Acts 11:25-30; Acts 13:1-3.
It should ever be borne in mind that, while Saul had been converted in a most remarkable manner, and declared to be a chosen vessel for the Lord's service, his entrance upon his life's work was brought about by the interposition of Barnabas. A time of meditation, and of preparation through the knowledge of the Scriptures, is of all moment, that, to use his own words, "the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:16.) Such a season was provided for Saul in his retirement from Jerusalem to Tarsus. Of the character of his sojourn there, his habits and occupations, nothing is revealed. The Spirit of God never occupies us with the private lives even of the holiest of His people, lest they might come between our souls and Christ. Admiration of man is more easy to the natural heart than admiration of Christ. A veil therefore is drawn over the whole of Saul's stay in his native place, so that we do not even know whether he was engaged, during this time, in the preaching of the Gospel.
While, however, he was at Tarsus the Spirit of God had begun to work in a marked and most unexpected manner. So accustomed were even the first converts at Jerusalem, through their Jewish training and education, to confine their thoughts of the grace of God to those of their own race, that, when they were scattered abroad "upon the persecution that arose about Stephen," they preached "the word to none but unto the Jews only." But there were some belonging to Cyprus and Cyrene, who, "when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians,* preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." (vv. 19, 20.) Communion with the mind of the Lord as to the people to whom the message is to be proclaimed is thus as important as communion with His mind as to the message itself - a fact much to be pondered by every preacher of the word of God, for it is indeed the absolute condition of securing His presence and blessing.
*These were Greeks, not Hellenists, Jews, etc., as in chapter 9:29.
News of the work at Antioch was transmitted to Jerusalem, and Barnabas was sent forth to ascertain whether it was the genuine result of the activity of the Holy Spirit. Free from all prejudice, he discerned its real character, rejoiced when he saw "the grace of God," and, throwing himself earnestly into the movement, he "exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord." The Spirit of God seizes the occasion, with all tenderness, to give a divine estimate of Barnabas's Christian character: "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." What a picture it is! It was undoubtedly the high tide of the spiritual life of this devoted servant. His labours moreover were greatly owned, for "much people was added unto the Lord." In some way - in what is not said - Barnabas was made to feel the need of help in dealing with so many converts, and he was led, in connection with it, guided undoubtedly by the Lord, to think that Saul would be the suited labourer. At once he departed to seek him, "and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch." (vv. 25, 26.)
That bringing Saul to Antioch was his introduction to his mission may safely be assumed. We may learn from the manner of it that there is no necessity to thrust ourselves into the Lord's work, but that if there be quiet waiting on Him, together with the desire to know nothing but His will, the time will come when our path will be unmistakably indicated. Saul had waited, even though Christ in glory had appeared to him, and now his directions reached him, not according to the extraordinary method of his conversion, but through the invitation of a fellow servant - an invitation which came to Saul, being in communion with His Lord's mind, with the force of a divine command. Not a word is given of the conversation between these remarkable servants, meeting again after such a significant interval, for the Spirit of God is occupied not with the servants' interests, but with the Lord's interests in His work. We are therefore only told that Saul responded to the invitation of Barnabas, and returned with him to Antioch.
Three things are recorded in connection with Saul's first visit to this celebrated city. First, together with Barnabas, he for "a whole year" was "gathered together in the assembly,"* and taught much people. He commenced, as he ever afterwards continued his course, with incessant activity, that activity which was the fruit of the energy and power of the Holy Ghost. Secondly, it was at this time, and in this city, that the disciples were first called Christians. It is quite possible, as often contended, that this name was given in contempt by their adversaries; but the Spirit of God has adopted it (see also 1 Peter 4:16), and it served to mark the disciples off from the Jews and other sects, as well as to betoken their relationship to Christ. If He is the anointed One, His people, through His grace, are also anointed with the Holy Ghost, and this truth is well expressed by the term "Christians." Thirdly, Barnabas and Saul were sent to Jerusalem to express the affection of the Gentile saints for their brethren from among the Jews by ministering of their carnal things to them in a time of dearth. They felt their oneness in Christ, and proved that they were common disciples by the exhibition of their love.
