The Call & Work of God
Sermon Text: Acts 13:1-12
Sermon Theme: The calling and work of God is authenticated by the Holy Spirit, supported by the local church, and focused on the proclamation of the Word.
What an assemblage was here! In these names we see that the Lord raises up instruments for his work, from various places and stations in life; and zeal for his glory induces men to give up flattering connections and prospects to promote his cause. It is by the Spirit of Christ that his ministers are made both able and willing for his service, and taken from other cares that would hinder in it. Christ’s ministers are to be employed in Christ’s work, and, under the Spirit’s guidance, to act for the glory of God the Father. They are separated to take pains, and not to take state. A blessing upon Barnabas and Saul in their present undertaking was sought for, and that they might be filled with the Holy Ghost in their work. Whatever means are used, or rules observed, the Holy Ghost alone can fit ministers for their important work, and call them to it.
Satan is in a special manner busy with great men and men in power, to keep them from being religious, for their example will influence many. Saul is here for the first time called Paul, and never after Saul. Saul was his name as he was a Hebrew; Paul was his name as he was a citizen of Rome. Under the direct influence of the Holy Ghost, he gave Elymas his true character, but not in passion. A fullness of deceit and mischief together, make a man indeed a child of the devil. And those who are enemies to the doctrine of Jesus, are enemies to all righteousness; for in it all righteousness is fulfilled. The ways of the Lord Jesus are the only right ways to heaven and happiness. There are many who not only wander from these ways themselves, but set others against these ways. They commonly are so hardened, that they will not cease to do evil. The proconsul was astonished at the force of the doctrine upon his own heart and conscience, and at the power of God by which it was confirmed. The doctrine of Christ astonishes; and the more we know of it, the more reason we shall see to wonder at it. Those who put their hand to the plough and look back, are not fit for the kingdom of God. Those who are not prepared to face opposition, and to endure hardship, are not fitted for the work of the ministry.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- What is the main business of the church? Some would say that it is to care of its members. The church is here to visit the sick and pray with them, to take care of people at important transitions in life, such as marriage, childbirth, and death. It’s here to provide guidance and comfort for people at important times. No doubt, these are all functions of the church. But we could argue that these functions are not the main business of the church, and if we start acting as if they were, we will miss our main business. We are always in danger of slipping into a maintenance mentality in the church, where we focus on maintaining our religious club and preserving its sacred traditions, and we forget about the lost. The main business of the church is to obey the Holy Spirit in promoting God’s glory among the nations by sending out workers called by God to preach the gospel. The Holy Spirit speaks, and He does not give suggestions, but orders: “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). He tells these leaders what to do, and when they obeyed, Luke notes that Barnabas and Saul were “sent out by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:4). The Holy Spirit is sovereign in the work of missions. The idea of world missions originates with God, not with men. For the main goal of evangelism and missions is not just to reach the lost, but to glorify God. The glory of God is the supreme goal of history. He saves sinners “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:12).
- Why must missions be the focus of all? Some missions advocates say that we all are called to be missionaries; it’s just a matter of whether or not we are obedient. We should agree that missions should weigh heavily on the heart of every Christian, since it is at the heart of the main goal of the church and thus it is centered on God’s heart. As John Piper puts it, “There are only three possibilities in life: to be a goer, a sender, or disobedient” [Mission Frontiers]. But we can agree that not every Christian is called to leave his or her native country and take the gospel to those in other cultures. That takes a special calling from God and requires spiritual gifts that not all believers possess. By a call does not mean hearing a voice from heaven. Spurgeon defined a call as an intense and all-absorbing desire. Maybe, it can be a strong sense that you could not be satisfied doing anything else with your life. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I have always felt when someone has come to me and told me that he has been called to be a preacher, that my main business is to put every conceivable obstacle that I can think of in his way” [Preaching and Preachers]. In other words, he wanted to make sure that the young man was sure that his calling was from God, not from some emotional experience or idealistic view of the ministry. So a calling from God is essential. Thus the Spirit is sovereign in initiating missions; and, He is sovereign in calling workers.
- How do we know what we should or shouldn’t be doing in reaching God’s ultimate goal of glorifying Himself? We know that from start to finish, the Holy Spirit is sovereign over the church and the work that He calls us to do is to take the gospel to all peoples. Habakkuk 2:14 states, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” In Psalm 46:10, God says, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Thus, salvation is not God’s ultimate goal, but rather a means to His goal of glorifying Himself. But God can only be glorified on earth when the gospel is preached among the nations. In Revelation 5:9-10, John hears the heavenly chorus singing, “Worthy are You to take the book, and to break its seals; for You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” When the church preaches the gospel to all the nations, God will use it to save His elect to the glory of His name. As John Piper puts it, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. The glory of God is the ultimate goal of the church — because it’s the ultimate goal of God” [Mission Frontiers].
