It’s always fascinating watching how people eat a plate of food. You can learn a lot about someone’s personality from how they eat: in particular, when they choose to eat their favourite mouthfuls. Some can’t wait, and have to munch their favourite things first. Others like to space them throughout their meal. When I was younger I always wanted to finish well – I would make sure that at least one of my favourite mouthfuls was set apart till the very end.
To be set apart is to be special. And this idea of being set apart is also an important one for a follower of Jesus. The word ‘holy’ literally means set apart, and God’s people in the New Testament are frequently referred to as hagioi or ‘holy ones’ – the ‘set apart ones’. It’s the same word used for ‘saint’ and the great news is that all God’s people are saints, because we are all holy, all set apart.
How? That’s the work of the Spirit. When the Spirit dwells in us, we are literally cleaned from the inside – the old word would be ‘sanctified’. The Holy Spirit – the clue is in the name – makes whatever the Spirit dwells in holy (i.e. set apart) too.
But there are several different ways we can understand this set-apartness. We are set apart from sin and wrongdoing. We are set apart in love – for God and each other. We are also set apart for stuff. For good works, for worship, and also for specific callings. God has plans for each one of us, and part of the Spirit’s role in our lives is to reveal them.
In today’s passage we see the Spirit set apart Saul and Barnabas for a specific special task (v2). Notice that it was birthed in worship and prayer (v2), and sealed by the laying on of hands (v3) – a sort of commissioning. The church nowadays still practises this for ordained ministry, but sadly restricts such ‘ordinations’ to one particular type of calling. But biblically, there is a strong case that we could be set apart for all kinds of ‘ordinations’, as the Spirit of God directs.
We’ll say more about the gifts of the Spirit in later instalments, but let’s reflect here that calling is a universal thing for followers of Jesus. We are all called to follow Jesus, and God has prepared in advance good works for each one of us (Ephesians 2:10). The Spirit indwells each Christian, so we are all set apart in one way or another.
You may not feel worthy of any kind of call. But it has often been observed that God does not call the equipped, but equips the called. Even here, the Spirit directs Saul and Barnabas where to go (v4). So a question to ponder today – if the idea of calling might be far wider than you imagined, where is God calling you? What is God setting you apart for? There’s an exciting thought….