The Work Whereunto God Hath Called Us

The Work Whereunto God Hath Called Us

February 5th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM

Acts 13:2

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.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 13:2

2-5-78    10:50 a.m.



This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Work Whereunto God Hath Called Us.  It is an expounding of the first few verses in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 13].  In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 13.  And these are its beginning words:


Now there were in the church which 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 Spirit 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.

So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God…

Then when they had gone through the island unto Paphos they…

[Acts 13:1-6]


preached there the word of the Lord.


And loosing from Paphos they came to Perga in Pamphylia…

[Acts 13:13]


… and then from Perga to Pisidian Antioch [Acts 13:14]; and then to Iconium [Acts 13:51], to Lystra, to Derbe [Acts 14:6], to the Roman Empire [Acts 28:14-15] and finally, to the Imperial City [Acts 28:16]—the throne of the Caesars.

The thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts is a great continental divide here in the Word of God.  The twelve chapters before are one thing [Acts 1-12], and the [fifteen] chapters that follow after are something else [Acts 14-28].

There is a great and new and significant departure here in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts.  This is the beginning of the vast missionary enterprise, the ultimate outreach of the purpose and plan of God [Acts 13:2-3].

Heretofore, in the Book of Acts, the center of the church has been Jerusalem; now, it is in heathen, pagan, Gentile Antioch [Acts 13:1].  Heretofore, the story has concerned mostly Simon Peter; now, it concerns Saul—Paul.  Heretofore, the message has been built around the Jew; now, it is a message concerning the Gentiles.  Heretofore, it is concerned largely with one people; now, with all peoples; heretofore, with one nation; now with all nations—and when you remember that the letter of Paul to the churches of Galatia are these churches that are founded on this first missionary journey [Acts 14:20-25].  Heretofore, the gospel has been bound up with Jewish legalism; now, it is the message of justification by faith alone [Galatians 2:16, 3:24; Romans 5:1].

So when we come to this chapter 13 in Acts, we are in a new, a different, and another world.  As they go on their journey, led by the Holy Spirit, they journey from Antioch to Seleucia [Acts 13:1, 4].  The Orontes River, a beautiful river flowing between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Ranges—that river flows due north.  Then there, before it reaches the [Amanus] Mountains, it turns directly and immediately west; and so pours into the Mediterranean Sea.  At the turn of the river, was that ancient beautiful Greek city of Antioch, the third city of the Roman Empire—Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch—at the head of that beautiful valley.  Then where the Orontes River turns due west, where it pours into the Mediterranean Sea, is Seleucia, the port city of Antioch.

Then having gone the sixteen miles on land, from Antioch down to Seleucia, they went from there and they sailed to Cyprus [Acts 13:4].  That’s a hundred twenty-five miles to Salamis, where they preached the Word of God.  Then they walked through the isle of Cyprus, from Salamis to Paphos [Acts 13:5-6], which is the capital of the island.  And there, in Paphos, they preached the gospel.  And that’s where apparently Saul changed his name to Paul [Acts 13:9], from the conversion of the Roman proconsul of Cyprus named Sergius Paulus [Acts 13:7-12].

Then from Cyprus, they crossed the one hundred seventy-five miles north of the Mediterranean Sea and came to Perga [Acts 13:13], in the Roman province of Pamphylia.  Perga is inland, just up the river, and was the largest city in Pamphylia—the port city there is Attalia.

Then from Perga, they walked ninety miles to Pisidian Antioch [Acts 13:14]—Antioch in the Roman province of Pisidia—and there preached the gospel [Acts 13:14-41, 44-49]; then from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium [Acts 13:51-14:5], to Lystra, to Derbe [Acts 14:6-23], these the churches of Galatia.  And of course, beyond, in the second missionary journey [Acts 15:39-18:22], the third missionary journey [Acts 18:23-21:17] and finally, Paul carries the message to Rome itself [Acts 28:14-16].

This is a great and marvelous work before which we now stand.  And it is a work that was in the mind of God from the beginning.  Look at my text.  It says, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2].  That word is proskeklēmai.  It is in the perfect tense; proskeklēmai, from proskaleō, to call, proskeklēmai, perfect tense.  And in that verbal form it expresses something that is in the mind of God—perfected, complete in the ages past; and now, finding its implementation in all of the centuries that follow after.

In other words, this call of God, expressed in that church in Antioch [Acts 13:2], is not an adventitious thought; nor is it a second thought; nor was it just by a present inspiration.  But it was an expression of a divine elective purpose of God from the beginning, proskeklēmai, perfect tense—back and back and back forever in the mind of God.

