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The Missionary

Acts  13:1-12

We enter the section of Acts in which Paul the Apostle now takes center stage. As this is the start of his first missionary journey, it seems good to take account of the character of the missionary. Let's look at the Scripture:

(Acts 13:1-12 NIV) In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. {2} 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." {3} So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. {4} The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. {5} When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. {6} They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, {7} who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. {8} But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. {9} Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, {10} "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? {11} Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun." Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. {12} When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Selection and Preparation

Sometimes it seems that the Holy Spirit is rather arbitrary about selecting people. This can be true; the Spirit is like the wind, he goes where he wishes.[1] But in selecting those chosen for a task we can see some sense of the selection, and the preparation, of those who are chosen.

What were they doing at the time?

There is a mistaken notion that these men must somehow have been "super saints" - and that God clearly had them marked for all to see. There is no sense of that here. Rather, we see that they were doing the work of the kingdom, quietly.

·         It has been about eleven years since Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. In that time he has been teaching, mostly in Antioch. He has not been at the center of affairs; rather, he was a teacher among other teachers.

·         Indeed, the order of the players - note that Barnabas is listed first among the five and Saul is listed last - would indicate that Saul was not even preeminent at Antioch.

·         But see what the church was doing when the Spirit arrived! They were worshiping and fasting - in other words, doing what devout Christians were supposed to do, not expecting anything.

Selection by the Spirit

There is one other key point. Even if the church had decided, as a whole, to send out missionaries, it is the Spirit who selects them. The Apostle himself does not pick his place of service, rather the Holy Spirit directs it.

How often I have wished that I had the gift of healing! Yet the Holy Spirit knows how I would be affected by such a gift, and whether or not I am fit for it. Even more, the Spirit determines whether such a gift should be given at all. We need to remember whom we serve.

Preparation by the church

You might conclude from this that the Holy Spirit does it all. This is not so. The church steps forward and confirms this action by fasting, praying and laying on of hands. This is necessary as well:

·         By such action the church confirms the actions of the Spirit. Thus no one can say that this was some private vision given to Paul and Barnabas, but rather an action completely supported by the church.

·         Indeed, in this action the church proclaims its unity. Even though Paul and Barnabas will be physically separated from this church in Antioch, the church is still one, and the laying on of hands confirms this.

·         Even the apostles are human. They need to have the touch of other human beings to encourage them, and this is encouragement indeed.

Each of us has a task also. The Spirit will make use of us as is fitting, if we will be the obedient Christian.

The Missionary Personality

We sometimes think that the missionary must indeed be a strange personality. This is not necessarily so, as perceived from a psychological view. But from the spiritual view, we can see certain common threads in the great missionaries.

Christ is the answer

It appears that all of the great missionaries have the view that in Christ is found the answer to all the genuine mysteries of life - he is the explanation of all that God is doing. In the next lesson we shall see Paul expound this in detail.

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China in the 19th century, once wrote a book - a commentary on the Song of Solomon! Many Christians have puzzled over that book, wondering why a collection of erotic poetry found its way into the Bible. Taylor tells us the reason:

"Read without the key, this book is specially unintelligible, but that key is easily found in the express teachings of the New Testament. The Incarnate Word is the true key to the written Word; but even before the incarnation, the devout student of the Old Testament would find much help to the understanding of the sacred mysteries of this book in the prophetic writings; for there Israel was taught that her MAKER was her HUSBAND. John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, recognized the Bridegroom in the person of CHRIST, and said, "He that hath the bride is the Bridegroom: but the friend of the Bridegroom, which standeth and heareth Him, rejoiceth greatly because of the Bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled." Paul, in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, goes still further, and teaches that the union of CHRIST with His Church, and her subjection to Him, underlies the very relationship of marriage, and affords the pattern for every godly union."

"The Incarnate Word is the true key to the written Word." In that simple sentence Hudson Taylor tells you everything you need to know about Biblical interpretation.


If there is a second key to the missionary personality, it is the concept of "lordship". The Christian today does not encounter this outside the church, but the Roman citizen would have understood this clearly as an everyday sort of thing. Many of the early Christians were slaves.

There is a temptation - common to all who teach or preach - to say only that which tickles the ears of the hearers. Obedience commands otherwise. If you give in to that temptation, it is because of pride - you want to hear others tell you how great you are. But note Paul's humility here: "The hand of the Lord is against you." It is not Paul's power, but God's power.

Personal commitment

There is a note in all of Paul's writing which deserves mention. The word "Christianity" never occurs in his works - he speaks of the church, he speaks of Christ, but never if "Christianity." He is not devoted to a system of religion; he is devoted utterly to the person, Jesus, the Christ.

It would be well to remember how many died a martyr's death, and to whom (not what) they were devoted. Fox, in his Book of Martyrs, tells us of Polycarp about to burned at the stake. By the simple act of renouncing Christ he could have saved his life. His reply? "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?" The devotion is intense, and personal.

The Power of the Missionary

Shown in opposition

If you want to know how strong something is, you measure its strength by opposing it. Elymas the sorcerer - when his livelihood as court magician is about to be taken away - strikes out. He sees in Paul only another like himself. Little did he know!

Magic, as it was understood then, was very much parallel to what we would call science today. As chemistry came out of alchemy and astronomy from astrology, so was magic in their sense a blend of entreating mystic forces with herbs and potions, some of which did indeed have beneficial effect. Magic and science are twins; they both thrive in the indicative tense. "If you do this, thus and such will result." Thus magic, thus science. Christ is in the imperative; "Do this!" And as Miss Hornbuckle (my eighth grade English teacher) put it, "there is no way to get from the indicative to the imperative." Elymas sees another sorcerer with a different incantation; but he had run into the living God.

Power flows from Christ

If power is to be exercised in righteousness (and in the kingdom of God there is no other way permitted) it must be exercised in the authority of Jesus Christ. At the Great Commission Christ told the Apostles that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him - and that by that authority they were to go into all the world. What, then, can be the legitimate authority which forbids the Gospel?

But this is not just paper authority. If the authority is given, so is the power: " I am with you always, even to the end of the age." God will move the mountains of difficulty at the prayers of his servants for the cause of His kingdom.

As the authority and power are in Christ, so is the message. Do you want to know why the church today seems so polite and flabby? It is because she is trying to be "relevant." Many are the churches which preach things like "the power of positive thinking" or "name it and claim it" gospel. Paul defiantly told us that he "preached Christ crucified."[2]

The power is for the purpose of God

Note one thing: Elymas is to be blind "for a time." The blindness is not permanent. Why? Because it is God's will that all should come to repentance; the son of man came to seek and save the lost. Paul - of all people - could tell Elymas that (and I suspect he did). The power of God in the missionary is for the purpose of God, and therefore the blindness is temporary - so that God might be praised, and Elymas given the chance to repent.

One thing more: nothing has changed. The power is still there, for God is the same yesterday, today and forever. The real question is, will we be obedient so that he might raise from us those who will carry the Gospel to the world?

[1] John 3:8

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23

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