Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament scriptural account of the spiritual body of Jesus the Christ which is the church as was written and recorded in the book of Acts by the beloved physician Luke. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses twenty-two through thirty-five of the fifteenth chapter. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find that what is contained therein is a direct result of what was written within the previous verses. If you begin reading the fifteenth chapter you will find that what takes place at the very outset and beginning of the chapter does so within the city of Antioch after the apostle Paul and Barnabas had just finished and completed an apostolic and missionary journey. I feel compelled to pause right here and think about how absolutely wonderful it must have been for the apostle Paul—together with Barnabas—to as soon as the Holy Spirit spoke in the midst of the teachers and prophets which were among the brethren in the church in Antioch. If you read the words which are found in the opening of the thirteenth chapter of the book of Acts you will find that while the saints of God were praying and fasting and worshipping together the Holy Spirit spoke in the midst of them and called for the apostle Paul and Barnabas to be separated unto Him for the work whereunto they had been called. It’s worth noting that as soon as they had prayed for and quite possibly encouraged Paul and Barnabas they sent them on their way for the work which the Holy Spirit had called them. What’s actually quite interesting and unique to think about and consider is that even though the Holy Spirit had separated them unto the work whereunto they had been called—not only did the Holy Spirit not reveal unto them what that work would look like, but He also didn’t reveal unto them where they would go, nor even what they would experience as a direct result of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It is true the Holy Spirit spoke in the midst of the brethren, as well as in the midst of the prophets and teachers, however, the only thing the Holy Spirit did was call for the separation of the apostle Paul and Barnabas and reveal that they were to be separated in order that they might partake and engage in the work for which He had called them. In all reality, I would dare say the apostolic ministry of the apostle Paul began much like the journey did with Abram when the Lord appeared unto him in the land of the Chaldeans and instructed him to depart from all that was familiar and comfortable and to journey unto the land which He would show him. Consider if you will the words which are found in the eleventh and twelfth chapters of the Old Testament book of Genesis and you will come face to face with the journey Abram and his household made from the Chaldeans, as well as the word which the Lord spoke unto him:
“…And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Torah: and Nahor lived after he begat Torah an hundred and nineteen years, and begat sons and daughters. And Torah lived Seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Now these are the generations of Torah: Torah begat Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Torah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Torah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. And the days of Torah were two hundred and five years: and Torah died in Haran…” (Genesis 11:27-32).
“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curse thee thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builder he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builder an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south” (Genesis 12:1-9).
That which you find in the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is quite a remarkable and astonishing manifestation—not only of the presence and person of the Holy Spirit, but also of the divine voice of God speaking in the midst of the brethren when they were gathered together in prayer, in fasting, in corporate fellowship, and in worship. It was in the context of service and fellowship that the Holy Spirit was able to speak in the midst of the teachers and prophets calling for the separation for Paul and Barnabas unto the work they had been called, and it is absolutely necessary and imperative we recognize and understand this reality. It is this reality which has the tremendous capability and power to completely and utterly transform how we view corporate fellowship, and even service before and unto the living God, for it is in this context where we find the Holy Spirit not only speaking unto and concerning Paul and Barnabas, but also separating them from service unto the work and ministry whereunto they had been called. It’s absolutely astonishing to think about and consider that the Holy Spirit separated Paul and Barnabas from service and faithfulness among the brethren at the church in Antioch, and separated them unto Himself for the work whereunto they had been called. We must recognize and understand the absolutely incredible truth and reality concerning our need for faithfulness and service in the midst of the body of Christ and among the brethren and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and how it’s more often than not in the context of faithfulness and fellowship the Holy Spirit is able to speak unto us and call us unto the work whereunto we have been called. I was sitting in service this morning and in the message the pastor was speaking about the will of the Father and discerning that which He has called us to do, and when speaking of the will of the Father he stated that more often than not we discern and discover the will of the Father while we are in the midst of doing that which we already know to be the will of the Father. In other words, Paul and Barnabas did not need to ask the Holy Spirit, nor did they need to discern whether or not faithfulness and fellowship was the will of the Father for their lives, for they knew that it was necessary to give themselves to fellowship among the brethren, and to be faithful in service among the brethren and body of Christ. It is necessary and imperative that we come to terms with and understand this particular reality, for to miss on this matter would be to potentially sabotage our ability to truly hear the voice of the Spirit speaking unto and within our lives. More often than not one of the greatest hindrances for men and women discerning and properly hearing the voice of the Spirit is there inability—perhaps even their unwillingness—to give themselves to faithfulness and fellowship in the midst of and among the body of Christ. There are men and women who have a difficult time committing themselves to faithfulness and fellowship in the midst of the body of Christ, and as a direct result they are unable to properly and truly discern the will of the Father and the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking unto and within their lives.
