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Paul and Barnabas at Cyprus Acts 13:1-12


Paul’s First Missionary Journey Begins – The Call to Mission

Bible Reading.   Acts 12:25-13:12


In this study we are going to a missionary meeting – to hear a missionary report! A report from Paul and Barnabas!

1 The Preparation for Missionary Service. v4-5  

Barnabas and Saul had been commissioned by the church at Antioch (Acts 12:25-13:3), for a new work, and the elders there had laid hands upon them and prayed for them. It is Paul’s First Missionary Journey, and it begins with a gospel outreach on the island of Cyprus.  Let’s get a missionary report of the Lord’s Work in those areas…

  • The call to ministry.  Notice that they were divinely called to this work, being sent out by the Holy Spirit.  In V2, the Holy Spirit had directly spoken to the church at Antioch, ordering the elders there to separate Pau and Barnabas for this work.  In essence this is the start of all ministry – a specific call from God,- not an emotional response of a weird feeling or a desire for a profitable, respectable career. What is the call of God and how do we recognise it?  Martin Lloyd Jones identified six principles which constitute a call to service:-
    • An inner compulsion within the one called.  The desire to serve God, in preaching the word becomes like an obsession! 
    • An outside influence that will come to the one called.  This may be the encouragement of a pastor or a friend, someone who pushes you forward to force you to stand up and open your mouth and declare the gospel to others.
    • The one called will experience a loving concern for others.  A concern about lost souls, a concern about the decline of the true faith, a loving desire to teach others the Scriptures, whatever the cost.
    • A sense of constraint.  An overwhelming sense that God has you in his grip, and that he will not let you go and do something else.  You MUST do this work.
    • A sobering humility. A true calling is marked, says Lloyd Jones with a sense of one’s own deep unworthiness and inability for the task, never with any pride. 
    • A church endorsement. The man who appoints himself to preach or to minister is on shaky ground indeed.    A calling must be tested by others. Romans10:13-15 …And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  That’s what we see happening in Acts 13:1-4.  The local church, recognising the call of God upon Paul and Barnabas for this unique work, endorsed their call, and commissioned them by laying on of hands and prayer.
  • The need for support.  They had a new ‘assistant.’  The term here is interesting.  John Mark is not their servant – he is their assistant in the ministry!  I wonder what his role is?  Perhaps counselling new believers, or co-ordinating prayer?
  • Their first steps on the journey.  They travelled from Antioch to Selucia and then to the northern port of the island of Cyprus, – Salamis, where they preached the gospel to the local Jewish population, before travelling down through the island to the capital, Paphos where the governor was one Segius Paulus.  We learn that he was a thoughtful, intelligent man who wanted to hear what these men had to say and to weigh it up for himself.  Would he be humble enough to accept the teaching of the law, and to admit that he is a sinner and repent?  There is an obstacle to any such repentance though…

2 The Opposition to Missionary Service. Paphos was the capital, and the seat of the regional government in Cyprus, and the city was devoted to the worship of the pagan goddess Venus, and had a huge temple built there for her honour.  It was like, many of our modern cities, a place obsessed with sexuality and sensual depravity.  Paphos needed the gospel, but like everywhere else, there was opposition!

  • The Source of the Opposition. V6-8The opposition came from a man called ‘Bar-Jesus.’ In Greek, it was translated Elymas.  He was a Jew, but obviously not a practising Jew, not by any means a Jew of the strict rabbinical traditions that Paul had learned as a youth, for he was a sorcerer, a diviner, who made his living with witchcraft and false magic and horoscope readings.   And he was a hanger-on at the Governor’s palace.  Many of the governors of the ancient near east kept such men in their employ – a seer or a diviner.  But what if the governor were to abandon the superstitions and practices of heathen worship and embrace Christianity?  Surely that would have great financial implications for a man like Elymas.  He must stop this before it gets out of hand!  The bible records, Elymas the sorcerer withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.  There are always those who will oppose the preaching of the word.
  • The Severity of Paul’s Response.  v9-11 See the harshness with which Paul spoke, and can you contrast that with the modern tendency to tolerate opposition to the gospel?   But there is a grave issue at stake here.  A man’s soul,  is teetering between life and death, between forgiveness and peace with God and a lost never ending eternity in the Lake of Fire.  Paul is enraged that someone, for the sake of filthy lucre, should attempt to defect a soul from salvation!  How right he was!  It was exactly the right language to use.  

There always will be opposition to the work of the Lord, whether in the Missionary context, or in the pastoral care of the church.  

3 The Reward of Missionary Service. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

One of the greatest joys of all is to witness a soul coming to faith in Christ – resting in Christ’s finished work on the Cross alone.  That is the real reward of the Christian worker. Yet there is something we should note about the Governor’s conversion. After the proconsul SAW what was done he believed, but not BECAUSE he SAW, but because he HEARD.  What astonished him was the TEACHING of the Lord. That is certainly in keeping with Paul’s own teaching, that the Gospel, the preaching of the good news, is what brings conversion to sinful hearts.

One final point.  In verse 9 we have the first instance of Paul being referred to as such.  Up until this point in the narrative, the apostle is known as Saul, but from now, and throughout his own letters, he will be Paul.  It’s no mystery, Paul is simply the Greek version of Saul (as Petros is the Greek version of Cephas, and Jesus the Greek version of Joshua).  Paul is now well embedded into his work and his vocation.  He is the MISSIONARY TO THE GENTILES, and the rest of his life will be spent fulfilling that call.  

© Bob McEvoy August 2020 

From → Acts, Bible Study

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