Part 3: Separated to the Holy Ghost

“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.” (Acts 13:1-4)

In the story of our text we shall find some precious thoughts to guide us as to what God would have of us, and what God would do for us. The great lesson of the verses quoted is this; The Holy Ghost is the director of the work of God upon the earth. And what we should do if we are to work rightly for God, and if God is to bless our work, is to see that we stand in a right relationship to the Holy Ghost, that we give Him every day the pplace of honour that belongs to Him, and that in all our work and (what is more) in all  our private inner life, the Holy Ghost shall always have the first place. Let me point out to you some of the precious thoughts our passage suggests.

First of all, we see that God has His own plans with regard to His kingdom. His church at Antioch had bee established. God had certain plans and intentions with regard to Asia, and with regards to Europe. He had conceived them; they were His, and He made them known to His servants.

Our great Commander organizes every campaign, and His generals and officers do not always know the great plans. They often receive sealed orders, and they have to wait on Him for what He gives them as orders. God in Heaven has wishes, and a will, in regard to any work that ought to be done, and to the way in which it has to be done. Blessed is the man who gets into God’s secrets and works under God.

God has His workers and His plans clearly mapped out, and our position is to wait, that God should communicate to us as much of His will as each time is needful. We have simply to be faithful in obedience, carrying out His orders. God has a plan for His church, but too often we make our own plans, making feeble efforts to do His work for Him. God has planned for His work, and the Holy Ghost has had that work given in charge to Him. “The work whereunto I have called them.”

The second thought is that God is willing and able to reveal to His servants what His will is. Yes, blessed be God , communications still come down from Heaven! As we read here what the Holy Ghost said, so the Holy Ghost will still speak to His church and His people. In these later days He has often done it. He has come to individual men, and by His divine teaching He has led them out into fields of labour that others could not at first understand or approve, into ways and methods that did not recommend themselves to the majority. But the Holy Ghost does still in our time teach His people. Thank God, in our foreign missionary societies and in our home missions, and in a thousand forms of work, the guiding of the Holy Ghostis known, but (we are all ready, I think, to confess) too little known. We have not learned enough to wait upon Him, and so we should make a solemn declaration before God: O God, we want to wait more for Thee to show us Thy will.

Often we ask: How can a person know the will of God? And people want, when they are in perplexity, to pray very earnestly that God should answer them at once. But God can only reveal His will to a heart that is humble and tender. God can only reveal His will in perplexities and special difficulties to a heart that has learned to obey and honour Him loyally in little thinhgs and in daily life.

That brings me to the third thoughtNote the disposition to which the Spirit reveals God’s will. What do we read here? there were a number of men ministering to the Lord and fasting, and the Holy Ghost came and spoke to them. Some people understand this passage very much as they would in reference to a missionary committee of our day. We see there is an open field, and we have had our missions in other fields, and we are going to get on to that field. We have virtually settled that, and we pray about it. But the position was a very different one in those former days. I doubt whether any of them thought of Europe, for later on even Paul himself assayed to go back into Asia, till the night vision called him by the will of God. Look at those men. God had done wonders. He had extended the church to Antioch, and He had given rich and large blessing.Now, here were these men ministering to the Lord, serving Him with prayer and fasting. What a deep conviction they have – “It all must come direct from Heaven. We are in fellowship with thee risen Lord; we must have a close union with Him, and somehow He will let us know what He wants.” And there they were, empty, ignorant, helpless, glad and joyful, but deeply humbled. “O Lord,” they seemed to say, “we are Thy servants, and in fasting and prayer we wait upon Thee. What is Thy will for us?

Was it not the same with Peter? He was on the housetop, fasting and praying, and little did he think of the vision and the command to go to Cæsarea. He was ignorant of what his work might be.

The fourth thought is – What is now the will of God as the Holy Spirit reveals it? It is contained in one phrase: Seperation unto the Holy Ghost. “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. The work is mine, and I care for it, and I have chosen these men and called them, and  I want you who represent the churches to set them apart to me.”

Look at this heavenly message in its twofold aspct. The men were to be set apart to the Holy Ghost, and the local churches was to do this seperating work. The Holy Ghost could trust these men to do it in a right spirit. They were abiding in fellowship with the heavenly, and the Holy Ghost could say to them, “Do the work of seperating these men.” And these were the men the Holy Ghost had prepared, and He could say of them, “Let them be seperated unto me.”

Herer we come to the very root, to the very life of the need of Christian workers. The question is: What is needed that the power of God should rest upon us more mightily, that the blessing of God should be poured out more abundantly among those poor, wretched people and perishing sinners among whom we labour? And the answer from Heaven is: “I want men seperated unto the Holy Ghost.”

Then comes the fifth thought – This holy partnership with the Holy Spirit in His work becomes a matter of consciousness and action. These men,what did they do? They set apart Paul and Barnabas, and then it is written of the two that they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, went down to Seleucia. Oh, what fellowship! The Holy Spirit in Heaven doing part of the work, men on earth doing the other part. After the ordination of the men upon earth, it is written in God’s inspired Word that they were sent forth by the Holy Ghost.

And we see how this partnership calls to new prayer and fasting. They had for a certain time been ministering to the Lord and fasting, perhaps days; and the Holy Spirit speaks, and they have to do the work and enter into a partnership, and at once they come together for more praying and fasting. That is the spirit in which they obey the command of their Lord. And that teaches us that it is not only in the beginning of our Christian work, but all along that we need to have our strength in prayer. If there is one thought with regard to the church, which at times comes to me with overwhelming sorrow; if there is one thought in regard to my own life of which I am ashamed; if there is one thought of which I feel that the church has not accepted it and not grasped it; if there is one thought which makes me prat to God: “Oh, teach us by Thy grace new things” – it is the wonderful power that prayer is meant to have.

Then comes the last thoughtWhat a wonderful blessing comes when the Holy Ghost is allowed to lead and to direct the work, and when it is carried on in obedience to Him. You know the story of the mission on which Barnabas and Paul were sent out.  You know what power there was with them. The Holy Ghost sent them, and they went on from place to place with large blessing. The Holy Ghost was their leader further on. You recollect how it was by the Spirit that Paul was hindered from going again into Asia, and was lead away over to Europe. Oh, the blessing that rested upon that little company of men, and upon their ministry unto the Lord!


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