Luke mentions the names of the leadership in the church of Antioch. It is interesting that he describes Saul as a prophet rather than an apostle, which is a reminder that as an apostle he also possessed the lesser gift of prophecy. In the case of the church there, its leaders each had a double set of spiritual gifts (prophecy and teaching). The gift of prophecy was provided by God as a supernatural means of revealing his will to his people, and was not like the absurd claims to possessing it that exist today.
The brief descriptions that Luke gives reveals that the leadership came from diverse ethnic backgrounds. It looks as if none of them were natives of Antioch, but had come there for various reasons. God’s grace enabled them to serve in harmony despite what they had been before their conversions. It is hard to imagine Manean, the friend of Herod, getting along with Saul the Pharisee before they met Jesus, but they did afterwards serve together. This list of names should encourage us to consider the different backgrounds of those who lead in our churches, and to give thanks when God enables them to serve together in harmony.
It is clear that this group of local church leaders had set apart a time for worshipping the Lord together. This activity was such a priority for them that they gave up for that period other legitimate activities, including the basic necessity of food. We are not told if they had a specific reason for doing so. It may have been their regular practice.
Luke also points out that it was not merely time set apart for prayer. It is not unusual for elders to meet to pray about things going on in their congregations, and that is obviously a good practice. Yet more than that was on the hearts of the leaders of the church in Antioch. They wanted to meet with God and worship him for what he is in himself as well as to find out what his will was for them.
It is impossible to know if they had discerned that some of them should move on and spread the gospel elsewhere and were unsure which of them it should be. The Holy Spirit’s instruction, presumably through one of them, to set apart Barnabas and Saul could have been an answer to that dilemma. If it was, they discovered that God was instructing them to part with their best.
The response of the leadership was prompt as well as prayerful. No doubt, lots of reasons could have been given for retaining Barnabas and Saul in Antioch. The longer a delay in sending them away would have increased the pressure on them not to go. God expects his instructions to be obeyed as soon as possible, especially by those who lead his people.
There is no hint that Barnabas and Saul were reluctant to go once the Lord’s will had been revealed. Imagine if they had not gone and Saul had remained in Antioch for the rest of his life. The subsequent history of the church worldwide would have been very different. It is clear that they were willing to go wherever the Lord would send them. A comfortable pastorate was no reason for them to stay there once God had indicated otherwise.
So away they went under the guidance of the Spirit on what we call Paul’s First Missionary Journey. As the other leaders sent them away, no doubt there were promises of prayer for them. And the leaders would have been looking forward to know what God would do through Barnabas and Saul. Fortunately, Luke was guided by the same Spirit to record some of the details for us and we will consider them in the next few readings.