Some thoughts from my personal Bible study, mainly asking questions of the text and pondering some potential answers.
Why did God call Paul and Barnabus so publicly?
In verse 2 we read that God called Paul and Barnabus to their mission during a time of worship, and by the sounds of it he said it to everyone there, not just Paul and Barnabus. God could have just told Paul and Barnabus individually, but instead he makes it public.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’d want God to work like that around me. If God was going to call me, I’d want it to be quietly (but clearly) just to me. I’d want it to be confirmed by others afterwards, but I’d want God to give me the choice first. I think if God interrupted our service on Sunday and told everyone that I was being called to some mission thing somewhere else, I’d be pretty freaked out. And actually I’d feel the same if it were someone else, too; if God suddenly declared that one of my friends needed to be sent on his way, I’d probably argue that we’d heard God’s message wrong.
But maybe that’s just the point. The way that I would WANT God to work is limited by my own expectations, my own preferences, my own ability to cope. I was licenced as a Reader earlier this year, but only after God had prodded me for several years. God had tried working my way, and I’d just pushed it aside, hoping God would come up with a different plan. In the end, God’s subtle hints got less subtle, and he confirmed his plan for me through other people too. So perhaps if God had interrupted a Sunday service a few years ago and told the whole congregation that I needed to train to be a Reader, maybe it would have happened more quickly! Maybe I shouldn’t put God in a box too much, and allow him to work in the way he knows to be best, rather than expect him to fit in with my diary.
Why did Sergius Paulus take so long to believe?
Sergius Paulus was an intelligent man. Interesting little detail, that. I don’t recall reading that about many people in the Bible. Intelligent. Some people are called wise, or powerful, or learned, but not intelligent. There’s a certain quality to that description that makes Sergius Paulus interesting to me – he’s someone who thinks. He’s someone who analyses things. He’s someone who wants answers. He’s someone who wouldn’t be blinded by theatrics or falsehood. And yet, despite that, he’s accompanied by a magician, a false prophet. And it would seem that despite his intelligence he was being swayed by this magician’s antics.
I like to rely on my intellect. I like to think things through and work out the answer. I look at the Bible and try to understand it, because I want to prove my intelligence. When I’m at work I love a challenge, I love coming up with a clever solution to a problem, I love the fact that I know more about my job than anyone else (by quite some margin, if I do say so myself). But this account in Acts 13 suggests that even the best intellect gets it wrong sometimes. Even the cleverest of us can be confused and distracted by things that shouldn’t. I know certain things are unhealthy, for instance, but I give in to temptation and do them anyway, despite the logic that says otherwise. I know the truth, yet I don’t always trust it. Maybe you can associate with that in some way, too.
It’s reassuring to know that God sees our struggles, sees our temptations, sees where our logic is being confounded, and is willing to step in and help. For Sergius Paulus, it was a visit from Paul and Barnabus that rid him of his magician, allowing him to embrace his intelligence properly and accept Paul’s teaching about Jesus. It’s my hope and prayer that God does similar things for us, freeing us from our distractions and allowing us to accept Jesus as Lord.
Is suffering necessary for mission?
Persecution is becoming a repeated theme as we read through Acts. It seems to come in waves – at first the message is received joyfully, but then the opposition starts up. So is suffering a sign that we’re actually doing a good job? And does it therefore follow that if we’re not being persecuted that actually we’re not acting boldly enough?
I’m not sure it’s always true – it surely is possible to do amazing things for God without being persecuted for it. But there’s definitely a strong correlation. I’ve often found that times of difficulty come when I’m trying to do God’s will. And I guess that makes sense; the enemy is only the enemy because we’re working against him. The more we work for God, the more Satan will notice us and try to stop us. And if we’re not being persecuted, in whatever form it might take, maybe it’s because Satan thinks we’re on his side…
Time to step out in faith, and be more bold. And pray for God’s protection, because we’re certainly going to need it.