You can easily see that in the revelation of the elective purpose of God in human history as it is revealed to us in these Holy Scriptures.  The Lord God said to Abraham, when He called him in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, “And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:3].  There is a divine purpose in the mind of God.

In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, you have the oracles of the Lord, the Ten Commandments given to the people of Israel [Exodus 20:1-17].  But chapter 19 comes before chapter 20.  In chapter 20, God gave to Israel the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]; but in chapter 19, the Lord God said to Israel, “Thou shalt be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” [Exodus 19:6].

What do you mean by a kingdom of priests?  Israel is to be unto God priests—a nation, a kingdom of priests, a people of priests.  What does that mean?  Very simple.  A priest is somebody that represents a man to God and God to man.  That is, before God gave the oracles of the Almighty into the hands of Israel, He first said to them, “You are to be the teachers, and the emissaries, and the ambassadors, and the missionaries, and the evangelists of the Word of God to all the earth!  You are to receive these oracles from My hands, and you are to teach them unto all of the nations of the world, a kingdom of priests” [Exodus 19:6]. 

You find that in the expanding revelation of God, the mind of the Lord, proskeklēmai, what God intended from the beginning.  You find that in the revelation of the coming Savior of the world in the Prophets.  For example, just one typical passage in the forty-ninth chapter of Isaiah and verse 6, the Lord says, speaking, God says, speaking to the coming Messiah and Savior of the world, He says: “I have set Thee for a light to the Gentiles (that is, the nations).  I have set Thee for a light to the nations.  And Thou shalt be unto Me for salvation to the ends of the earth” [Isaiah 49:6]—the purpose, the divine purpose of God, from the beginning.

 Then finally, it found expression in the incarnate Son of heaven.  The story in Matthew, in Mark, in Luke, in John always consummates in the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore” [Matthew 28:19] and preach the gospel to all the people [Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 20:31].  “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . .” [Matthew 28:19].  “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth” [Acts 1:8].  “And that remission of sins should be preached in His name throughout the world” [Luke 24:47].  This is the divine mind of God.

Then when we come to the conversion of the apostle Paul—I reread those three stories of the conversion of Paul, those three instances where it is repeated in the Book of Acts—I reread it this week.  In the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 9:1-18], in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 22:1-16] and, in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 26:12-20]—three times is the story of Saul’s conversion recounted in the Book of Acts.  And all three times that story, that conversion, consummates in the same thing.  The Lord says to that new convert, “I have called thee and appeared unto thee for this purpose and reason [Acts 26:16-18]—that thou should preach My name and this gospel to all the people of the earth.”

The missionary to the Gentiles—and when Paul speaks of that conversion in the first chapter of the Book of Galatians to these churches, he avows the same thing—that from his mother’s womb, God had set him apart to be the emissary of heaven to all the people of the earth [Galatians 1:15-16].  So what we read here is an expression of the divine mind of God from before the foundation of the world:  “Separate Me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto, proskalēmai, I have purposed for them” from before the world was made [Acts 13:2].”

Now will you notice again the instrument through which God reveals His purpose?  There were in the church at Antioch, and as they served and sacrificed and prayed and ministered, the Lord said to that serving church, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have purposed for them” [Acts 13:2].

Isn’t that a divine revelation, no less?  God’s purposes of grace are expressed through and implemented by His church.  The church is unlike any other organization—could I use the word organism?  The church is unlike any other organism in the world.  It is unique.  It is separate and apart.  And it has an assignment that no other body, organization, group in the church, in the world has.

The church is set in the world to be God’s emissary and God’s evangelist for the conversion of all of the nations on the face of the globe.  No other organization has that purpose.  The church is different from a fraternal organization.  It is different from any political entity.  It is even different from philanthropical and civic organizations.  It is different from the legislature, from the judiciary, from the executive.  It is different from the great banking establishments and the merchandising establishments.  The church is set apart in the world for one great divine purpose: namely, the conversion of the world to Jesus Christ.  Its task and assignment is to preach the gospel of Christ, to call men to repentance and to faith in the Lord Jesus.  And it addresses itself to all men everywhere.

This is a unique assignment and heavenly mandate of the church of the living God.  That assignment; that Great Commission [Matthew 28:18-20]; does not belong to the legislature.  It does not belong to the judiciary; it does not belong to any of the political or fraternal or civic organizations of the world.   It is the unique assignment from God to His church.  This is our high calling and the divine purpose of God for us, in Christ Jesus.

And when the church is sensitive to the call of God—“Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]—and when they are sensitive, when a church is sensitive, to the mind of God, immediately you will find its people in outreach ministries; here, there, beyond, and to the ends of God’s world.

