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
I want to spend the time in this Gem focusing your attention on the practice of laying hands on people and commissioning them to the work that God has called them to. This moment for Barnabas and Saul marks the beginning of a new journey in God, the point of their commissioning to the work exclusively as He wanted and the moment when their lives were now in His hands to live and work as He indicated. It was a way to formalise the dedication of Barnabas and Saul to a special work to which God had called them. Just as we read above, the exact words that God used for the occasion in the mouth of the unnamed prophet who spoke the words or the sense they all had as a collective. But then note that the group of people involved after some more prayer and fasting laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul and commissioned them and sent them on their way. What was that all about? Why did they do that? Why do churches do that these days in commissioning their missionaries or full time workers or their people who are going out for a short time to do a specific work? There is much I could say about this sentence to keep us on this verse for the next weeks. But I will be brief. As brief as you will let me be. You decide.
First of all it was an act of dedication as indicated above. God had told the body of believers in Antioch to set these two men apart specifically for the task He wants of them. They were being dedicated or set apart to one specific task. Their gifts and abilities had been recognised as being what were needed to do what they were being called to do. It was God calling them to the work and so the church was formalising that in laying their hands on them. But there is more to it than that. In laying hands upon Barnabas and Saul they are symbolising two things. One they are asking for God’s impartation of the power and ability to do what they were being called to do. As Moses said to God on Mt Sinai; if You don’t go with with me (us) I don’t want to go. The laying on of hands is a symbolic way of asking for God’s blessing, presence and power to go with those who are being sent out. Some see it as an ordination or a commissioning, other don’t see it as being so formal or carrying with it any symbol of authority as such. Still the act is filled with the same meaning. But there is another aspect to the laying on of hands. That is a sense of identification with those you are sending out. We are with you, we are behind you in this. You are going out as our emissaries and we will support you in prayer and in other ways as we able.
Behind the scenes of this act of commissioning is the sense that the Antioch Church was accepting the role of being the body of people who would support Saul and Barnabas in their role. This is the church, a church which was begun as a result of the work of those sent from Jerusalem – Barnabas and Saul and others. But now the responsibility for that work has shifted to Antioch and the believers there. Now those in Antioch have declared their willingness to support Barnabas and Saul in the on-going work. They identify with them and feel part of the work. As I ponder these things I look back on years spent doing just that. After God called us in 1981 to the work which we are now doing, Matamata Baptist Church surprised us totally by saying they would support us 100% financially and other ways in what we were going to do. That was unheard of back then. But they did it right from the moment of our going out to train for the work. They supported us in every way. But what has happened over the years is that other churches and individuals who have been recipients of the blessing of God in all we do have come forth and expressed their desire to be a part of supporting us too.
We have been doing this now since the beginning of 1982. That’s 38 years. For thirty eight years we have not received a wage but in all that time we have been provided for. The very thought of it confounds and confuses bank managers and tax departments and other financial officials. It is something they cannot get their head around. One bank manager, when we wanted a loan to buy a house in Auckland when as Director of WBT I was to move the HQ to Auckland, held his head in his hands and said, “The bank can’t loan you money on that basis Mr & Mrs Vail. There is no guarantee. You would have to write to all of your supporters and get them to sign a deed with the bank guaranteeing their gifts to you.” God takes care of all of that. We have seen when one supporter needs to stop because their situation has changed and they can no longer support us, another one comes along to support us. There was a time when Matamata Baptist could no longer support us as they had done. But God had others set aside for that moment. And between the cracks we learn to trust God in the process, learning as Paul said to be content whether in plenty or whether in lack. That is what God said to us through Larry Allen, the itinerant prophet who came to Matamata on the 20th of December 1980. That’s right, you read it correctly. Almost a full year before we were called as such, God was preparing the way. Just as He prepared Garry and Glenys Danswan to be our house managers months before we even knew we would need house managers. And that was after God told me twice through two different people on the same day that I was not to sell my house to fund what we were going to do, but He would take care of it. I was told these things by strangers at the very moment I was thinking in my head the only way we were going to cover the costs of all that was before us was to sell our house. It was all so uncanny but God was saying. I will take care of you.
How does He take care of Barnabas and Saul and Ian and Tania and all the people in between? Through those who identify with them and support them in the process. This new body of believers at Antioch had taken up a collection to send money to those in need in Jerusalem. The child is taking care of the parent. It is all so amazing. And do you know what else is amazing? We have experienced the fact that so often the ones who give are those ones who can’t afford it. They are the ones who have a little, but give that sacrificially. I told you about Clarice in Gem 1565, the little lady in the aged care home in Matamata and her bias toward Te Poi. But this little lady was also the one who on hearing that Ian and Tania were going to go out to the place of our calling came up to me and said she wanted to support us. I told her we didn’t expect her to support us, she didn’t really have the means. Her response still rings in my ears. “Ian Vail don’t you rob me of the blessing of supporting you in this work. If I choose to support you then you need to be willing to receive it.” I have learned much since those days Clarice.
Do you understand how it works? That is why Paul rejoiced so much in the support of the Macedonians that he talked about in 2 Corinthians because these poorer people were supporting him in his work even when they couldn’t really afford it. But they were supporting him beyond their means and God was the one making it all possible. It is in this kind of situation that we see the hand of God most clearly because it defies the normal course of human financial operations and shows clearly that God is the One behind it all. In so doing it confounds bank managers and tax department officials alike. We don’t know how it happens despite living this life for 38 years. There are many times we have got through a year financially when in all honesty we oughtn’t to have able to do so but we did. One is left scratching one’s head in wonder – us, bank managers, tax department officials, supporters who give beyond their own ability to give. And over it all, Gods sits back and smiles at our puzzlement as how it happens. And probably whispers to the angels, “that’s My principle in action angels, “seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you”.
We want you to know, brothers, about God’s grace that was given to the churches of Macedonia. In spite of a terrible ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy, along with their deep poverty, has resulted in the abundance of their generosity. I can testify that by their own free will they have given to the utmost of their ability, yes, even beyond their ability. They begged us earnestly for the privilege of participating in this ministry to the saints. We did not expect that! They gave themselves to the Lord first and then to us, since this was God’s will.2 Corinthians 8:1-5
So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.Acts 13:3