Acts 13:2-3; Rom. 12:5 NIV
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. …So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
In the first centuries of the Church, the pagan world of the time was set squarely against the Church flourishing. Persecutions played off of, and preyed on, the peculiarity of the Body of Christ. Christians didn’t think like others in the pagan world of their time (your God was crucified?). Christians didn’t value what they valued (you provide funerals for the poor?). Christians didn’t operate like they operated (you have a community who practices spiritual gifts and celebrates love, joy, peace—and what?).
The Church was marching to the beat of a Different Drummer, the Holy Spirit, and the wind of God’s presence was at the backs of the believers as they carried Jesus’ way of being human into the most unlikely (and dangerous) of worlds. When someone decided they wanted to become a believer, unpopular as it was, they brought all their cultural baggage with them. A long process of catechesis, transformation, and slow integration into the family of Jesus took place—a process in which the new believer learned how to love, how to pray, how to trust, how to exhibit patience (Alan Kreider), how to handle other human beings, how to worship, and yes, how to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.
And how did they learn to hear? They learned through mentoring relationships with those who were filled with the Spirit and were walking together by faith—and through the example of the community hearing the Holy Spirit together.
As members of one another (Rom. 12:5), spiritually bonded through deep devotion to one another’s well-being and formation into Christ, they could trust that the Holy Spirit speaking was for the good of them all. Individualism was far less a problem in the early Church than it seems to be today. When you face persecution together, unity in your spiritual family becomes very, very important to you.
And when we see moments like Acts 13:2-3 occur, when the local body of believers was worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit would speak. We don’t know all the details, but we have a sense that the shared mission of the Church was owned by all the members. When Barnabus and Saul were launched into ministry, the whole body had heard the Spirit guide them, and the whole body was behind them being sent out to do the work to which the Holy Spirit had called them.
The Spirit speaks through local bodies in which we learn the ways of love, worship, service, giving, growing, being discipled, being encouraged, being challenged, responding with grace, and so on. It is with a family of believers that we are intended to be trained to hear the Spirit’s voice, and to discern the Holy Spirit’s guidance about our next steps of faith personally, and about our next steps of faith corporately.
Imperfect as a local community of faith can be, each is intended to be a source of Spirit-guided discernment and insight for our ongoing journey with Jesus.
Jesus, I receive the Holy Spirit. I thank you for the Body of Christ, and for how I am being formed by the friendships and encouragements that come as we walk together. Come, Holy Spirit, speak to me through the Body of Christ, and teach me the way of love so I can participate well in that shared hearing for the road ahead. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Have you ever been “sent” by your local congregation to do something that carried the heart of your fellowship into an area of need? What gifts were a part of that experience for you?
For the awakening,