When we are in the will of God, and when we are sensitive to the Word and calling of the Spirit of the Lord, you will find that repercussion in our hearts.


If I have strength, I owe the service of the strong.

If melody I have, I owe the world a song.

If I can stand when all around me the weak are falling,

If I can run with speed when needy hearts are calling.

If my torch can light the dark of any night,

Then I must pay the debt I owe with living light.


If heaven’s grace has endowed me with some rare gift

If I can lift some load no other strength can lift.

If I can heal some wound no other’s hand can heal.

If some great truth, the speaking skies to me reveal.

Then I must go to each broken and wounded thing

And to a broken world, my gift of healing bring.

For any God-given gift I am taught to say,

God’s gifts are most mine when I most give them away.

God’s gifts are like flowers which show their right to stay,

By giving all their bloom and fragrance away.

Riches are not gold or land, estates or marks,

The only wealth transferred to heaven is found in human hearts.

[from “Life’s Stewardship,” Charles C. Woods]


And a church that is sensitive to the mind and will of God is a church that offers itself in God’s grace to the world, to be used of God that they might be saved.

Now one other thing: do you notice that when they obeyed the mandate of heaven, what did it turn out to be?  When the call comes, it’s not defined.  The Holy Spirit said, as the church ministered before the Lord: “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2].  The divine purpose, to be realized in this church, it doesn’t say what it is, but when we read the following paragraphs and pages, and chapters, and verses, what it is is a very simple thing.  What God purposed through His church was the ministering grace of the Lord to the people, it’s that simple.

And so they being sent by the Holy Ghost, they preached the gospel;

  • in Seleucia [Acts 13:4],
  • in Salamis [Acts 13:5],
  • in Paphos [Acts 13:6],
  • in Perga [Acts 13:14],
  • in Attalia, in Pisidia, and Antioch [Acts 13:14, 14:25],
  • in Iconium, in Lystra, in Derbe [Acts 14:1-23],
  • in Ephesus [Acts 19:1], in Philippi [Acts 16:12],
  • in Thessalonica [Acts 17:1],
  • in Berea [Acts 17:10],
  • in Athens [Acts 17:15-34],
  • in Corinth [Acts 18:1],
  • in Rome [Acts 28:16-31]


And through the converts of those first apostles, to the whole world—and finally, brought to my father and mother and finally to me.  This is what God purposed when He said, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]—namely, the ministry of the Word of God to all people everywhere [Matthew 28:18-20].

There are many things that you will see in this church.  There are thirty million dollars worth of buildings.  This church is now covering five blocks in the downtown heart of the city of Dallas.  But God never said anything about these buildings; He never mentioned them.  There are many accouterments to help us in the divine worship of our living Lord, all of the things that you see: the stained-glass windows, the carpets, the pews, and the choir loft, and the steeple, and all the other things, many of them that go to contribute to an intensest activity.

But God never said anything about those furnishings, accouterments. He never mentioned them, never referred to them, or to so many, many, many things in the life of this church.  But the only thing that the Lord did say was to “Remember My lambs,” and to “Feed My sheep” [John 21:15-17].  The only thing the Lord assigned in the great heavenly mandate was to reach people for God [Matthew 28:18-20]. That’s all!  That’s all!  The church does not deal with inanimate objects.  It is not concerned with freight and boxes and containers.  The church concerns people!  People ought to be in the heart of the church, and the church ought to be in the heart of the people.  Our emphasis always is that.

A while back, there is a famous radio entertainer who delivered a version, his version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.  It was different—and it was so different that he was deluged with mail when he delivered the address.  You see, that entertainer had researched that address made by President Lincoln at Gettysburg.  And he found that when Lincoln delivered that address, he put an emphasis upon one word in that dedication.

Now I want to show you how we say it—I have never heard anybody say it any other way—here’s the way we say it: “That government OF the people, and BY the people, and FOR the people should not perish from the earth.”  That’s the way we say it.  And I’ve never heard of it, or thought of it in my mind, as I read it in any other way.

But that man who had researched it, and delivered the message as Lincoln delivered it, delivered it like this—which is the way Lincoln is supposed to have delivered it—Lincoln said, “That government of THE PEOPLE, and by THE PEOPLE, and for THE PEOPLE should not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln emphasized not a preposition, but “THE PEOPLE”—he was moved by the people.  And that’s the emphasis that ought always to be in our work and in our assignments.  It is people!  It concerns people!  It concerns human souls.  It concerns families, and babies, and children, and young people, and young married people, and men and women in the prime of life down to old age and to death.  It concerns people!

