The Holy Spirit Calls – Biblical Roles, Part II

March 25, 2024 David S

In the intricate tapestry of Luke’s narrative, Acts 13:2 illuminates a profound truth: the divine call to mission emanates not from mere human ambition, but from the sovereign will of God, facilitated by the Holy Spirit. It's a call unlike any other, transcending the realms of career choices and professional pursuits. This calling is divinely orchestrated and tailored to a specific individual, beckoning them to serve in a unique manner at a designated time.

Delving deeper into the text, we encounter Barnabas and Saul, handpicked by the Holy Spirit for a sanctified purpose. Their consecration wasn't arbitrary; it was a deliberate separation from the routine ministries of the local church, earmarked for a distinct task. Notably, their call wasn't tethered to a specific location but to a particular mission. The book of Acts unveils a series of instances where the Holy Spirit orchestrates their trajectory, underscoring the divine guidance inherent in their ministry (Acts 9:4ff; 11:24; 16:6ff; 22:17ff).

The person of the Holy Spirit emerged as the catalyst and guiding force within the early church fabric, a role inaugurated at Pentecost (Acts 2:4-12). His divine agency and active involvement navigated Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:29, 39) and propelled Peter towards Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:19ff; 11:12), illustrating a seamless interplay between human action and divine orchestration. Moreover, His influence extends beyond geographical instruction (Acts 16:6-10; 19:21; 20:22; 21:11; 11:24; 13:2-4; 19:6), permeating doctrinal discernment (Acts 15:28; cf. 15:8) and empowering bold witness for Christ (Acts 4:31; 6:5, 10, 55).

While Acts doesn't delineate the mechanics of the Holy Spirit's call to Barnabas and Saul, scholars like John Stott and F. F. Bruce propose plausible scenarios, attributing the burdening of hearts and congregational affirmation as pivotal elements. Yet, amidst diverse possibilities, the primacy of scriptural alignment remains paramount, serving as the litmus test for discerning divine calling.

Trusting that God’s word is inspired, infallible, applicable, and sufficient should cause us to examine every possible leading under the spotlight of the Holy Scriptures. George Peters suggests that God also uses several ways to reveal His will to man. Human instruments (Acts 11:25-26; 26:16-19), missionary reports and testimonies (Acts 14:27), sound logical thought, and even crisis experiences brought about by God may stir a believer’s heart and may lead a believer to a particular ministry strategy and action (1972, 279-280). Ultimately, God the Holy Spirit uses His word to guide His people. 

In a contemporary context, where direct revelation has ceased with the completion of Scripture, discerning the Holy Spirit's leading demands vigilant scrutiny against biblical precepts. George Peters (1972, 279-280) advocates for a multifaceted approach wherein human instruments (Acts 11:25-26; 26:16-19), missionary reports and testimonies (Acts 14:27), sound logical reasoning, and providential circumstances converge to shape ministry strategies. Nevertheless, the local church emerges as a vital arbiter, entrusted with the solemn task of evaluating the spiritual qualifications and calling of individuals, mirroring the pattern seen in Acts 13:1-4. 

Ensuring that an individual who claims to have received a calling from the Holy Spirit meets certain biblical standards is paramount. In Acts and Paul's epistles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we find specific traits and qualifications outlined. For instance, Paul details leadership qualifications in passages such as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

Another crucial aspect in discerning the Holy Spirit's call in someone's life is the assessment by the local community of believers, the church. God has established the local church as a crucial entity for evaluating an individual's qualifications for ministry and verifying the authenticity of their calling. This communal observation and affirmation may have played a role in the process depicted in Acts 13:1-4. 

Yet, amidst the subjectivity inherent in discerning divine calling, one foundational truth remains unassailable: the Holy Spirit never deviates from the tenets of God's Word. As we navigate the labyrinth of discernment, aligning our perceived calling with biblical principles becomes imperative, ensuring harmony between divine directive and scriptural precepts.

In our forthcoming discussion, we'll delve into the indispensable role of the church in affirming and nurturing the missionary call. Stay tuned as we unravel the symbiotic relationship between divine calling and communal affirmation, forging a path toward impactful ministry in the service of God's kingdom.
Read other articles in this series: Biblical Roles in Missions
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David S
Dr. Selvey is a global missions coach with Missioserve Alliance. He offers workshops and coaching opportunities to help churches be better missionary senders. He helps pastors and missions leadership develop and articulate their theology, philosophy, and strategy for global missions.