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The Wisdom of Paul & Barnabas

Text: Acts 13:1-12


The work of the Holy Spirit is a major theme in the Book of Acts, from the beginning and throughout the entire book. The early church did not grow by hard work and strategic plans formulated by its leaders. It grew by the direction of the Holy Spirit guiding the disciples.

We are going to begin in our text today in the city of Antioch of Syria.

The first seven chapters of this book might be titled, "The Church among the Jews." Chapters eight through twelve might be titled, "The Church in Transition from Jews to Gentiles"; and the last sixteen could be titled, "The Church among the Gentiles."

1. They Accepted God’s Assignment (1-5).

Acts 13:1-3, “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.”

Who were these men who accepted God’s assignment? The answer is in our passage here. Barnabas and Saul were the men that God sent on this assignment. The Holy Ghost sent the two best men from the church in Antioch of Syria to the mission field. 

To send these men to the mission field would be like cutting off an arm and a leg. They would be sorely missed at home. Nobody knew who would be able to fill the gap they would leave behind. 

How did they find the will of God for their lives while they were busy in their local churches? The Bible tells us they were busy ministering and fasting. Fasting would tell us they were spending time in prayer. 

William Carey is known for saying, “To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.” You get busy serving the Lord where he has you, being obedient to Him where He has you, and you stay in the book and in prayer, and keep your heart open to every place on the map, and God will lead you, and guide you.

Where was the assignment located for Paul and Barnabas? Where were these men who accepted God's assignment? Look with me if you would at verse 4. Acts 13:4, “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. Acts 13:6, “And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos.

For Paul and Barnabas, serving the Lord meant that they would have to leave Antioch. They would have to leave their home church. They would have to leave everything that was normal and comfortable for them to go and be obedient to God’s assignment for their lives. What was their assignment? What were they supposed to do when they arrived at the place that God wanted them to be? Acts 13:5, “They preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.

Their assignment on the foreign field was an extension of what they were doing in Antioch. In verse one, they were preaching and ministering; and now on the missionary journey, they are preaching and ministering. If you are not faithful to the Lord where you are now, if you are not ministering where you are now, you will probably not do it somewhere else. 

2. They Recognized a False Prophet (6-8).

Acts 13:6, “And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:”

Just so you understand what Paul and Barnabas were up against, these two men are on the island of Paphos. Paphos was known for the worship of Venus, the goddess of love. The pagan goddess,Venus, is universally associated with physical beauty and sensual love. Every woman of Cyprus was expected to submit herself, at least once in her life, to the filthy service of the temple. Each had to take her place on the temple steps and offer herself in prostitution to any passing sailor or merchant. And the money earned had to be offered to the goddess.

While they are here in Paphos, Paul and Barnabas meet a man who the Bible describes as a false prophet and a sorcerer. Most of us would understand that to be a magician. 

Acts 13:7-8, “Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.”

As the deputy is engaging Paul and Barnabas, Elymas withstands them and tries to keep the deputy from putting his faith in the gospel.

This sorcerer recognized instantly the threat of the gospel to his own power and influence. He had no desire to repent and seek the Savior for himself, so he opposed the gospel with all his might. 

So, Paul is put in a dilemma here. He is sharing the truth and the sorcerer is denying everything he says and trying to persuade the deputy with his own message. 

Paul does not bend, he does not apologize. Paul understood that no matter what the cost, he must rely on the Spirit of God to expose the error and show the truth.  

We must always remember that He is Lord of the harvest. The ultimate power to convict, to convince, and to convert lies with Christ. 

It is His work of the Spirit to make clear in which direction the truth lies. We are not to win souls by our own cleverness or rely on our own resources. We must rely on the access to the power of the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Spirit of God.

3. They had the Right Response (9-12).

Acts 13:9-10, “Then Saul (who also is called Paul), filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?”

Wow, that is a great way to make friends and influence people! Actually, that may have been looked at a great way to end up dead or in a dungeon. He called this religious fraud a liar; he told him he was a child of the devil; he accused him of deliberately perverting the truth of God.

The church is weak today because of its desire to compromise rather than confront.

Acts 13:11-12, “And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine [or teaching] of the Lord.

The word for “believed” means to believe absolutely, to have faith, to be persuaded, to rely upon, to trust. 

We are shown what happened when the gospel confronted delusion. It exposed it at once, without apology, without fear, without distortion, without dialogue or debate. Like Elijah when he met the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, the great apostle to the Gentiles met the situation head-on, decisively, and in the glorious power of the Holy Spirit.

This is just the start of pioneer missionary work. If you get nothing else out of this today, grasp this thought, “Oh what a SAVIOR,” “Oh what power of the HOLY SPIRIT.” 


How is God working in your life to accomplish his purpose in your life right now?

Like the leaders in the Antioch church, are we ready to be his instruments by the Spirit’s power in whatever situation God places us?

Are we willing to accept each situation that lies before us as filled with potential for service in Christ’s name?

Are we trusting in the power of God’s Holy Spirit to work in us when we know we are inadequate for the task?