One of the passages of Scripture that I find very interesting and revealing is found in Acts 13:
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. While they were worshiping [serving] the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 ESV)
There are many things that we can learn about the church in Antioch from this passage. We see a great ethnic diversity among the people mentioned. We see their desire to serve God and one another. But, in this post, I would like to see what this passage teaches us about the individual and corporate aspects of following God.
The church in Jerusalem had sent Barnabas to Antioch because they had heard that Hellenists were now part of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:22). Barnabas recognized the grace of God at work in Antioch, and began to encourage the church there (11:23). Barnabas next went to Tarsus to find Saul (Paul) and bring him back to Antioch where they remained for a year (11:25-26). When we hear from Barnabas and Saul (Paul) again, they are returning to Antioch from a trip to Jerusalem, and they are bringing John Mark with them (12:25). This brings us up to Acts 13.
Saul (Paul), Barnabas, and others were serving God and other by prophesying and preaching among the believers in Antioch. At some point, God reveals that his desire for Saul (Paul) and Barnabas was for them to leave Antioch in order to take the Gospel into other areas of the Roman empire. After praying and fasting, the church in Antioch sent Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on their way as God had directed.
Notice that God’s directions for Barnabas and Saul (Paul) was personal to them. At this time, he did not send off Simeon, Lucius, Manean, or others, although they were all faithfully serving God and his people in Antioch. There was an individual aspect to God’s direction to Barnabas and Saul (Paul).
But, there was also a corporate aspect to God’s sending of Saul (Paul) and Barnabas. Notice that the church in Antioch – not just Barnabas and Saul (Paul) – prayed and fasted concerning this decision. The church in Antioch also laid hands on them and sent them off as God had directed. In fact, at least in this passage, Scripture says more about this corporate aspect than it says about the individual aspect.
In response to God’s love and indwelling Spirit, each of us should respond to God by listening to him as he communicates with us. When he directs us one way or another, we walk in the directions that he points, trusting him for each step. If no one walks with us, we still follow God wherever he directs us. However, many times, God does not appoint us to walk alone. Instead, he both provides others to walk with us, and he also provides a corporate response to our faithfulness and obedience.
As God directs us individually, and as we share that direction with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the church responds by coming along side, praying, sending, providing, supporting, encouraging, equipping, sending. Sometimes, God may direct others within the church to walk with us as well. He may use our obedience as a catalyst to encourage others to listen to him and follow him as well.
Working together – individually and corporately – the way we find Barnabas and Saul (Paul) and the church in Antioch working together – we find that we are not sending ourselves, and the church is not sending us, but it is actually God through his Holy Spirit who is sending us.