*There has been considerable discussion as to the exact meaning of the words so rendered; but the sense is evidently that Barnabas and Saul were continually "gathered together" with the believers in Antioch with the object of teaching and edification.
No information is given us of what transpired in Jerusalem on this visit. The fact only is stated. The Spirit of God was still occupied with higher interests - with the progress of the word of God in the face of the deadly opposition of the enemy. Herod dared, about this time, to set himself against the people of God; "he killed James the brother of John with the sword," and, to ingratiate himself further with the Jews, he also proceeded to have Peter arrested. Peter was rescued from his power by angelic interposition; and very soon this enemy of God and of the disciples, on the occasion of his accepting divine honours from the populace of Tyre and Sidon, was smitten by "the angel of the Lord, and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost." (Chapter 12:20-23.) Satan raged, but the word of God, spite of Satan's enmity, grew and multiplied. Whether Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem during Herod's persecution cannot now be ascertained; but it is not without significance that we are told, immediately after Herod's death, that "Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark." (v. 25.) How little could they foresee, at this moment, the influence John Mark would exercise upon their future relationships!
At the commencement of chapter 13 a new scene is introduced. The assembly comprised, amongst others, both prophets and teachers, of whom the first-named is Barnabas, and the last is Saul. They were gathered together, for it is said that "they ministered to the Lord and fasted"; and from what follows it would seem that they were waiting on the Lord for special instruction and guidance. For while they were occupied as described, the Holy Ghost said, "Separate me now* Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." The word "now" shows that this divine intimation was given in response to the prayers of the Lord's servants. How given, whether mediately or otherwise, whether through one of the prophets present or in some other way, is not stated. It was given, and its source was acknowledged; for steps were at once taken to render obedience to the divine direction. They sought further help and qualification for the work by still fasting, and the brethren expressed their full fellowship and identification with Barnabas and Saul in the work to which they had been appointed by laying on them their hands.
*It is generally agreed that it should be so rendered.
It is not our purpose to follow Saul in what is termed his first missionary journey; but we may call attention to two or three important particulars. In company with Barnabas, he was sent out with the full fellowship of his brethren. Moreover, they were sent forth, as well as called, by the Holy Ghost. Surely this is to be regarded, not as exceptional, but as the pattern of all true service. "Yes," it may be replied, "but how is it possible to obtain now the same guidance, certainty, and power for our path?" By adopting the same means of waiting on the Lord, in spirit outside of the influences of this world, that, brought into the secret of the Lord's presence, and enabled thus to hear His voice, the intimation of His will may be as distinctly received. It is to be remarked also that a change took place almost immediately in the relative positions of Barnabas and Saul. Up to this moment Barnabas is always named first; but after the striking display of the Spirit's power (for Saul is here said to be filled with the Holy Spirit) through Saul in conflict with "a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus," who sought to turn Sergius Paulus from the faith, Saul is divinely given the lead in service. Henceforward it is Paul and Barnabas, and the reason is, that whatever the devotedness, faith, and grace of Barnabas, Paul was the Lord's chosen vessel.
It was in connection with this same event that the name of "Saul" was dropped, and that of "Paul" was adopted. It is possible that he had been known by both names,* or, it might be, as others think, that he here receives the name of "Paul" because of his victory over Satan's craft and opposition, and the rescue of one of his captives in the person of Sergius Paulus.** However it is to be accounted for, Saul of Tarsus becomes henceforward Paul.
*"Saul" would seem to be the Hebrew, and "Paul" the Roman form of the same name.
**Compare Judges 6:32; Judges 7:1, where Gideon was called Jerubbaal in connection with his throwing down the altar of Baal.