Notice in this passage that it is the Holy Spirit who sets apart Saul and Barnabas (v 2). He is actively involved in sending out these men as missionaries to do His work. What are they called to do? Are they called to do whatever their own minds design? No, we see back in verse 2, “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” It is a specific work that God has called them to do; God’s work, defined by God.
We see in verse 1 that the churches had been fasting and praying. Then in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s calling, the churches (verse 3) send Barnabas and Saul off. Verse 4 highlights that it is the Holy Spirit who sends the men. So, the Holy Spirit, working through the local church, sends them off. This work was to fulfill Jesus’ words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19 & 20).
So, as we look at their journey, we then see that Barnabas and Saul followed these instructions. In v 5, when they arrive in Salamis, proclaim the Word of God. Later, in verse 32 & 33, we read, “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus…” Again, they continue city by city, proclaiming the Gospel. Verse 47, “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” They understood their commission to preach the Good News.
Near the end of their journey in Acts 14: 21-23 they return to the previously visited churches, preaching, discipling and strengthening them, encouraging them to continue in the faith. They also appointed elders in the newly established local churches. They expanded God’s kingdom into areas that had previously had no Gospel witness.
When they returned they reported back to their church. How did they recount what they did? “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 14: 27) Barnabas and Saul understood that it wasn’t themselves that did all this. It wasn’t themselves that caused people to hear the Gospel and turn to God and establish churches. They understood it was God the Holy Spirit working through them during their entire missionary journey.
The Holy Spirit was at work from the beginning in calling and sending out Barnabas and Saul. He defined the work to be done, He blessed their preaching by saving the lost, and He opened the door of faith even to the Gentiles. This was the first missionary journey; the work God did during Paul’s day. Today, God is still working through missionaries, saving lost sinners and establishing churches.