Summary: The Holy Spirit leads us, not we the Holy Spirit.
Everything was going well at the church at Antioch. The leadership team presided over a growing and vibrant cross-cultural church. This new church plant already was held in high repute and had reached the ears of the Apostles and leaders of the parent church at Jerusalem. It only made good sense in human wisdom to leave well enough alone. This team was producing great results.
But it has been said that “God works in mysterious ways; His wonders to perform.” This mysterious way of God is clearly demonstrated in this morning’s passage. Let us take a look.
Five men from the leadership are mentioned in the passage. Of these, we know nothing else about Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen other than they were called prophets and teachers of the church there. More in known about Barnabas and Paul who were included among them. They were the team who ruled over the church at Antioch.
The text says that they were fasting and performing their spiritual duty, most probably in a worship setting when the Holy Spirit spoke. The Holy Spirit said that He desired to separate Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for His special purpose. The Greek verb here in in the perfect tense which indicates a permanent separation from their leadership positions at Antioch.
The church responded by continuing to fast and pray. After this, they laid hands on Barnabas and Paul and sent them on their way. Apparently more was revealed to Barnabas and Saul as they went out to the port of Selucia and made sail to Cyprus in obedience to the Holy Spirit.
If one looks at the Greek further, it should be noted that the main sentences are “The Holy Spirit spoke;” “The church dismissed them;” “They departed to the port of Selucia;” and “They sailed to Cyprus.” Everything else is grammatically subordinate to these statements.
Why is this important? First of all, it clearly demonstrates the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit over the Church. The fasting and worship of the church did not cause the Holy Spirit to come. As important as fasting, worship, service and prayer are, they are not sovereign over the move of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the Spirit spoke on His own authority for His own purpose. This shows by the way that the Holy Spirit is equally God with the Father and the Son. It happened to be that the church was at worship and fasting at the time. And even these things were ordained by the Lord.
The work of God is not in any way dependent upon the works of men, even the ones He has ordained. Surely, the church is called to fast, pray, worship, lay hands upon ordinands, do works of mercy and such. But God even used Saul the King to prophesy, even though Saul was in manifest disobedience to the God. John records that the wicked Caiaphas also prophesied by the Holy Spirit because Caiaphas was High Priest. Saul of Tarsus was not in a prayer meeting on the way to Damascus when the Lord Jesus appeared to Him. There have also been many occasions of the obedient church fasting, praying and worshipping where the Holy Spirit did not audibly speak.