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Sunday School is a vital part of any ministry. In it, one is able to experience a deeper knowledge of God’s Word. Here at “Word For Life Says,” I want to help you help others. Below you will find resources to help you prepare for your upcoming lessons and my personal summary notes that I use when teaching. May God bless you!
“Faith to Discern”
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Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2013 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original tounless properly quoted/cited. I am glad you like to read my personal summary notes that I use when teaching, but as always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well. Blessings!)
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD…” (Psalm 37:23) is what we read in God’s holy Word. The direction and course this individual takes in life are Holy Spirited inspired. This is the one who looks for true leading and guiding in life; who refuses to make a move without the direction of the Lord pointing the way. For that is truly the only sure-fire way to ensure one is going where He wants them to go, doing what He wants them to do, and to determine with a discerning heart the right path to follow in life and in ministry.
This was and is true for any who proceed to want to do the work of the Lord. Be it a church as a whole, or an individual, each one will be the most effective in their calling to venture forth when it is the Lord at the head of the expedition.
Persecution had arisen after the death of Stephen, the first martyr for Christ. This caused a great scattering of the believers who traveled to seek refuge in other areas such as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (see Acts 11:19). With critical times such as these taking place, making sure one is on one accord with God and the moves He is making is imperative. Although the church was facing violent attacks, the church was also having a positive impact on people wherever it expanded. In our reading of the book of Acts, we come across verses that tell us of the effects of preaching Jesus had on the regions where the message was carried. Verses like Acts 11:19-21 that tells us, “a great number believed, and turned to the Lord;” and “the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord to and “the word of God grew and multiplied,” (Acts 12:24).
The evidence of the move of God was profound through His carriers of the gospel and it was up to the leaders and the church to continue to seek God; to search for His ways to know and understand explicitly all the who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s, why’s, and how’s of His holy operation here on earth; to perceive and pursue His plan for them individually and as a whole.
Acts 13:1-3 “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”
Our lesson starts with its focus on the “church that was at Antioch.” “Antioch” was important in it’s moving of the gospel message. After the death of Stephen and the dispersing of those seeking refuge due to persecution, this multi-cultural land located approximately 290-300 miles north of Jerusalem, would become an open door through which more of the Gentile world could be reached for Jesus Christ, though they originally started with just the “Jews only,” (Acts 11:19). Antioch is also the first place where the disciples of Jesus Christ were actually called “Christians,” (Acts 11:26).
Antioch was not only a bustling city, the third largest in fact in the Roman empire, but with its location on the Orontes River, this metropolitan area where roads and trade routes of the world seemed to intersect, became a place known for bustling faith as seeds for the gospel of Jesus Christ were planted there in the hearts of the Grecians and others who resided there.
The leaders, “prophets and teachers,” present at the head of the church in Antioch were just as important as the city itself. “Barnabas,” whose name means “Son of Encouragement,” is named first in this list of five. Probably because at that time he had the most influence and took more of the leader role. When the church initially began to grow and expand in Antioch, Barnabas was sent by the church at Jerusalem to verify and oversee the move of God in that place (Acts 11:22). When he arrived, he saw “the grace of God” there and encouraged the people to “cleave unto the Lord,” (Acts 11:23) and it is noted that “much people was added unto the Lord,” (Acts 11:24).
From there we see three other names listed in which not much is known about them save the few details expressed here: “Simeon that was called Niger,” who may have been called such because of his skin complexion being black or dark-skinned, possibly from Africa. Next is “Lucius of Cyrene,” which being from that area located in North Africa as well, may have himself been dark-skinned or black. Finally, there is “Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch.” All that tells us is he was exposed to the behind the scenes rearing of the same man who beheaded John the Baptist, also known as Herod Antipas, being raised alongside him. “Manaen’s” lifestyle probably afforded him opportunities of the privileged as he was raised in the king’s household.
Regardless of what is known or not about these three; regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic background and raising, they were prominent to God as leaders of this church, and their works and faithfulness were known to the people in Antioch and here in Scripture, for where our lesson opens speaking of these leaders as “they ministered to the Lord, and fasted” (more on this in a bit).
Lastly, on the list, we see “Saul” (more on him later) who ended up working with the church at Antioch, when Barnabas came and got him from Tarsus, to help with the teaching and the growth of this church for about a year (Acts 11:25-26).
