Here are seven helpful observations on leadership and the Holy Spirit’s guidance from Acts 13:1-3.
- The leaders of the church of Antioch were a group of men, who were gifted in the explanation of God’s revelation. Prophets and teachers were gifted in proclaiming, expounding, and communicating God’s Word.
- The leaders of the church of Antioch had a diversity of giftedness and backgrounds.
- Giftedness – Some were prophets and some were teachers.
- Ethnicity – Some of them were Jews and some were Gentiles. Simeon was called Niger, which means black, so it is likely this was a description of his ethnicity. Barnabas and Saul were Jews.
- Backgrounds – Manaen probably came from a higher social status, since he was a friend to Herod the Tetrarch. They also came from different parts of the world. Barnabas was from Cyprus, Paul was from Tarsus, and Lucius was from Cyrene.
- The leaders of the church of Antioch were united in the worship of the Lord Jesus and fasting. Though they had diverse gifts and backgrounds, their purpose was united in the worship of Jesus Christ.
- The Holy Spirit had direct involvement in the lives of the leaders at Antioch Church. These men had a relationship with the Holy Spirit, and He was directing them in decision-making.
- The Holy Spirit’s leadership came as these men were dedicated to the worship of the Lord Jesus. When they placed themselves in an attitude of worship, the Holy Spirit directed them.
- The Holy Spirit directed and sent Barnabas and Saul (Paul) out for the work to which He had called them. The church did not call them; the Holy Spirit called them.
- The Holy Spirit directed individuals through the leadership of the local church. While the Holy Spirit called them, He used the leaders of the local church in the direction of His people. The Holy Spirit sent them out (v. 4), but He did so through the church leaders (v. 3).
Comment on helpful and unhelpful uses of descriptive passages:
One of the things I have learned in Bible interpretation is the difference between descriptive and prescriptive passages. Prescriptive passages contain specific commands that we should obey as God’s people. Descriptive passages do not contain specific commands for us to follow; they simply describe events that took place.
It is important to distinguish the differences between prescriptive and descriptive passages. This will keep us from commanding things we should not command, and make sure that we are obediently listening to God’s commands. Descriptive passages can easily be misinterpreted and misapplied, and this happens frequently in Bible teaching.
While descriptive passages do not have specific commands for God’s people today, they do present us with examples and applications that are helpful. Observations from these passages can provide guidance for us as we serve in our specific contexts and locations.
Acts 13:1-3 is a descriptive passage. There is a command to the leaders of Antioch Church for that specific time and place. There are no commands to modern-day believers in this passage. However, it is very helpful to observe how the early church leaders operated and how the Holy Spirit worked in their lives as they led His people. Thus the seven observations above.
I think this is a helpful time to present some examples and corrections of misapplying this passage to help us understand how to handle descriptive passages.
An example of an improper application of this descriptive passage could be: The church at Antioch had five leaders, so we should have five leaders in our church. Having five leaders may not be possible in your local church context, and there may be more than five qualified men in another church. This passage does not command us to have five leaders; it simply describes the number of leaders Antioch Church had. However, we could use this passage as an example of a plurality of leaders, which is a principle in the New Testament. It is not commanded here, but this passage shows us a pattern of the early church.
Another improper application of this descriptive passage could be: The church of Antioch had leaders from multiple ethnic groups, therefore our church leadership must be ethnically diverse. This passage does not command ethnic diversity in church leadership. In my personal experience there are times where a region is not ethnically diverse, so there may only be one ethnicity within a church body. However, Ephesians 2:11-22 makes clear that there is no distinction between ethnic groups in the body of Christ. Believing Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ. This means that ethnicity is never a qualifier or disqualifier of a person’s place in leadership or participation in the body of Christ. All who are in Christ are equally part of the body no matter their ethnicity. Leadership in the church is not based upon ethnicity, but it is based upon qualification (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Those who are qualified may serve as leaders, no matter their social status, background, or ethnicity.
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