It was while Paul and Barnabas were faithfully serving the Lord among His body and within His church that they were able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking directly unto them instructing them to separate themselves unto the work whereunto He had called them. I feel a great need to pause a moment here and emphatically and boldly declare that we do not faithfully serve among the body of Christ and among the brethren, nor do we engage ourselves in corporate fellowship with the expectation to one day be called by the Holy Spirit unto a work which He has prepared for us. It would be very easy to get caught up in fellowship and faithfulness, and to do so with the expectation that the Holy Spirit can and will single us out and separate us unto the work and ministry whereunto He has called us, and by doing so we completely miss and lose sight of that which we know we ought to do in the context the corporate body of Jesus the Christ. We must notice that it was while Paul and Barnabas were faithfully serving among the brethren at the church in Antioch that the Holy Spirit was able to speak unto them and separating them for and unto the work whereunto they had been called. In all reality, there appears to be a clear and defining line between faithfulness and fellowship, as well as serving in the midst of a local and corporate body, and separation unto the actual work whereunto you have been called. What’s more, is that I would dare say that it is our faithfulness in fellowship and our faithfulness in service the Holy Spirit is able to actually speak to us concerning that which we have been called and separated to do for the kingdom of God and for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ. Whether we want to accept and agree with it or not we must understand and come face to face with the strong and powerful reality that the Holy Spirit pays close attention to our level and degree of faithfulness in service and fellowship in the midst of the corporate and collective body of Jesus Christ, and how well we interact with and serve the brethren which make up the body of Christ where we gather together to worship and call upon the name of the Lord together with others. I would dare say that the Holy Spirit carefully watched the faithfulness of Paul and Barnabas in service and in fellowship, and once He felt they were ready for the work whereunto they had been called, He separated them unto Himself. It was Barnabas who himself had become a strong advocate for Paul when he came from Damascus unto Jerusalem after his conversion experience with Jesus the Christ on the road to Damascus. Oh that we would recognize and understand the awesome and powerful reality and truth that whether we want to believe or accept it or not the Holy Spirit does in fact watch our faithfulness in fellowship and service within the body we have been called to be a part of, and it is that degree and measure of faithfulness the Holy Spirit can either work with or not.
As I sit here this morning thinking about the Holy Spirit speaking among the teachers and prophets which were present at the church in Antioch I can’t help but come face to face with the awesome and incredible reality that not only did the apostle Paul and Barnabas not know the specifics of the work they had been called unto and separated for—they also did not know what they would experience as a direct result of stepping into that which the Holy Spirit had separated them for. The only thing Paul and Barnabas knew was that the Holy Spirit had spoken unto them and had separated them unto and for the work whereunto they had been called. These two men knew that the Holy Spirit had separated them from the church in Antioch for a work which He called them to, and the only thing they knew was that they needed to heed and obey that voice. What I so absolutely love about this particular instance and occurrence is that as soon as the Holy Spirit spoke among the prophets and teachers there in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas did not hesitate to walk in, step into, and follow that which the Holy Spirit had spoken unto them. When the Holy Spirit spoke unto Paul and Barnabas they did not need to work on getting support to engage themselves in the work which they had been called to do. When the Holy Spirit spoke unto Paul and Barnabas they did not need to work on selling everything they had in order that they might be able to follow the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit. I can’t help but get the strong sense that there wasn’t anything tying these two men down to where they were in Antioch, nor was there anything that was holding them back from stepping into that which the Holy Spirit had called them to. When the Holy Spirit spoke unto them there was absolutely nothing them holding them back or tying them to this world, and they were able to essentially pack their bags and go. Oh I have to admit that this reality does in fact challenge me within my own life, for I can’t help but think how tied down to things in the life I truly am. I can’t help but get the strong sense and be directly confronted with the reality of how there are so many things in this life that are holding and would hold me back from being able to in a moment’s notice step into that which the Holy Spirit has called me to. If the Holy Spirit were to speak tomorrow, or if the Holy Spirit were to speak this upcoming Sunday in service and separate me for the work whereunto I have been called, I personally do not feel that I would be able to step right into it, for there would be so many things I would need to take care of—paying off debt, taking care of the current lease on two cars, taking care of the lease of the apartment I live in, selling most if not all of my possessions, and securing the means to be able to step into the work whereunto the Holy Spirit has called me.
