FYN is re-running this sermon that was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on Sunday February 3, 2013 by Pastor Paul Mims.
John Newton who wrote the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace” wrote a letter to a friend on the subject of Divine Guidance in which he said, “Dear Sir, It is well for those who are duly sensible of their own weakness and fallibility, and of the difficulties with which they are surrounded in life, that the Lord has promised to guide his people with his eye, and to cause them to hear a word behind them, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it,” when they are in danger of turning aside either to the right hand or to the left. For this purpose, he has given us the written word to be a lamp to our feet, and encouraged us to pray for the teaching of his Holy Spirit, that we may rightly understand and apply it. It is, however, too often seen, that many widely deviate from the path of duty, and commit gross and perplexing mistakes, while they profess a sincere desire to know the will of God, and think they have his warrant and authority. This must certainly be owing to misapplication of the rule by which they judge, since the rule itself is infallible, and the promise sure. The Scripture cannot deceive us, if rightly understood; but it may, if perverted, prove the occasion of confirming us in a mistake. The Holy Spirit cannot mislead those who are under his influence.”
All of us need guidance. The question is “Where do we get it?” The non-Christian world gets it from fortune tellers and guides who claim to have spiritual insight into people’s lives. But the Lord has provided his disciples with a guide who lives within them. He is the Holy Spirit who was given to us as a salvation love gift at the time of our conversion.
Today, we are going to study how the Holy Spirit led the early church to make a decision that launched the world-wide missionary movement. He guides his churches today in the very same way. The church at Antioch, where the believers were first called Christians, is an example for us as a congregation as we seek Divine Guidance.
I. THE PEOPLE AND THEIR WORSHIP IN THE CHURCH (vs. 1) “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers…while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting…”
The congregation at Antioch was poised to take a great step forward. They wanted it to be under the direction of the Holy Spirit. They were willing to do what God wanted them to do and not just what they wanted to do.
Antioch was certainly a church with spiritual gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit. “Prophets” were men of insight and foresight who on the basis of their personal relationship to the Lord could see what the Lord wanted for his church and could speak to the congregation with assurance. “Teachers” were people of understanding of the spiritual dynamics of the gospel and were able to disseminate this knowledge and spiritual understanding to others.
Five of these prophets and teachers are named: Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus, an Island 90 miles off the coast. Lucius and Simeon were from North Africa. Manaen grew up in the family of Herod and had official connections. Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as Paul, had spent a year in the Antioch church teaching and preaching that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. From these several backgrounds the Holy Spirit blended their hearts into one forward advance.
The scripture says, “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting…” This was the context in which the Holy Spirit spoke to them. They were not just sitting in a worship service listening to a sermon as some people define worship. True worship is like this: “Lord, I submit myself to you as I worship in your house. I am before you to hear you speak to me through the singing, the scripture readings, the prayers, and the sermon whatever you want me to know. Touch my spirit with your Spirit. Stimulate my mind with your thoughts. Move my emotions with you feelings. I bow my will to your will.” This “ministers to the Lord” and opens the way for him to speak to us. True worship always produces a readiness to obey the Holy Spirit. We cannot serve effectively without worship. A church that truly worships is one to whom the Spirit can speak. “Fasting” refers to an intense season of seeking the Lord’s will. Believers who devote a day or more to fasting do not want the communion with the Lord broken by daily activities and the necessity to eat.
Have you learned the art of worship? Begin on Saturday to prepare your heart for the Sabbath so that you will “be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” as John said. Try to get a good rest on Saturday night for sleeping in the service may not just be due to a dull sermon. Begin the day early on Sunday with time for personal Bible reading and prayer so that you do not arrive at church in a rush. Come expecting to be blessed by the Holy Spirit speaking to you and applying elements of the service to your life. Worship is submission that is focused on the Lord.
“True biblical worship so satisfies our total personality that we don’t have to shop around for man-made substitutes”. William Temple made this clear in his masterful definition of worship:
For worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose — and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Integrity Crisis, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p. 119.
II. THE ACTIVITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE CHURCH (vs.2) “…the Holy Spirit said ‘set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
G. Campbell Morgan in his commentary on Acts says, This scripture sets forth three beautiful pictures: “It is the picture of the Spirit of God, able to make known his will perfectly to an assembly. It is the picture of an assembly, able to discover His will without doubt, without uncertainty. It is the picture of the Spirit and the assembly, working together in perfect harmony, and the results are seen in all the missionary triumphs which followed.” (page 307).
