Word Study#55 — Following Instructions

OK, this is not technically a “word study”. It is more a topical survey: but it is so closely related to the previous post, that it deserves our attention. We saw in our study of “calling” that that designation primarily applies to one’s inclusion in the Kingdom, and his participation in the transformed life to which we are all “called”, together. There are occasions, however, when a person is handed a very specific assignment: and this can occur in a number of ways.

Jesus, of course, personally chose twelve of his disciples, and later 70 more, to whom he delegated the responsibility to “preach the Kingdom” ahead of his own arrival (Lk.10:1). After Pentecost, his methods were more varied.
Sometimes, as with the early (Ac.3 and 4) accounts of Peter and John, it was simply a case of acting faithfully when an opportunity arose, on the instructions they had been given years earlier (Lk.9:2, 10:9).

In Ac.6:1-6, the congregation perceived a need, and were instructed to suggest godly individuals to take care of it, who were then “appointed” by the apostles. Interestingly, at least two of these quickly “outgrew” their original assignment, with Stephen (ch.7) becoming a powerful advocate for “the Way”, and subsequently being martyred, and Philip (ch.8) becoming an itinerant evangelist.

Philip‘s case is interesting. His trip to Samaria may (or may not) have been on his own initiative, but after his successful mission there (8:26), a messenger instructed him to head for the Gaza road, and (v.29) the Spirit directed him to the Ethiopian’s chariot, and then (39-40) even “carried him off” after the assignment was completed! Perhaps in order to receive a “specific assignment” we need to be busy at the tasks we already perceive!

Ananias, on the other hand, (Ac.9:10-19) is introduced simply as “a certain disciple” – just one of the folks in Damascus. But the Lord spoke to him directly, in a vision. And although at first he argued about it, his obedience gifted all the rest of us, down through the centuries, with the ministry of Paul! We never hear of Ananias again. He was just listening when the Lord needed to recruit someone.

Peter also was busy (Ac.10) when the Lord directed (by means of a “messenger”) Cornelius to send for him. Knowing that the assignment would give Peter cultural problems, the Spirit designed an object lesson, as well as explicit directions to respond to the summons. Wisely, Peter included other brethren as witnesses, who aided in responsibly reporting to questioners, later.

Barnabas (Ac.11:22-26) was sent by the apostles to Antioch, to check out the gathering there. He had already established a reputation for gracious faithfulness (4:36, 9:27). He seems to have recruited Saul on his own initiative (v.25).

We are not told how Agabus (Ac.11:28, 21:10) became known as a prophet, but his word was taken seriously by the group at Antioch, who immediately organized famine relief. Paul later refused his counsel, but his prophecy proved to be correct.

Then of course, there is Saul/Paul. It is important to note that not all of his instructions were as dramatic as his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus (Ac.9). I don’t know why so many folks seem to think that is the one that should be normative. After he was committed to the Lord, it did not require such drastic measures to get his attention! The congregation at Damascus (9:24-45) sheltered, accepted, and nurtured Saul, and helped him escape the city. Barnabas enabled his acceptance by the other apostles (v.27). The Holy Spirit spoke to the prayer meeting in Antioch (Ac.13), to commission their first journey, and they were sent out by both the group (v.3) and the Spirit (v.4). During the trips, however, the “leading” seems to have been more a matter of necessity! When they were run out of one town, they went on to the next! The account of the second journey is interesting. The second trip was undertaken at Paul’s own initiative (Ac.15:36-41), and the Lord is neither blamed nor credited for the argument with Barnabas that resulted in their separation.

Wouldn’t you like to know how they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” to preach in Asia, and howthe spirit of Jesus would not allow” their next attempt, to Bithynia? It was only after these frustrations, that Paul “saw a vision” and his group “concluded that God had called” them to Macedonia. Interestingly, we are told that it was simply Paul’s annoyance (16:18) that precipitated the healing of the fortune-teller.
Later, another vision reassured him of the Lord’s protection in Corinth.

Honesty requires the conclusion that there are more questions than answers in the latest account. After two years in Ephesus (19:21), Paul “set out in the Spirit” to go through Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem. Both of those are in the opposite direction from Jerusalem. He was warned of trouble by many brethren (20:22, 21:4, 21:10), but consistently rejected their counsel. Yet he took the advice (21:18-26) of the elders in Jerusalem, which resulted in his arrest and imprisonment. Please note that in no case is either of these decisions attributed to “God’s will”! It is presented simply as narrative. Those who claim to explain it as “God’s plan”, cannot draw any direct evidence from the New Testament. It is clear, however, that the power of God was entirely adequate to use what may have been mistakes, or even just stubbornness, on the part of his devoted servant, for his good purposes. This should be an encouragement to us all!

Other disciples did allow themselves to be “led” by the counsel of brethren. Paul recruited Timothy (Ac.16:3), who was highly recommended by his home congregation, as an assistant and apprentice, and Silas, (Ac.15:40) who shared his second journey.
Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders” (Ac.14:3) in every new congregation, and urged Titus (Tit.1:5) to do likewise.
From Corinth, where he had met and worked with Aquila and Priscilla (Ac.18:1-3), Paul took them along to Ephesus, (18:18), where they in turn corrected the teaching of Apollos, preparing him for more responsible service, to which the Ephesian brethren subsequently recommended him.

So where does all this come out? The mandate (“call”), as we saw in #54, is to faithful Kingdom living. During this process, specific guidance can come in many ways: from the Lord himself, a vision, a messenger (heavenly or otherwise), brotherly counsel by either congregations or individuals, or merely through circumstance and opportunity.
Our job is simply to follow the instructions we already understand, remaining alert to more specific guidance through any of these sources.

May we do so faithfully!

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