All five of these men were working in the functioning, building, and serving of the church in Antioch. Their “ministering” no doubt is an extension of the work of the “prophet and teacher” noted earlier in these verses. They not only spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they taught individuals and those of the church how to live, how to apply it to their daily lives, much like the role of the modern-day pastor of a local church.
And, although their “ministering” would affect and impact the members of the church there, here it is noted that their ministering was “to the Lord.” Anything one does for God’s church, they do for Him. It is a work dedicated to serving His purposes and plans, something many of the modern-day era seem to forget or miss out on. Their submission to God and His work through that church was serious enough for the leaders to enter times of “fasting” that would promote spiritual sensitivity to His leading.
With hearts, mind, and spirits so opened to God and at the ready to receive from Him, He is able to communicate His desire for that church and the people therein clearly. Therefore, “the Holy Ghost” instructed them, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Faith to discern also means having faith to listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come,” (John 16:13).
The Holy Ghost showed them God had a specific “work” for these men to do. God was leading them into the area where He saw they best fit to serve His purposes, His church, and His people. Callings are never about us. It’s about what one can do for God and man. Jesus, when He was alive, reminded His disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you…” (John 15:16).
With that, they “fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” They covered them, confirmed them, and commissioned their release before all to the Lord to follow wherever He may be leading them.
Acts 13:4-5 “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.”
So begins what will become known as Paul’s First Missionary Journey, along with Barnabas. Although Barnabas is named first, Saul, later to become Paul, will take the lead here and through most of the New Testament, being largely responsible for reaching more Gentiles with the gospel message and establishing churches throughout varied regions for the name of Jesus.
“They, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.” Not only was their calling directed by the “Holy Ghost,” but here too, we see Him in charge of their journey as well. The “Holy Ghost” instructs them on when, where, and how to move through this missionary field work. Paul and Barnabas are just passengers and vessels used for the work while God is doing the driving and steering.
“Seleucia” was a seaport city of the Antioch area in Syria situated along the Mediterranean, about 15 miles west of the hub of Antioch itself (see map below). Coming to this area would allow them to board a ship that will carry them to “Cyprus,” an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, which also happened to the be the base home for Barnabas (which was probably a reason for starting here).
From one seaport to another, their journey to “Cyprus” landed them in the port located at “Salamis” (view map below) where they were noted as preaching the “word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” It is here that the core of their calling begins to take shape, and that is telling others about the “word of God,” and “Salamis” was just the area to begin this great work because 1) the population there was great, being a major seaport hub and a chief city, meant more numbers of people could be reached and influenced; 2) with the population being that it was, it was also an atmosphere where more Jews had settled forming more than one synagogue, which gave opportunity, once again, of directly proclaiming Christ to their own Jewish brethren; 3) with Salamis being situated where it was, it may have been easier to access main roads that would lead them to the other end of the island at Paphos, where ultimately their impact for Christ could be made to the higher up authorities in office at that time. It was all about location, location, location. And, this location was the perfect place to spearhead this work of God.
Notice their work began specifically in the “synagogue of the Jews.” Firstly, remember everything they were doing was under the unction and leading of the Holy Ghost. Secondly, the reasoning behind this was, the Jews, being their brethren, would always be the first choice to being exposed to the message of Christ due to their knowledge of their shared background. Often when Paul visited new regions he always sought out the synagogues to begin the work of evangelizing (compare Acts 17:1; Romans 1:16), but when those present in those places refused, he would share the message of Christ to the Gentiles (compare Acts 13:44-46; 18:6).
During this portion of their missionary ministry, Barnabas and Paul had working with them “John,” who is also referred to as “Mark,” who happens to be none other than Barnabas’ own cousin (reference Acts 15:37; Colossians 4:10). Later, he would desert the work to go back to Jerusalem mid-mission causing conflict later when Barnabas wanted to reintroduce him to the missionary mission (see Acts 15:38-39).
Acts 13:6-8 “And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.”
Traveling the distance of the island of Cyprus, from that eastern seaport to the western coast (view map above), and no doubt planting seeds of faith along the way with peoples and villages they may have come across, Barnabas and Saul reached the place called “Paphos.” “Paphos” was not only one of the other chief cities, it was, in fact, where the seat of government for this island sat. It would be how we relate to our own capital of countries or states, or even as any headquarters of any given organization or region.
