April 28, 2008

The Leadership of the Holy Spirit in the Church – Acts 12:25-13:3

Posted in Church Leadership, Ecclesiology, Missions, The Holy Spirit at 1:55 pm by Dan Lowe

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.



  1. proverbs31mommy said,

    AMEN!!!!! It is so refreshing to hear someone speak the gospel truth. You keep on preaching and well keep on reading.

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