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What is the main business of the church? This is something which has been debated for centuries. Many things can be considered, but we must always remember that Christ is the head of the church and we are His body, not the other way around. He is the One who ultimately dictates what the ‘main business’ of the church is and His parting words to His disciples make it plain that making disciples has to be the key focus (Matt 28:18-20, Acts 1:5-8). This main goal of evangelism and missions is not just to reach the lost, however, but also to glorify God, for (as John Piper puts it in his book ‘Desiring God’), ‘the glory of God is the supreme goal of history.’
In Acts 13:1-12, we see a turning point in church history. Until this point, people have preached the gospel wherever they have been scattered, but this is the first time we see a local church (Antioch) sending out people (Barnabas and Paul) for the specific purpose of evangelism and mission. Howard Marshall says, “The importance of the present narrative is that it describes the first piece of planned ‘overseas mission’ carried out by representatives of a particular church, rather than by solitary individuals, and begun by a deliberate church decision, inspired by the Spirit, rather than somewhat more casually as a result of persecution.”
There are many questions left unanswered in this narrative, particularly as we consider the rather enigmatic manner in which the Holy Spirit makes His will known to them: ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ (Acts 13:2) We may want to know exactly how He spoke (through the prophets mentioned in the preceding verse?) and how it became clear what this work was to be and where it would involve them going, but our only clues are in the truths that this happened while they were worshipping and fasting. Worship, service, and self-denial are at the heart, therefore, of hearing God speak – and, it must be added, in determining how we respond. (Acts 13:3) We can’t offer formulaic answers, for God speaks to us personally and the manner in which He does this will vary according to individuals and situations.
It must have been a blow to the church to lose two of its leaders in this way, but they recognised the importance of the ‘main business’ of mission and evangelism and sent them on their way with their blessing and commendation. May we have ears to hear the Spirit’s voice as they did and be just as committed to mission as they were.