- Are we worshipping, praying and fasting to allow the Holy Spirit to make us useful for God? Are we yielding to the Holy Spirit’s presence, purpose and power? To yield is to give something up or to give way to a demand of some sort. A person yielded to the Spirit will accede to the Spirit’s will and submit to His authority. Scripture mentions walking in the Spirit — following His lead and living in cooperation with His plan. Scripture also mentions being filled with the Spirit — being fully surrendered to Him and functioning in His power and freedom. Both walking in and being filled with the Spirit necessitates yielding to His control. But yielding to the Spirit finds its opposite in grieving Him (Ephesians 4:30), quenching Him (1 Thessalonians 5:19), or resisting Him (Acts 7:51). Those who are yielded to the Holy Spirit will not be doing that which offends Him, they will not dampen His influence in their hearts, and they will not oppose His will. Yielding to the Spirit, the church “fasted and prayed, … placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). As we yield to the Spirit, allowing Him full control of our lives, we will see the fruit of the Spirit being produced in us (Galatians 5:22–23), and we can look forward to “a harvest of righteousness and peace” (Hebrews 12:11). We are not filled with the Spirit because we feel we are, but because this is the privilege and possession of the Christian. Being filled or controlled by the Spirit is the result of walking in obedience to the Lord. This is a gift of grace and not an emotional feeling. Emotions can and will deceive us, and we can work ourselves up into an emotional frenzy that is purely from the flesh and not of the Holy Spirit. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh… Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:25). This is the Holy Spirit’s fruit, and it is exhibited by believers who are under His control. Having said that, we cannot deny that there are times when we can be overwhelmed by the presence and the power of the Spirit, and this is often an emotional experience. When that happens, it is a joy like no other. Experiencing joy by the Spirit is the understanding that as children of God we are being blessed by His grace. So, absolutely, the ministries of the Holy Spirit can involve our feelings and emotions. At the same time, we are not to base the assurance of our possession of the Holy Spirit on how we feel.
- How can we know if we’re filled with the Spirit or just acting in impulsive selfishness? The Holy Spirit is not a power for us to use. He is a Person, the Third Person of the Trinity. So rather than thinking of the Holy Spirit being a power that we are somehow to seize and use, we are to think of him as a person whose job it is to use us. To be filled with the Spirit means to be under the Spirit’s control. It means that we are not acting in self-will. Since we all are so prone to act in self-will, we need to be very careful, especially before confronting someone, to check our hearts. Our motives should be concern for the glory of God, the truth of the gospel, and for the souls of those who are lost. Any motives for our own glory, to prove that we are right, or to tear down someone else so that we will look good, are not from the Holy Spirit. So, be united with other believers in a Spirit-filled church choosing to walk with other members in obedience to the will of God.
- Why are people rejecting the truth of the gospel message? Most people who oppose the gospel do so out of selfish reasons. Often the person realizes that if the gospel is true, then he must repent of his sin, and he doesn’t want to repent because he enjoys his sin. He knows that if he becomes a Christian, he will have to give up his shady business practices, and it will cost him a bundle. Since he likes the things he can do and buy with his money, he rejects the gospel. Often those who argue militantly for evolution are not doing so out of purely intellectual reasons. If God is the creator, they know that they’re in big trouble because of their sins; so they use whatever arguments they can, however ridiculous and sometimes even ludicrous, to defend evolution. Whatever the surface objections to the gospel, the root reason is always that the person wants to be his own god. Thus when we share the gospel, we engage the enemy of souls in spiritual combat, so we must be prepared for spiritual battle. We should expect and be prepared for satanic opposition. Leading someone to Christ is not merely an academic exercise, nor is it a matter of making a successful sales pitch. Rather, it involves all-out war against the forces of hell. We are engaging in battle with Satan himself, who wants to keep the person in his kingdom of darkness.
