Acts 13:3

Front door of Vermont capitol. Big door.

Wednesday, 14 December 2022

Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. Acts 13:3

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

In the last verse, the Holy Spirit had instructed Barnabas and Saul to be separated for a particular work that He had called them to. With that remembered, the next words state, “Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”

Rather, and more precisely, each of the first three verbs is an aorist participle. It should read, “Then having fasted, and having prayed, and having laid the hands on them, they sent them away” (CG). This will be the translation used for analysis. As such, it first notes of these prophets and teachers, “Then having fasted.”

Again, as with the previous verse, fasting by these men is noted. This must have been in addition to the fasting that was previously mentioned. In other words, this seems like all of them together held a special fast for this particular ordination. Combined with the fast itself it adds, “and having prayed.”

A special time of both fasting and prayer was held to seek the favor of the Lord, to acknowledge His will in what was taking place, and to unite all these men together in a closer bond. Of this, Albert Barnes states –

“The gospel had been preached to the Jews, to Cornelius, and to the Gentiles at Antioch. But there had been no solemn, public, and concerted plan of sending it to the Gentiles, or of appointing a mission to the pagan. It was a new event, and was full of danger and hardships. The primitive church felt the need of divine direction and aid in the great work.”

This follows from the assumption that this is specifically a Gentile evangelizing missionary journey. But as has been previously noted, there is nothing definitive yet to claim that the primary focus was for this purpose. Rather, the next verse will indicate just the opposite. It is not until verse 46 that it will definitively note proselytizing of the Gentiles.

Regardless of this, it next says, “and having laid the hands on them.”

Very few translations include the article before “hands,” saying something like, “and laid hands on them.” Though maybe a bit trifling, in this case, the article should be rendered. In both testaments, to lay hands on someone is often to be taken in a negative way –

“In those days, while Mordecai sat within the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.” Esther 2:21

“Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.” Matthew 21:45, 46

At other times, noting the laying on of hands is for the purpose of healing (see Matthew 9:18, etc.). Here, it is a specific rite that is being conducted, noted elsewhere as “the laying on of the hands” for the purpose of ordination –

“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.” 1 Timothy 4:14

This is what is being conveyed. There has been a period of fasting, prayer, and the laying on of the hands. With that complete, “they sent them away.” The Spirit called, the favor of God has been petitioned, and the rite of acknowledging the consecration of these men has been made. This certainly included prayers for continued guidance, safety, and prosperity.  With those things settled, they were released to the leading of the Holy Spirit’s direction.

Life application: The words here are not prescriptive. In other words, they do not instruct us with the notion that each missionary selection should be conducted in the same manner. If that were so, we would expect that the Holy Spirit would first say, “Now separate to me Clint Peckinpah and Sam Eastwood for the work to which I have called them.”

That should not be expected, nor will it occur. In other words, to use Acts in a manner that prescribes something, the same events should take place as had taken place in Acts. As this is not the case, it is not logical that any of the other events must take place in the same manner either. And yet, it is right that missionaries, like deacons and elders, be carefully selected.

There should be a process by which the selection takes place, and then there should be an open acknowledgment of it having occurred. From there, it is right for churches to pray for the success of the missionaries. And “success” does not necessarily mean “coming back alive.” It means that the will of the Lord is served, in whatever manner He directs. His will should be the first and main focus of any such endeavor. If it is, then whatever occurs will be defined as a success.

For example, if a missionary goes forth and many people come to Jesus, but the missionary is arrested for drugs or for sexually exploiting a child, this was not a successful labor. It is certain that not only were a few harmed by such a person’s actions.

On the other hand, if the missionary only leads one to Christ but faithfully serves the Lord in all ways, even dying in the process, it was overall worthwhile. Such things must always be evaluated by how the Lord is glorified. And this should extend to all things in our lives. Let us always be God-conscious. In doing so, our lives will always be properly directed.

Lord God, please keep us from wandering away from You in our thoughts and actions. We are so very prone to this. And so, Lord, be with us and guide us all our days. Help our lives to be lived honorably before You, bringing glory, not shame, upon Your magnificent name. Amen.