Last week we saw that intimacy with God leads to a vision from God to carry out with God. If we try to carry out the vision God has given us without ongoing intimacy with Him we lose the power of God to fulfill His mission. But before we move on to chapter 14, I want to look deeper into Acts 13:2 as it relates to sensing God's leading for how He calls us to serve Him. "While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, (a picture of worship/intimacy with God) the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (a picture of missions with God).
What does it mean to "minister to the Lord?" We don't think of the Lord needing our ministry to Him. And though He doesn't need our ministry to Him He wants our ministry to Him: thanks for what He has done; praise for Who He is and words and expressions of love in response to His passionate love for us. "But be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." (Eph.5:19-20) "Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name."(See Psalm 100)
From the beginning of the book of Acts (and the whole Bible) to the end we see God's nature – relational intimacy within the Trinity and with His people, and His missionary heart as He is always seeking His lost children to gather them to His heart. Here in chapter 14 we will focus on our mission with God and look at eight qualities seen in Paul and Barnabas to emulate as we are on mission with God. (See John MacArthur on Acts 14 – http://www.gty.org)
Before we look at these eight qualities let me share a big picture perspective on discerning God's call on your life. In prayer try to answer these three questions with God's guidance: 1) Why do I want to serve God? This is the emotional/inspirational element of our desire to know and serve the Lord which energizes us to serve those He calls us to serve. 2) Mission relates to how we carry out our desire to serve the Lord and His people. And 3) vision relates to what the end result of our ministry will look like.
In Acts 14 MacArthur sees eight qualities in the lives of Paul and Barnabas that will help us "accomplish" (v.26) the mission God calls us to do.1)know and use the spiritual gifts God has given you. (1 Peter 4:10); 2) spiritual boldness to move through opposition; 3) serve in the power of the Spirit (Eph 5:18; Psalm 51) 4) humility, 5)persistence, 6)follow-up, 7)commitment, 8) give all the glory to God. Lets look at each of these as seen in Acts 14 and how we can apply these to our lives.
1) Know and use the spiritual gifts God has given you – (1 Peter 4:10) – Paul and Barnabas moved in the gifts of preaching (vv. 1, 3, 6, 9, 21, 25); teaching (v.21 – the King James says "taught many" rather than "made many disciples" NASB); exhortation (encouraging, challenging and even warning believers to grow and serve the Lord; vv. 21-22); and administration (the divine enablement to understand what makes an organization function, and the special ability to plan and execute procedures that accomplish the goals of the ministry- v. 23). Paul and Barnabas also exercised the gifts of healing and miracles. (vv. 3, 8-10). MacArthur and other cessationists (meaning these "sign" gifts ceased when the apostles died and the NT was completed) say these gifts are no longer available to God's people but many other men I respect say that all God's gifts are still available to His people and there is not one verse that clearly states they have ceased. (Billy Graham, John Piper and others)
There are lists of spiritual gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 as well as the call to all believers to share our faith and to be loving and merciful, etc. But God uses us most as we exercise the particular gifts He has given us. There are spiritual gifts tests (which I can send to you) but many have found that the best way to discern our gifts is to start serving the Lord in ways we feel inclined and, sometimes by trial and error, see where we best serve God and His people. For example, I began in full time ministry with a ministry that focused on evangelism and though I saw some fruit there I have sensed more fruitfulness in the area of discipleship through teaching and exhorting God's people to grow in maturity and begin exercising their gifts to serve and glorify the Lord. (2 Tim. 2:2; Eph. 4:11-13)
2) Spiritual boldness to move through opposition (v.2-3) – MacArthur says this is a quality all believers need to have because the world, the devil and the flesh are always opposing the work of God. The word bold, boldly or boldness is seen many times (40 to 50) in Acts and the epistles describing the saints.
3) Serve in the power of the Spirit by experiencing the free flow of the power of God (vv.8-10) – This means 1)dependence on God; 2) submission to God and 3) keeping short accounts with God versus unconfessed and un-repented sin that blocks the flow of God's Spirit. (Eph 5:18; Psalm 51; 1 Peter 4:11)
4) Humility (vv.14-15) – ["The great temptation that immediately follows effective gifts and boldness and power is pride. Humility is knowing that everything that happened for the good was God, and everything that happened for the bad was you." MacArthur] Paul and Barnabas quickly and humbly rejected the worship of the crowds and pointed them to God and God alone. We are thankful and even excited that God would use us but we are never arrogant about our accomplishments for God. As Paul says later (2 Cor. 4:7) we are jars of clay "so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves."
