Wanted: Missionaries

Lesson Focus: God calls some Christians to invest their lives as missionaries in other cultures.

Missionaries are Called: Acts 26:15-19; Galatians 2:6-10.

[15]  And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

[16]  But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, [17]  delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you [18]  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ [19]  "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.  [Galatians 2:6]  And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. [7]  On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised [8]  (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), [9]  and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

[10]  Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.  [ESV]

[15-19]  Damascus was one of the foreign cities to which Paul travelled, equipped with a high priestly extradition order. But before he reached his destination the divine intervention took place. A heavenly light, more brilliant than the sun at noon, flashed round him and his companions. Together they fell to the ground. Then a voice, addressing Paul in Aramaic, asked why he was persecuting him and, quoting a well-known proverb, declared it painful for him to kick against the goads which is a metaphor for useless opposition to deity. Surely, when the heavenly voice declared, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, at least two truths must have registered instantly in Saul’s consciousness. The first is that the crucified Jesus was alive and had thus been vindicated, and the second that the Jesus who identified himself so closely with the Christians that to persecute them was to persecute him, must regard them as being peculiarly his own people. In Paul’s account to Agrippa of what happened on the Damascus road, however, what he stressed was not his conversion, but his commissioning, not his becoming a disciple of Jesus, but his appointment to be an apostle. So Jesus’ first word of command to Paul was rise and stand upon your feet [16]. This cannot mean that he had been wrong to fall to the ground, for in that fall he both was humbled and humbled himself. No, the command to stand was a necessary preliminary to the command to go; it prefaced his commissioning. Christ’s commission of Saul took the form of three verbs, all in the first person singular of direct speech, although respectively in the past, future and present tenses. First, I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness. The general call to be a servant is narrowed down into the particular call to be a witness. In Paul’s ministry, the emphasis is on being an eyewitness, for he was to bear witness both to what he had seen of Jesus and to what Jesus would later show him [16b]. Secondly, I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles. This promise did not guarantee immunity to suffering. On the contrary, it was part of the vocation of prophets and apostles to endure suffering. But it did mean that their testimony would not be silenced until their God-appointed work was done. Thirdly, I am sending you to open their eyes. This was Paul’s commission to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He was being sent to open their eyes [18a]. For the unbelieving Gentile world was blind to the truth of God in Jesus Christ. Yet this opening of the eyes did not mean intellectual enlightenment only, but conversion: so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God [18b]. For conversion includes a radical transfer of allegiance and so of environment. It is both a liberation from the darkness of satanic rule and a liberation into the sphere of God’s marvelous light and power. In other words, it means entering the kingdom of God. Further, the blessings of the kingdom are the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ [18c]. The promise of forgiveness was part of the apostolic gospel from the beginning. What was specially significant in Christ’s commissioning of Paul was that the Gentiles were to be granted a full and equal share with the Jews in the privileges of those sanctified by faith in Christ, that is, the holy people of God.

[Gal. 6-10]  The first ten verses of Galatians 2 form a distinct literary unit within the historical argument Paul was unfolding in defense of his apostolicity. He told of a private meeting he held on his second postconversion visit to Jerusalem with the church leaders there. The purpose of the meeting was to set before these pillars the gospel he had been proclaiming for some years among the Gentiles. Upon hearing his testimony they fully endorsed his message and him. From Paul’s perspective this meeting was a smashing success. Not only were the false brothers unsuccessful in their efforts to compel Titus to be circumcised, a move fiercely resisted by Paul, but, equally important, he and the Jerusalem authorities arrived at a common missionary strategy to enhance the task of world evangelization. Paul eagerly agreed with the request that this practical division of labor might not result in a loss of love between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Their unity in the faith and mutual care would be demonstrated by a love offering collected on behalf of the poor saints in Jerusalem. The two key themes in this passage are the truth of the gospel and the unity of the church. In a moment of crisis Paul found it necessary to stand adamantly and uncompromisingly against the heretical doctrine and illicit demands of the false brothers. It would have been easy for Paul to say: “Oh, come now; circumcision is no big deal. Let’s compromise on this issue in order to save face and win friends here in Jerusalem.” By such an approach he might well have spared himself a confrontation, but he would thereby have forfeited the cause of Christian freedom. At the same time, Paul greatly valued the unity of the church and sought to strengthen it in every way possible.