I have to admit that there is something truly captivating and appealing about being able to pick up in a moment’s notice should and if the Holy Spirit were to ever speak unto me and instruct me to separate myself unto the work whereunto I have been called. Please note that I do not believe for one minute that if the Holy Spirit were to speak with someone in this generation and instruct them to separate themselves unto the work whereunto He has called them, they cannot sell everything they have and step into the work for which they had been called. I firmly believe that it is possible to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit calling us unto the work He has ordained and appointed for us, and as a direct result of that word and voice we immediately sell everything we have in order that we might step into that which we have been called. I can’t help but be reminded of the rich young ruler who spoke to Jesus about eternal life, and how Jesus declared unto him that the one thing he was lacking was to sell all he had, to give to the poor, and to come and follow Him. Oh, I can’t help but wonder how many of us would respond and react if the Holy Spirit were to speak unto us, call us unto the work He has called us, and even call us to sell everything we have in order that we might rise up and just go. JUST RISE UP AND GO! JUST GET UP AND GO! Perhaps the one thing that so inspires and amazes me when I read the account of Abram being called by the Lord to leave his father’s house, to leave his country, and to leave his kindred is that the Lord was effectively removing anything and everything that would hold him back. When Abram heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto him, there was absolutely nothing that would hold him back, nor was there anything that would tie him to Ur of the Chaldeans, and he could instantly and immediately rise up and go when the voice of the Lord spoke unto him. This same reality and principle was true of the apostle Paul and Barnabas, for the Holy Spirit spoke unto them among the prophets and teachers there in Antioch, and after the church had laid hands on and prayed for them they were on their way on a ship to their first destination. Oh there is something absolutely wonderful and powerful about hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit speak unto you and calling you to something very specific and having absolutely nothing holding you back or tying you down to this world or this life. There is something truly wonderful and powerful about being able to simply pack your bags, get on a train, or get on a plane and simply go wherever the Spirit of the Lord has called you. There is something about being able to simply leave where you are in order that you might be able to get to where you are going—even if you might not even know where that place is. When the Holy Spirit spoke unto Paul and Barnabas calling them to be separated unto the work whereunto they had been called, they did not have to wait to set things in order, nor even to settle their affairs in order for them to simply follow the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit. They were able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, recognizing that they had been separated unto something specific, and simply went.
Before I get into that which we find in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts I feel it absolutely necessary and imperative to ask you what is holding you back from stepping into and fulfilling that which the voice of the Holy Spirit has called you and is calling you to. Is your faithfulness in fellowship and serving holding you back from being able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking unto you and calling you unto the work for which you have been called? Are there things in this world which have held you back and would continue to hold you back—even if the Holy Spirit spoke unto you and called you unto a specific work in this life? Are you limiting and have you limited yourself in this life by tying yourself down to the things of this world, and as a direct result of this process within your life you would find it difficult to simply rise up and go? What within your life would keep you from simply stepping into and walking into that which the Holy Spirit has called you to? As you read the words which are found in the book of Acts you will find that the Holy Spirit was able to speak unto Paul and Barnabas because of their faithfulness in fellowship among the brethren in Antioch, and even because of their faithfulness in service among the brethren and within the body of Christ. This was not only true of Paul in Damascus, but also true of both Paul and Barnabas in Jerusalem. What’s more, is that both men were faithful in their service and fellowship within the church in Antioch, and it was from this place of faithfulness the Holy Spirit was able to speak directly to them and separate them unto the work for which they had been called. Taking this even further, we find and read that once the Holy Spirit had spoken unto these two men there was absolutely nothing holding them back from stepping into the work which the Holy Spirit had called them to. After they had hands laid on them, and after they had been prayed for by the brethren they were able to step into the work for which they had been called together. Oh please pay attention to that concept of stepping into the work together, for the Holy Spirit didn’t separate Paul alone and by himself for the work whereunto he had been called. OF course we know the apostle Paul was perhaps the single greatest missionary the church has ever seen or witnessed, however, when he was separated by the Holy Spirit from the teachers, the prophets and the brethren at the church in Antioch, he wasn’t separated alone, nor was he separated by himself. It’s very easy to get caught up in the apostolic and missionary journeys of the apostle Paul and think about him doing all this work alone and by himself, however, the truth of the matter is that if you study the book of Acts you will find him stepping into these missionary journeys engaged in partnership with others who participated in the work with him. What’s more, is that when he was first separated and set apart by the Holy Spirit he wasn’t separated alone, but was separated together with someone else who would partner together with him in the ministry. Oh, there is something wonderful and powerful about being separated unto the work whereunto you have been called by the Holy Spirit, however, there is something also incredibly wonderful and powerful about being serrated by the Holy Spirit side by side and together with someone for the work whereunto you have been called.
SEPARATED FROM FAITHFULNESS IN FELLOWSHIP AND SERVICE! SEPARATED WITH NOTHING HOLDING YOU BACK OR TYING YOU DOWN! SEPARATED TOGETHER WITH SOMEONE WHO WILL PARTNER WITH YOU IN THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY! As you read the words which are found in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts—specifically beginning with the twenty-second verse of the chapter—you will find that after the matter of whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised in order to experience salvation, Paul and Barnabas were sent from Jerusalem, but were joined by two additional co-laborers and fellow-workers. When you take the time to read the words which are found within this passage of Scripture you will find the apostle Paul and Barnabas being sent out once more—sent out by the apostles, the elders and brethren at the church in Jerusalem—and being sent out to return unto Damascus as they were accompanied by Silas and Judas who was also surnamed Barsabas. Once the elders and apostles within the church in Jerusalem had established that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order to experience salvation, they sent the apostle Paul with these three companions back to the church in Antioch with letters encouraging them to abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication. When the apostle Paul and these three men were sent from the church in Jerusalem they were sent with the powerful message that the church in Jerusalem was laying no additional burden on them, and that they ought to be released from those who had troubled them and sought to subvert their souls. That which we find in this particular section of Scripture reveals the reality of Paul and Barnabas returning unto Antioch where they had been separated by the Holy Spirit for the work whereunto they had been called. What caused them to depart from Antioch was certain brethren who came from Judaea who began teaching the Gentiles that they needed to be circumcised in order to experience salvation. Ultimately, they wanted the matter to be discussed within the church at Jerusalem and among the apostles and elders of the church to determine whether or not it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved. If you read the words which are found in the opening portion of this chapter you will find that not only did the apostle Peter speak about concerning his experience among the house of Cornelius and his entire household who received the word of God and were filled with and baptized by the Holy Spirit, but you will also find James the brother of Jesus speaking up in the midst of the assembly to help solidify the matter that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised, As a direct result of this gathering together of the apostles and elders of the church, Paul and Barnabas were once more sent out to return unto the church at Antioch—this time with Silas and Judas surnamed Barsabas.
