God Calls Unlikely Servants

Acts 13:2-3 “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.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”

How did the five men who served as prophets and teachers for the church in Antioch, and the two newly-minted world missionaries, get to serve the church this way? They didn’t merely push themselves on the church. They didn’t have a warm-feeling about the ministry in their hearts one day, an inner urge to start preaching, and then hang out a shingle and start a church. These guys weren’t just people blessed with the gift of gab, extroverts with silver tongues who knew how to work a crowd.

They were called, and that call came through the church. Barnabas was sent to Antioch through the Apostles in Jerusalem. Barnabas later found Paul and made him part of the ministry team. When the Spirit decided to reassign these men, he didn’t secretly speak to their hearts. He spoke to the whole church while they were worshiping. Paul and Barnabas were a Spirit-selected team.

Have you ever noticed that the Spirit makes what we might consider odd selections? Look at Jesus choosing fishermen to be his disciples. Have you ever watched an episode of Deadliest Catch or Babe Winkleman’s Good Fishing and thought to yourself, “Now there are some men who ought to be pastors and missionaries”?

Jesus later rounds out his group with people like Matthew, the occupation-government collaborator, and Simon, the anti-government terrorist. Would you think to yourself, “That’s just the kind of men the church needs working side by side”? If Jonah was dead set against going to Nineveh, why didn’t the Lord find someone else? Would your employer chase you down like that if you quit and went on a cruise?

One could wonder about the choice of Barnabas and Saul as well. One of the five men on the church staff in Antioch was named Lucius. That is a Gentile name. He was born in Cyrene, North Africa, outside of Israel. If this new mission was going to Gentiles, might it make sense to have a Gentile on the team? Manaen, another man on the list, grew up with King Herod the tetrarch. He had political ties. Perhaps he had some understanding of how things worked with the people in power. Might that not come in handy when traveling around the empire?

Instead, the Spirit selects the congregation’s senior pastor and a discredited former rabbi who had spent years trying to destroy the same faith he now embraced. The Spirit-selected team might not appear the obvious choice. But I think you know something about this man named Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul. His ministry started riots, divided synagogues and cities, and generally disturbed the peace wherever he went. But no one in the first hundred years of Christianity did more to introduce the world to Jesus than he did. The Spirit-selected team was perfect for God’s mission plan, which is just what we should expect.

What’s the take away for you and me? The Spirit has called the man who serves as your pastor. We need to trust that the Spirit has his own reasons, and these may not be based solely, or even mostly, on his background or talents. It has everything to do with the message he shares, because the good news that Jesus’ has secured our full and free forgiveness and life eternal by his life, death and resurrection is still the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.

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