As we look at Acts 13 we see the first missionaries being sent out by the early church. The first missionaries were Saul and Barnabas, and they were sent out from Antioch.
Many people using their gifts
Luke describes the church at Antioch by pointing out how many of the members were using their spiritual gifts. These men had the gifts of prophecy and teaching, and they were using them regularly for the edification of the body of Christ. The most gifted and prominent teachers are named in verse one.
In verse two we learn more of what ministry is supposed to be. First, the word translated “ministered” or “worshiped” literally means to be a public servant. It is used in the context of religious service or functions. In other words, the ministry is an attitude of obedient service to the Lord as part of our worship. As taught in 1 Corinthians 14 these men used their gifts in the gathered worship services to lead in the worship of Christ and build up the body of Christ.
Second, we see that true ministry is to the Lord. What you have done for others in the name of Jesus is actually done to the Lord. Our focus is to be on God and His glory. We are to serve as to the Lord, not man.
Third, fasting is seen here as just a normal part of the Christian’s life and ministry. It is a spiritual discipline that we cannot neglect.
The fourth thing we see is that they were walking in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit was guiding every detail of their ministry. Because of this, they were clearly able to hear His voice when He called Barnabas and Saul to be missionaries.
Set apart for the work
What does it look like to send out missionaries? First, they must be set aside for this task. There is to be a deliberate action on the part of the church to set aside or separate from the general body those the Holy Spirit has called for this special work.
Second, the church must acknowledge that it is the Holy Spirit Who has called them to this task. This means that we must be walking close to the Spirit in order to heard His voice and see His call on their lives. It also means that we are not the ones who call them, separate them for the work, or send them out. It is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit based upon His sovereign choice.
Laying on of hands
The church then prayed with fasting, and laid their hands on them before sending them away. What is the significance of the laying on of hands? It should be noted that this is considered one of the basic tenets of Christianity in Hebrews 6:2. The fact that most believers do not know the meaning behind this basic principle means that we must explore it more in order to fully grasp our responsibility and what is taking place when we lay hands on someone, especially in the case of separating someone for the ministry.
Throughout Scripture, the laying on of hands is a part of imparting a blessing. This is seen in Isaac blessing Jacob, Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons, and also in Jesus blessing the little children. This same sign of imparting a blessing was continued in the books of Acts for the impartation of the Holy Spirit. What greater blessing can be given to any one than the Holy Spirit of God?
Paul explains this further in his letter to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 4:14 he explains that when Timothy was set apart for the ministry there was a special spiritual gift given to him by the laying on of hands. When we lay hands on an individual it is accompanied by prayer. We are praying that a special gift of the Holy Spirit would be given to the individual we are praying for. What greater blessing can we bestow?
Sent out by the Holy Spirit
Lastly, although the church sets Barnabas and Saul aside for the ministry, it is the Holy Spirit Who send them out. We play a very important role in supporting missionaries, but our role is secondary to the role of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit alone that will sustain us in living out our calling. What ever ministry we do, we must know that it is what the Holy Spirit has called us to do.
Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?
Are you ministering to the Lord?
Are you regularly fasting?
Are you walking in the Holy Spirit?