Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.Acts 13:1-3
There is a law of first mention in Scripture. Many times the order of names is important and the first mentioned is placed there for a purpose. So in this case it is intriguing that Barnabas and Paul up to this point have been listed as Barnabas and Saul. Soon the order will become Paul and Barnabas – watch for the change. Here we have Barnabas and Saul separated by the names of Simeon, Lucius and Manaen. It seems clear that as far as the Antioch believers were concerned Barnabas was their “number one”. Having spent all that time with them, discipling them and teaching them he had obviously endeared himself to them. But Saul was not so high on their list. In fact three of their local leaders feature ahead of Saul. Notice too, the nature of the men who were higher on the Antiochean list – a black man, a Cyrenean and someone who hobnobbed with royalty. It is interesting that the church at Antioch was indeed very cosmopolitan and very Gentile. No wonder it is this church which is the launch pad for the mission to Gentiles.
In these three verses the nature of this launch pad is described for us. The prophets and teachers are the ones who were specifically involved and these five men are listed as being five from among those prophets and teachers. One would expect therefore that at least one from among them was a prophet – oh not the forth-telling variety but the foretelling type. One who speaks as speaking a word from the Lord. Notice too that these men along with others regularly spent time in worshipping the Lord and fasting and prayer, undoubtedly seeking the mind or direction of the LORD. Into that mix the Holy Spirit speaks and tells them, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” Have you ever wondered how He spoke? Maybe you don’t ask or ponder questions like that, but I do. Did the Holy Spirit speak in an audible voice? He does you know, I have heard His audible voice twice in my life. Did He speak through impressions left on the human psyche which cause the thoughts to rise in one person or in many? He does that too. I have been in a number of situations where the collective sense of the body has coalesced into united thought. At first I was outside of the unified thought until I learned how to correctly discern the mind of the LORD with others. Other times He speaks to one person strongly and clearly who then becomes bold enough to say as some do, “Thus says the LORD . . .” That formula is used in the Old Testament in the mouth of the prophets often. But in these modern times I think I prefer the approach, “I feel the LORD would say . . . “ That seems to me to be less dictatorial or less unequivocal and doesn’t sound like the one speaking is claiming the Divine oracle. But to each his/her own.
As a Christian I have grown up in an environment such as that described above. In fact in our church in Matamata, New Zealand (Hobbiton) a group developed called the Acts 13 group and when the mind of the LORD was sought for various things the leaders, prophets and teachers would be called together to discern the LORD’s will on certain things. This kind of approach is normal to me but in my wider experience in the body of Christ I have not encountered it very often. It is more a rarity than the norm. Let me leave the personal comment for a while (I will come back to it) and return to the text before us. It is clear from what Luke recorded for us above that these certain men met regularly and on one of those occasions the Holy Spirit spoke into their midst. This kind of thing is not something that happens every time we are to meet. If that becomes the expectation then we quickly trivialise an important moment and begin seeking words for the LORD at every turn. Doing that more likely opens you up to words from the human spirit or mind. I have been in other churches where that happens and almost on cue there are “prophetic words from God” – I place that term in inverted commas because I seriously question whether it is from God at all.
In one church we have been a part of during our training, it would often happen after a certain chord sequence of music when these words from the Lord would come forth. One morning after it had happened and had left me grieved in my spirit I was approached by an elder who said, “Wow that was a wonderful morning wasn’t it Ian? We had a whole series of ‘words from the Lord’. I responded by saying, “Those were words from the Lord were they?” “You believe in God speaking through the prophetic voice don’t you?” “I certainly do but I question whether they were truly words from the Lord. If they were then what did He say?” Whereupon the elder proceeded to tell me a series of vague, rambling generalities about the God’s love and compassion for His people. I said, “I rest my case.” If God really spoke wouldn’t we hang on every word and take seriously what was said through the body?” Rather than sum up what God said with some vague sense that God spoke and not be able to recall the words but instead boil them down to some vague generalities or Christian platitudes?
When these men of Antioch met clear direction came out of worship, prayer and fasting. Not as a matter of form but in specific focused ways. I am grateful to the years of my roots in Matamata Baptist which taught me to learn to discern a true Word from the Lord. When this word, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them” came, the prophets and teachers clearly spent some more time in further prayer and fasting before they laid hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them on their way. It was all so simple and yet all so spiritual at the same time. I grew up as a Christian in that environment.
Many times we have been led by words from the Lord which we know through testing and discernment were indeed God’s quickened word to our hearts.
Here are some of them”
“You are to go to Wellington and in Wellington you will see the next step really clearly and see all things in perspective.” I laughed at this Word from the Lord the first time I heard it and told the speaker, Weston Finlay, not to be so spiritual, I was only going to a Geography Conference.
“I see you and Tania standing on the bridge of ship and it is like the Lord is saying you are going to lead a significant work. Furthermore I see that there will be bigger and bigger ships following this. This is just the beginning.” A prophetic word spoken out after the speaker saw a vision of us while we were all praying.
“I will pour out My Spirit afresh and anew to this body, afresh and anew to this mind. My son, I the Lord say to you I have called you to be My own and to stand before Me. I am going to use you My son by My grace and My glory. I am going to cause you to bring yourself together an army that I am raising up for the glory of thy God. I’m going to cause a consuming fire to burn within you and that fire is going to be uncontrollable by the hands of the adversary. Like a maverick shall you be before the LORD your God; untameable by the forces of the adversary but tameable by My power and My Spirit. I am going to cause you to thrust forth your household, thrust forth your life and your being into the harvest field for the glory of your God and I am going to reap a harvest by My power and My Spirit my son. I shall use thee. I shall use you, so get into My Word! Learn the strategy , take hold of the manual and apply it your life and I’ll open doors for you, I’ll make moves for you. I’m going to make some changes in your business affairs for the glory of the LORD your God. I have seen the need in these areas. I am going to bring prosperity My son that you know not of. I am going to make you a steward before the LORD thy God to refresh and to renew My power and My Spirit in your life. Fear not, I have seen the revival of your heart.” (A prophetic word received via a visiting speaker, Larry Allen, 20 Dec 1980)
“The LORD says unto you that as you will seek Me, seek Me as you Father, the Lord says that He will prove Himself to you. It is through this proving Himself to you that He will use you because you have an ability to convey to others the things that the LORD can do. You will have a surety and a faith that will not be shaken. For the LORD says unto you, seek Me and prove Me and know that I the LORD am true to My Word and I will use this as a blessing through you in the lives of others.” An unexpected prophetic word spoken by Graeme Coad after a prayer for healing that happened three days later.
There have been many others over the years. The two longer prophetic words from Larry Allen and Graeme Coad were recorded on the church sound system and then transcribed and printed for us.
Luke is giving us an insight into what happened at the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul who were soon to become Paul and Barnabas. Hang on to your seat, God is on the move.
How did Luke know these things? He was not there at the time.
Because no prophecy ever originated through a human decision. Instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.2 Peter 1:21
God is working behind the scenes of your life orchestrating His plan and your destiny for you.Ian Vail
Many times we pray for answers or clarity and then set off on our own course before God has answered.Ian Vail
Don’t do what you are good at and call it ministry. Ministry is not defined by our gifts but by our calling.Ian Vail