The Holy Spirit Set Paul and Barnabas Apart: Part 3 of 3
by John Lowe
“For the work whereunto I have called them”—not the apostolic office, for Saul was called to that by the express revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12), and Barnabas was not an apostle. The work which the Holy Ghost had appointed, and called them to before this, by some communication, perhaps, to themselves: in the case of Saul at least, such a designation was indicated from the first—“And he said to me, Depart: for I will send you far hence to the Gentiles” (Ac 22:21). The “work” to which they were now set apart was that of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles in the regions around Antioch. It was not any permanent office in the church, but was a temporary assignment to a missionary enterprise in extending the Gospel, especially through Asia Minor, and the adjacent regions. Accordingly, when, in the fulfillment of this mission, they had traveled through Seleucia, Cyprus, Paphos, Pamphylia, Pisidia, etc., they returned to Antioch, having fulfilled the work to which they were separated. (See Acts 14:26-27). “Whereunto I have called them,” proves that they received their commission to this work directly from God the Holy Spirit. Paul and Barnabas had been influenced by the Spirit to engage in this work, but they were to be sent forth by the consensus and authority of the church.
3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
And when they had fasted and prayed
They were fasting when they were commanded to set them apart. Yet this probably refers to an appointed day of prayer designated for this very purpose. The first formal mission to the Gentiles was an important event in the church, and they engaged in this assignment with deep solemnity and by humbling themselves before God.
This enterprise was a new one. The gospel had been preached to the Jews, to Cornelius, and to the Gentiles at Antioch. But there had been no solemn, public, and concerted plan for sending it to the Gentiles, or of appointing a mission to the pagan world. It was a new event, and was full of danger and hardships. The primitive church felt the need of divine direction and aid in this great work. Two missionaries were to be sent forth among strangers, to be exposed to perils by sea and land; and the commencement of the enterprise demanded prayer. The church humbled itself, and this primitive missionary society sought, as all others should do, the divine blessing to join with the labors of those employed in this work. The result showed that the prayer was heard.
This did not take place when they had finished fasting and praying, at the time the Holy Ghost made an impulse on their minds, to separate two of their brethren to a work they were appointed to; but at another time, which was designated for that purpose. When they fasted and prayed, not for direction, who they were to set apart and send; for Barnabas and Saul had previously been pointed out to them, but so they might have every needful gift and qualification for the work, and be successful in it.
The repetition of the words, fasted and prayed, that had been used in verse 2 seems to imply that the fast was prolonged till the laying-on of hands had been completed. The new command called for that intensity of spiritual life of which fasting was more or less the normal condition. Fasting and praying are a good preparation for entering into any business, for the act acknowledges that all success must come from God. Our blessed Saviour himself would not enter upon his ministry till he had fasted forty days (Matthew 4:2, compared with Matthew 4:17).
And laid their hands on them
This was not an ordination; the Apostle Paul, specifically, was not ordained an apostle by man, but by Jesus Christ; who personally appeared to him, and made and ordained him his minister and apostle; not by men inferior to himself, as Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen were. But this was a gesture and ceremony used among the Jews, when they wished any blessing or happiness to come to any persons; and so these prophets, when they separated Paul and Barnabas from their company, and they were leaving them, put their hands on them (That is, those who are mentioned in Acts 13:1.), and wished them all prosperity and success. This was the formal act by which the Church indicated its acceptance of the divine mission of those on whom hands were laid, and prayed for them to receive the divine blessing. This could not be an ordination, since both of them were stated and authorized ministers of the word, and one of them an apostle long before this. When they had prayed for them, and wished them well, they sent them away to do the work they were called to; not in an authoritative way, but in a friendly manner they parted with them, and bid them farewell.
They sent them away
Barnabas and Saul received a double call—by the Spirit first, and next by the Church. It was said of their mission, “They being sent forth by the Holy Ghost.” We have in this event the true principle of appointment to sacred offices. The church by its teachers “sent them away” under the direction of the Holy Spirit. All missionaries are sent by the church; and the church should not forget its ambassadors in their great and perilous work. With this departure of Barnabas and Saul, the second and main part of the Acts of the Apostles begins.
i Belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the belief that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ.