will to whatever role He desires.
2) The authority of Christ is exercised in His Church today by His Spirit through His Word. The way to know the will of God for our lives is to spend much time in the Word of God (Rom 12:2.) This should be done both personally and corporately.
How are church leaders to discern the will of God for the church they are called to shepherd? We will only know God’s will for the church we serve if we spend much time together in the Word and prayer.
April 22, 2008
There is an article in today’s online New York Magazine which details the growing trend among atheists to form their own “churches.” You can find the article here http://nymag.com/news/features/46214/
You can find Dr. Albert Mohler’s comments on this article here http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=1135
Think about this… and pray regarding the cultural shifts which we see taking place all around us.