“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.” (Acts 13:2)
The word used here for set apart here is aforizo (ἀφορίζω).
That same word is used to describe the angels separate the wicked and the righteous at the end of the age. (Matt 13:49)
…and for the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. (Matt 25:32)
It’s used to talk about people excluding and ostracizing persecuted people in Luke 6:22.
… and to describe how Paul walked away from people who were obstinate and publicly maligning the Way.
That same word, aforizo is used in 2 Cor 6:17, where we read again the command to “come out from them and be separate.”
…and it’s used in Acts 2:12 to describe how Peter would draw back, separate himself from the Gentiles and avoid hanging out or being seen with them.
Later on, in the early church, it was used to describe the action of excommunicating the someone from the church, and barring them from fellowship.
It can even mean ‘to banish.’
This Greek word has even entered everyday Turkish speech, and to this day people use it to describe a decisive, deliberate exclusion or cutting off ties with someone.
Aforizo is a pretty harsh word.
But that’s the word that the Holy Spirit used to pry Paul and Barnabas away from their normal life and fellowship, and send them off into the nations.
It’s the word that Paul uses when he talks about being “set apart” for the Gospel in Romans 1:1.
And God is still calling people out in the same way today. Most of the time, people don’t just ‘end up’ in the harvest fields in places where no-one knows Christ. They have to deliberately let go, be released of everything, and move! People need to be set apart, cut off, even ripped away from their current family, work, and ministry involvements, so they can live for the work God has for them.
We have to abandon many good and beautiful things to get to His best.
This “setting apart” can be quite difficult. People have to say goodbye to their beloved communities. Young parents have to take their children away from their grandparents for years at a time. Men often have to let go of their businesses or livelihoods. Many need to leave critical, thriving ministries, or walk away from pressing needs in their home church. None of this is easy.
But the reward, God’s glory in the nations, is worth it all!
A new friend told me about a time years back, when she was teaching in Asia and got a chance to share about Jesus with a bunch of students who had never heard even the name of Jesus.
She said she remembers being so excited, so overwhelmed by the hugeness and wonder of getting to share these people. “Aha! Now I understand why people are so ready to die for witness,” she thought.
It’s true. When you get to share Jesus to people who never ever get to hear about him, when you’re the only living person they get to meet who knows the truth, it’s incredible.
What’s it like to live for those opportunities, day in and day out? It can’t be put into words. When you’re constantly giving yourself to things that he’s deeply passionate about, you feel God’s excitement pounding in your heart.
You live and breathe with his joy, and move with his compassion and love.
“The laborers appetite works for him, his hunger urges him on.” (Proverbs 16:29)
In the 90s, an African guy went to a Muslim country to work, to do business.
While he was there he met up with other African believers, and they hit the streets, sharing the gospel.
This ruffled a few feathers, and they kept getting stopped and pulled in by the police. But they kept on praying, and kept on getting out there and preaching the good news.
The police got increasingly frustrated and flabberghasted by all this, and not knowing what to do they sent in one of the top chiefs to really intimidate them.
The head police guy came in and they saw he had a terrible skin condition. They asked him how he was doing with compassion, and the police chief explained how brutal his skin problem was. The Africans asked if they could pray for him in the name of Jesus, and he agreed.
Right there in front of them, the skin condition totally vanished. He was healed.
“Go and keep doing what you’re doing!” said the police officer firmly, “No one will bother you anymore.”
God used these African migrants powerfully, and I’m told that the fruit of their labors endures and is bearing fruit to this day.
It’s much easier to see and celebrate how God faithfully worked things out in the past than to joyfully anticipate how he will be resolving things in front of us.
It seems that no matter how many times we see God break through, the current circumstances can be impossible or overwhelming. Although I saw God come through beautifully in so many cases on the streets of Istanbul, it still often felt impossible or hopeless as I went out to share the good news.
It’s easy to tell roaring stories of evangelistic adventures from where I served for the last five years. It’s not so easy to look forward to how God will break through the difficulties of a new area with the same enthusiasm.
But should there be such a stark contrast in our views of the future and the past?
We grow in faith as we give glory to God and become more and more convinced that he’s mighty, with us, and working. And then we start to look ahead with the same glowing enthusiasm that we have as we hear or recount wonderful tales from the past.
Because we know that He is with us, and his faithfulness is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
“This is my story, this is my song,
the theme of the stories, I’ve heard for so long
God has been faithful, he will be again
His loving compassion, it knows no end.”
“All I have need of his hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me.”
(He’s always been faithful - Sara Groves)
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
In the West, we live in a society that is generally rich. And as wealth increases, it seems that talk of saving up and storing up wealth for the future increases as well.
We’d do well to listen carefully to Paul’s instructions to rich people here.
How do we store up a good foundation for the future? Through savings accounts and retirement funds? This verse would suggest that it’s actually through the reverse, through giving our money away. As we give and share, we lay up a good foundation for the future, a foundation more sure than any wealth that we could amass and hold ourselves.
How do you get ready for the future? How do you make sure you have treasure laid up as a truly firm foundation for the future? By giving your treasure away.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:32-33)
What a simple but profound truth that needs to sink ever deeper into our hearts and minds: God is real.
He actually exists. And he is active, listening, and involved in our world.
It’s such a basic truth, but how different someone is when they actually start to believe this, and live with this in mind.
What happens when someone believes that God will listen and help them with whatever problem they’re facing?
What happens when someone believes that God sees and cares about how they treat their mom and dad, or about how they treat their wife.
What happens when someone believes that God will save and transform people if they hear and believe the news about Jesus.
All kinds of amazing things spring out of this very simple faith. People actually pray. When we take God to be a real actor in our circumstances, He is.
When we talk someone who really believes all this, we can’t help but be affected and spurred on to love and trust God more. It’s like holding our feet in the warm current of a river. There’s something very right, pleasing, and powerful about this thing we call faith.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because whoever comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those that eagerly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
We have to truly believe and depend on him, as a real person and the biggest factor in our lives. We have to see and know that we need him, and have him, active and helping out, responding and moving things as we ask.
And if we’re with him in faith, we’re ready for anything.
“The secret of faith that is ready for emergencies is the quiet, practical dependence upon God day by day which makes Him real to the believing heart.” (Hudson Taylor)
I talked to a Bangladeshi Christian leader who was deeply concerned about how his people were attached to the western forms of church that had been handed down to them.
He told me how they learned to think it’s of upmost importance for them to build nice white churches with crosses on top, which were a big offense to the hostile Muslim community around them.
They would build these churches, and then would suffer bombings, or attacks. The buildings would be destroyed, and then would persevere in building more buildings, only to face more bombings and danger. They were holding on tenaciously to that nice white steeple church that they learned from the foreigners to build and establish, and it was wearing them out.
This Bangladeshi leader said he was always trying so hard to get his people to see that they didn’t need to build these expensive, offensive buildings. It was enough for them to be the church and meet together. But it was so hard for them to understand and accept this, after being conditioned by the years of missions work before.
“They can bomb and destroy those buildings in 5 seconds,” he would tell them, “but they can never destroy the church.”
The treasured trappings foreign workers carry with them, whether they be buildings, programs, or cultural forms, often become heavy burdens the locals bear painfully for generations.
Jesus brought something simple, so let’s carry something simple forward.