The scripture says, “The Holy Spirit said…” Just how did he say this? Was it in an audible voice? Surely it was not this way. He worked in the spirit of the leaders and one of them voiced it to the congregation and they all received it as authentic coming directly from God. Once I made the comment in a sermon, “The Holy Spirit said to me…” and a men’s class asked me to come the next Sunday and explain how the Holy Spirit speaks to us. I told them, “When I am in prayer fellowship with the Lord he speaks to me about what I am to say to the church about what he wants us to do. Then I present it to the congregation and if they recognize it as authentic coming from God they affirm it.” That is the way it happened at Antioch. I, nor any other pastor can claim to be infallible. There have been a few times in my pastorates when I have been wrong. There have been other times when the congregation missed vital opportunities and did not do what the Holy Spirit tried to lead us to do. It would be well for us to be reminded of just who the Holy Spirit is and what he does in the life of the church.
“The deity of the Holy Spirit ought to be clearly recognized in Scripture. Look at these facts: Christ is born; the Spirit is His forerunner. Christ is baptized; the Spirit bears witness. Christ is tempted; the Spirit leads Him up. Christ ascends; the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the character of God which are not found in the Spirit? What titles which belong to God are not also applied to Him? He is called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of adoption, of truth, of liberty; the Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of might, of knowledge, of godliness, of the fear of God. This only begins to show how unlimited He is.” (Gregory of Nazianzus.)
The ideal is for leaders of a congregation to be of one mind formed by the Spirit and for the congregation to see that as authentic coming from God. The church does not operate like any other organization on earth. Political parties operate as the “loyal opposition” or in our present political situation as polarized parties. Clubs operate on the will of the majority. The church operates on the will of God. Actually we have no vote in that. It is what it is whether we recognize it or not. But we do not live in an ideal world even in the church. In order to prevent authoritative human leadership handing down directives about what we should do, the authority of the church is this: Under the Lordship of Christ and at the direction of his Spirit we affirm with consensus that he is leading all of us in the carrying out of his work. It is not personal preference in wanting it “my way” – it is either “His Way” or “our way” will be ineffective. That is why we trust the congregation to discern the will of the Lord.
And what did the congregation at Antioch do?
III. THE CO-OPERATION OF THE CHURCH WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT (vs. 3) “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
They said, “Yes! we see the vision. We understand the heartbeat of our Lord. All of us want this. Our church will be the base for world missions. We will release Barnabas and Saul from all of their responsibilities here so that they can go and establish churches elsewhere.” What a beautiful experience a church has when they co-operate with the Holy Spirit.
But the church is made up of individuals. So how do we in the present day discern the Lord’s will for our lives and for our church? Personal decisions about our private lives and church decisions about our corporate lives are sought and found in the same way.
We must make sure that our attitudes are right. We must ask ourselves, “Are my motives pure?” “Is my will surrendered to the Lord?” “Am I willing to do whatever the Lord shows me?” “Have I prayed much about the decision?” “Have I spent time reading God’s word as I seek his guidance for my life?”
In the mid-1970’s, we took up sailing as our family sport and recreation. Janice and I attended the Coast Guard’s Safe Boating Classes and earned a certificate for completing the course. I had to learn about weather, tides, navigation, electronics and all the elements of Seamanship. We sailed up and down the Chesapeake Bay on our annual vacations. One year, we took the Intra-coastal waterway all the way from Virginia to the Florida Keys. Then, another year, we wanted to sail over to the Bahamas. This was going to be our first real ocean sailing. We left Fort Lauderdale one night about 10 O’clock and sailed out on to the ocean. In a little while, we came to the Gulf Stream, which is a river in the ocean flowing north about three to four knots. Every hour, we had to take readings of our position or we would have been swept along by the Gulf Stream and miss the Islands altogether and have nothing but open ocean ahead of us. Finally, dawn came and we continued to take readings and correct our course. Then in mid- morning, the Island of Bimini appeared on the horizon and about noon we entered the harbor for some wonderful days of exploration. You see, it was essential that we follow the laws of nature as God has created them. The same is true for the Ship of Zion, the church. The laws of spiritual guidance for the church have been given to us so that we will not abandon our course, get caught in a storm, and sink to the bottom of ineffectiveness.
May we each seek Divine Guidance as the old hymn says:
“Jesus, Savior, Pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treacherous shoal;
Chart and compass came from Thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.” (Edward Hopper)
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!