Bringing their missionary mission to this area would be a prominent move because anytime one can influence the capital of a nation, and influence the heads of the said nation, then they are more apt to influence the hearts and minds of the people of the nation. And, although many Jewish synagogues and peoples are present on that island, it is still a Gentile controlled place, being led under the watchful eye of “Sergius Paulus” who happened to be the “deputy of the country,” a Roman official. Impacting a man like that for Christ, well, who knows where that could lead. Particularly since “Paphos” is also already known as the seat and power of their false worship of the goddess Venus and the ungodly practices it brought with it. This presenting of the gospel could be a turn around point for the man in charge and the nation as a whole, but not without adversity, as we will soon see.
Before they get to the heart and hearing of “Sergius Paulus,” there are other obstacles that seem to present themselves that try to hinder this missionary journey from proceeding any further. This hindrance comes by way of a man referred to as “Bar-Jesus” (son of Joshua; not associated with Christ, for Jesus was a popular name much like Joshua) and “Elymas” (title of the magician/sorcerer) in the verses above (both describe the same individual using separate names), who happened to be a “Jew” but was also referred to as a “false prophet” and a “sorcerer.” These are works not found in a child of God, rather, as later the text will describe, he is a child of the devil. And, the enemy never wants to lose any ground in man or nation to faith that will lead them closer to God.
This man, being far from the work of God, had his talons deeply set into the influence of this Roman official. He is noted in our lesson as being “with” the deputy of this country. What that means is he is in a place where it seems he is afforded some power or say so, probably giving counsel to Sergius Paulus. He is able to operate with evil intent into the goings on of this particular government by adhering himself so close to the deputy there.
Who knows how long he has been in that position, but giving it up without a fight was not on his agenda for that day. When Barnabas and Saul came in with the gospel message it could thwart the evil plans and prestige his influence seemed to open to him and those around him.
He didn’t count on “Sergius Paulus” himself wanting to hear about the “word of God” from these men. He knew it could mess up everything he has worked to control there in Cyprus.
What was “Sergius Paulus” looking for or hoping to find when he met with Barnabas and Saul? He is noted as being a “prudent man” which means he was wise. Was he looking for more wisdom or information about this culture or this way? Or, was he honestly seeking to learn more about God? Some have presumed to offer their answers, but any answer we can provide is pure speculation. For whatever reason, the Bible records he wanted to hear the “word of God,” and no matter one’s motivation behind the request, when one is called to have an opened door opportunity to reach higher up officials with the gospel, they take it.
And, this is what Barnabas and Saul do. They presented the gospel to the deputy in charge of Cyprus, but not without having to face off with evil forces in the process; for it is also noted that “Elymas the sorcerer… withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.”
Here’s my personal question/observation regarding this lesson. Why was Elymas so fearful of Sergius Paulus hearing about the “faith” if the deputy just wanted to learn more wisdom about the people and culture it represented? My opinion (stressing this as my opinion) is that perhaps this deputy has thought about this for a while. Maybe he even presented Elymas with questions about it before but was turned away in some nonchalant manner, after all, he was Jew as well and could offer some insight to the background of these goings-on regarding the “word of God.”
Elymas definitely was fearful of losing his position and power of influence, but being under the direction of evil, I think he was afraid of losing so much more. This major soul would have the influence to affect other souls in his leading. With that, he fought to oppose and “withstood” the teaching of Barnabas and Saul with the sole intention of turning “away the deputy from the faith.” Make no bones about it, the enemy doesn’t want to see anyone turning to the “faith” and being saved and he will pull out all the stops in order to prevent that from happening. Especially, if that one who is seeking is in the seat of power and authority over people and country.
We don’t exactly know how this opposing took place or what went on, but we do know that it must have been intense because Paul’s reaction in the next verse, being filled with the power of God, gave no room for the enemy to operate, and he put him in his place.
Acts 13:9-11 “Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him. And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.”
Have you ever heard someone say your name fits you? Sometimes this is absolutely right. The name personifies one’s personality to the tee and you really can’t imagine calling that individual by any other. But, in other cases, whether or not your name fits your personality is not the problem. It’s whether or not your name, or how you are identified, fits the calling God has placed on your life.
For “Saul,” who would officially be known as “Paul” from this point on (although I referenced him previously as Paul) because it falls better in line for where God is leading him. His Jewish name, Saul, worked better for the area around Jerusalem. But, from the very beginning of his calling, he would be a key individual for reaching out to the Gentiles world (Acts 9:15; Galatians 1:15-16) where the name “Paul” would suit him better, being his Roman name.