We have much to learn from this episode in the life of the early church as we seek to be faithful stewards of the missionary challenge confronting us today. First, we can develop a pattern of cooperation around the truth of the gospel. This is not an ecumenism of convenience; Paul could not work together with the false brothers, even though they claimed to be fellow Christians, because their theological position was antithetical to the gospel message itself. However, Paul was eager to work closely together with other Christian leaders who shared with him a common commitment to the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Second, the apostles found it necessary to distribute the work of evangelization by a practical division of labor. Today approximately 1.3 billion persons in the world have never heard the name of Jesus for the first time. Evangelical, Bible-believing Christians cannot afford to fight turf wars over missionary zones. No one person, ministry, missions agency, or denomination can cover all the necessary bases. We must be ready to stand together and work collaboratively with Great Commission Christians everywhere in the unfilled task of world evangelization. Finally, the word about caring for the poor points to the dual necessity of both a propositional and a caring dimension to the life and mission of the church. Paul steadfastly refused to divorce conversion from discipleship. His mission included both a social and an evangelistic responsibility. He gave priority to evangelism because he sensed so keenly the eternal destiny of every person he met and shuddered to think of the dire consequences of spurning Christ’s invitation to eternal life. Still, he knew, as we must, that the gospel he preached was addressed to living persons, soul and body, in all of their broken humanity and need for wholeness. So Paul always sought to combine the Gospel proclamation with the living-out of the gospel message in love and compassion for the broken hearted.

Missionaries are Commissioned: Acts 13:1-3.

[1]  Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of 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]  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.  [ESV]

The cosmopolitan population of Antioch was reflected in the membership of its church and in its leadership, which consisted of five resident prophets and teachers. While the church was gathered together in worship and fasting, the Holy Spirit directed the church to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. The nature of this work is not specified. The call to go was clear while the direction and the work were not. How was God’s call disclosed? We are not told. The most likely guess is that God spoke to the church through one of the prophets. But His call could have been inward rather than outward, that is, through the Spirit’s witness in their hearts and minds. However it came to them, their first reaction was to fast and pray, partly to test God’s call and partly to intercede for the two who were to be sent out. We notice that in neither reference to fasting does it occur alone. It is linked with worship in verse 2 and with prayer in verse 3. For seldom if ever is fasting an end in itself. It is a negative action (abstention from food and other distractions) for the sake of a positive one (worshipping or praying). Then, after fasting and praying, and so assured themselves of God’s call and prepared themselves to obey it, they laid their hands on them and sent them off. This was not an ordination to an office, still less an appointment to apostleship, but rather a valedictory commissioning to missionary service. Who, then, commissioned the missionaries? According to verse 4, Barnabas and Saul were sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, who had previously instructed the church to set them apart for him [2]. But according to verse 3 it was the church which, after the laying-on of hands, sent them off. Thus, we should not depict the church’s role as having been entirely passive. Would it not be true to say both that the Spirit sent them out, by instructing the church to do so, and that the church sent them out, having been directed by the Spirit to do so? This balance will be a healthy corrective to opposite extremes. The first is the tendency to individualism, by which a Christian claims direct personal guidance by the Spirit without any reference to the church. The second is the tendency to institutionalism, by which all decision-making is done by the church without any reference to the Spirit. Today it is the responsibility of every local church (especially of its leaders) to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, in order to discover whom He may be gifting and calling.

Missionaries are Connected: Acts 14:26-27.

[26]  and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. [27]  And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  [ESV]

The most notable feature of the first missionary journey was the missionaries’ sense of divine direction. It was the Holy Spirit Himself who told the church of Antioch to set Barnabas and Saul apart, who sent them out, who led them from place to place, and who gave power to their preaching, so that converts were made and churches planted. The sending church had committed them to the grace of God for their work [26], and on their return they reported all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles [27]. True, He had done the work with them, in co-operation or partnership with them, but He had done it, and they gave Him the credit. The grace had come from Him; the glory must go to Him.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Christ appeared to Paul in order to commission him to be a servant and witness to the Gentiles. What was the purpose of Christ sending Paul [v.18]? Is this the same purpose Christ has for us when He sends us out as His witnesses? If so, how does this purpose impact the content of your witness?

2.         What can we learn about the work of missions from the episode in Galatians 2:6-10?

3.         Why is it so important that the Holy Spirit uses the local church to commission pastors, missionaries and leaders of the church [Acts 13:1-3]? From what two opposite extremes does this protect the church ?


Commentary on the Book of the Acts, F.F. Bruce, Eerdmans.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, InterVarsity.

The Message of Galatians, John Stott, InterVarsity.

Galatians, Timothy George, NAC, Broadman Press.

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