5) Persistence (vv. 19-23) – Paul had been stoned (some say he died and that this was when he went to heaven and returned to life; 2 Cor. 12) and dragged out of the city (because this was against Roman law) but he got up and even went back into the same city and the next day he walked to Derbe. Wow! This is certainly a miracle of restoration if not resurrection, but even so it shows Paul's persistence to finish the work God called him to do (and he did; see v. 26). ["And you know what the key to persistence is? The key to persistence is maximizing every opportunity. You see, you're running along, and hit an obstacle. What happens? There's an opportunity behind that obstacle. Behind every obstacle is an opportunity, and the determination is whether or not you want the opportunity bad enough. If you do you'll push through the obstacle – persistence, time, vying up every opportunity. Paul said in Colossians 4:5, "Redeeming the time." What do you do with your time? Supposing that you have a life of 70 years and you took every minute of that time and added it all up, how would that life be broken down? This is just looking at life in a sense of total time spent. Three years of those 70 would be spent in school. That's total time. Eight years in entertainment, six years in eating, for some of us. Five years in transportation, four years in conversation – that would vary too – fourteen years working, three years reading, and twenty-four years of sleep. How much time for God? If you came to church every Sunday for the service and you prayed five minutes in the morning with your Bible and five minutes aT night and lived 70 years you would've given God five months. Not much, is it? Time. What are you doing with it? How persistent are you? How persistent are you in maximizing every moment?" MacArthur]
6) Follow-up – teaching and grounding them in the Word, exhorting them to grow and serve the Lord, organizing the church with leaders and commending them to the Lord. (vv. 21-23) they returned to Lystra and to conium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." The Great Commission says we are to make disciples not just lead people to salvation. And this was dangerous work because they had already stirred up the unbelieving Jews and it was likely that they would experience even more persecution. But they went anyway knowing that these new believers needed to be strengthened in the Word and provided with spiritual leaders (church planting/organization) for their ongoing growth and outreach to those around them.
7) Commitment (vv. 24-26) – Even as they headed home they took the opportunity to preach in Perga as it seems they did not do when they passed through there before (Acts 13:13-14). "Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16) ["Paul says, If I don't preach the Gospel I get sick. I just do this so I don't have to live with a messed up conscious. Don't pat me on the back. I do it because I have to do it. He called me to do it. He told me to do it. What do you expect me to do?" Let me tell you something, people, that's the test of your commitment. Not what you do when you're healthy and when you're relaxed and when you're refreshed but are you just as committed wiped out for the ministry that God has called you to do?" MacArthur]
8) Give all the glory to God -"When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles."
"From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished." (v. 26) Paul and Barnabas did it – the work God called them to do on this missionary journey was done! We all want to hear Jesus say, Well done. Our Lord said the same as he completed His work – It is finished! Paul said the same later in Acts and then just before his death. "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (Paul – Acts 20:24) "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Tim. 4:6-8) O Lord, grant that we may say the same!
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) What do you think it means to "minister to the Lord" (Acts 13:2-3) and what does this have to do with missions?
2) Do you know your spiritual gifts and where do you use them for the Great Commission?
3) Where have you had to exercise spiritual boldness to move through the opposition of the world the devil and the flesh?
4) Serve in the power of the Spirit by experiencing the free flow of the power of God. What do we need to do to allow the Spirit to flow through us?
5) What struck you about Barnabas and Paul in their display of humility?
6) What is the key to persistence and what does this say to you?
7) Follow up – What role do you feel you have in the ongoing growth and encouragement of fellow believers?
8) Commitment – Read 1 Cor. 9:16; 2 Cor. 5:14-15- Do you feel compelled to serve the Lord as Paul and Barnabas did?
9) Give all the glory to God – How and where do you tell others all that God has done for you? Where have you seen God work through you?