Paul, having enough of Elymas’ shenanigans and contentions, took authority over him and the situation and he literally called him out for who he really was, a “child of the devil.”
Paul’s status in Christ is he is “filled with the Holy Ghost.” “The Holy Ghost” anoints, empowers, and equips men and women to fully work in the calling God has placed on one’s life. Here, for Paul, that not only meant teaching others about Christ but taking spiritual control over situations that try to stop that work. When Paul “set his eyes” on him, under the leading of the “Holy Ghost,” he did just that. A spiritual battle calls for a spiritual response. He had a face to face confrontation with this false prophet and rebuked him and shut down his evil workshop there.
Friends, make no mistake about it, when we are on the side of God and a promoter of His ministry, we are in a spiritual warfare. God has plans for His people, but as we see here, the enemy wants to disrupt those plans. Therefore, we have to always be fully endowed in Him with the whole armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10-20).
Paul identified him as one who was, “full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness.” All of these words show him as being under the influence of evil and a true opposer of everything God stands for, which exactly is what the devil is. Paul teaches at another time and to those of another city, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” (Ephesians 6:12). There is spiritual darkness working through this man.
For the spiritual darkness he wrought as a resister of God and one who would “not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord,” Paul called for physical darkness to overshadow his life. He said, “Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.”
Paul clearly showed that this was the work of the Lord and no power he had in and of himself. And, what is also seen is mercy, in that the man wasn’t stricken with permanent blindness. He would only deal with this physical ailment for a “season.” How many times has God only let us deal with something for a season instead of permanently allowing some kind of destruction to befall us for our wrongs?
The results of this encounter with the men of God came and “Immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.” Until God was ready to deliver him, this man would now be led by someone else. The one who sought to lead people wrong now must literally be led in order to walk right (physically). The spiritual part would be if this encounter changed anything on the inside of him. Of this, we don’t know. All we are told is the outcome of Sergius Paulus’ encounter with these men and hearing the word of God.
Acts 13:12 “Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.”
When Sergius Paulus originally called for Barnabas and Saul, he did so for the specific reason of hearing “the word of God.” Whether he was truly interested in the faith or if he was just trying to learn more information about this way which he must have heard so much about, the end result of what he heard mixed with what happened to Elymas at the command of Paul, gained his attention in a way that made him spiritually receptive and he “believed.” His heart was touched “when he saw what was done” and he was made spiritually aware of the truth of the “doctrine of the Lord.” He was that ready field, white already for harvest (compare John 4:35), and Barnabas and Paul were the harvesters (compare Matthew 9:37-38) working this area in Cyprus, changing the heart of this local government official and hopefully impacting the land for the good.
Everything that made this ministry as impactful as it was, was done so because of the leading of the Holy Ghost and the men who prayed, fasted, and sought through faith with a discerning heart to do what God would have them to do. We must have faith to discern God’s leading in our lives.
Standard Print PDF: Faith to Discern Sunday School Lesson Summary Standard Print
Large Print PDF: Faith to Discern Sunday School Lesson Summary Large Print
Below are activities to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
Activity Sheet: Faith to Discern Activity Sheet
Memory Verse: Faith to Discern Memory Verse
Below are Activities/Links/Resources to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
“Paul’s First Missionary Journey” (Here you will find great information along with a map and other goodies to help you effectively teach this lesson. Enjoy!)
“Paul Begins His First Mission Journey” (Again, here you will find great information with pictures associated with today’s lesson. Enjoy!)
“Barnabas and Paul Set Apart” (The activities presented here for packing a suitcase and “God is Calling” will really help students grasp the understanding of today’s lesson. Enjoy!)
“The First Missionary Journey” (There is a great printable craft for making a “passport” and also a map for the students to each have one of their own. Enjoy!)
“Paul’s First Missionary Journey” (The “What’s a Calling” activity on page 9 will be sure to bring smiles to you and your students face as they take a shot at this old-time activity. Enjoy!)
“Paul and Barnabas Told About Jesus” (There are many ways to bring out this lesson through worship, crafts, and games. Enjoy!)
“Paul and Barnabas Coloring Page” (Scroll down to page 12)
“Paul’s Missionary Journey Coloring Page” (Great for students to color and follow along with the lesson. Enjoy!)