Week of December 28,
Bible Verses:† Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-27; 26:15-19; Galatians
Lesson Focus: God
calls some Christians to invest their lives as missionaries in other cultures.
Missionaries are Called: Acts 26:15-19; Galatians 2:6-10.
† And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord
said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
† But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have
appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to
the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to
you, † delivering you from your
people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you † to open their eyes, so that they may turn
from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may
receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith
in me.' † "Therefore, O King
Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.† [Galatians 2:6] †And from those who seemed to be influential
(what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--those, I
say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. † On the contrary, when they saw that I had
been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been
entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised † (for he who worked through Peter for his
apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the
Gentiles), † and when James and Cephas
and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me,
they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to
the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
† Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the
very thing I was eager to do.† [ESV]
was one of the foreign cities to which Paul travelled, equipped with a high
priestly extradition order. But before he reached his destination the divine
intervention took place. A heavenly light, more brilliant than the sun at noon,
flashed round him and his companions. Together they fell to the ground. Then a
voice, addressing Paul in Aramaic, asked why he was persecuting him and,
quoting a well-known proverb, declared it painful for him to kick against the
goads which is a metaphor for useless opposition to deity. Surely, when the
heavenly voice declared, I am Jesus whom
you are persecuting, at least two truths must have registered instantly in
Saulís consciousness. The first is that the crucified Jesus was alive and had
thus been vindicated, and the second that the Jesus who identified himself so
closely with the Christians that to persecute them was to persecute him, must
regard them as being peculiarly his own people. In Paulís account to Agrippa of
what happened on the Damascus road, however, what he stressed was not his
conversion, but his commissioning, not his becoming a disciple of Jesus, but
his appointment to be an apostle. So Jesusí first word of command to Paul was rise and stand upon your feet .
This cannot mean that he had been wrong to fall to the ground, for in that fall
he both was humbled and humbled himself. No, the command to stand was a
necessary preliminary to the command to go; it prefaced his commissioning.
Christís commission of Saul took the form of three verbs, all in the first
person singular of direct speech, although respectively in the past, future and
present tenses. First, I have appeared
to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness. The
general call to be a servant is
narrowed down into the particular call to be a witness. In Paulís ministry, the emphasis is on being an
eyewitness, for he was to bear witness both to what he had seen of Jesus and to
what Jesus would later show him [16b]. Secondly, I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the
Gentiles. This promise did not guarantee immunity to suffering. On the
contrary, it was part of the vocation of prophets and apostles to endure
suffering. But it did mean that their testimony would not be silenced until
their God-appointed work was done. Thirdly, I am sending you to open their eyes. This was Paulís commission to
be the apostle to the Gentiles. He was being sent to open their eyes [18a]. For the unbelieving Gentile world was
blind to the truth of God in Jesus Christ. Yet this opening of the eyes did not
mean intellectual enlightenment only, but conversion: so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of
Satan to God [18b]. For conversion includes a radical transfer of
allegiance and so of environment. It is both a liberation from the darkness of
satanic rule and a liberation into the sphere of Godís marvelous light and
power. In other words, it means entering the kingdom of God.
Further, the blessings of the kingdom are the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith
in Christ [18c]. The promise of forgiveness was part of the apostolic
gospel from the beginning. What was specially significant in Christís
commissioning of Paul was that the Gentiles were to be granted a full and equal
share with the Jews in the privileges of those sanctified by faith in Christ,
that is, the holy people of God.
[Gal. 6-10]† The first ten verses of Galatians 2 form a distinct
literary unit within the historical argument Paul was unfolding in defense of
his apostolicity. He told of a private meeting he held on his second
postconversion visit to Jerusalem
with the church leaders there. The purpose of the meeting was to set before
these pillars the gospel he had been
proclaiming for some years among the Gentiles. Upon hearing his testimony they
fully endorsed his message and him. From Paulís perspective this meeting was a
smashing success. Not only were the false brothers unsuccessful in their
efforts to compel Titus to be circumcised, a move fiercely resisted by Paul, but,
equally important, he and the Jerusalem
authorities arrived at a common missionary strategy to enhance the task of
world evangelization. Paul eagerly agreed with the request that this practical
division of labor might not result in a loss of love between Jewish and Gentile
Christians. Their unity in the faith and mutual care would be demonstrated by a
love offering collected on behalf of the poor saints in Jerusalem. The two key themes in this passage
are the truth of the gospel and the unity of the church. In a moment of crisis
Paul found it necessary to stand adamantly and uncompromisingly against the
heretical doctrine and illicit demands of the false brothers. It would have
been easy for Paul to say: ďOh, come now; circumcision is no big deal. Letís compromise
on this issue in order to save face and win friends here in Jerusalem.Ē By such an approach he might well
have spared himself a confrontation, but he would thereby have forfeited the
cause of Christian freedom. At the same time, Paul greatly valued the unity of
the church and sought to strengthen it in every way possible.