- What resources and people is Satan using to attack the work of your church? How are you recognizing and combating these attacks? The devil uses deceit, fraud, and opposition to righteousness to carry out his evil designs. Paul confronts Elymas as being full of deceit and fraud, an enemy of all righteousness. He makes crooked the straight ways of the Lord (Acts 13:10). By diverting people from the true righteousness that is found only in Jesus Christ, he was an enemy of all righteousness. Satan uses deceit to undermine the necessity of the cross of Jesus Christ. In our day, there is a resurgence of spirituality, but it is a spirituality devoid of the substitutionary death of Jesus on behalf of sinners. It is a spirituality where each person makes up truth according to his own likes and dislikes. This is satanic deception, causing people to think that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just so you believe in something. Paul calls Satan “the god of this world” and says that he “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We do not know why God allows Satan this amazing power of holding people in spiritual darkness and snatching away the seed of the gospel when it is sown. But what we do know is that Satan’s power does not absolve people of their own responsibility for their spiritual blindness. Paul makes it clear that unbelievers will be judged because they did not love and believe in the truth, but rather took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Since Satan holds people in spiritual blindness and tries to prevent them from being saved, we know that anyone or anything that keeps a person from receiving Christ is from the devil.
- How can we discern Satan’s deceptive tactics? Discernment in the Bible is the spiritual characteristic of sound judgment for perceiving the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error, and identifying God’s will and direction for his people. Discernment is necessary to understand spiritual truth, live holy as God intends, avoid life’s pitfalls and dangers, and properly govern society. Wisdom and discernment are closely related in the Bible. Wisdom actually has its source in discernment. When we study the Bible, we gain knowledge, but that knowledge only leads to wisdom when discernment is present. A person can spend their whole life studying the Scriptures but never gain wisdom because they lack discernment. Discernment is the ability to see and instinctually recognize subtle differences. Discernment allows one’s knowledge to penetrate the cloudiness and cut through layers of confusion and ambiguity to perceive distinctions accurately. Wisdom is the product of insight and understanding gained through the ability to discern. For Hebrews 4:12 tells us: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” While Psalm 119:130 says: “The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand.” Failure to discern what is truth from error, good from bad, or what is biblical from heretical, stems from not saturating our minds with the Word of God. A discerning person will acknowledge the worth of God’s Word: “All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge” (Proverbs 8:8-9). Seeking discernment is a goal for all who desire to walk righteously: “Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them” (Hosea 14:9).
- Is there a cost to sincere service for Christ? Never share your faith and you will never look like a fool. Never stand for righteousness on a social issue and you will never be rejected. Never walk out of a theater because a movie or play is offensive and you will never be called a prig. Never practice consistent honesty in business and you will not lose the trade of a not-so-honest associate. Never reach out to the needy and you will never be taken advantage of. Never give your heart and it will never be broken. Never go to Cyprus and you will never be subjected to a dizzy, heart-convulsing confrontation with Satan. Seriously follow Christ and you will experience a gamut of sorrows almost completely unknown to the unbeliever. But of course you will also know the joy of adventure with the Lord of the universe and of spiritual victory as you live a life of allegiance to him.
A Story: The Day the Disciples Carried Stones
Elizabeth Elliott, herself a missionary of the highest stature, tells a story, a fable, about the day Jesus asked the disciples to carry stones. In the morning he told them to find a stone which they would carry all day. We can imagine them selecting the lightest and smallest they could find.
As the story unfolds, that night Jesus and the disciples made camp. At mealtime the disciples asked what to do with the stones. Jesus told them, “I’m glad you asked. I will now turn those stones to bread, and that will be your evening meal.” As the disciples ate the few bites they had carried throughout the day, they pledged never to be caught in such a dilemma again.
Sure enough, the next day Jesus asked them in the morning to pick up stones and carry them all day. What a day! Lugging heavy boulders from place to place with the happy anticipation of a full meal that night. When they made camp, the disciples asked the same question, but this time the Lord’s answer was different. “The stones? Just place them over there in a pile. We don’t need them anymore.” When the protestations and complaining had died down, Jesus had only one question for the disciple band: “For whom did you carry your stone today?”
Certainly I have taken some liberties in retelling the story, but the basic idea remains the same. Effective missionaries, pastors, deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, and disciples of all kinds do what they do for the glory of Christ, not for their own benefit. In this chapter Paul and Barnabas left home to travel for Jesus’ sake. They entered into confrontation with a wild-eyed sorcerer for Jesus’ sake. They proclaimed the gospel to hesitant Jews for Jesus’ sake. They endured persecution at Pisidian Antioch for Jesus’ sake. The result was not pain and complaining, but rather rejoicing—even at the difficulty.
We may very well ask ourselves the same question about difficulties in our lives: “For whom did you carry your stone today?” Only when we see Christ at the center of everything we do; only when our motives center on how best to please him; only when we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us as he did Paul and Barnabas will we really be able to say in genuine honesty, “I carried my stone for Jesus.”
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