When you look at the continents of the world, what you see is people.  When you hear the cries of the urban and rural communities of the earth, you hear the cries of people.  And when you consider the needs of the nations of the earth, you are considering the needs of people.  And when you read the revelation of the love of God in Christ Jesus, who died on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3], you find there God’s infinite love for the people [John 3:16].  That is our heavenly mandate, reaching these people for the Lord [Matthew 28:18-20].

In the years gone by, many years now, I was a pastor in Oklahoma.  I began my pastorate, my pastoral work, as you know, in the days of the Depression; when people were hungry; when they lost their homes, they couldn’t pay the mortgage.  When they lost their farms, they couldn’t pay the debt; when cotton was sold for five cents a pound; when the people labored all year long and yet, couldn’t pay the debt of the grocery bill at the store.  Now that’s when I began my ministry and continued in it for years.

My friend, in Oklahoma—he was later executive secretary of the state—he was talking to me one time and here’s what he said.  He said: “In our church, in our last every-member canvass”—that’s a way we have of going to everybody and asking them to fill out a pledge card to support the church, “the every-member canvass.”   In their every-member canvass, there was this poor, wretched, hungry family; a man and his wife and seven ragged, half-starved children.  So they divided up all of the cards, and the pastor gave this family to this deacon.  And the deacon said: “Pastor, I’ll not do it!  I’ll not go to that man and ask anything of him.  He’s too poor, and too hungry, and too ragged, doesn’t have any work and doesn’t have a job.  I would not go!

And the pastor said to him, “But my brother, it’s an every-member canvass, and that doesn’t mean every member except him.”

The deacon said, “Pastor, I don’t care what you say!  I’m not going to do it!”

 “Well,” the pastor said, “Deacon, if I go with you, will you go?”

And he said, “No, I will not!”  

And then the pastor said, “Well, deacon, I’ll do it myself.  Will you come with me?”  

And the deacon replied, “Yes, I’ll go with you, with the understanding that I’m not going to say a word.  You are going to do all of the talking.”

So they went, invited into this poverty-stricken hovel by a poor, wretched man and his wife, and in the background, seven ragged children.  So the pastor sat down with the man and his wife, and those seven children listened—the deacon over there on the other side and he explained to that poor, wretched man the work of the church, the preaching of the gospel, its teachings of the Word of Life, and its great outreach ministries, including the foreign mission enterprise.  And in the midst of his speaking, the man broke down and cried.

The pastor said to me, “I thought I would die.  I never felt so as I wanted to hide myself as I did then.  I thought, ‘I have hurt the heart of that man.  He can’t give.  And here I am, asking him to help.’”

And he said—the deacon seated over there, listening to me, and hearing the sobs of that man—he said, “I thought I had just come to the end of the way.”

And the preacher said to me, “You know, when the man was able to control his emotions, lifting up his face and drying the tears away, he said, ‘Pastor, this is the first time anybody has ever come asking us to help,’ and said, ‘This is the first time we’ve ever been treated like other folks.  They have always passed us by.  We’re too wretched.  We’re too poor.  We’ve been outside of their interest, and their calls, and their visits, and their asking to help.’  He said, ‘Pastor, give me nine of those cards.’”

That poor fellow took nine of those cards and passed them out.  And then he said, “Each one of us will fill it out for five cents a Sunday.”  Then he gathered them up and he put them in the hands of the pastor saying, “I don’t know where the money is coming from, but we’ll trust Jesus for it.”

The pastor said in the days immediately following, the man found a fine job.  And he entered a new day.  And he sat there every service, all nine of them filling up a pew.  Then he added to me, “And I have baptized now all seven of those children.”

Man, that’s the faith!  That’s the way to be.  We’re not passing up anybody because we think they’re too dirty, they’re too poor, they’re too wretched, they’re too sinful, they’re too anything!

Wherever there is a man or a family, or a somebody, it’s a somebody for whom Jesus died.  And it is a somebody to whom to present the riches of the grace of God.  And it is a somebody to invite to come and worship the Lord with us, and to share with us in the kingdom calling of Christ our Savior.  It’s a great message, addressed to all of the families and all of the people of the world [Matthew 28:18-20].

Now I have a little observation to make then I’m through.  When we read of the delivery of the message of the gospel of Christ to the Roman Empire—and here it is, page after page after page—when we read it, what you’ll find is this: there are always those who will reject.  There are those who will not respond, and not only so but there are those who will create all kinds of trouble in rejection.  It’s the story here, chapter after chapter of it.

