When Paul ministered in Antioch with Barnabas, he may have thought that he was carrying out the mandate that Jesus had given him at his conversion to witness to the Gentiles. Nobody could blame him if he did–after all, fourteen years had passed since Jesus had given it. However, his ministry in Antioch, although important, was just another step in preparing Paul for the mission to which Jesus had called him–not the mission itself.
Thus I concluded my last article in this series of articles on the life of Paul. In this article, which is based on Acts 11:27-30 and 12:25-13:3 and Galatians 2:1-10, I’ll consider Paul’s commission to that mission. Biblical scholars disagree on whether to identify the visit to Jerusalem that Paul describes in Galatians 2:1-10 with the visit that Luke refers to in Acts 11:29-30 or with the one that he describes in Acts 15:1-29. In this article, I identify it with the former.
While Barnabas and Paul were ministering in Antioch, some prophets (individuals through whom the Holy Spirit gave messages from God) came there from Jerusalem. One of them, Agabus, predicted through the Spirit a severe famine throughout the Roman world. (Luke says that the famine came to pass during the reign of Claudius [41-54 A.D.], and other sources confirm that famines occurred in various parts of the Roman world during Claudius’s reign and that Judea suffered a bad one about 45-47 A.D.) The Christians in Antioch believed Agabus’s prophecy and immediately decided to send help to the Christians in Jerusalem. They contributed according to their ability and sent their gift to the elders (leaders) of the church there by means of Barnabas and Paul. Thus, they “discharged the duty of charity towards the needy brethren, and testified to the great value they put on the Gospel by token of the fact that they bestowed honour on the place from which it had flowed” (John Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles 1 – 13, trans. John W. Fraser and W. J. G. McDonald [Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1965], page 334).
Apparently wanting assurance that Gentile Christians would be recognized as genuine Christians without becoming proselytes to Judaism, Paul set before the leaders in Jerusalem–James (the brother of Jesus), Peter, and John–the gospel that he preached among the Gentiles. His pointing out in his account of the visit in Galatians that Titus, a Gentile Christian whom Paul had taken on the visit as a helper (and possibly as a test case), wasn’t compelled to be circumcised indicates that Gentile freedom from the law was an important part of that gospel.
According to the account in Galatians, everything seems to have worked out well. The leaders not only added nothing to Paul’s gospel but also agreed that Barnabas and Paul should take the gospel to the Gentiles and they should take it to the Jews. All that they asked was that Barnabas and Paul would remember to help “the poor” (the Jerusalem Christians), which Paul says he was eager to do. When Barnabas and Paul had completed their mission in Jerusalem, they returned to Antioch, bringing with them John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10).
Sometime afterwards, while the prophets and teachers (including Barnabas and Paul) in the church at Antioch were worshipping the Lord in prayer and were fasting, the Holy Spirit said through one of them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2, ESV). After they (or all the church) had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them off. The clause “to which I have called them” indicates that God had called both Barnabas and Paul before this time. We have no way of knowing when Barnabas was called, but we know that Paul was called when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Jesus telling him then:
[R]ise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:16-18, ESV)
Now, fourteen years later, he was finally commissioned by the Holy Spirit and the church at Antioch to fulfil that calling. Why did God make Paul wait fourteen years after calling him to take the gospel to the Gentiles before commissioning him to that mission? I don’t know. Perhaps Paul had to be prepared to preach the gospel that He wanted him to preach to the Gentiles. Perhaps the Church had to be prepared to accept that gospel. Perhaps…
Similarly, God may make us to wait for something. For example, I had to wait so long after my first wife’s death before meeting the woman who would become my second wife that I resigned myself to remaining single. However, I finally (after over twenty years) met and married her. Believe me, she was worth waiting for!
You may be waiting for something to happen in your life. You may even have waited so long that you think that it will never happen. Don’t give up. God may just be saying, “Wait.”