I have to admit that the more I read the words which are written and found within the New Testament book of Acts the more I can’t help but come face to face with the awesome and incredible reality of being separated unto the work for which the Holy Spirit has called you, and to be separated with others who work alongside you. Perhaps one of the single greatest realities that is found within the book of Acts is the partnership together in the ministry—an element which was found and modeled within the life and ministry of Jesus Christ Himself. If you read and study the four gospel accounts of His life and ministry you will find that in the ministry for which Jesus had been sent, He did not engage Himself in that ministry by Himself. Oh, imagine what the gospels would and could have looked like if Jesus had been a one man show—perhaps even a one God show among those for whom He had been sent. If you read the four gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ you will find that during the three and a half years He fulfilled the work for which He had been sent, He did not do so alone, nor did He do it by Himself. As you read the gospels you will find and discover that Jesus chose twelve men who would walk with and follow Him wherever He went—twelve men who would partner together with Him in the ministry, and who would be discipled by Him as they went. Their walking with and following Him was not merely about partnership in the ministry for which He had been sent, but it was also preparation fo that for which they had been called when He chose them. The four gospels will not only bring you face to face with the account of Jesus sending the twelve disciples out two by two before Him in order that they might preach the kingdom of God, heal the sick, and cast out demons, but it will also bring you face to face with seventy others who were also appointed and sent out by Jesus the Christ ahead of Him into the cities of Judaea where He would come. The entire public life and ministry of Jesus the Christ would spend among those for whom He had been sent, but it would also be spent walking with twelve men who would follow Him where He went as they were being trained for carrying on and carrying out the work for which they had been called and chosen. IN the New Testament book of Acts you will find this absolutely wonderful reality and concept of partnership together in the ministry—particularly and especially when you come to the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. There is a lot of emphasis on the work for which the apostle Paul himself engaged in and embarked on while he traveled throughout Asia, however, we would do a great disservice to neglect and fail to recognize the reality that the apostle Paul was not a one man show, nor did he operate alone and independent of those who would engage themselves in the work of the ministry. Even when the apostle Paul was separated by the Holy Spirit, he was not separated for a work which he himself was specifically called to alone, but was separated alongside and side by side with Barnabas for the work which they had been called to together. Neither one of them were called alone and independent, but were called side by side for a work and ministry which they needed to do together. The work whereunto they had been called was not a work that was about themselves and themselves alone, but was about them working together to fulfill and accomplish that which the Holy Spirit had called them to do.
By the time we come to the twenty-second verse of the fifteenth chapter we not only find Paul and Barnabas returning to Antioch with letters in hand from the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem, but you will find them returning accompanied by Silas and Judas who was called Barsabas. The beloved physician Luke writes and records how when they came to Antioch, they gathered the multitude together and delivered the epistle which was written unto them by the elders and apostles in Jerusalem. Upon hearing the reading of the letter the saints in Antioch rejoiced for the consolation, and received additional encouragement and consolation from Judas and Silas who were also prophets. When you come to the thirty-fifth verse you will find that after Judas and Silas had spent some time in Antioch among the brethren there, they were let go in peace from the brethren to return unto Jerusalem and to the apostles. There seems to be an indication that Judas returned to Jerusalem to join himself once more to the apostles and to the church there, however, it pleased Silas to remain there with Paul and Barnabas. This is actually quite interesting, for it would have been easy to return to Jerusalem to that which was comfortable and familiar, and yet Silas chose to remain with Paul and Barnabas there in Antioch as he partnered together with and engaged himself in the work there in Antioch. Oh, there is something truly special and remarkable about the willingness to abide in such a place and in such a work knowing that it is separate from that which you have been comfortable with for quite some time. Please note that there is no condemnation upon Judas for returning to Jerusalem and unto the apostles and church there in the city, but rather that there is something to be said about Silas choosing to remain in Antioch with the apostle Paul and Barnabas engaged in the work whereunto they had been called. There was something about leaving the comfort and convenience of Jerusalem—although could you really call it comfort when a great persecution had broken out in the midst of the city—in order to remain connected to a work that was in a place that was completely different. There is something truly remarkable about Silas choosing to join himself to a work that was outside of and independent from the church in Jerusalem, and to partner together with these men who had hazarded their lives for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ. There was something about Silas’ willingness to remain in Antioch partnering together with Paul and Barnabas who were engaging themselves in a work outside of Jerusalem, and a work among the Gentiles—a work that perhaps was not popular, and one that required an assembly to determine whether or not Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. As I read the words which are found within this passage of Scripture I cannot help but come face to face with the reality that no calling takes place within a vacuum, and no calling—regardless of how great or small it may be—takes place in a bubble and doesn’t require others to walk alongside and partner together with you. What’s more, is that there is something about a willingness to partner together with others in ministry in order that the name of Jesus the Christ might be preached, and in order that men might receive the Holy Spirit for the first time, and to be grafted into the vine which is the body of Jesus the Christ. Oh that we would read the words which are found within this passage and truly encounter the beauty of partnership in ministry and separation by the Holy Spirit unto a work which has been established in the earth.