And I recognize that and you do, too.  When we bear the message of salvation in Christ, not everyone will respond.  They’ll not all turn and believe.  They’ll not all even be maybe grateful that you took time to invite them to the Lord.

But I tell you what, according to the Word of the Lord, you may not win all, but you’ll always win some.  There will always be some who will respond, always.  And if we are faithful to the heavenly mandate, and invite, and speak, and pray for, and witness to, God will always give us some.

I rejoice in belonging to this dear church.  I rejoice in being a part of a great communion and worldwide fellowship.  Today is Baptist World Alliance Sunday, and this is the latest word from that worldwide communion.  Baptist church membership in the southwest Pacific island of New Guinea has climbed from zero to thirty-one thousand baptized believers in these last few years.

On Sunday night of next week, can’t do it this Sunday night, Elaine because of the Lord’s Supper, but on Sunday night of next week, after our preaching service is over, you’re going to be privileged to see a film that is beyond anything I ever saw in my life, of the blessing of God upon a girl from upon Wycliffe Translators in New Guinea.  And I didn’t know this until I just read it.  In that island of New Guinea, they now have thirty-one thousand baptized believers.  And when you see that film you’ll understand what a miracle that is.

The membership of our Baptist communion has increased twenty-two percent during the last decade.  There are now thirty-four million baptized believers in one hundred thirty-seven thousand Baptist churches in one hundred thirty-eight countries today.  And that means there are about forty-seven million family members in this communion.

In many countries of the world, baptism means expulsion from family and society.  There are three new Baptist conventions; one in the Philippines, one in Okinawa, one in Papua, New Guinea again.  And there are one hundred nine of these conventions, like the Southern Baptist Convention who share together in that worldwide work.

Ah, Lord, keep on blessing it!  What kind of a dike, what kind of a barrier, what kind of a standard do we raise against the vast floodtides of communism, atheism, except the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God?  And how do we battle the vast inroads of evil, and iniquity, and violence, and blood, except in the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God?  And what hope do we have for our own beloved nation of America except the pouring out of the Spirit and blessing of the Lord upon us?  And what hope do we have for the peace of the children of our generation except as God shall empower us to carry out the Great Commission of the Son of God? [Matthew 28:18-20].

And that’s the communion to which we invite you now to belong.  And that’s the faith in which we encourage you to trust in God [Ephesians 2:8].  And that’s the wooing of the Spirit of the Lord that you feel in your heart to pilgrimage with us, to belong with us, to be numbered among the redeemed of God’s saints [1 Peter 1:8-9], to let the Lord endow you and enrich you with every gift that only heaven could afford.  It comes from His gracious, nail-pierced hands.  And it is yours for the taking, for the asking, for the helping. Come, come, come. 

In the balcony round, a family, a couple, or one somebody you; in the press on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “I’ve decided, pastor, for God, and here I am.”  To join heart and hand with us as we journey this pilgrim road with Jesus the Lord, come [Romans 10: 8-13].  And a thousand times the glad refrain echoes in heaven:


            Happy day, happy day,

When Jesus washed my sins away.

He has taught me how to watch and pray.

And live rejoicing every day.

Happy day, glorious day

When Jesus washed my sins away.

[“O Happy Day,” Philip Doddridge]


Come and pilgrimage with us, and welcome.  Let the angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 13:2


I.          Introduction

A.  Thirteenth chapter of Acts a great continental divide

B.  A new departure – beginning of the vast missionary enterprise

C.  From Antioch to Rome

II.         A work
of the Holy Spirit – prompting, guiding it all

A.  Proskeklemai – expression of a divine
elective purpose of God from the beginning (Acts

B.  Revelation of elective purpose of God as revealed
in Scripture(Genesis 12:3, Exodus 19:6,
Isaiah :6, Matthew 28:19, Acts 1:8, Luke 24:47, Acts 9:15, 22:21, 26:17-23,
Galatians 1:15-16)

III.        Through
His appointed instrument

A.  Purposes of grace are expressed through and implemented
by His church

      1.  Set in the world to be God’s emissary and
evangelist for the nations

      2.  Unique assignment from God to His church

      3.  When it is sensitive to God’s call, you will
find its people in outreach

B.  Poem, “Stewardship of Life”

IV.        The work

A.  When the call comes, it is not defined(Acts 13:2)

1.  Following chapters reveal God’s purpose of
ministering grace

2.  Ministry of the Word of God to all people

B.  Church does not deal with inanimate objects – church concerns

      1.  A different version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address – “THE PEOPLE”

      2.  Every-member canvass to the poorest family

C.  You may not win all, but you will always win some

D.  Baptist World Alliance Sunday – New Guinea