We have much to learn from this episode in the life of the early church
as we seek to be faithful stewards of the missionary challenge confronting us
today. First, we can develop a pattern of cooperation around the truth of the
gospel. This is not an ecumenism of convenience; Paul could not work together
with the false brothers, even though they claimed to be fellow Christians,
because their theological position was antithetical to the gospel message
itself. However, Paul was eager to work closely together with other Christian
leaders who shared with him a common commitment to the good news of salvation
through Jesus Christ. Second, the apostles found it necessary to distribute the
work of evangelization by a practical division of labor. Today approximately
1.3 billion persons in the world have never heard the name of Jesus for the
first time. Evangelical, Bible-believing Christians cannot afford to fight turf
wars over missionary zones. No one person, ministry, missions agency, or
denomination can cover all the necessary bases. We must be ready to stand
together and work collaboratively with Great Commission Christians everywhere
in the unfilled task of world evangelization. Finally, the word about caring
for the poor points to the dual necessity of both a propositional and a caring
dimension to the life and mission of the church. Paul steadfastly refused to
divorce conversion from discipleship. His mission included both a social and an
evangelistic responsibility. He gave priority to evangelism because he sensed
so keenly the eternal destiny of every person he met and shuddered to think of
the dire consequences of spurning Christís invitation to eternal life. Still,
he knew, as we must, that the gospel he preached was addressed to living
persons, soul and body, in all of their broken humanity and need for wholeness.
So Paul always sought to combine the Gospel proclamation with the living-out of
the gospel message in love and compassion for the broken hearted.
Missionaries are Commissioned: Acts 13:1-3.
† Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was
Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
† While they were worshiping the Lord
and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for
the work to which I have called them." †
Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent
them off.† [ESV]
The cosmopolitan population of Antioch was reflected in the membership of
its church and in its leadership, which consisted of five resident prophets and
teachers. While the church was gathered together in worship and fasting, the
Holy Spirit directed the church to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. The
nature of this work is not specified. The call to go was clear while the
direction and the work were not. How was Godís call disclosed? We are not told.
The most likely guess is that God spoke to the church through one of the
prophets. But His call could have been inward rather than outward, that is,
through the Spiritís witness in their hearts and minds. However it came to
them, their first reaction was to fast and pray, partly to test Godís call and
partly to intercede for the two who were to be sent out. We notice that in
neither reference to fasting does it occur alone. It is linked with worship in
verse 2 and with prayer in verse 3. For seldom if ever is fasting an end in itself.
It is a negative action (abstention from food and other distractions) for the
sake of a positive one (worshipping or praying). Then, after fasting and praying, and so assured themselves of Godís call
and prepared themselves to obey it, they
laid their hands on them and sent them off. This was not an ordination to
an office, still less an appointment to apostleship, but rather a valedictory
commissioning to missionary service. Who, then, commissioned the missionaries?
According to verse 4, Barnabas and Saul were sent on their way by the Holy
Spirit, who had previously instructed the church to set them apart for him .
But according to verse 3 it was the church which, after the laying-on of hands,
sent them off. Thus, we should not depict the churchís role as having been
entirely passive. Would it not be true to say both that the Spirit sent them
out, by instructing the church to do so, and that the church sent them out,
having been directed by the Spirit to do so? This balance will be a healthy corrective
to opposite extremes. The first is the tendency to individualism, by which a
Christian claims direct personal guidance by the Spirit without any reference
to the church. The second is the tendency to institutionalism, by which all
decision-making is done by the church without any reference to the Spirit.
Today it is the responsibility of every local church (especially of its
leaders) to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, in order to discover whom He may
be gifting and calling.
Missionaries are Connected: Acts 14:26-27.
† and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had
been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. † And when they arrived and gathered the church
together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened
a door of faith to the Gentiles.† [ESV]
The most notable feature of the first missionary journey was
the missionariesí sense of divine direction. It was the Holy Spirit Himself who
told the church
of Antioch to set
Barnabas and Saul apart, who sent them out, who led them from place to place,
and who gave power to their preaching, so that converts were made and churches
planted. The sending church had committed them to the grace of God for their
work , and on their return they reported all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith
to the Gentiles . True, He had done the work with them, in co-operation or partnership with them, but He had
done it, and they gave Him the credit. The grace had come from Him; the glory
must go to Him.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† Christ appeared to Paul in order to
commission him to be a servant and witness to the Gentiles. What was the
purpose of Christ sending Paul [v.18]? Is this the same purpose Christ has for
us when He sends us out as His witnesses? If so, how does this purpose impact
the content of your witness?
2.†††††††† What can we learn about the work of
missions from the episode in Galatians 2:6-10?
3.†††††††† Why is it so important that the Holy
Spirit uses the local church to commission pastors, missionaries and leaders of
the church [Acts 13:1-3]? From what two opposite extremes does this protect the
Commentary on the Book of the Acts, F.F. Bruce,
The Message of Acts, John Stott, InterVarsity.
The Message of Galatians, John Stott, InterVarsity.
Galatians, Timothy George, NAC, Broadman Press.